Thursday, 26 March 2009

Northwest ridge of Amidadake (阿弥陀岳北西稜)

Route Name: Northwest ridge (Hokusai 北西稜)

Mountain: Amidadake (阿弥陀岳) on Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳) massif

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

Length: 7 pitches + 100m simul-climbing to the summit

Time: 6-7 hours to the summit

Difficulty: 5.9 (or IV A1) / Overall Grade 2+ alpine route

Getting there:
Take a Super Azusa 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).

Minotoguchi carpark:

From the car park start hiking up the road that is signposted to Akadake (赤岳).  The walk-in takes around 2.5 hours by map time.  The first hour brings you past a series of buildings and on a little further to a hut that makes a good resting point for 5 minutes:

From the hut, ignore the road heading left up Kitasawa (北沢), and take the smaller trail that breaks off ahead up Minamisawa (南沢).  Cross the small bridge to the other side of the sawa, and then follow the trail for about 1.5 hours up.

First sighting of Amidadake:
The NW ridge, visible from the trail:
Crux pitch of the route marked:

This trail will take you to the Gyouja-goya hut (行者小屋) after 2 hours, but you need to camp in the sawa about 30 minutes before the hut:

After an early alpine start, head up through the forest to the right of the sawa.  The slope steepens, but keep going up through the trees until after about an hour you will come out onto the lower part of the ridge.  Head up left until you break treeline, and keep going until you reach the start of a level section of the ridge itself, with the route stretching out ahead and above.

Looking back down the lower ridge:
At the start of the real climbing:
Move together across this 120m stretch.  The climbing is straightforward, never more than grade II.  After this come the first of the mixed pitches.  Keeping to the right of the ridge, climb a full rope-length on rock and frozen turf.

Looking back:

Belay on a ledge with in-situ protection that reflects the full historical development in Japan from rings to pitons to bolts:
From here a trickier mixed pitch follows the rock down and right of the ridgeline, ending with a series of blocky moves back up onto the ridge and belay at the start of the rock pyramid that houses the crux pitch.

Blocky moves up to the belay:
The belay stance before the crux pitch:
There are two options for the crux section.  Either follow a ledge out left and then ascend a slabby section on aid to the next belay, or traverse several metres to the right and climb a 20m chimney.  We took the chimney.  Protection here is in a crack at the back of the chimney, and the climbing is quite involving, with boots or crampons balancing on small nubbins of rock.

A tricky move near the top can be aided if necessary, but can be done free.  At the top of the chimney, swing out left and up onto the slab, and continue about 10m more to the bolt belay.

Looking back to the exit from the chimney:
The bolted belay above the crux pitch:
From here, you can move together for about 40m up a steep but easy section of snow, before reaching a rock step.  Belay each other up this, and then simul-climb the final 100m or so to the summit.

Views from here are stunning, with the full panorama of the Japan Alps and Mt Fuji visible.

Summit shot:
The descent for the summit involves an initial section of moving together along an exposed section of ridge, then down-climbing steep snow with an abseil possible.  Finally, a steep and long down-climb on snow brings you to the col between Amidadake and Akadake, from which you head down left for a long but easy slog back to the hut, and on back to your tent.

The final down-climb to the col (a lot steeper than it looks here!):
And again (the ladder gives you a clue to the angle):

A fun and involving little route, far from the crowds, with plenty of interest and variety of climbing.  Take a variety of nuts and slings, with a couple of medium-sized cams, for protection.  Although this route gets climbed in winter, conditions are fickle, and for a higher chance of success I recommend it as a spring alpine route.

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