FAQ

BOTH ICE CLIMBING AND JAPAN INTRIGUE A LOT OF PEOPLE.

THESE ARE THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS WE GET.

IS ICE CLIMBING FUN?

Hell yeah. But it’s not just that. Whilst fun sums up some angles of ice climbing other aspects are better described as exhilarating, full-on, addictive and compelling.

ice climbing China hokkaido

ice climbing doesn’t always have to be the intense ordeal it’s portrayed as. playing around on the safety of an ice wall can be a better way to develop technique and applications in the early stages.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN ICE CLIMBING?

ice climbing is a branch of mountaineering that got out of hand and became its own thing. climbing is a broad religion, ice climbing is a cult within that. whilst not new, it has retained it’s obscurity, partly because stupid films make it appear insanely dangerous to the non-climbing public and partly because ice is enigmatic stuff, occurring only in select places and at certain times.

essentially it means climbing frozen water – waterfalls, seeps, run off and out of hoses – using special tools that stick into the ice. you chip, kick and hook your way to the top.

one cool thing about ice climbing is ice changes constantly, so the same route tomorrow will be different.

HOW HARD IS IT?

as hard as you want to make it. a good climber uses agility and precision to place their tools and crampons, brute strength comes way down the list. it’s closer to tai chi than monster trucks and the sooner you realize that the easier it will be.

ice climbing is graded according to its level of difficulty, risk, committment and how sustained it is. the scale goes from WI 1 which is pretty much something you could walk up, possibly not using your hands, to WI 10 which is extremely overhanging with the ice formed from globules of frozen spray, through a forest of frozen hanging ice pillars. 

normal people will be climbing at around WI 3 after a day or so of instruction and practice.

obviously, as ice changes day to day, season to season, those grades are subjective, but in Japan we have so many options there is always good choices at any grade…except maybe WI 10.

ISN’T IT INSANELY DANGEROUS?

it can be. uninformed people without the right equipment and experience have the potential to injure both themselves and others.

but thats not the case here.

by keeping a high level of redundancy we can minimize all risks to well within reasonable margins. it may look dangerous and may feel dangerous, but in reality its much safer than many pursuits that don’t even raise an eyebrow – we just don’ tell you that because it may lower the ’extreme’ factor. 

for a more detailed risk assessment refer to the SAFETY & RISKS page.

WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?

for foreigners coming to Japan or China, ice climbing sits in an odd place regarding insurance. it’s complicated, but the solution is to buy travel insurance for the days covered (and any additional days you may want for skiing, regular travel etc) with a provider specializing in such things.

after years in the international climbing world going on expeditions to places that are dangerous even without the climbing, we’ve come to recommend IHI bupa for the simplicity of the purchase (15mins online) and coverage – and, no, they didnt pay us to say that.

four or five days usually comes to about $60 and you get a little card to print out and carry with you. if it works for K2 it will work for Japan or China. problem solved.

WHEN IS THE ICE SEASON?

in Japan early december until the end of march is pretty certain, on good years there will be a few weeks either side and hokkaido has a slightly longer season.

China’s ice climbing season is from around christmas to late february.

WHAT IF I CAN’T SPEAK JAPANESE?

you will need a good phrase book and patience. many Japanese people know a few english words and being well educated can usually sort out what you need to get done. signs along transport routes will usually have ‘english’ on them.

the guides all speak english, and it’s not uncommon to meet other international climbers and guides while you’re out there.

WHERE’S THE ICE?

theres ice all through japan from about the halfway point north, though the well known places are in central honshu and central hokkaido.

as usual, the best stuff is kept secret

ice climbing maps of hokkaido

theres plenty of information about winter climbing in japan…..in japanese. negotiating the language is the hardest part.

HOW COLD DOES IT GET?

conditions depend on what altitude you are at, with the difference between downtown Tokyo and the high peaks sometimes being huge.

minami alps sit at about -5c to – 10c in the day, down to – 20c at night (coldest ive been out there was -26c).

sounkyo in hokkaido sits at about -10c, dropping to -25c at night.

routes up onto the high peaks around 3000m, with windchill, can drop to -35c or more.

coldest days are usually around mid-february.

