this series of reports has been archived. for the latest on what Iceclimbingjapan is doing in 2012 head to the Blogaganda page
3/13 – polartec power dry
its easy to get carried away with the new Neoshell variants gradually coming out, and indeed Neoshell is a big step along the process more ergonomic textiles. but really, without going over other layers of just as, if not more smart fabrics, the real value of Neoshell wont be realized. no surprise really considering Polartec developed the whole lot together.
another factor of late ice season is retrieving all the gear left in caches at various ice areas, so yesterday i combined these 2 elements – a busy ‘R & D season’ with the need to get gear back – and decided to run into Yatsugatake during a clear weather window. not that the weather co-operated in the end, crashing about 10:30am just as i set off, sans climbing gear etc to make the trip in easier.
carrying only about 5kgs in, but 16kgs out, in diagonal snow at between -3c and -9c with about 700m of altitude gain for 16kms is a great test for any bit of gear, and the new Polartec Power Dry variants worked well with no help aside from throwing on an 800 fill down jacket at rests to keep body temp up.
ive been using several new versions of Power Dry this winter and for this job i settled with the ‘High Efficiency’ grid-backed mid-weight, figuring high-wicking was going to be my main demand. there were a few moments when i think something with a tigher weave and therefore more wind-retardant would have been nice, but for 90% of the 2hrs 50mins this version worked fine, especially for the 25mins of low-action retrieving gear where there was minimal super-cooling as so little moisture was left in the fabric to go cold. impressive.
based on stuff like this, stay tuned for the latest Teton Bros alpine series thats being developed, focussing on using the latest stuff from Polartec to make systems for high-demand uses.
two other Power Dry ‘species’
3/10 – one year on: fukushima red zone
so tomorrow it will have been a year.
a process that started when ice climbing at Yatsugatake lead to 3 months deeply involved in the disaster, then 9 more months of follow up. from a national level to a personal level much has changed, both in day to day function and bigger perspective.
this last week i took a break from ice climbing (when the conditions were crap anyway) and went into a part of Tohoku in Fukushima we couldnt access earlier (a secondary, level 2, exclusion zone around the #2 reactor that sits on the edge of the main 20km radius zone around the disabled #1 facility).
this now completes our teams coverage of every habitation along the affected coastline – tho after hearing what went on in this area, i wish we could have got in a year ago.
Hisanohama, Fukushima, one year later: in the space of a few hours this town was shaken down by the quake, set ablaze by chemical fires, then washed away by the tsunami. 36hrs later it was evacuated when the reactor blew. the photo is taken in the former main street. unlike most other towns, almost nothing has grown back.
towns like Hisanohama, Kido and Hirono where these photos were taken are obviously quiet, if not totally abandoned except for the workers that now populate them. most facilities they use have been specially built because existing buildings are damaged or destroyed. a lot of work is going on with reconstruction, teams going into and coming out of the exclusion zone and decontamination of soil and waterways.
decontamination process: machinery being used to remove potentially irradiated soil and concrete on the southern side of the Fukushima exclusion zone.
despite the weight of the worlds focus, these towns in Fukushima are not nasty, evil places – they are still the exotic little ports, rural hamlets and coastal villages they used to be – just quiet now. its not hard to see the towns they were, and what survived is still scenic and the people still shy but welcoming. its hard to feel the nuclear paranoia when youre actually there, the sense of urgency and fear in the media reports are not how it really feels. even right at the edge of the zone where the road blocks are, things are calm and friendly now – the security is not confronting just polite, concise and functional.
edge of the nuclear exclusion area outside Kido, Fukushima: buses taking suited-up teams into the zone. this used to be a major north-south coastal highway.
so whats next for those of us involved?
we learn from last time and develop systems to cope with a possible next time. our red zone team is now involved at a much more functional level to deal with some elements of future situations. we also now know we will be the ones at the vanguard of any process, simply because we came to be that last time thru a process of integrity, intelligence, risk assessment and application: we listened to the right people and so became the right people to listen to ourselves. its always interesting to see the people who ignore the clearest message. groups that are slicker in the eyes of the media will tell the story in ways the world can digest, but they wont tell ours – its not over yet. our value is in how we make what happened then apply to what happens next. as the game gets bigger, so do the responsabilities, and with bigger responsabilities – ie, the ability to respond – comes bigger freedoms. and how you apply those freedoms in the big picture is the sum of your worth in the big picture.
