its a good ice year in Japan – cold, dry and clear. plans exist for higher stuff, but with such a window it would be folly to let the chance of good lower ice slip past. from about 1250m conditions have ripened ice all across central Honshu, making this the finest year in ages for the stuff that gets less attention.

ice climbing japan conditions

the forecast: perfect

ice climbing japan car park gear up kaikomagatake

gearing up in the car park

all good trips start with the ‘car park gear up’ – sorting food and deciding what luxuries can be given up. the process is much easier when the carpark is almost empty, most people deterred by the forecast of low temperatures

kaikomagatake ice climbing japan

kaikomagatake from the approach: always foreboding, looking up into the 1000m alpine routes that keep things in perspective

as its own massif, Kaikoma hides dozens of lower valleys that lead up to the main peak, some are warm, south facing with fat early season ice, others are remote and gruelling with thin cascades hundreds of meters high. roads allow access to about 1000m before the walking starts

kaikomagatake ice climbing valley ice

blue ice on granite: some of the valley ice

 lower kaikomagatakes valleys are steep and narrow, with their upper terraces getting enough sun to allow the melt to creep down into the floor. the blend of spring and snow water makes for clear and blue ice that forms well over the granite

kaikomagatake ice climbing inside cave japan

mixed sections thru caves

in the summer Kaikoma gets a wide temperature oscillation that generates a lot of boulder piles, which freeze safely over winter to make for constricted routes thru squeezes, caves and narrow sections. shifting trickles from snow build up makes for interesting ice lines, sometimes thru boulder caves

kaikomagatake ice climbing japan belay

interesting mixed sections thru contorted passages

 as most runzes are below the treeline, belays are often off solid trees, making exit-rappels easier in the short winter days…

ice climbing japan nasty old anchor


…except where theres no trees and the nastiness of old japanese anchor building comes out. unsavoury anchors are a part of japanese climbing, sometimes crazy, sometimes just badly informed, its vital to carry independant anchor gear when confronted with stuff like this.  we cut several meters of aging crap from dubious anchors over the course of the trip

kaikomagatake ice climbing japan

the rarely forming ‘Iran’: 25m WI 5+, M5, this year thin and squeezy

 lines below the trail dont often form well, getting too much melt with not enough cold. but this year, already in condition, the serious mixed lines ‘Iran & Iraq’ are climbable. starting from fat ice pillars, both routes then thin out into thin smears and granite placements – all steep – that make for entertaining climbing

mixed ice climbing japan kaikomagatake

‘Iraq’: 20m, M9. this year very thin and highly sketchy, scary climbing

amidadake ice climbing japan

Amidadake from the approach

tho just over the ridge, with longer routes and with a much shorter approach, the Amidadake ice routes get much less attention than the main Yatsugatake ice area due to the lack of a lodge.

ice climbing japan amidadake dirt bagging

dirt bagging it at -8c in the carpark before the approach: ‘the way we roll’

amidadake ice climbing japan

the night slog in, snow starting to fall

amidadake ice climbing japan hillberg tent

the following morning, after a damp night at -15c

 about 25cm of snow fell over night, catching us on the approach and continuing thru to the small hours. the next day was devoted to thawing frozen gear and body parts. having the right tools for the job matters when its far below zero oC, so a tent with a large vestibule makes things a bit easier

amidadake ice climbing japan