大谷不動とエスプレソ壁 OYAFUDO, ESPRESSO WALL & MID-WINTER BIVYS

the second week of February is statistically the coldest of the year. the days are getting longer again with the sun higher in the sky, which combined with the cold plunge and the mid-winter weather pattern usually means a window of good ice. this season held true. after an enthusiastic dispatch from CLIMB JAPAN (cheers Tony, next coffee’s on us) about the icefalls in Oyafudo, Nagano, we changed course for the fat ice center of Japan.

hefty routes often result in hefty packs: expecting all sorts of weather and a comfortable base, the pack in was a big element of the trip to Oyafudo

the easiest route in the valley: at WI5, despite being fat and blue, it takes psyche and the right zone to pull off 40m of steep ice

the Oyafudo basecamp: comfortable. long days of steep approaches and hard ice demand easy living

Oyafudo’s WI6 ice pillars: hanging from the surrounding escarpment, the number of international quality, hard routes make this a kind of hidden gem of world ice climbing

Oyafudo isnt the place for easy climbing. almost nothing goes below WI5, pitches are usually >45m, everything’s steep and much of the mixed pro is ‘local’. you have to be on form. after 2 days on the lactic threshold it was time to head back to Yamanashi before the impending snow dump and psyche-out got the upper hand. Down at Lower Kaikoma things were cold, but the passing snow and mid-winter conditions resulted in good ice with the mixed lines on Espresso Wall being thin, hard with lots of exposed granite seams

Espresso Wall is still uncovering new lines: snow, cold, sun and cleaning shows up more and more thin lines and pick-width seams

after several trips lugging heavy packs wed opted for a lighter approach, taking bivy tarps instead of the big base camp tent. always a gamble, we got the pitch just right and weathered out the strong winds, snow and -14c night in relative comfort.

not quite the same as the Oyafudo base camp, but livable none the less: at under 1kg, two tarps on hard snow makes a lot of room

despite the minimal materials and cold temps, using the right gear inside makes it all doable: cold weather stoves and 4 season insulation make all the difference

 at -12c, a degree of creativity to keep the important things insulated makes minimalist nights out less than suffering