Route Name: Cental arête (Chuo-ryo 中央稜)
Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)
Length: 6 pitches (+ 150m of II/III to the summit of the Bird's Hat)
Time: 3-4 hours to the top of the last pitch
Grade: V- (IV A0) crux pitch / Overall grade 3 alpine route
From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (about 1.5hrs). Change for the Joetsu 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 rech 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. Climbers are permitted to sleep on the floor in here for free after the restaurants close.
This route is a 3-star (***) classic in all guidebooks, and for my money, has to be the most striking feature on Tanigawadake! No matter who looks up Ichinokura-sawa from below, their eyes will be drawn towards the striking arête that forms the left edge of the triangular monolith that soars up towards the Bird's Hat at the top of Tail ridge. It is an absolute must for any Tanigawa climber.
Ichinokura-sawa at sunrise:
The Cental arête (left edge):
After making sure you get an early start, walk up the road from the Visitors Centre for about an hour to the car park at the entrance to Ichinokura-sawa. Start walking up the sawa, scramble through the narrow gorge section, and after about half an hour you'll come to a seemingly impassable waterfall. A path rises up its left edge, with a fixed rope near the top. Follow this up for a while until you come to a rappel station. Make a 25m rappel and then climb down back to the sawa with the help of fixed ropes.
From here you can gain access to the start of Tail ridge. Continue up to the top, with occasional fixed ropes.
Looking up Tail ridge:
On Tail ridge:
The bottom belay anchor of the Chuo-ryo is literally at the top of Tail Ridge.
Pitch 1: Climb up and leftwards following the pitons. A short crux section at about 30m brings you to the belay anchor. (40m IV)
Pitch 2: Make a short, exposed but easy, traverse around to the left side of the arête, and then follow a sort of wide chimney to a belay. (25m III)
Looking down Pitch 2:
Pitch 3: Make a short and exposed traverse back onto the arête, then climb a groove.
The traverse on Pitch 3:
Deciding exactly where this pitch ends can be confusing, but there is a belay station in-situ. The crux is a thin section of IV just below the anchor, which can be aided if necessary. (25m IV)
Looking across to start of the South Ridge:
Pitch 4: Climb up and rightwards until you gain access to a chimney. Climb up with in-situ piton protection. The chimney narrows and overhangs near the top, but an undercling allows a high move to be made out of the chimney on the left, from where easier climbing leads to the anchor, a spacious ledge with an incredible view. If you are unable to freeclimb it, the top moves can be done A0 with in-situ pitons. (25m V- / IV A0)
At the top of the 4th pitch:
Pitch 5: An easier pitch follows up and leftwards to a comfortable belay in a kind of wide chimney. (25m III)
Pitch 6: Climb up and out of the chimney to a pinnacle with a rappel anchor on it. Continue up past the pinnacle. At this point the climbing becomes very exposed. The holds are all there, and it is not excessively difficult, but the exposure adds to the sense of difficulty. Don't be put off by the length of the pitch... there is a good anchor up there with ring bolts and pitons. (40m III+)
You have now reached the top of the difficulties, and are faced with three options:
1. Continue up 150m or so of rock at II/III and steep grass and bushes to the top of the Bird's Hat, make a rappel into a groove above the top anchor of the South ridge (南稜), and then continue up to the summit of Ichinokuradake (一ノ倉岳 ). This will add considerably to the length of the day.
2. Do as above, but rappel down the South ridge on fixed anchors.
3. Call it good at the top of the 6th pitch and rappel the Chuo-ryo. This requires multiple 50m rappels, and care must be taken to ensure the ropes do not get stuck in a crack near the top of the crux chimney pitch, but this is by far the most popular option.
The last rappel:
If you choose to rappel, then descent is simply to reverse Tail ridge and the sawa below back to the car park at the start of Ichinokura-sawa.
You can now buy yourselves a cold beer in celebration of climbing one of the most classic lines in the area.
An outright 3-star classic and a must-do on the wish list of any Tanigawa climber. Good quality rock on the whole , superb positions and exposure, and good rappel anchors. Take a small selection of nuts in addition to quickdraws, but don't be surprised if you don't use any of them. Climb it, now...