Friday, 16 February 2018

Higashizawa (東沢) ice-climbing - Otome-no-sawa (乙女ノ沢)

Route Name:  Otome-no-sawa (東沢 乙女ノ沢)

Trailhead:  Nishizawa-keikoku (西沢渓谷) car park

Map sheet:  26 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  3 hours walk-in, 4 hours climb and descent, 3 hours walk-out

Grade:  WI3+ / Overall grade 2+ route

Getting there:
If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Chuō Expressway out to Yamanashi prefecture and take the exit at Katsunuma IC (勝沼). Head east on Route 20 for a couple of minutes, then take a left onto Route 207. Follow this road for about half an hour as it changes into Route 213 then Route 140, eventually arriving at the entrance to Nishizawa-keikoku (西沢渓谷入口).

From the car park follow the road under the bridge and past the gate (locked in winter, so no way to drive beyond here), and then keep walking up the road. After about 20 minutes you will reach some buildings and a fork.

Take the trail down slightly on the left, then continue as it contours above the river. You’ll soon reach a suspension bridge.

Cross this, then follow the path up, and you’ll soon arrive at a large sign board marking the entrance to Nishizawa-keikoku gorge trail. This place is called Futamata (二俣) and is the fork where Nishizawa and Higashizawa merge on their way down the mountains (or split, from your current perspective heading up).

On the right you will see an opening and a trail heading through the fence. Follow this through the woods and down to the river. You are now in Higashizawa (東沢), and a few more minutes will bring you to a large flat open area called the Tosaka valley deai (鶏冠谷出合). This is the point from which the hiking trail up Tosaka-yama (鶏冠山 2115m) departs on the right (pink tape markers).

It takes about 2 hours to hike from the deai to the bottom of Otome-no-sawa. At the deai you need to cross the river to its right edge and then continue hiking along that side. The trail soon heads up onto the right bank to bypass the smooth walls of the dramatic gorges below, and for the next 1.5 hours you will be hiking and scrambling along this right bank, with an assortment of old ropes, electrical cables and scrappy lengths of wire in-situ to provide a measure of security. Take care, as it is very precipitous in places.

Eventually the trail will deposit you in the riverbed again, and a flat gentle 20-minute hike will bring you around a corner to your first views of the Otome-no-taki (乙女ノ滝), the 50m icefall that marks the entrance to Otome-no-sawa.


F1 is the beautiful off-vertical 50m slab of the Otome-no-taki. There is an in-situ rappel anchor on a tree off to the left at the top of this icefall, or you can belay on ice screws in the sawa itself.

From the top of F1 there is a long flow of ice leading to F2, not steep but very exposed if you slip given the location, so consider belaying this section just until you reach the trees near F2, at which point things become a bit safer for a while.

F2 is an easy 20m icefall bearing left, followed by another of about 20-30m bearing right. From the top of this section just keep climbing up on easy-angled ice for about 80-100m until a relatively flat bowl at the bottom of F3.

You’re getting quite high up now, and the views across the valley to Tosaka-yama are impressive to say the least.

F3 is not too steep but is a full 50m or more, with a couple of short-lived steeper bulges near the top. Notice the trees on the right at around two-thirds height, which will facilitate your descent. From the top of F3 continue up into the large flat area at the base of F4.

F4 is the 80m Otaki (大滝). Choose whatever line you want to climb it up, but pay attention to the condition of the ice. Water pooling under the ice at the top on the left can cause pressure to build up until the ice gives and the water is released, which may add some unwanted excitement to your day if you’re in the area when it happens.

From the top of F4 you can continue up easier ground to gain the ridgeline, but most people rappel the sawa and hike back along the trail they came in on. To do this you’ll need double ropes, ideally 60m, and there are trees conveniently located at intervals to rappel from, many of which may already have rappel anchors or slings on them depending on the year.

A first-class day out with a lot of bang for your buck. For a trailhead with such easy car access, Otome-no-sawa and its approach walk up Higashizawa feel very remote indeed. Although the climbing is relatively easy, this day has a genuine sense of adventure about it, and comes highly recommended.

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Thursday, 18 January 2018

The West face Shu-ryo of Akadake (赤岳主稜)

Route name: Akadake Shu-ryo (赤岳主)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  32 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  3-4 hours

Difficulty:  Grade 2 alpine route / IV- crux

At 2899m Akadake is the highest summit of the Yatsugatake massif, and the crown jewel of the southern end of the range. It is one of the most popular winter hiking objectives in central Honshu, and when combined with the traverse of Yokodake and Iodake it makes one of the finest winter ridge hikes around. For more serious climbers it is home to several excellent winter routes, and the ascent of its West face by its central arête (Shu-ryo) is a true classic.

