Mountain: Mitsutōge (1785m, 三ツ峠山)
Map sheet: 31 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]
The large cliff face just below the summit of Mt Mitsutoge has long been used as a training ground for Japanese alpinists. There is a wide range of routes at all grades, as well as a lot of aid climbing from the old days. With a relatively short drive from Tokyo, a simple 45 minute approach hike, and amazing views of Mt Fuji just a stone’s throw away, this is a recommended venue for practising the skills required for multi-pitch climbing. The routes described here are two of the finest!
If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Chuō Expressway to Ōtsuki (大月), and then turn left in the direction of Kawaguchiko (河口湖). From Kawaguchiko you need to cross the bridge over the lake and follow route 137 until you reach the right turn onto the Misaka-michi road just before the entrance to a 3km tunnel through the mountain. This mountain road winds up towards Mitsutōge, until you reach the Mitsutōge-tozanguchi (三ツ峠登山口) at a sharp hairpin bend. There is space for about 6 cars down there, and you can find more parking up at the toilet block a few minutes further on at the Mitsutōge trailhead.
From the toilet block, follow the signs for Mt Mitsutoge’s summit. The hiking trail zig zags up a rough dirt and rock road for about 45 minutes until you reach the first hut below the summit. The rock face is visible directly beneath the summit from the hut’s terrace. A trail drops down quite steeply from the hut, with steps and hand rails, and a 5-10 minute hike will bring you along the bottom of the rock face.
Walk along the rock until you reach a small alcove with two inscription stones on a rock shelf. Both ‘Gaku route’ and the ‘Chuo-Kante’ start from here.
1. Gaku route (岳ル―ト)
This route was apparently bolted and climbed during the making of the film “Gaku” (岳), based on the manga comic of the same name. It is essentially a harder variation of the same section of the wall that the Chuo-Kante ascends, but more striking and far less busy.
Pitch 1: Climb the steep bulging wall left of the inscription stones, with good Petzl bolts, and belay on one of the large in-situ anchors on the wide terrace above. (25m 5.10a)
Pitch 2: Ascend the steep slab above to a bolt belay in a small alcove beneath a left-slanting rock rib. This slab can be avoided on the left if necessary. (20m 5.10a)
Pitch 3: From the belay go around to the right, then climb up a groove and onto the rock rib. Continue up it and climb through a bulging notch to a bolt belay on the edge of the terrace shared with the Chuo-Kante. (30m 5.9)
Looking down Pitch 3:
Pitch 4: Climb up the right edge of the stunning fin of rock above, with superb exposure. From the top of the fin, head left and climb a short overhang to establish yourself in a corner crack. Follow the crack up to a belay on a ledge at the top. (35m 5.10a)
Looking down the initial rock fin of Pitch 4:
Looking down the final corner moves:
2. Chuo-kante route (中央カンテ)
This is the old established classic up this area of the rock face, and features enjoyable climbing up a beautiful natural crack line. For the most part it can be protected on trad gear, so bring a set of nuts and cams.
Pitch 1: Start on the right side of the inscription stones, and ascend the easy face on large holds to belay on the wide terrace above. (25m III)
Pitch 2: Head straight up for a few metres from the belay, then head left up the groove and crack to belay at the start of the obvious corner crack line of the 3rd pitch. (20m III)
Pitch 3: Climb the beautiful corner crack, past a vertical section and upwards to gain the terrace. (30m IV+)
Pitch 4: From the back of the terrace climb the splitter crack for about 10 metres to gain a small ledge. From here there are numerous options, but the most interesting is to continue leftwards up the arête until you reach the belay ledge at the top. (35m IV)
From the belay ledge at the top, which is shared by both routes, you can reach the bottom again in two rappels if you have 50-60m double ropes. Otherwise you’ll need to do more rappels, but there are plenty of rappel anchors to choose from.
This is classic mid-grade multi-pitch climbing up a wonderful cliff with good friction. Combine both of these routes in a single day to get 8 pitches of quality climbing, with amazing views across to nearby Mt Fuji.