in from the cold (testing, training, talking & terrific times)

yatsugatake ice climbing japan

the Yatsu-ga-take volcanic range. a great part of the world, almost 3000m high, cold and easy to get to. the arrow is pointing towards the escarpment between Io-dake and Amita-dake that conceals lots of the ranges routes.

long stints out at yatsugatake are always revealing. 10 days straight of climbing ice and mixed alpine every day and living in the cold starve out some of the deeper aspects of what winter climbing is all about. its not hard just getting by for a night or two, but after about day 7 any failings are becoming obvious.

a few things that start to poke thru the weave are:

  • calories – are you losing weight, getting too cold or having mood slumps?

  • hydration – are you keeping on top of your water intake? what colour is your piss?

  • sleeping systems – are you waking from the cold every night?

  • moisture – how are your sleeping bag, insulating layers, tents ventilation and boots going?

  • body function – are you getting cramps, taking regular dumps, keeping an appetite, having aches and pains, getting numb fingers and toes, craving fat or sugar?

  • basic efficiency – are you wasting fuel, still messing with crampons, letting your water freeze, losing your gloves or waking too late?

  • climbing systems – are you moving better on harder ground? refining your ropework? developing your team symbiosis? increasing your confidence?

these are all things that should get more refined and become second nature with time. success on expeditions and long trips arguably rests more on these factors than actual climbing performance – its not much use being able to pull M10 moves or lift 3 x body weight if you cant survive effectively enough to employ it.

ice climbing japan rope systems

rope systems, efficiency, confidence, teamwork, functionality – are you getting any better as time goes by? a lot of the elements of winter climbing can only be learned and appreciated from long stints in the mountains where any weaknesses will show thru.

this last series of trips was also a testing period for Teton Bros new insulation designs. some of these ive played with before but the new 800 fill down jacket and  Primaloft gillette in combination with other Teton Bros garments was interesting to test out – no less because Nori was in Utah at the Outdoor Retailer show at the same time exposing it to the greater market.

teton bros

the new Teton Bros 800 fill down jacket: note how well it sits over a helmet and zips high over the face, all without lifting at the shoulders. also too the Revision ballistic glasses that have become my favourite thing this winter (saving my right eye not long after this photo was taken). and thats Rob ‘international man of mystery’ in the baselayer behind.

as for actual climbing, a whole spectrum of weather made for good times with Rob, Benjack and Damian as we nailed and attempted all sorts of routes in all sorts of conditions ranging from Mine-no-matsume in both full sun and knee-deep snow, Ura-do-shin in both cold-&-clear and whirling snow (including the upper mixed sections in a crazy race to ascend and down climb before visability totally went), O-taki in full sun (which meant screws didnt do much), the San-sa-hou runze in truely dangerous avalanche condtions (forcing us to get the hell out before the sun hit) and many hours on the ice wall (where i took a chunk out of my face from a big bit of ice – my first ever ice climbing accident, thanks Rob for patching me up).

ice climbing japan o-taki ice fall

Rob leading O-taki as the sun comes onto it: steep, pumpy and dodgy for screws

on top of all this i spent most evenings discussing ideas with Yasushi Okada for future trips everywhere from Kaikomagatake to western Sichuan in China to the north side of K2 to the Charakusa in Pakistan. hes one of the nicest guys around its a rare thing to get a glimpse into the style of a true elite climber.