Route Name: Genjiro ridge (源次郎尾根)
Mountain: Tsurugidake (剣岳 2999m)
Length: Approx. 1000m
Time: 6-8 hours to the summit
Grade: II-III / Overall Grade 1 alpine route
Of all the iconic variation ridge routes on Mt Tsurugi, there is something special about the Genjiro ridge. Viewed from the upper reaches of Tsurugi-sawa it appears impregnable; flanked by sheer walls of rock and vegetation, and rearing up over 1000m from the valley floor directly to the summit, through two gigantic rocky pinnacles. It presents a vision both terrifying and alluring, and viewed from this aspect, the crux of the puzzle appears to be just getting onto it in the first place.
But as is so often the case, those early pioneers of Japanese alpinism were able to root out an ingenious way through, and in July of 1925, the great Kinji Imanishi gifted us one of the most beautiful variation routes in the Japan Alps.
The Genjiro can be climbed either as a summer rock scramble, or as a spring snow ridge. Either way though, it’s a total classic, and should be high up on your radar!
Access to Tsurugidake requires getting up to Murodō (室堂) on the large plateau below the summit of Tateyama (立山) in the North Alps. If travelling from Tokyo on public transport there are a couple of ways you can do this, none of them easy, but the quickest and cheapest way is as follows. Take a Chuō Line limited express Super Azusa from Shinjuku station to Matsumoto (松本), then change onto the Ōito Line (大糸線) for a local train to Shinano-Ōmachi (信濃大町). From there you’ll need to take a bus to Ōgisawa (扇沢, 45mins, ¥1330). At Ōgisawa, queue up at the ticket office and buy a return ticket for the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート, timetables here). This convoluted but impressive series of stages will take you through a trolley bus up to the famous Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム), followed by a funicular railway, a ropeway and then a final trolley bus through Mt Tateyama to Murodō.
From Murodō head out of the top station and find the most direct way through the maze of trails through Jigokudani, down to the campsite at the valley floor, and then up the trail on the other side to the Tsurugigozen (剣御前) hut up on the col. From there a short walk will bring you down to the Tsurugi-sawa camp ground (剣沢キャンプ場).
After an early headtorch start, follow the hiking trail down Tsurugi-sawa. At the Tsurugi-sawa hut (剣沢小屋) the trail forks, with the left trail heading across to the normal ‘Bessan ridge’ hiking trail up Mt Tsurugi. You need to take the right trail down into the lower reaches of Tsurugi-sawa, and things begin to steepen a little at this point. The trail is not all that clear in the dark, but there are occasional paint marks on rocks to keep things honest.
At some point you’ll reach the top of the snowpack that sits year-round in Tsurugi-sawa. The later you are in the summer, the more you’ll need to pay attention to the condition of the snowpack. If it looks solid, the easiest thing is to put on a pair of crampons or spikes and just walk straight down it. Otherwise, the actual hiking trail clings to the right bank above the snowpack.
After an hour or so you’ll come to the entrance to the Heizotani (平蔵谷) valley on your left, dropping precipitously from the shoulder of the mountain. This also contains year-round snow, and in good conditions is a popular variation route to reach the summit. The enormous foot of the Genjiro ridge will have been silhouetted in front of you for some time now, and this junction with Heizotani is an alert that you are approaching the access point for the ridge.
The Japanese topo maps for the Genjiro show two ways to get up onto the ridge crest; the ridge route (尾根ルート) and the runze route (ルンゼルート). Regular readers of this site will know that “runze” means gully, and the runze route follows a steep gully of scree and boulders up from Tsurugi-sawa for hundreds of metres until the two routes merge near the apex point of this initial lower section. However, this is the usual access route in spring snow conditions, when the gully is full of snow, and constitutes a straightforward but steep snow slope. In summer conditions it is difficult, full of loose rock and steep polished slabby rock steps, with some hard climbing and scant opportunities for protection.
It is far better to take the ridge route, which starts out from the same place but then cuts across and up the ridge on climber’s left, presenting a well-worn trail to follow. There now ensues several hundred metres of very steep and three-dimensional scrambling up dirt, tree roots, and rock as the ridge soars improbably up towards that same apex. But the well-featured scrambling and climbing make this section a real joy.
There are several spots containing in-situ protection where you might well feel inclined to get the rope out, and one very airy section of exposed but featured rock that might give pause for thought to some teams, but for the most part you’re on steep scrambling terrain.
Eventually you will approach the apex where the ridge meets the top of the runze, and from here on you are onto the Genjiro ridge crest.
Continue upwards over a couple of minor summits and crests, past several minor cols, through the haimatsu (dwarf pine) zone, until you arrive at the top of the first of the Genjiro’s mighty pinnacles (I峰). The views from up here are precipitous on all sides, and quite spectacular!
Continuing over the pinnacle, a steep down-climb brings you into a narrow and improbable col, with a sheer and uninviting ascent on the other side. As is always the case on this ridge though, what appears to be improbable from a distance always reveals a path through as you get closer. The climbing up the steep ridge crest of the second pinnacle (II峰) is some of the finest on the route!
As you hit the top of the second pinnacle the summit itself rears into view up in the distance, with the final stretch of the ridge foreshortened ahead. As you approach the edge of the pinnacle, you’ll reach an in-situ rappel stance. From here make a 30m rappel down the slabby face into the col that connects the second pinnacle to the upper mountain.
The way to the summit is now open to you. Follow the trail up the ridge crest, taking the path of least resistance through rock steps and minor pinnacles. The terrain steepens slightly towards the summit, but it is always well-featured, and eventually you will scramble out directly next to the summit shrine itself!
Take a moment up there to appreciate the dramatic architecture of Japan’s finest mountain, from the steep snow valleys to the pinnacles of the Genjiro and Yatsumine (八つ峰尾根) ridges, and the views out to the Toyama Bay.
From the summit, follow the normal ‘Bessan ridge’ hiking trail back down across the infamous “Kani-no-yokobai” traverse and over the tops of Mae-Tsurugi (前剣) and Ippuku Tsurugi (一服劔), until you reach the Kenzanso mountain hut (cold beer available!).
Long and committing, with no easy escape, the Genjiro ridge is the classic variation route to the summit of Mt Tsurugi. Somehow the improbable-looking terrain always reveals well-featured scrambling and climbing, and with the fortress-like summit as its direct terminus, this ridge puts out an irresistible call to all alpine climbers. Bring a 60m rope for the rappel, and a selection of alpine draws, slings and a basic trad rack.
For more classic route descriptions, along with topos, approach maps, photos and much more, get your copy of the new second book in the Climb Japan series from Amazon!