Friday, 15 May 2015

The East ridge of Mt Kashimayari (鹿島槍ヶ岳東尾根)

Route name:  East ridge (Higashi-one 東尾根)

Mountain:  Kashimayari-ga-take (2889m 鹿島槍ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  35 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  1-2 days

Grade:  Overall grade 3 alpine route

Mt Kashimayari is one of the finest of Japan’s North Alps giants, and one of its most distinctive.  It is situated on the long ridgeline that runs north to south from Mt Shirouma in the Hakuba area down to Ōgisawa, entry point for the famous Alpen Route through the Kurobe Dam to Mt Tateyama.  Its immediate neighbour to the north is Mt Goryu, and the kirettō ridgeline that connects them contains some of the most dramatic and exposed hiking in the area.

Mt Kashimayari has twin summits connected by a bow-shaped col. The South summit (南山頂 2889m) is the higher of the two, and the hyakumeizan highpoint, while the North summit (北山頂 2842m), with its East ridge, Tengu ridge (天狗尾根) and precipitous North face, is home to some of the most dramatic alpine climbing routes in the area.

In snow conditions, from late winter (March) through to around Golden Week (end of April), the East ridge (東尾根) provides one of Japan’s most aesthetic and satisfying alpine climbs.  Not for the faint-hearted, this is a serious and committing ridge with near-constant exposure along its entire length.  The ridge shelves steeply off to the left, and unstable cornices along the crest ensure that aspirants spend their whole ascent on these inclines with the void below never really leaving your field of vision. It’s an exhilarating feeling, and really does warrant this route’s classic status.

Getting there:

If travelling on public transport, take a train to Shinano-Ōmachi (信濃大町) station, and then take an Ōmachi city bus bound for Gen-yū (源汲方面) and get off the bus at Kashima (鹿島) bus stop, not long after the Jiigatake ski resort (爺ガ岳スキー場). From there it is about an hour’s walk to the car park at Ōtanbara (大谷原).  If you don’t have time to wait for one of the infrequent buses, you could also consider spending approx. ¥5500 on a taxi.

If you have a car, you need to drive to the trailhead at the end of the road at Ōtanbara.  There is a toilet block and a car park with space for 10-15 cars.

Ōtanbara car park:


(Note: All photos in this article are from a spring ascent on 18 April 2015.)

Due to the amount of snow on the mountain in late winter, this route is typically climbed over two days, with a night spent in the tent on one of the pinnacles in the lower half of the route. If you’re a fast party, and you find good snow conditions as we did, it can be done comfortably in a day up and down.

From the car park at Ōtanbara, cross the bridge and walk along the rindou for about 20 minutes.  You’ll go past a small hydro plant on the riverside, and the road will switch back at one point. You’ll soon notice the ridge up on your right, and you’ll come to an entry point where it’s possible to ascend up to the ridgeline.

Head up the steep slope until you gain the ridge, then head left up the crest of the ridge in the trees. This continues for a couple of hours until you leave treeline, and eventually you’ll arrive on top of the Ichi-no-sawa-no-atama (一の沢の頭) pinnacle at 2004m.  There is space for a couple of tents up here if needed.

On Ichi-no-sawa-no-atama pinnacle:

From here onwards you are into the climbing on the East ridge proper. Continue along a very sharp ridge, treading carefully on top of the cornices in some places where no alternative exists.

After some time you’ll arrive at the Ni-no-sawa-no-atama (二の沢の頭) pinnacle, where there is again room for a couple of tents.

Up to now the gradients have been relatively gentle, but from here on things are going to get much steeper.

Upper East ridge:

Descend down the far side of the pinnacle and up over the next, then ascend a steep snow slope until you arrive at the foot of the first rock step.  The drop-offs to climber’s left are really quite substantial now, so take care as you climb.

First rock step:

Looking back from first rock step:

View across to Mt Jiigatake:

The first rock step is pretty straightforward.  There is a piton anchor at the foot of it, and a 50m rope will suffice.  First climb up well-featured rock, with in-situ piton protection, then get onto the snow and climb mixed ground to an anchor near the top.  You can unrope again here, but be aware that there is still a bit of easy mixed terrain remaining, and you’ll exit this onto a steep snow slope with no real resting points until you gain the crest at the top.

Continue along the crest here, over a sharp snow pinnacle and down the other side.

Looking back from far side of pinnacle:

Scramble up a loose blocky rock section with care, and anchor at the foot of the chimney that cuts its way up the second rock step.

This rock step bars the way to the final stretches to the summit, and goes at about grade IV. Naturally, grade IV in boots and crampons with a full pack containing camping gear requires slightly more focus than it would at the local crag, and the chimney does overhang at one point, just to add a bit more enjoyment and a sense of position.

From the anchor at the top of the chimney, you’re back on snow, and a short but slightly tricky traverse ensues to get back onto easier ground; tricky largely because it's steep and the snow will almost certainly be soft in the sun by this stage.  Continue up to the junction where the Tengu ridge (天狗尾根) joins the East ridge, and then carry on up to a small flat spot at the top of the North face. From here a final 50m ascent brings you to the North summit of Kashimayari.

Final slope to North summit:

Looking back at the final slopes:

The views from here are quite simply outstanding.

Kashimayari North summit marker:

Getting down:

From the North summit, walk carefully down the slope to the col between the North and South summits. From here you have two choices:

1. Continue over the South summit, down to the site of the hut below the North summit (2631m) of Mt Jiigatake (爺ヶ岳). Then ascend a little more in the direction of Jiigatake before branching off to the west onto the Akaiwa-one (赤岩尾根) descent ridge.  This ridge is a marked trail of 3 hours map-time in summer, and will take you all the way down to the rindou about an hour away from Ōtanbara.

2. Climb from the col between the North and South summits directly down the steep snow slopes to the east (front-pointing necessary in the upper section), and descend  as quickly as you can all the way down this snow valley to the rindou at the foot of the Akaiwa-one descent ridge.  Be very aware of avalanche risk if you choose to do this, and make sure that the sun has already dipped to the west behind the summit ridgeline.

Green line shows direct descent route:


What can I say?  This ridge speaks for itself.  It would be a true classic anywhere in the world.  Bring your A-game, and enjoy this perfect way to the summit of this perfect mountain!

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