3/4 – big canyoning trip to kuchinoerabu-jima
even with a few weeks of ice left, questions are coming from all directions about a canyoning trip to Kuchinoerabu-jima.
the tiny kuchinoerabu-jima: 15km2, pop.120, Sth China Sea. click the image for location.
more details will come soon, but right now its looking like any time until late april/early may (pre-typhoon season) will be ideal, starting from Kagoshima (Kyushu) and being a 3 day venture (1 day out, 1 day in the canyon, 1 day back).
the canyon itself is simply amazing, starting with an approach up a very active volcano, a descent thru narrow ravines, ancient magma chutes and waterfalls, ending at the sea. difficulty level is ‘not hard, but really adventurous’: none of the rappels are too full on, theres little water and no swimming, the approach is about an hour, its a full day inside the canyon and we can have a gear drop at the half way point. this is a bizarre place thats truely a once-in-a-lifetime trip: we guarantee no one else is running this one, with the iceclimbingjapan team being the only people to have run the length of the canyon.
gearing up: Japans big canyons demand specialized gear. note the orange suits, radios and access gear
prices will come very soon, dependant on whats involved, but for now the cost will include all specialized gear, guiding, logistics, accomodation on the island, transport to-from Kagoshima, food on the island and any specifics. groups will be limited to about 8, but we can run more trips if numbers or logistics demands it.
crossing the volcanic crater enroute to the top of the canyon. click the image for current weather
3/3 – temperature spike
after consistantly good low temperatures since late november, this week sees a warm front that could strip back most ice below 2000m. its not the end of the ice totally, but the warm periods will get longer and warmer and any ice thinner and more frazzled.
so as we enter the last ice period before summer, thoughts are shifting to Japans Big Canyoning season, with trips planned to the O-jiro sawa off kaikomagatake and the remote Kuchi-no-erabu jima volcano – both amazing canyons far removed from the bland half day trips often sold as ‘canyoning’. stay tuned for more on that soon.
2/29 – ice cragging @ kaikoma
after over 3 months of work and taking things seriously it was time for a quick trip back to lower kaikoma just to ‘ice crag’ on a few lines spotted a few weeks before. a bit of a gamble with unstable temperatures, but things came together well being just cold enough for the ice to stay formed, but warm enough to not suffer.
we got in 2 days of relaxed mixed climbing on two fun routes side-by-side we called ‘Iran’ & ‘Iraq’.
looking up into ‘Iraq’. WI4-, M4, 30m
‘Iraq’ & ‘Iran’ side by side
George cranking up on the lower section of ‘Iran’ WI4, M4+, 35m
2/21 – MSR new stuff
new this year is a few things from MSR set to significantly raise the bar for winter over nights. amongst all the new stuff from Cascade Designs was new tent designs, new mat designs and lots of new stuff like tent pegs and guy lines.
now im not a gear junky obsessed with grams where it doesnt matter. what i want is function. id rather train to be stronger than obsess over gram-shaving. so i get excited over significant leaps in function both with use and with packability and MSR has gone a long way this winter.
two new evolutions of the theramarest: Neo Air X-therm & All Season
one thing that instantly caught attention was the new Neo Air X-therm mat. the All Season has been on the radar for a while now, but the X-therm is looking near perfect for being part of a down/synthetic sleeping system where the mat goes inside the system between the two bags.
specs for the bag include:
410gms for the medium (168cms long)
thermal rating of 5.7 (making it the 3rd warmest of thermarests mats but between 1/4 and 1/6 of the weight)
an interesting construction with 4 layers of thermo-reflective film and smaller baffles to trap air and reflect heat.
MSR Nook tent: inner tent and outer fly
potentially even more attention grabbing was the new Nook tent. like the X-therm mat, I and about twenty other people stood around figuring the possabilities of this thing. intelligently MSR had provided a demo half-fly covered in details of what was going on, so it was easy to see how this tent was different.
2 person: 3 without too much squeeze, room in the vestibule for stuff
1420gms: same as a highlight but with several advantages
3 or 4 poles: a nifty design making use of a walking pole if needed,
backcountry rated: intended to handle winter
zip on the MSR Nook tent: finally, a vestibule zip without the annoying flap.
as part of the sleeping/shelter system the Nook is the outer section, providing a separation from the elements. why it wins is that its a 4 season double skin tent that is highly breathable yet it packs down like a 2 person single skin tent (that isnt very breathable).
elements that deal with environmental issues like condensation and snow are instantly apparent: the tub floor extends 1/4 the way up the walls for use in snow, the fly sits short (allowed by the high tub floor) to allow air circulation even when in a lot of snow, a vestibule (not many tents that light have one) that allows wet gear and snow to stay outside and not melt inside, and that about 1/4 of its inner surface is mesh making it super breathable to minimize condensation.
to be so light the Nook has skimped on extras, but has left whats integral to a true winter tent, including lots of loops to hang gloves and stoves from, almost piss-bottle specific pockets by the door and eliminated the flap over the vestibule fly that on every other tent guarantees problems opening.
