Monday, 20 May 2019

Tanigawadake, Chuō-Kante (谷川岳中央カンテ)

Route Name: Chuō-Kante (中央カンテ)

Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

Map sheet:  16 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Length: 10 pitches

Time: 4-6 hours to the top of the last pitch

Grade: V crux pitch / Overall grade 4- alpine route

The Chuō-Kante route ascends the prominent rib of rock on the right side of the Eboshi-sawa Oku-heki (烏帽子沢奥壁) wall, between the Henkei Chimney (変形チムニー) and the Ojou-heki (凹状壁) routes. First climbed in the summer of 1958, this 10-pitch odyssey provides steady climbing for the most part up a stunning natural line, and its crux pitch is one of the finest on the wall. Protection is often sparse, with some pitches containing barely any in-situ gear at all, so a trad rack is required here. Rock quality can be rather suspect, so care and good balance will serve you well. All of this adds up to a classic and universally valued outing up one of the finest and most storied of Japanese walls.

(Note: The photos in this article are assembled from several ascents of the wall, hence the varied weather conditions.)

Getting there:
From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (about 1.5hrs). Change for the Jōetsu Line to Minakami (about 45mins), then take a local for 2 stops to Doai. From the underground platform at Doai station, climb a 489-step staircase from hell to reach ground level. Exit the station and join the main road, turning right and walking under a railway bridge. Follow this road for about 20 minutes up to the Visitors Centre.

Walk up the road from the Visitors Centre for about half an hour until you get to the entrance to Ichinokura-sawa (一ノ倉沢). Head up the sawa until you reach the bottom of Tail ridge, and ascend this all the way to the top, at the foot of the Tsuitate-iwa (衝立岩) rock face.

From here make a short but exposed rising traverse to your left up the steep slabs around the bottom of the Chuō-ryo (中央稜). You will soon reach an in-situ anchor (2 bolts), which is the shared start of both the Chuō-Kante and Ojou-heki routes.

Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:

Pitch 1: Traverse right from the anchor for 10m round the corner. Ascend another 20m on loose grassy rock. (30m III+)

Pitch 2: Climb up moderate but run-out terrain to a 2-bolt anchor. (40m III)

Pitch 3: Make steep moves to gain the Kante, then ascend it for about 20m to an anchor. (40m IV)

Pitch 4: Continue up the Kante for a rope length, ignoring an old intermediate anchor. (50m III)

Pitch 5: Climb up the shallow gully above to the base of a chimney. Climb the chimney on trad gear placements to an anchor just above. (30m IV+)

Pitch 6: Climb up and to the right, and belay a short distance below the obvious crux overhang. (40m III)

Pitch 7: Climb up to the lip of the overhang, and surmount this with a strong move up right on positive holds. Continue up to another leftward-rising crack. Climb this crack, with some layback moves, until you reach the belay at the top. (30m V+)

Pitch 8: Climb up and to the left. (30m IV)

Pitch 9: Continue up and to the left across the face. (40m III)

Pitch 10: Ascend a few metres and traverse left, then climb up a steeper but well-featured section to gain the shoulder. The anchor at the top of the route is here, with the Eboshi (烏帽子岩) rock feature directly up on your right. (40m IV)

From the anchor on top of the route, make a free-hanging abseil on two 50m ropes down the overhanging corner on the other side. When you touch the ground, stay connected to the ropes and continue across the slab, paying attention to loose stones, and several metres down the overgrown grassy slope on the other side of the gully to reach a dodgy piton anchor.

From this anchor make a sketchy traverse up and left across the muddy face, then down through the undergrowth to the top of the Nan-ryō (南稜) route. Pay attention on this section, as it is a dangerous spot.

Once you get to the top of the Nan-ryō, you can traverse across to the top of the line of rappels which is the standard rappel descent. It will take you about five rappels on double ropes to reach the terrace at the start of the Nan-ryō. From here you can either unrope and down-climb or do one more rappel to easier ground.

Now you just need to traverse back across to the top of Tail ridge and descend back out of Ichinokura-sawa to the road.

A fantastic and varied outing up a large natural line with great exposure. The climbing is interesting and engaging throughout, requiring both a trad rack and a head for alpine adventure. This route is a perfect stepping stone between the easier classic arêtes bounding the Oku-heki face and the longer and more demanding routes up the face itself.

For more classic routes on Tanigawadake and the famous Ichinokura-sawa valley, check out the book on Amazon in print or Kindle e-book formats.

With this in the Kindle app on your smartphone, you'll always have the route description right there in your pocket while scanning for that next belay anchor...

