Route Name: Henkei Chimney (変形チムニー)
Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)
Length: 12 pitches
Time: 4-6 hours to the top of the last pitch
Grade: V+ (IV+ A1) crux pitch / Overall Grade 4 alpine route
From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (about 1.5hrs). Change for the Jōetsu 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 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.
Walk up the road from the Visitors Centre for about half an hour until you get to the entrance to Ichinokura-sawa (一ノ倉沢). Head up the sawa until you reach the foot of Tail ridge, and ascend this all the way to the top, at the foot of the Tsuitate (衝立岩) rock face.
From here make an exposed rising traverse to your left across the steep slabs in the direction of the Nan-ryō terrace. About two thirds of the way across you will come to the belay anchor at the bottom of the first pitch of the route.
Looking up the face from the first anchor:
This route is essentially a separate line for the first five pitches, after which a thinly protected but straight-forward traverse pitch brings you to the upper half of the neighbouring Chuō Kante (中央カンテ) route. From there the two routes join, sharing the same crux pitch high up on the face. The difference though, which is what gives this route its slightly higher overall grade, is that where the first five pitches of Chuō Kante contain nothing harder than grade IV, this route passes through the magnificent Henkei Chimney. This dark and wet overhanging off-width chimney at the top of the fifth pitch goes free at V+ or aided at IV A1, and is quite simply a superb piece of climbing.
Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:
Pitch 1: Climb up the face on well-featured rock, taking care not to dislodge any loose stones on people below. (35m III+)
Pitch 2: Ascend up to a sort of rock flake, which turns out to be loose in its entirety, and climb it without pulling it off the mountain. Continue up for a few more metres to the belay. (30m IV)
Pitch 3: Climb the crack rising leftwards. (25m IV+)
Pitch 4: Climb easy ground up and to the right to an anchor below the chimney. (20m III)
Pitch 5: Climb up to the base of the chimney. Ascend the chimney using a variety of styles and holds, and be sure to behold the magnificent position and exposure on the final moves at the top. Belay at the anchor just out of the chimney. (20m V+ / IV A1)
Pitch 6: A straight-forward but exposed traverse to the right, to join the Chuō Kante route. Take care with loose rock. (30m III+)
The traverse pitch:
Pitch 7: Up and to the right. (40m IV)
Pitch 8: Again, up and to the right. (40m III-)
Pitch 9: Climb up to the lip of the overhang, and surmount this with a strong move up on positive holds. Continue up to another leftward-rising chimney crack. Climb this chimney crack, with some layback moves, until you reach the belay at the top. (30m V+ / IV+ A1)
Pitch 10: Up and to the left. (30m IV)
Pitch 11: More up and to the left. (40m III)
Pitch 12: Ascend a few metres and traverse left, then climb up a steeper but well-featured section to gain the shoulder. The anchor at the top of the route is here, with the Eboshi (烏帽子岩) rock feature directly up on your right. (40m IV)
Arriving at the top:
Looking down at climbers on top of the neighbouring Chuō-ryo:
From the anchor on top of the route, make a free-hanging abseil on two 50m ropes down the overhanging corner on the other side. When you touch the ground, stay connected to the ropes and continue across the slab, paying attention to loose stones, and several metres down the overgrown grassy slope on the other side of the gully to reach a dodgy piton anchor.
From this anchor you have the option of un-roping and making a sketchy traverse up and left, then down through the undergrowth to the top of the Nan-ryō (南稜) route, and many Japanese parties probably do this. Frankly speaking though, I would strongly recommend belaying this traverse. Having climbed a 12-pitch V+ rock route to get there, it would be ridiculous to slip and fall from here, and I think it would be all too easy for this to happen. It’s your call, but whatever you choose, be really careful… This is a dangerous spot.
Once you get to the top of the Nan-ryō, you can traverse across to the top of the line of rappels which is the standard rappel descent.
It will take you about five rappels on double ropes to reach the terrace at the start of the Nan-ryō. From here you can either unrope and downclimb or do one more rappel to easier ground.
Now you just need to traverse back across to the top of Tail ridge and descend back out of Ichinokura-sawa to the road.
Overall:A long and steep route up the striking face between the Nan-ryō (South ridge) and Chuo-ryō (Central Arête) routes, with huge exposure and great climbing. The two crux pitches are both absolutely priceless. Bring double ropes, a full rack of slings and quickdraws, and a few small/medium cams. As always with routes in Ichinokura-sawa, be alert at all times and pay close attention to not dislodging any of the many loose rocks onto people below.