CAN I CLIMB FUJI-SAN IN WINTER?

well you can – but you’ve got to consider the conditions. despite being under 4000m high, Fuji’s weather is it’s own pattern that results in winds whirling around the summit with little chance to shelter from them. temperatures above 3500m with windchill regularly hit -35c, requiring similar gear as you’d take to the Himalaya. the shelters and trails can be totally iced over and heli-rescue can be impossible. with a good weather pattern its very possible, though summitting is by no means guaranteed.

we do special trips throughout december and again from mid-march for groups of maximum 3 people. get in touch if you’re considering the challenge.

CAN I BUY GEAR OVER THERE?

anything you could ever need for ice climbing can be bought in Japan, plus a lot of stuff specially for the Japanese market. larger sizes, especially in boots, can be hard to find, but hardware, packs, ropes etc are no problem. prices are comparable to the US.

WHAT ARE THE HOTELS/LODGES LIKE?

japanese hotels and lodges are usually very good. they can be expensive – starting from US$65 a night – but this often includes breakfast and dinner. the small mountain lodges are busy on weekends, but still friendly. its not unusual to see big name climbers just hanging out mid-week.

mountain lodges are similar to huts in the alps. they are comfortable though expensive as everything is heli-supplied.

HOW MUCH ARE TAXIS?

taxis in japan are like limousines. the drivers bow and wear white gloves, the doors are automatic and they are spotlessly clean. like the hotels this comes at a price – a 20min trip from a train station to a trail head can be close to US$50.

CAN I USE FOREIGN BANK CARDS?

paying by cash is the norm in japan, and few businesses outside of tourism will take cards for normal payments. you need to carry cash. ATMs are everywhere in japan, but only JAPAN POST, 7-11 and CITIBANK accepts cards from overseas. even small towns usually have a 7-11 or post office, but be aware they can be subject to opening hours and surcharges.

HOW DO I GET FROM TOKYO TO THE ICE CLIMBING IN YAMANASHI?

from SHINJUKU STATION get on the JR CHUO line for TAKAO. from TAKAO you will need to change to the outer section of the CHUO line and get a train to either NAGASAKA (for trips to kaikomagatake) or CHINO (for yatsugatake trips). note this is the same train line that links TOKYO to HAKUBA.

 yatsugatake ice climbing japan

No.4 bus stand at Chino station for Minoto-guchi (next to the green public phone under the overpass) click to enlarge

yatsugatake ice climbing japan

Minoto-guchi trailhead. the trail starts between the red and yellow and white signs. click to enlarge.

from CHINO STATION buses run to MINOTO-GUCHI several times a day. just ask at the ticket office. from MINOTO-GUCHI its an easy and beautiful 2hr walk along a good trail to AKADAKE KOSEN where the climbing is.

from NAGASAKA STATION taxis to the KAIKOMAGATAKE trailhead can be taken 24hrs a day and cost around ¥5000 (including a stop at a convenience store enroute).

for Japans train schedules visit hyperdia.com/en

HOW DO I GET FROM HAKUBA TO THE ICE CLIMBING IN YAMANASHI?

from HAKUBA STATION get a train towards Tokyo on the OITO LINE to MATSUMOTO (maybe with a change in SHINANOOMACHI). from MATSUMOTO get on the CHUO LINE and head to either CHINO or NAGASAKA as described above

for Japans train schedules visit hyperdia.com/en

HOW DO I GET FROM NISEKO (& SAPPORO) TO SOUNKYO IN HOKKAIDO?

during winter Niseko is well connected to Sapporo by bus and reasonably well by train. bus is a lot quicker and several companies run the trip. the best deal is to ask at where you’re staying as most hotels/resorts have their own alliances. the trip take about 4hrs, just make sure youre going to sapporo CITY rather than chitose airport.

from sapporo get a train or bus to ASAHIKAWA. trains take an hour and a half, buses a bit longer but are cheaper. from outside ASAHIKAWA STATION buses leave for SOUNKYO (via KAMIKAWA) throughout the day, taking about 2hrs.

for Japans train schedules visit hyperdia.com/en

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