Wednesday, 11 December 2013

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 new bolted anchors mid-way and abseil chains 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 Otake (大岳山 1267m) afterwards for sunset.

Summit of Mt Otake:

Getting there:

If travelling from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuō 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 ¥3800 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.  We used 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.

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. Normal 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 tree in a cleft at the top with a chain anchor nearby.  Be careful not to put any weight on this tree, as it is totally dead and could easily be ripped out.

4. Normal route variation start [10m, IV+]

A more direct variation to start Normal route with, taking a crack straight up at IV+ instead of the initial left traverse.

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