Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The East ridge of Jiigatake (爺ヶ岳東尾根)

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

Mountain:  Jiigatake (2669m 爺ヶ岳)

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

Time:  1-2 days

Grade:  Overall grade 1 alpine route

Mt Jiigatake is a triple-headed peak in the North Alps, situated above Kashima village to the east and Ōgisawa to the south. It is the last great peak on the long North-South ridgeline that takes in Mt Shirouma (白馬岳), Mt Karamatsu (唐松岳), Mt Goryu (五竜岳) and Mt Kashimayari (鹿島槍ヶ岳) before swinging to the west. See here for a video of a summer run along this ridgeline in a continuous single push.

Although slightly shorter than its neighbours to the north, Jiigatake is a large mountain and its eastern aspect is both dramatic and beautiful. Its East ridge poses a lengthy outing of moderate difficulty, requiring less commitment than neighbouring Mt Kashimayari’s East ridge, but with impressive scenery and views nevertheless. Typically climbed in late winter and early spring, many people opt to do this route in two days, camping mid-way along the ridge, but it is perfectly possible for a fit party to do it in a day; and in many ways preferable not to be carrying all that gear on your backs.

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).

If travelling by car, take the Nagano Expressway and exit at Azusagawa (梓川), just past Matsumoto (松本). Get onto route 147 heading northwest, and turn left at Kita-Ōmachi onto route 45. Shortly afterwards turn right onto route 325 and follow this past the Jiigatake Ski Area (爺ガ岳スキー場) into Kashima village (鹿島). Park up by the side of the road when you get to this sign.

(Note: All photos in this article are from a spring ascent on 19 April 2016.)

From the road, walk up the driveway and past the house into the woods behind. You will immediately come across a sign for the East ridge pointing up the trail ahead.

Walk up the trail until you reach the first of a series of concrete dams. Follow the trail as it heads up right of the dam and onto a ridge.

The first 45 minutes is steep but fairly open as you pick your way up this ridge. Soon you will transition into a zone of sawa grass, and the trail will become much more overgrown. Look out for pink tape to follow as you thrutch your way up an hour of full-body bush-whacking.

Eventually the trees will begin to thin and the ridgeline will become sharper, and you will exit treeline.

Up ahead you will see the three summits of Jiigatake, still several hours away. There is space for a tent at various points along this ridge, if you are planning to break the outing up into two days.

For the next hour or two you will be ascending along the crest of the ridgeline, paying attention to any cornices. Elevation is gained incrementally as the ridge ascends and descends between bumps and pinnacles.

The crux section of the climb is a moderately exposed 10m knife-edge snow ridge, which you might consider roping up for depending on conditions. After this the ridge continues up to a tree-covered knoll, from where it takes a right turn. There is a signpost here for the central summit.

Looking back to the crux section at centre of picture:

Signpost pointing to Central summit:

The final 30-minute stretch of ridge ascends gently at first, then steepens as you approach the 2669m central summit.

Looking back down the East ridge from near the summit:

Central summit marker:

Getting down:
If conditions are good, you may wish to just reverse the East ridge to get back down to your start point in Kashima village.

Alternatively you could choose to descend the Aka-iwa ridgeline. To access the Aka-iwa head north from the Central summit, past the North summit, and down to the col about 10 minutes short of the Tsumetaike hut (冷池山荘) before the ascent to Mt Kashimayari. You will come across a signpost marking the top of the Aka-iwa ridge.

The descent trail traverses across a face initially to access the top of the ridge, and it can feel a little exposed in poor snow conditions.

The top half of the ridge is open, steep and exposed, but eventually after descending for about an hour you will come to a flat area marked on the map as Takachihodai (高千穂台).

The trail continues down for another hour or two, consistently steep and with a lot of ladders in place. Eventually you will find yourself traversing to your left at the bottom of the ridge, and you will soon reach the river. Cross this river near one of the dams by the safest way you can find (it will differ depending on the year). A further hour’s walk down the rindou on the other side will bring you first to a small hydro plant by the river, and then to the suspension bridge that leads to the car park at the Ōtanbara (大谷原) trail head. Kashima village is another hour down the road.

If you can find it in good conditions, this ridge will provide a fine variation climb directly to the highest summit of this beautiful mountain. The later you leave it, the more awkward it will become as snow conditions deteriorate. It’s an excellent outing though, with spectacular views of the East ridge of nearby Mt Kashimayari!

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