deep winter needs to be revelled in, not avoided. so when things get cold its time to hit the ‘winter only’ projects, and for a few years now that means mixed walls. mizugaki is the slightly esoteric sister to japans well known ogawa-yama rock area, all the routes are big, the granite spires high, relatively few routes done and much, much quieter. and whilst ogawa-yama sees climbing year round, mizugaki retains just minimal bouldering interest as the temps plummet to the -20s, the roads close and the snow gets deep.

records of winter ascents of the big routes are near non-existant. which makes it exactly what spikes iceclimbingjapan’s interest.

the deep freeze: mid-winter conditions on the way out to Mt Mizugaki

after succesful failure in china/tibet last year Dan was back for more suffering as part of the process for future trips* in the pipeline. cold walls requiring a lot of unknowns and a lot of motivation and character to overcome them are the nature of these trips and mizugaki never failed to deliver. with a good weather window, 4 days and a mountain of supplies it was time to put ideas into motion.

from the start things were overwhelming: turning 4 days of winter wall gear into (barely) carryable loads.

thats what 35kg looks like.

the boulder chute: littered with randomly sized granite boulders and the excised darker parts of the psyche.

the base of the wall: icy, cold and unstable. a good place to move upwards from

cold walls are dry walls: smashing 3 days worth of ice to carry upwards. mizugaki is so cold and dry that deer chewed at the ice for liquid.

a tough approach by headtorch got us to the well frozen base of the walls, carrying loads of 35kg each and pushing thru waist deep snow to the cave we knew so well from summer. a few hours sleep and more slog for a few hours and we finally got off the ground onto the first of up to 11 pitches over 400m height gain. pitch one usually goes at 5.11d mid-summer, but in mid-winter it became an A2 blend of bolts, nasty ring rivets and small gear that became sketch A3- onto a face of thin cracks, tiny pro and snow melt. as the sun went and the temps dropped, A3- became A3+ as the melt refroze that made for scary stuff. by midnight we’d hauled the gear, set up the ledge and melted ice to settle in for a frozen night on the wall.

finally getting off the ground: the 5.11d first pitch brought us up into the warm sun…

…until day became night, everything refroze and the hard, cold work continued

living on the ledge: by midnight wed hauled 70kg of gear up a boulder chute, aided 2 pitches and hauled everything up to our first bivy

getting above the trees was a crucial factor for being above the shaded frozen base of the wall. up in the ledge the sun could reach us, and nothing beats a clear view across to peaks as the first espresso of the day gets milled.

mornings up high are always memorable, especially in winter where it brings you into the sun. the view across to Kaikomagatake, Yatsugatake and the central alps

even tho the night was long but the sleep was short and every muscle burned, the first espresso of the day brings everything back to equilibrium

with a full day on the face before us Dan geared up and set off on what the topo noted as a series of 5.7 and 5.9 cracks…..which no doubt in summer they are. several hours later after a few heartrate-raising falls, multiple hook moves in a row and a heroic battle across granite slicked by snow melt Dan pulled onto the first belay stance, a gradually melting patch of ice on an smooth slab of granite. the transition wasnt prolonged as he headed into a foot crack that outside of winter is a jaunt, but in winter requires lots of digging. the next stance was mostly free of snow but the sun was going fast so another quick transition lead out onto an exposed face and up a perfect hand crack on good gear, arriving just as things got dark.

Dan heading off on a crash course about hooks, marginal gear and high-stepping: from V12 bouldering to winter walls via high altitude expedition climbing, Dan’s progression curve with climbing is impressive

the belay stance above pitch 3: probably quite nice when the snows not melting and sliding off

 Dan leading off onto the steep hand crack that for a change wasnt choked with ice.

a long rap back to the ledge got us in tired and trashed, realizing that our window was far too short for the route. inverting the summer grades, the short easy pitches were terrifying efforts across iced slab, whilst the hard stuff became long aid pitches on thin techy placements – neither of which went fast, only compounded by days still only short with most of that below freezing.

happy with what we had, knowing wed attempted something with almost zero beta it was time to go. the weather was crashing anyway as the next morning showed us, with gusting winds howling across the spires and faces – as it usually does out there. retreat was long and grinding, with Dan arriving zombie-like with a thousand yard star after grim exploits deep in a gully and getting by on a damaged knee from a fall the day before.

retreat: exhausted but happy we were beaten by the clock and conditions and started the long haul out

aching and frazzled we resorted to dragging the haul bags thru the flat sections….

…or simply threw them down anything step enough

before we had time to cool down was Dan was flying back to Australia, trashed but not succumbed, with a haul bag full of dirty gear, a damaged knee and plans already forming for the next chapter.

turns out Dan had climbed, slept and walked out with a 30kg load thru waist deep snow with a torn medial cruciate in his right knee

*further plans in the cold wall project take us to sichuan and pakistan. please get in touch if suffering on frozen rock walls appeals.