Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The West arête of Yarigatake (槍ケ岳西稜)

Route Name: West arête (Sei-ryo, 西稜)

Mountain: Yarigatake (槍ケ岳 3180m)

Map sheet: 37 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time: 2-3 days round-trip

Difficulty: Grade 3+ alpine route (5.9 crux pitch)

The spearhead summit pyramid of Mt Yari (3180m, 槍ヶ岳) is one of the most iconic sights in the North Alps and is a top priority for Japanese climbers and hikers alike. A busy summer’s day with good weather can see several hundred hikers queueing patiently up the last few hundred metres of the normal route to the top, anticipating some of the finest mountain views in Japan.

Anyone who has climbed the mountain’s northern ‘Kitakama’ ridge will have noticed the steep arête dropping down from Yari’s apex through a series of airy pinnacles and ending at the stunning and monolithic tower of Koyari. Imposing and a little bit intimidating from below, Koyari is beautiful beyond words. The loose and committing approach gully and the steep climbing ensure that there will be no crowds on this side of the mountain.

The open-book off-width corner crack of the 3rd pitch of Koyari would be a fine pitch of climbing anywhere but, located at over 3000m altitude on this most prized of Japanese summits, it takes on a wonderful significance of its own. This is a fine alpine climb, and you will not be disappointed.

Getting there:
This itinerary is a round trip from Shin-Hotaka Onsen (新穂高温泉). If travelling by train from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Super Azusa limited express train on the Chuō Line (中央線) out to Matsumoto (松本) station.  From there you can take a bus to Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

If travelling by car from Tokyo, get onto the Chuō Expressway and then the Nagano Expressway to Matsumoto. Exit the Expressway and get onto Route 158. Stay on this road all the way to Hirayu, and then turn off onto Route 471. Eventually you will come to a bridge across a river and turn right onto Route 475. This will take you all the way to Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

Park in the large free car park by the river, accessed on the left from about halfway through a long avalanche tunnel.


Exit the free car park by the tarmacked path at its northern end and walk for about 5 minutes until you join the road and reach the Information Centre. Don’t forget to leave your planned itinerary here, with emergency contact details and your projected return date/time.

Continue walking up the hill and you’ll soon pass the Hotel Hotaka and then the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウエイ). Pass through the barrier at the end of the road and walk up the rindou. The road is initially tarmacked but soon turns into dirt and gravel as it gains height alongside the river past a series of dams.

After about an hour a series of switchbacks will bring you to the Hotaka Hira-goya hut (穂高平小屋), situated in a lovely open alpine meadow. Continue on past the hut as the road becomes rougher and gradually gains height. After another hour you will reach the signed turn-off for the hiking trail on your right up to Mt Okuhotaka, at the entrance to Shiraide-sawa (白出沢). Continue a short way to the end of the road, and then cross the bottom of Shiraide-sawa.

From this point onwards, you’re on a hiking trail rising gently through the forest with the river on your left. The next major waypoint is the crossing of Takidani (滝谷), where you’ll need to locate the easiest way across the stream. Another hour will bring you to the Yari-daira hut (槍平山荘), where there are toilets and fresh drinking water.

From here on the trail begins to rise more steeply, and eventually it swings eastwards into a wide and steepening valley. Several hours of switchbacks will get you up onto the main ridgeline at around 3000m, and from there it a short hop up to the magnificent Yarigatake Sansou (槍ヶ岳山荘) hut on the shoulder below the summit pyramid of Mt Yari.

To approach the start of the West arête you need to first hike up the main trail a short way in the direction of Yari’s summit. Before you reach the first ladders you should drop down into the gully on climber’s left. This gully is steep and loose, covered in rocks and scree that are just waiting to be knocked down, so take real care and look out for each other all the way down.

Down-climbing the approach gully:

It should take up to an hour to scramble down. Along the way you will see the dramatic Koyari pinnacle on your right. Eventually you will reach a short scramble up to a terrace on your right below the steep West face of Koyari. The climbing starts from here.

Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the run-out slab up to a small overhang, then surmount this and continue up a crack system to belay on two in-situ pitons. (40m, V)

Pitch 2: Continue up the loose run-out face to belay beneath and to the left of the steep obvious corner crack. (30m, IV)

Pitch 3: Climb the magnificent off-width corner crack, with in-situ protection on the right wall, over a difficult section at mid height, then chimney up the top section to belay in a niche on pitons. (40m, V+)

Pitch 4: Climb out of the niche on the right side to gain the airy arête and continue to the summit of Koyari. (45m, IV)

Traverse to the far end of Koyari and make a single 45m rappel to the col below.

Once down at the col, traverse the narrow rock spine to a bolted belay at the start of the next pinnacle.

Pitch 5: Climb up the line of least resistance to the top of the Himago-yari (Great-grandson, 曾孫) pinnacle. (45m, III)

A short easy scramble will bring you to the anchor at the foot of the Mago-yari (Grandson, ) pinnacle.

Pitch 6: Climb the slabby face of Mago-yari with plenty of cracks for cams. (40m, III)

Pitch 7: Continue up until you reach the final steepening below the top of the pinnacle. Make well-protected moves up twin overhanging cracks for about 5m to gain the summit of Mago-yari. (40m, IV+)

Pitch 8: From the stainless-steel rappel anchor on the summit of Mago-yari make a short but exposed down-climb of about 7m with in-situ piton protection, and scramble across to the belay on the far side. Be sure to take the classic photo of your partner on top of Mago-yari from this point! (10m, III)

Pitch 9: Climb easy ground for a rope length and cut the pitch wherever you can build an anchor on trad gear. (45m, III)

Pitch 10: Easy terrain to the summit of Mt Yari. (20m, II/III)

From the summit take the normal hiking trail back down to the hut on the shoulder.

There are various ways you can get back to Shin-Hotaka Onsen and the car park, so either reverse day one or continue along the ridgeline in the direction of the Hotaka massif and choose one of the descent trails depending on how much time/energy you have.

A magnificent route with excellent and varied climbing and plenty of exposure up an obvious natural line, leading directly to the 3180m summit of one of Japan’s most iconic mountains! What’s not to love about this? Take double ropes and a trad rack, and don’t forget your camera!

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