type three suffering on frozen alpine rock and ice is all good and well, but theres time for type one fun too. Japan has a whole range of summer routes that are fun in their own right and good training for nastier objectives.
sure, some stuff can be climbed in a single day but where’s the fun in that? half of what makes a serious route serious is spending time on the wall, living vertically and refining all those things that pay off in winter, not to mention the evenings, nights and mornings when the wall is quiet, just the noise of the sea birds and the espresso maker.
Umi-kon-gou (海金剛): lots of routes but still a lot left to try
before the typhoon patterns arrive Japans coastal walls are what summer is all about: climbing from sea level with a cool breeze whilst inland swelters, the sound of the waves below and the views along the coast. the Umi-kon-gou (海金剛) buttress down the coast from Tokyo has about a dozen routes up to about 200m, most between 5.10a to 5.11c and mostly natural gear. spending a few days on the face, staying on the ledges, allows for interesting linkups and attempts at some of the unclimbed lines. Umi-no-gou’s lines are a good range of hand-sized cracks and wandering pitches on good rock thats surprisingly solid for its location over the sea.
as a training location Umi-kon-gou offers a lot. most traffic is confined to 3 or 4 trade routes, so getting onto less visited sections to work on alpine systems like stripped down aid and big wall techniques is easy. made easier still by staying on the routes to make the most of the hours when everyone else has gone home and is stuck in traffic.
clockwise from top: 70m 10.1mm rope, large pack, light pack, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, hanging stove, espresso maker, water bag, tarp, bivy bag, rack, rock shoes, wall boots, harness & aid setup
going alpine-style in summer employs a wide mix of equipment thats very stripped down compared to winter. we usually use a leader-pack/second pack system, and for the sake of training run pitches together to get used to being efficient on gear.
staying on routes like these is easy with the large ledges (tho the luxury of a portaledge is noticeably absent…). bivy gear is simple and light, with tarps being perfect due to the selection of vegetated ledges. sleeping bags are synthetic of course, and light closed cell sleeping mats are the answer to the hardy vegetation that would shred a thermarest.
from left: assorted slings & free biners, passive pro (wires & hexs + a big bro), large cams, small cams (inc a few off sets), ball nuts, blades, beaks, hooks, light hammer & brush
summer wall racks are somewhere between big wall and alpine racks. a set of cams keeps things rolling, whilst a good mix of big to micro passive pro makes keeping the winter protection skills sharp. as all this is aimed at alpine walls its a chance to work on alpine aid by including the basics of winter aid: beaks, knifeblades, rurps & hooks.
slings are another throwback to the alpine style where routes zig and zag and a maze of ledges makes protection savoury. the whole lot gets strung on a chest rack to make for easy changeovers.
clockwise from top: aiders, chalk bag, adjustable fifi, 5mm cord + knife, locking biner, nut tool, micro traxion, manual belay/rappel device, assisted belay device, ascenders, mid-weight harness.
not dissimilar to a contemporary Yosemite rig, Japanese summer wall rigs are free setups tweaked towards walls. a mid-weight harness with removable leg loops gets combined with daisys, aiders and a fifi hook. serious wall harnesses are overkill, with nothing above about A3 theres no 5hr hanging belays, and an adjustable Kong fifi hook is good for making the occasional hook sequence a bit less stressful.
being alpine style, most leading is done with a light pack that holds whatever is being switched between: wall boots or rock shoes, gloves, chalk bag etc. a micro traxion goes too for those sections where hauling is needed. belaying wants an assisted device like a Cinch or Gri gri, but for rappels a manual device like a reverso still gets carried.
clockwise from top: light alpine boots, hardshell helmet, sun glasses, assorted wall gloves, buff, sun cap, windstopper gloves, High Efficiency active layer, Powershield trousers, Neoshell jacket & over pants, Primaloft belay jacket
its summer, so the heat and exposure to the sun, wind and salt is the priority. mornings can still be cool, especially if the wind comes up and the suns not showing, and of course rain can come out of nowhere.
from Teton Bros we get the chance to play with fabrics, a good thing considering the range of conditions we need to cover. Stretch Woven Powershield trousers have the ergonomics and protection that works, and Power Dry High Efficiency is the perfect active layer being both cool and protective from the sun. if the rain hits theres a Neoshell top and bottom – both stretch – that also act as a wind layer, and if things go really south, or just for chilled early mornings, a light Primaloft belay jacket is the final barrier.
footwear it the usual stiff-soled light alpine boots for standing in aiders and rugged approaches, with comfortable rock shoes for when things are more fun doen that way. being summer, nothing beats hanging out barefoot when theres no climbing going on…
days on summer walls are long and enjoyable. theres no constant movement to stay warm or melting snow to drink. you dont need to keep wet gloves in your sleeping bag or worry about boots and ropes freezing. you dont need to add butter to everything eaten to stay warm thru the small hours. morings begin at 5:00am when it gets light and the birds stir, with coffee made not by torch light and no need to pre-warm the gas canister. the smell of espresso as you rack up and feel the rock warm, packing away the few things needed for a summer night out, makes winter alpine climbing seem distant – even tho, in the end, thats what all this is aiming towards.
trip report coming soon