Route Name: Chuō-Kante (中央カンテ)
Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)
Map sheet: 16 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]
Length: 10 pitches
Time: 4-6 hours to the top of the last pitch
Grade: V crux pitch / Overall grade 4- alpine route
The Chuō-Kante route ascends the prominent rib of rock on the right side of the Eboshi-sawa Oku-heki (烏帽子沢奥壁) wall, between the Henkei Chimney (変形チムニー) and the Ojou-heki (凹状壁) routes. First climbed in the summer of 1958, this 10-pitch odyssey provides steady climbing for the most part up a stunning natural line, and its crux pitch is one of the finest on the wall. Protection is often sparse, with some pitches containing barely any in-situ gear at all, so a trad rack is required here. Rock quality can be rather suspect, so care and good balance will serve you well. All of this adds up to a classic and universally valued outing up one of the finest and most storied of Japanese walls.
(Note: The photos in this article are assembled from several ascents of the wall, hence the varied weather conditions.)
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 bottom of Tail ridge, and ascend this all the way to the top, at the foot of the Tsuitate-iwa (衝立岩) rock face.
From here make a short but exposed rising traverse to your left up the steep slabs around the bottom of the Chuō-ryo (中央稜). You will soon reach an in-situ anchor (2 bolts), which is the shared start of both the Chuō-Kante and Ojou-heki routes.
Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:
Pitch 1: Traverse right from the anchor for 10m round the corner. Ascend another 20m on loose grassy rock. (30m III+)
Pitch 2: Climb up moderate but run-out terrain to a 2-bolt anchor. (40m III)
Pitch 3: Make steep moves to gain the Kante, then ascend it for about 20m to an anchor. (40m IV)
Pitch 4: Continue up the Kante for a rope length, ignoring an old intermediate anchor. (50m III)
Pitch 5: Climb up the shallow gully above to the base of a chimney. Climb the chimney on trad gear placements to an anchor just above. (30m IV+)
Pitch 6: Climb up and to the right, and belay a short distance below the obvious crux overhang. (40m III)
Pitch 7: Climb up to the lip of the overhang, and surmount this with a strong move up right on positive holds. Continue up to another leftward-rising crack. Climb this crack, with some layback moves, until you reach the belay at the top. (30m V+)
Pitch 8: Climb up and to the left. (30m IV)
Pitch 9: Continue up and to the left across the face. (40m III)
Pitch 10: 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)
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 make a sketchy traverse up and left across the muddy face, then down through the undergrowth to the top of the Nan-ryō (南稜) route. Pay attention on this section, as it 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 down-climb 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.
A fantastic and varied outing up a large natural line with great exposure. The climbing is interesting and engaging throughout, requiring both a trad rack and a head for alpine adventure. This route is a perfect stepping stone between the easier classic arêtes bounding the Oku-heki face and the longer and more demanding routes up the face itself.
For more classic routes on Tanigawadake and the famous Ichinokura-sawa valley, check out the book on Amazon in print or Kindle e-book formats.
With this in the Kindle app on your smartphone, you'll always have the route description right there in your pocket while scanning for that next belay anchor...