Steep and imposing from below, a closer acquaintance with the upper West face reveals it to be very featured, rich in holds and never overly difficult. As pitch after pitch takes you higher and closer to the summit, the sense of passage mounting, the route delivers the ultimate satisfaction of climbing a big mountain in winter via a beautiful natural line up a steep face.

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo, take a Super Azusa Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Chino (approx. 2.5 hours). Outside the JR station at Chino take a bus to Minotoguchi (美濃戸口, approx. 45 minutes). This is the gateway to the Akadake-kōsen side of Yatsugatake. From the carpark start hiking up the trail that is signposted to Akadake (赤岳). The walk-in takes up to 3 hours by map time. It is split into 3 stages.

The first hour brings you past a series of buildings and on a little further to a hut with a water source, which makes a good resting point for 5 minutes. The trail splits here, with the right fork going up Minami-sawa (南沢) to the Gyouja-goya hut (行者小屋). This is the quickest approach if you are planning a single day round-trip ascent. If you are planning on staying in the Akadake-kousen hut, you need to take the left fork up Kita-sawa (北沢). The next hour follows the rough dirt road until it finishes at a bridge across the sawa. From the other side the path narrows and meanders alongside the sawa for another hour or so until you reach the hut at Akadake-kousen. This hut and its campground serve as basecamp for all the routes in the area, as well as for the popular Ice Candy artificial ice wall.

As you exit the Akadake-kousen hut by the front door turn right and follow the trail to the end of the hut and then up through the forest. After about half an hour and a couple of zigzags you will arrive at a signpost on a small flat area. This is the entry point for the Nakayama ridge (中山尾根), but you need to continue on down the other side of this ridge, and after ten minutes you’ll arrive at the Gyouja-goya hut.

Continue on past the hut and its camp ground and begin to ascend gently. You’ll soon reach a sign-posted fork in the trail. Left leads to the Bunzaburo ridge (文三郎尾根), the normal hiking route for Akadake from this side, which ascends to the right of the West face. You need to go quite high up on the Bunzaburo, and eventually you’ll come to a small shoulder on the ridge, level with a chimney about 80m to your left out on the face. This is the start of the traverse out onto the face, and that chimney is the first pitch which gives access to the Shu-ryo. It’s a good idea to gear up and get your rope out here before the traverse, as this flat spot is far more comfortable than the angled terrain at the end of the traverse.

Head out across the traverse to the foot of the chimney, and you’ll find a bolted anchor. From this point, approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the chimney to gain the top of the large chockstone, then continue up for about 10m before a sharp right turn. Continue up mixed ground to a bolted belay on the right wall below a rock step. (IV- 35m)

Pitch 2: Climb the rock step to gain the arête, then continue upwards for another 20m to a belay. (25m)

Pitch 3: Surmount a mixed rock step, then continue up a snow slope. At this point you may choose to simul-climb for about 70m until you reach the next belay at the top of the snow on the right-hand side of the face. (80m)

Pitch 4: From the belay climb up and round on the right to regain the arête via a grade III+ rock step, with some interesting moves to exit at the top to another bolted belay. (35m)

Pitch 5: Continue up the arête on featured and comfortable terrain to belay on pitons at the foot of a chimney. (40m)

Looking up pitch 5:

Pitch 6: Climb the chimney, then continue up mixed terrain to exit the face onto the hiking trail just below the north summit of Akadake. You can belay on one of the iron stanchions on the hiking trail if necessary. (approx. 50m)

From the top of the route the summit can be reached in 5 minutes of hiking up the trail.

From the summit of Akadake there are a couple of options:

1. Take the trail south off the summit down exposed scrambling terrain until it swings to the east in the direction of Amidadake. Keep climbing down until you eventually come to the top of the Bunzaburo ridge, and then follow this back down to the Gyouja-goya hut.

2. Take the trail north off the summit down quite steep terrain for about 30 minutes until you reach the Jizo col. From here head to climber’s left down the Jizo-one ridgeline back to the Gyouja-goya hut, or continue straight on to Yokodake and Iodake to the north.

