Friday, 16 February 2018

Higashizawa (東沢) ice-climbing - Otome-no-sawa (乙女ノ沢)

Route Name:  Otome-no-sawa (東沢 乙女ノ沢)

Trailhead:  Nishizawa-keikoku (西沢渓谷) car park

Map sheet:  26 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  3 hours walk-in, 4 hours climb and descent, 3 hours walk-out

Grade:  WI3+ / Overall grade 2+ route

Getting there:
If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Chuō Expressway out to Yamanashi prefecture and take the exit at Katsunuma IC (勝沼). Head east on Route 20 for a couple of minutes, then take a left onto Route 207. Follow this road for about half an hour as it changes into Route 213 then Route 140, eventually arriving at the entrance to Nishizawa-keikoku (西沢渓谷入口).

From the car park follow the road under the bridge and past the gate (locked in winter, so no way to drive beyond here), and then keep walking up the road. After about 20 minutes you will reach some buildings and a fork.

Take the trail down slightly on the left, then continue as it contours above the river. You’ll soon reach a suspension bridge.

Cross this, then follow the path up, and you’ll soon arrive at a large sign board marking the entrance to Nishizawa-keikoku gorge trail. This place is called Futamata (二俣) and is the fork where Nishizawa and Higashizawa merge on their way down the mountains (or split, from your current perspective heading up).

On the right you will see an opening and a trail heading through the fence. Follow this through the woods and down to the river. You are now in Higashizawa (東沢), and a few more minutes will bring you to a large flat open area called the Tosaka valley deai (鶏冠谷出合). This is the point from which the hiking trail up Tosaka-yama (鶏冠山 2115m) departs on the right (pink tape markers).

It takes about 2 hours to hike from the deai to the bottom of Otome-no-sawa. At the deai you need to cross the river to its right edge and then continue hiking along that side. The trail soon heads up onto the right bank to bypass the smooth walls of the dramatic gorges below, and for the next 1.5 hours you will be hiking and scrambling along this right bank, with an assortment of old ropes, electrical cables and scrappy lengths of wire in-situ to provide a measure of security. Take care, as it is very precipitous in places.

Eventually the trail will deposit you in the riverbed again, and a flat gentle 20-minute hike will bring you around a corner to your first views of the Otome-no-taki (乙女ノ滝), the 50m icefall that marks the entrance to Otome-no-sawa.


F1 is the beautiful off-vertical 50m slab of the Otome-no-taki. There is an in-situ rappel anchor on a tree off to the left at the top of this icefall, or you can belay on ice screws in the sawa itself.

From the top of F1 there is a long flow of ice leading to F2, not steep but very exposed if you slip given the location, so consider belaying this section just until you reach the trees near F2, at which point things become a bit safer for a while.

F2 is an easy 20m icefall bearing left, followed by another of about 20-30m bearing right. From the top of this section just keep climbing up on easy-angled ice for about 80-100m until a relatively flat bowl at the bottom of F3.

You’re getting quite high up now, and the views across the valley to Tosaka-yama are impressive to say the least.

F3 is not too steep but is a full 50m or more, with a couple of short-lived steeper bulges near the top. Notice the trees on the right at around two-thirds height, which will facilitate your descent. From the top of F3 continue up into the large flat area at the base of F4.

F4 is the 80m Otaki (大滝). Choose whatever line you want to climb it up, but pay attention to the condition of the ice. Water pooling under the ice at the top on the left can cause pressure to build up until the ice gives and the water is released, which may add some unwanted excitement to your day if you’re in the area when it happens.

From the top of F4 you can continue up easier ground to gain the ridgeline, but most people rappel the sawa and hike back along the trail they came in on. To do this you’ll need double ropes, ideally 60m, and there are trees conveniently located at intervals to rappel from, many of which may already have rappel anchors or slings on them depending on the year.

A first-class day out with a lot of bang for your buck. For a trailhead with such easy car access, Otome-no-sawa and its approach walk up Higashizawa feel very remote indeed. Although the climbing is relatively easy, this day has a genuine sense of adventure about it, and comes highly recommended.

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