Thursday, 18 January 2018

The West face Shu-ryo of Akadake (赤岳主稜)

Route name: Akadake Shu-ryo (赤岳主)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  32 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  3-4 hours

Difficulty:  Grade 2 alpine route / IV- crux

At 2899m Akadake is the highest summit of the Yatsugatake massif, and the crown jewel of the southern end of the range. It is one of the most popular winter hiking objectives in central Honshu, and when combined with the traverse of Yokodake and Iodake it makes one of the finest winter ridge hikes around. For more serious climbers it is home to several excellent winter routes, and the ascent of its West face by its central arête (Shu-ryo) is a true classic.

Steep and imposing from below, a closer acquaintance with the upper West face reveals it to be very featured, rich in holds and never overly difficult. As pitch after pitch takes you higher and closer to the summit, the sense of passage mounting, the route delivers the ultimate satisfaction of climbing a big mountain in winter via a beautiful natural line up a steep face.

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo, take a Super Azusa Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Chino (approx. 2.5 hours). Outside the JR station at Chino take a bus to Minotoguchi (美濃戸口, approx. 45 minutes). This is the gateway to the Akadake-kōsen side of Yatsugatake. From the carpark start hiking up the trail that is signposted to Akadake (赤岳). The walk-in takes up to 3 hours by map time. It is split into 3 stages.

The first hour brings you past a series of buildings and on a little further to a hut with a water source, which makes a good resting point for 5 minutes. The trail splits here, with the right fork going up Minami-sawa (南沢) to the Gyouja-goya hut (行者小屋). This is the quickest approach if you are planning a single day round-trip ascent. If you are planning on staying in the Akadake-kousen hut, you need to take the left fork up Kita-sawa (北沢). The next hour follows the rough dirt road until it finishes at a bridge across the sawa. From the other side the path narrows and meanders alongside the sawa for another hour or so until you reach the hut at Akadake-kousen. This hut and its campground serve as basecamp for all the routes in the area, as well as for the popular Ice Candy artificial ice wall.

As you exit the Akadake-kousen hut by the front door turn right and follow the trail to the end of the hut and then up through the forest. After about half an hour and a couple of zigzags you will arrive at a signpost on a small flat area. This is the entry point for the Nakayama ridge (中山尾根), but you need to continue on down the other side of this ridge, and after ten minutes you’ll arrive at the Gyouja-goya hut.

Continue on past the hut and its camp ground and begin to ascend gently. You’ll soon reach a sign-posted fork in the trail. Left leads to the Bunzaburo ridge (文三郎尾根), the normal hiking route for Akadake from this side, which ascends to the right of the West face. You need to go quite high up on the Bunzaburo, and eventually you’ll come to a small shoulder on the ridge, level with a chimney about 80m to your left out on the face. This is the start of the traverse out onto the face, and that chimney is the first pitch which gives access to the Shu-ryo. It’s a good idea to gear up and get your rope out here before the traverse, as this flat spot is far more comfortable than the angled terrain at the end of the traverse.

Head out across the traverse to the foot of the chimney, and you’ll find a bolted anchor. From this point, approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the chimney to gain the top of the large chockstone, then continue up for about 10m before a sharp right turn. Continue up mixed ground to a bolted belay on the right wall below a rock step. (IV- 35m)

Pitch 2: Climb the rock step to gain the arête, then continue upwards for another 20m to a belay. (25m)

Pitch 3: Surmount a mixed rock step, then continue up a snow slope. At this point you may choose to simul-climb for about 70m until you reach the next belay at the top of the snow on the right-hand side of the face. (80m)

Pitch 4: From the belay climb up and round on the right to regain the arête via a grade III+ rock step, with some interesting moves to exit at the top to another bolted belay. (35m)

Pitch 5: Continue up the arête on featured and comfortable terrain to belay on pitons at the foot of a chimney. (40m)

Looking up pitch 5:

Pitch 6: Climb the chimney, then continue up mixed terrain to exit the face onto the hiking trail just below the north summit of Akadake. You can belay on one of the iron stanchions on the hiking trail if necessary. (approx. 50m)

From the top of the route the summit can be reached in 5 minutes of hiking up the trail.

From the summit of Akadake there are a couple of options:

1. Take the trail south off the summit down exposed scrambling terrain until it swings to the east in the direction of Amidadake. Keep climbing down until you eventually come to the top of the Bunzaburo ridge, and then follow this back down to the Gyouja-goya hut.

2. Take the trail north off the summit down quite steep terrain for about 30 minutes until you reach the Jizo col. From here head to climber’s left down the Jizo-one ridgeline back to the Gyouja-goya hut, or continue straight on to Yokodake and Iodake to the north.

A fine route worthy of its status as the most classic and sought-after winter climb in the Akadake-kousen area. A rack of alpine draws and a couple of pitons will suffice.

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