Route Name: Direct (‘Chokujou’) route (直上ルート)
Location: Matsuki-sawa Gendarme central wall (松木沢ジャンダウム中央壁)
Map sheet: 13 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]
Time: 1 day
Length: 6 pitches
There are relatively few multipitch climbing venues within a few hours of Tokyo where you stand a good chance of having the route all to yourselves; and even fewer where you can climb largely on natural trad protection. The Matsuki-sawa Gendarme ticks both these boxes.
Historically there have been a host of routes put up on the walls of this beautiful fortress up above the river on the flanks of Nakakura-yama (中倉山). But over the years, many of them have fallen into disuse because of loose rock. The Chokujou route takes a direct line up a system of cracks, offwidths and slabs right in the heart of the central wall. With largely solid rock throughout, and requiring almost exclusively trad protection, it’s a fun and challenging adventure that should be high on your list.
If travelling from Tokyo (東京) by car, take the Tōhoku Expressway as far as Utsunomiya (宇都宮), then change onto the Nikko-Utsunomiya road until it turns into Route 120. Turn left onto Route 122 and stay on this until it meets Route 250, then turn right onto Route 250. Keep going straight on up the Ashio (足尾) valley on this road until you reach its end at the small car park above the Akagane Water Park (銅親水公園).
From the car park, you need to walk a little further up the road you drove in on, go past the barrier blocking the road, and cross the bridge to get over the river on the left. Walk along the road as it doubles back round to the left and then swings northwest again towards the entrance to Matsuki-sawa (松木沢).
You’ll need to follow this road for around 1.5 hours. As you reach the old Matsuki village you’ll see the Gendarme up above on your left, and will eventually reach the end of the road at a dam parallel with the Gendarme.
From here, cross the bridge over the river and head up the slope above, following a faint climbers trail with cairns and occasional pink tape on tree branches along the way. When you reach the rock face, walk along the bottom to the left until you locate the chimney which is the start of the first pitch.
Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:
Pitch 1: Climb the vertical chimney crack on natural pro and continue up over a slight bulge to a piton belay. (25m 5.7)
Pitch 2: Continue straight up the corner crack system above (offwidth in places) to the bottom of a steep flared offwidth. Climb this and exit leftwards to a bolted belay. (3m 5.8)
Pitch 3: Climb the bulge on climber’s right, then continue up the run-out edge leftwards, being very careful not to dislodge any loose rocks. (50m 5.6)
Pitch 4: There are three parallel cracks systems that all go at a similar grade. Take your pick and climb the steep but featured wall above to a bolted belay. (30m 5.6)
Pitch 5: Climb the crack system trending up and rightwards, then climb a slab to your left to a bolted belay. (50m 5.5)
Pitch 6: This pitch can be avoided by heading up the loose gully round the back. But if you want to take it on, climb the line of weakness up the vertical face of the Fist rock (Kobushi-iwa, 拳岩) which constitutes the summit of the central wall. There are few options for protection, and the exposure here is massive, but there are enough holds to get through it. The final overhang is exhilarating! (20m 5.8)
From the top of the Gendarme you could continue scrambling up the ridge behind to gain the main summit ridge of Nakakura-yama, and then descend the long hiking trail from there back down.
Alternatively, just descend the Gendarme back to the road you walked in on. To do this, head down on your right and follow a steep and loose trail that weaves its way down through several gullies, with in-situ ropes in a few places. Be careful with loose rock and scree, and consider rappelling the sections with fixed ropes unless you are happy with the condition of those ropes.
It should take around 30 minutes to reach the bottom of the Gendarme, and then you just need to descend the hiking trail back to the dam and the road, and then a walk back to the carpark.
An exciting direct route up the centre of the Matsuki-sawa Gendarme, in an area that blends both industrial history and natural beauty. Bring 50m double ropes, a full set of nuts and cams, and around 12 quickdraws.
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