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Tsuzura-iwa (つづら岩) rock-climbing

Crag name:  Tsuzura-iwa (つづら岩)

Location:  Mazukari ridge (馬頭刈尾根), Okutama

Map sheet:  23 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Rock type:  Chert

Routes:  approx. 15 (from III to VI- and A1)

With an approach walk involving 1h40m map time and about 700m of altitude gain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tsuzura-iwa was a little bit off the radar for a rock-climbing crag… But if you make the effort to get there, you will not be disappointed!

Situated on top of the Mazukari ridge, largely above treeline and west facing, this splendid 2-pitch rock face gets the sun for most of the day, and also provides spectacular views across to Mt Fuji. The rock is well-featured, the climbing interesting and the location breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, the protection is the usual rusty Japanese in-situ ‘leap of faith’, but bolted anchors mid-way and chain anchors at the top provide peace of mind if needed.

If you are okay with long days finishing in the dark by headtorch, I would advise walking up to the top of Mt Ōtake afterwards for sunset.

Summit of Mt Ōtake:

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuo Line (中央線) train bound for Tachikawa (立川), and then change trains to the Itsukaichi Line (JR五日市線). Get off at Musashi-Itsukaichi (武蔵五日市), the last station.

From outside the station you can either wait for a bus or take a taxi. Either way you need to get to Senzoku (千足) bus stop. By taxi it will cost you about 3800yen one way.

From Senzoku you need to walk straight up the road into the mountains for about 20 minutes, until you come to a small car park where the road ends. The hiking trail starts here.

The trail starts out gently as far as the Tengu waterfall (天狗滝).  Continue up to a second pretty waterfall with a shrine, the Aya waterfall (綾滝).

From here onwards the trail steepens considerably, and for the next hour or so you’ll be zigzagging upwards until you hit the Mazukari ridge.

The trail brings you up onto the ridge literally at Tsuzura-iwa, with a narrow path skirting the base of the rockface.

Getting down from the top:
The top of Tsuzura-iwa is a lovely fin of rock, vertical on the climbing side, and sloping off the back, with incredible views all around. There are solid bolt/chain rappel anchors at intervals along the top.

If you have double ropes you should be able to reach the ground in a single rappel. If climbing on a single rope, you will need to split your descent at an anchor somewhere in the middle of the face. There is a solid tree anchor but check the condition of the slings and tat around it and be prepared to add your own if you don’t trust the in-situ gear.

If you are not looking to abseil, there is a walk-off from the top. Just head to climber’s right and scramble down the trail.

The routes:
As in previous articles, I will limit the list of routes here to those that I have personal experience of climbing on lead, but there are more routes there, and you can find more info in the Japanese guidebook.

1. Okera route [“オケラルート”, 1 pitch, 35m, III] **
A superb and esoteric route up the left edge of the crag, with a highly-improbably squeeze up a narrow cleft in the rock.

Pitch 1: Scramble up the first few metres of the gully, then climb past several rusty pitons until it looks like there is nowhere else to go. From there, climb up and through the extremely narrow hole, then use your whole body for friction and upward progress through the enclosed chimney until you pop out at the top. A few more easy metres brings you to a solid tree to belay from, or you could continue to the top of the rock on your right to a chain anchor.

2. Left route [“左ルート”, 2 pitches, 50m, IV] *
Pitch 1: Climb the steep crack leftwards on dubious in-situ gear, and just keep going up and left until you reach a bolted belay next to a tree.

Pitch 2: From this belay you could climb up the right-slanting crack on in-situ pitons at V+, but Left route heads directly upwards from the anchor for several metres, before face-climbing to the left for a few metres towards the edge, and then finishing up and right to a chain anchor. It’s a spectacular finish.

3. Ippan route [“一般ルート”, 2 pitches, 50m, IV] *
Beginning at the right end of the crag, this classic route takes a line of weakness up and left, covering a large amount of the crag, with a superb ledge belay, and a steep finish.

Pitch 1: Start with a traverse to the left along an easy crack, then climb up and continue trending left on good holds. From a sort of rock pulpit, climb straight up, followed by a traverse out left again to a broad ledge with trees and a bolted anchor.

Pitch 2: From the ledge, climb a little to the left, then straight up the face to a crack. Make an interesting move to get established in the crack, and then finish at a chain anchor directly above.

4. Ippan route variation start [10m, IV+]
A more direct variation to start Ippan route with, taking a crack straight up at IV+ instead of the initial left traverse.

