Route name: Daidoushin “Unryo route” (大同心雲稜ルート)
Mountain: Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)
Map sheet: 33 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]
Time: 3-5 hours for the route itself
Difficulty: Grade 4+ alpine route / 5.9 or IV/A1 crux
Anybody who has spent time at the Akadake-kousen in the Yatsugatake range will have looked up at the Daidoushin pinnacle and its striking West face, perched high up there near the summit of Mt Yoko. Consistently vertical to overhanging in its lower half, and made up of the snappy conglomerate rock typical of this range, this face is intimidating from below, and only gets more so as you approach it.
Its first ascent in April of 1959 must have been an audacious achievement. It was initially climbed as an aid route, and typically remains so in winter today. The gloves, heavy boots, crampons and ironmongery of winter, coupled with tricky route-finding and the deep freeze of winter Yatsu, all conspire to force the winter climber into his aiders. It remains to this day the big prize of Yatsugatake winter mountaineering.
The route received its first free ascent in May of 1981. The face itself retains many of its challenges even in summer conditions, and the prudent will still carry their aiders at the ready just in case. But bare hands and sticky rubber rock shoes turn it into something more akin to a steep and featured rock climb; albeit one with head-spinning exposure and loose breakable rock.
If you go for it, remember that this is alpine climbing and treat the route with the respect and caution that its place in Japanese climbing history accords it. And enjoy one of the most dramatic and stunning natural lines in the country.
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). 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-kōsen. This hut and its campground serve as basecamp for all the routes in the area.
From the Akadake-kōsen hut go up the steps near the door and take the path straight on towards Iodake (硫黄岳).
Follow the trail for about 10 minutes through the forest and you will come to a signpost pointing right into the bottom of the Daidoushin-sawa (大同心沢).
Head into the Daidoushin-sawa and walk upstream for about 10 minutes and you will find a trail heading up on your left along the lower section of the Daidoushin-ryo ridge. This ridge can be easily ascended in about an hour from the hut to its apex at the foot of the Daidoushin rock pinnacle.
Once you reach the top of the Daidoushin-ryo, make a traverse along narrow grassy ledges to reach the anchor at the bottom of the first pitch.
Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:
Pitch 1: Climb the initial crack, then continue up the vertical wall above to the overhang. Climb past the overhang, traverse left slightly and then continue up steeply to reach a bolted anchor in a niche. (45m 5.9 or IV/A1)
Pitch 2: Climb straight up for a few metres, then bear up and leftwards towards the triangular rock face above. Tricky moves over a bulge get you onto the face, then traverse out left and climb the rib on small holds to a bolted belay. (45m 5.9 or IV/A1)
Pitch 3: Climb up and right around the corner from the anchor on steep grass. Enter the wide rocky chimney above and continue up past a curious rock shaped like a fish tail, until you reach a bolted anchor. (40m IV)
Pitch 4: Continue up and over a rock step to gain a ramp traversing rightwards across the bottom of the Dome (ドーム). Belay on bolts at the bottom of the final pitch up the southern prow of the Dome. (40m IV)
Pitch 5: Another magnificent pitch! Climb up the left side of the prow initially, then move across to the right side and continue up vertical rock to exit at a bolted belay. (40m 5.9 or IV/A1)
From the top anchor the summit of the Daidoushin can be reached with a short scramble.
From the top of the Daidoushin you have a couple of options:
1. Continue over the summit and down to the col between Daidoushin and the main ridge, then climb easy slopes to gain the main ridge hiking trail, and either continue left to Mt Iodake, or right over Mt Yokodake towards Mt Akadake.
2. Descend the steep gully behind the pinnacle (in-situ rappel anchors if you need them), climb the ramp back up to the top of the Daidoushin-ryo, and descend the ridge you came up back to the entrance of the Daidoushin-sawa and on back to the hut.
A historic milestone on Yatsugatake, and a prize in any conditions. The West face of Daidoushin is steep and intimidating, so bring all the tricks of your alpine game and enjoy your passage up the most stunning piece of rock in the massif. Double ropes are a must, along with a full rack of quickdraws and slings, nuts and cams up to 2.
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