A fine route worthy of its status as the most classic and sought-after winter climb in the Akadake-kousen area. A rack of alpine draws and a couple of pitons will suffice.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Multi-pitch climbing on Jōyama (城山) - "Southwest arête" (南西カンテ)

Route Name:  Southwest arête (Nansei-kante 南西カンテ)

Mountain: Joyama ()

Rock type:  Andesitic tuff

Length: 4 pitches (120m)

Grade: 5.9 crux

For quality friction slab and face-climbing a couple of hours from Tokyo, you simply cannot go wrong with Jōyama (). Its expansive South face is home to dozens of top quality multi-pitch routes, with superb exposure. There is a tree-covered terrace running diagonally upwards from the top of the face, and it would be possible to ascend this and reach the summit, but the risk of knocking loose stones onto the climbers below dictates that climbers rappel the face after their routes.

There is one beautiful way to the top though. The Southwest arête is a striking natural line up the left edge of the face, with some superb climbing at a very moderate difficulty for this venue. For anyone looking for exposure and multi-pitch training, and an introduction to the Jōyama climbing style, this route is highly recommended.

The climbing season typically runs from late October through the winter months to spring. In summer it is far too hot!

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo on public transport, the simplest way is to take a shinkansen from Shinagawa (品川) to Mishima (三島), and then change for a local Izu-Hakone-Sunzu train for Ōhito (大仁). From there you can either walk to the trailhead in about half an hour, or take a local taxi.

If travelling from Tokyo by car, head down the Tōmei Expressway (with a convenient Starbucks located at the Ashigara service area south of Mt Fuji), transfer onto the Izu Chuō-do toll road, and stay on as far as Ōhito. Once on local roads in Ōhito, make your way across the Karino river (狩野川) and down to a small car park opposite the trailhead.

From the trailhead a short walk of about 15 minutes will bring you to a signed junction in the trail.

Head right from here up a short scrambly path and you will come out at the bottom of the South face. It’s a good idea to put your helmet on whilst near the base of the rock in case of falling stones from above.

Walk to your left along the bottom of the South face and follow the trail up through the trees past several zigzags, always keeping the South face in close sight. In a few minutes the trail heads up to the right. After a short scramble over stones and tree roots, you will see a small terrace across and slightly down on the right. This is the bottom of the Southwest arête.

Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the first few metres up well-featured rock with excellent friction. Cross round to the right side of the arête as soon as you can, and then follow the line of bolts upwards until you reach an in-situ bolt anchor on a small terrace.  (30m 5.8)

Pitch 2: Continue up the arête on excellent rock. The exposure is immediate and very satisfying. After about 20m you’ll reach a tree-covered area. Continue up easy ground, past an in-situ rappel anchor on a tree, and over one final slab to gain the belay platform in an alcove.  (35m 5.7)

Pitch 3: A few steep moves will get you out of the belay alcove and to the foot of a bulge (ring bolt here). If you don’t fancy climbing this directly, it can be bypassed in two short pitches via a 5.7 bolt-protected traverse out to the right across a slabby face, and then a scramble up along the base of the overhanging ‘second rock band’. If you tackle it direct it goes at 5.9, and is well-protected and engaging. After the initial bulge, continue up through another steep slabby section, followed by a scramble up loose tree-covered terrain to the belay anchor on a ledge beneath the final pitch.  (35m 5.9)

Pitch 4: After the initial groove, climb out onto the face on climber’s right, then step awkwardly across to gain the top of a rock jutting out on the left at two-thirds height. From here, continue up and to the right to belay from any tree of your choice. (20m 5.8)

From the top of the route, walk up the trail to your right, and after about 10 minutes you will pop out at a junction on the main Jōyama hiking trail.

The summit is about 3 minutes up the trail to your right and is a wonderful spot, sheltered from any westerly winds and with magnificent views of the nearby Karino river and Ōhito town, and extending all the way to the Tanzawa range (丹沢) to the northeast and Amagi-san (天城山) to the south.

Simply head back the way you came for a few minutes to the trail junction, and this time continue down the main hiking trail to the right. After about 15 minutes or so you will come to another junction on a pass.

Head left and follow the trail down for about 30-40 minutes and you will arrive back at the trail head and the road.

An enjoyable climb on excellent rock up some striking features. If not for the occasional tree-covered sections, it would be first-class. Combining it with a route on the South face makes for a fantastic day of climbing, with a summit and great views thrown into the bargain. The in-situ protection is good, so a rack of 12 quickdraws will be sufficient.


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