5. Right route [“ルート”, 1 pitch, 35m, IV] *
Although deceptively easy-looking from below, this route has some interest and comes highly recommended. Expect the top half to be very run-out.

Pitch 1: From the same starting point as Ippan route head straight up to gain the obvious chimney. Climb the bulge at the top, then continue up the run-out face to the top. Continue up easy ground to climber’s left to reach the anchor.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Morokubo-sawa (モロクボ沢) - Sawanobori in the Tanzawa range

Route Name:  Morokubo-sawa (モロクボ沢)

Trailhead:  Nishi-Tanzawa Visitors Centre (西丹沢ビジターセンター)

Map sheet:  28 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  6 hours round trip / 3 hours for the sawa climb

Grade:  Overall grade 1 route

During the summer months, when Tokyo and its residents are melting in the stifling heat and humidity, there’s nothing better than getting out into the mountains and cooling off in a mountain river. The Japanese activity of sawanobori, or river climbing, involves starting at a convenient point at the entrance to a valley and tracing the course of the river upstream, walking and scrambling up the riverbed and climbing or bypassing any waterfalls along the way, until you reach the absolute source of the stream.

With a full range of grades and guidebooks, there is plenty of scope for getting into trouble in this esoteric activity, and escape would almost always be difficult in the event of a serious injury, so it is a good idea to start with something easy and less technical or committing.

One such introductory outing is Morokubo-sawa in the western end of the Tanzawa range on the outskirts of Tokyo. With straight-forward technical difficulties and an easy approach and descent, this offers all the ambiance of sawa climbing with little of the risk associated with the more technical routes.

Getting there:
If travelling by public transport from Tokyo (東京), take the Odakyu train line from Shinjuku (新宿) to Shinmatsuda (新松田) station on the edge of the Tanzawa (丹沢) range, and then take a bus (¥1180, about an hour) from outside the station to the Nishi-Tanzawa Visitors Centre (西丹沢ビジターセンター). This is the start of the walk-in.

From the bus stop walk up the road past all the campsites along the river on your left. Keep following the road and after about half an hour you will come to a small bridge on your left. 

Cross this bridge and follow the hiking trail into the bottom of the Morokubo-sawa valley. Continue along this hiking trail with the river on your right until you come to the entry point, marked with red tape on a tree by the river, with a small artificial dam up ahead. This is the start of the sawa climb.

Entry point:

Topographical route map:

Cross the sawa and follow the right side past the man-made dam and keep walking upstream. You will soon come to the 30m Ōtaki (大滝) waterfall, the largest fall in this sawa. 

To bypass it scramble up the steep muddy slope on the left to gain an arête which takes you up a short way to a thin trail that contours along the slope above the waterfall. At the end of this traverse you will come to a short down-climb with a fixed rope. From the bottom of this just traverse a bit further round and you will get back to the sawa.

Now that you are past the Otaki the relaxed fun begins. For the next two or three hours just hike along the river bed upstream, climbing any short steps and waterfalls that you meet. There is nothing more that requires a rope and protection, so enjoy the journey.

Pay attention to the topo map and be careful when you reach any forks in the sawa. The first major fork is Honshina-sawa (本品沢) coming in from the right. The ratio of flow at this point is 3:1, with the main Morokubo-sawa providing 3x the water volume that is coming in from Honshina-sawa, so make sure you stick to the main sawa here.

About 20 minutes further on there is another fork with a 1:3 ratio, so take the right-hand fork here. The final fork comes after you have passed the last set of small waterfalls and features a 3:2 ratio. At this point you need to take the left branch.

Some way up you will reach the point where the water flow ends at the top of the sawa. Fill up your drinking water here if you’ve run out. Continue up the valley through jumbled moss-covered rocks and trees until the slope begins to steepen. There are various options around here, but try to follow the way that looks easiest, whilst always bearing to the left towards the main ridge.

Eventually you will need to climb up some rather steep mud slopes to gain the final arête that will take you up to the main ridge and the hiking trail. You should pop out onto the trail a short way below the 1293m summit of Mt Azegamaru (畦ヶ丸) on hiker’s right.

To get back down to the Visitors Centre bus stop just follow the hiking trail down the ridge. It takes about 2 hours to descend, and the last hour or so follows the Nishizawa (西沢) riverbed.

A fun and gentle hike up a beautiful sawa with minimal technical difficulties, ending almost directly at the major western summit of the Tanzawa range. No rope or rack is needed, although a 30m rope and a belay would provide additional security to anyone with less confidence on the down-climb near the Ōtaki.