‘incredible’ is the word.
a long planned trip to Northern Honshu to coincide with a tiny climate window nailed it. all the waiting and hardwork came together to put us at the right place at the right time for glorious first ascents in truely esoteric territory.
campsite at Futakuchi: not the most inspiring but close to the climbing
a long drive to the depths of the Tohuku mountains between Miyagi and Yamagata got us finally to the lonely trailhead. a year of waiting, planning and re-planning centered us on the ideal climate for the areas low altitude and fluctuating weather.
inside is considerably nicer: my favourite bit of new climbing gear
after +40 nights this season in spartan bivvies, a BC tent we didnt have to haul gave us the comfort level we wanted for forays up into the cold valleys. whilst always honing skills with the obvious tools for ice climbing, comfortable conditions meant we could develop other skills that affected the outcome – like making espresso from snow melt.
the main feature of the lower valley is the huge collection of fluted pillars that house ice and mixed lines in almost every grotto. dozens of lines – some connecting some not – that run the length of the main valley, all high and steep.
whilst the north-facing escarpment has several 150m, fat ice falls
far up on the other side of the valley huge, fat ice falls drop down the escarpment.
the far end of the escarpment that runs about 3km ends in a huge buttress thats streaked with countless thin lines around its faces. higher and more exposed theres enough hard climbing for years of first ascents
the headwall and farther side of the buttress hide lots more routes that connect between overhung rock bands
part of White Dragon Wall: +60m, steep and perfect ice and rock – and almost totally unclimbed
the northern valley has different rock formations, with the fluting giving way to steep, bare walls. less visited than the southern valley, the walls are covered in thin but exceptional quality ice in vertical and delicate formations.
further along White Dragon Wall
most sections have overhanging moves connecting thin shelves with fragile veils that are actually much better quality than they at first appear. the rock between is pocketed conglomerate perfect for hooked placements.
protecting it all tho, needs creativity….
more steep and thin ice: note the time signatures between this and the previous image – lines like this go on regularly for miles.
Shimo-jiro Left & Right (lower pitches) 50m, WI4+
we decided on this elegant, fragile corned route to start on, an obvious allusion to the White Dragon Wall nomiker. whilst not appearing hard, protecting it was going to be all about thin stuff and time spent in stances threading abalakovs, chopping, cleaning and tying off short screws – all of which turned out to be the case.
close up of the ice in Shimo-jiro (right): thinly plastered, globules & thin columns – what earns it its ‘+’ grade.
topping out on the first pitch of Shimo-Jiro….
….to find upper pitches that were steeper, thinner and overhanging. next time.