Monday, 2 February 2009

Tanigawadake, South ridge (谷川岳南稜)

Route Name: South ridge (Nan-ryo )

Mountain: Ichinokuradake (一ノ倉岳)

Length: 7 pitches + 200m simul-climbing to the summit

Time: 6-8 hours to the summit

Grade: V (IV+ A0) / Overall grade 3+ alpine climb

This route is a hands-down total classic! It is situated at the far end of the Ichinokura-sawa valley (一ノ倉沢), which is a big draw for photographers of mountain scenery in all seasons of the year. Ichinokura-sawa is a true climbers’ valley, in that there is no way out of it other than the way you entered unless you can climb one of the mountaineering routes to gain the summit ridge. As such, when you exit this valley at the far end it is with the knowledge that you have just climbed out of one of the most aesthetic pieces of mountain scenery in all of Japan.

Getting there:
From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (高崎, about 1.5hrs). Change for the Joetsu Line to Minakami (水上, about 45mins), then take a local for 2 stops to Doai (土合). 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.

To reach the entrance to Ichinokura-sawa continue up the road for about half an hour, initially through several zigzags and then contouring along above the river past Machiga-sawa, until you reach a toilet block at the head of the valley.

The approach in summer takes several hours from the mouth of the valley, including one section where the trail leads high up on the left-hand side before descending again via a 50m rappel. From the bottom of the rappel a scramble takes you up to the start of the Tail ridge.

The rappel:

Granite slabs in the sawa:

Looking up Tail ridge:

Ascend Tail ridge to the top where it meets the start of the Central arête (Chuo-ryo 中央稜), then make an exposed scramble up on the left of the Central arête, a traverse across the top of the next valley on granite slab, then a short climb up to the belay ledge at the bottom of the South ridge which marks the start of the route. If you are planning to rappel the route after climbing, then rucksacks can be left here.

Pitch 1: A short rising traverse up the wall and rightwards brings you to a chimney. Make the tricky move to enter the chimney, then climb up it and out to a belay on the left. (30m IV)

The chimney:

Pitch 2: Climb straight up on small but positive holds, with piton protection, for about 15m before heading up and left to a good belay stance. (25m IV)

Pitch 3: Walk / Scramble up the grassy trail with easy rocky sections to gain the belay. (40m II)

Pitch 4: Climb the short wall to the left to a spectacular belay with views down to the foot of the valley and to the walls all around. (20m III)

Pitch 5: Climb up about 10m before choosing either the left or the right of two possible routes around a promontory, then carry on up to a belay at the foot of a chimney crack. (30m III)

Pitch 6: 15m of fairly physical climbing brings you to the top of the crack. Continue to belay on a ledge below the final headwall. (25m IV)

Pitch 7: Easy climbing gains the headwall. From here it is 10m of harder climbing up the wall, with in-situ pitons for protection. This section can be climbed A0 if necessary by pulling on one of the pitons to pass through the crux move near the top. Belay on the ledge at the top. (20m V or IV+A0)

From the top, the route can be rappelled back to the first belay ledge in 6 rappels up to 40m each on good in-situ anchors.

Continuing to the top is recommended if summits are important to you, but beware that the 200m of gradeless scrambling that the Japanese guidebooks describe is not entirely accurate. In fact, from here to the summit there are still a good few hundred metres of height-gain to be made, and around 3 hours of scrambling, including several more pitches of albeit straightforward climbing on loose rock, and one final rock step before the last 100m of bush-whacking up to the top.

The Bird's Hat (Eboshi-iwa):

Bush-whacking to the top:

The summit emergency hut:

From the summit of Ichinokuradake, follow the hiking trail along for about 1.5/2 hours to the hut below the summit of Tomanomimi (トマノ耳), then down to Tenjindaira (天神平). If you have missed the final cable-car from Tenjindaira, then your descent from Ichinokuradake back down to the Visitors Centre will probably take about 4-5 hours, making this a long but extremely rewarding and adventurous day in the mountains.

An absolute local classic in one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in Japan. 7 pitches of first-class climbing on good rock, then a long but easier climb up and out to gain the highest summit of the Tanigawadake massif. Good in-situ protection, so a rack of quickdraws and a selection of nuts and long slings should suffice.

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