EAST FACE OF MAEHOTAKADAKE: BUGS, HEAT & SUMMER ICE

you dont hear much about the east face of Maehotakadake (3090M). the north ridge is a classic alpine techy scramble, and a panoramic trail crests its top, but the big, jagged, looming east face is usually little much more than an ominous view as people go past it on the way to other things. with good reason. its a loooong way to the base, via dense, barely maintained trails, endless loose scree and – if you get caught up in the many complex gullies – year round ice.

planning with a different route in mind, we set out for the east face, thinking it was something else, to find a true corner of rarely visited Japanese alpine climbing that easily fits the distinction of Alps-style in Japan. soaring buttresses, detached pillars, high icy cols, hidden lakes, waterfalls and couloirs leading into rarely seen upper faces. with 3 days to spend we were soon overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the terrain – 3 days is barely enough to into the faces upper reaches – and relinquished to return another day. scant attention means access is hard, requiring adhoc navigation and guesswork in the faces swirling complex of gullies – most ending in ice-smoothed chutes and dangerous ravines. tell-tale evidence from ancient pitons, few and far between, denote this place has escaped the hardware-happy decades. a trip here demands more than the short ropes and anemic rack often suitable for the popular routes.

the east face of Maehotakadake: plenty of alpine ice in those gullies, a lot of complex terrain

a 400 – 500m summer ice line, looking across at the east ridge

the east face of Maehotakadake is a beguiling objective, mysteriously bridging the gap between established routes on the Japanese survey maps. this is unique climbing, a hybrid of european scenery with asian details and the heart of Japanese alpinism. anyone who thinks Japan has nothing new left to try hasnt been up here. with a lot of gaps filled in the plan, we will be back to try again, with more time, more gear and a higher degree of commitment. a mention in dispatches for Matt for cheerfully soloing dodgy ice and wet rock, brushing off the bugs and knowing when we were beaten.