2/18 – Shoe Goo & double bags
at last weeks winter outdoor trade show we picked up interest from Shoe Goo, who agreed to supply us with all sorts of stuff to test under ice climbing conditions. after hearing how we had successfully been using their products in unusual ways, at very cold temperatures, subject to a lot of activity they were impressed.
the Shoe Goo products are high strength bonds that seem to stick to anything thats not silicone based. for ice climbing weve used it to patch crampon nicks, glue insulation to metal ice tools, apply a non-slip surface, fix boot rands, reinforce pack seams and repair hypalon. interesting stuff, as now a multiday repair kit consists of little more than a tube of this stuff and a roll of ER tape.
double sleeping bag systems
inside: 750gm down bag (400gms of fill, rated to -1c comfort). outside: 750gm synthetic bag (2 x 60gms/m2 supermix fill, rated to +5c comfort).
*note: all the ‘rating’ stuff that follows is what the good pedigree companies nominate for these bags. make of it what you will in regards to the environment temperatures given by the japan weather stations. note too: all this refers to sleeping in a baselayer, well fed, in a variety of tents and bivvys.
for such an obviously great idea theres very little written about using 2 sleeping bags in combination, and even tho the term ‘sleeping system’ is thrown about a lot, its not until you use 2 bags that it really means much.
most winter climbers are very aware of how they apply down and synthetic layers to their bodies, tweaking things in all sorts of ways to get what works. and yet what they sleep in is usually an unadapted and off-the-rack gamble. matching up multiple sleeping bags is where sleeping starts getting smart. down/synthetic bag systems work because of how they allow you to manage moisture - and after about day 3 of a winter trip thats what its all about. not only do you need to stay dry enough to stay warm, but on a trip somewhere remote you want the confidence in your gear.
the bag combination ive experimented with this winter over 30 nights has been a thin synthetic (rated to +5) over a lightweight alpine down (rated to 0c) in temperatures down to -18 or so. together both bags pack down to and weighs the same as an 800gm fill down bag rated to -15 or so, or a synthetic bag rated to -10. what the combined system has as its advantage is adaptability – something at the core of winter climbing. with the 2 bag system in the photo above, i will happily take it to -20c and lower.
the basic concept is the inner down bag specializes in the warmth, and the outer synthetic bag takes on the moisture, with the air space between forming an important transition zone that lets both layers function at optimum. in a single bag, moisture come from inside the bag and meets cold air from outside somewhere in the middle, which then condenses to gradually wet out the insulation. in the double bag system the outer synthetic both protects from environmental moisture (snow, condensation etc) but traps a layer of air over the inner down layer which allows both the down to remain moisture free as its fully warm, as the synthetic takes on the moisture with its less affected insulation. at first it appears its simply all about the warmth of 2 bags combined, but it soon becomes apparent its actually the moisture management of the 2 insulations that is providing much of the extra warmth.
for this to work, the outer synthetic layer need not be very thick – just enough to warm the down bag right thru so any moisture moves beyond it rather than condensing inside. this is as much a matter of trapping radiation as cutting convection. this is where the synthetic bag is much more than a simple bivvy sack, which really only cuts the convection from wind/snow.
down (green/dark grey) & synthetic (light grey/black/red) loft side by side
a big key with making this system work is sleeping only in a baselayer. wearing insulation inside the bag keeps body heat from fully warming the inner down layer, which means any moisture present will still condense somewhere within the down. its somewhat counter-intuitive, but its actually warmer this way, and easily felt if you feel the temperature between your insulated jacket and the inside of the sleeping bag, which will be quite cool. sleeping in a baselayer puts that cool air space between the inner and outer bags instead.
another important factor is how you can regulate sleeping temperature by unzipping both or either of the layers. opening the down bag allows more body heat to reach the synthetic layer and further push moisture outwards – good for if youve bought a lot of moisture in with you (damp boots, snow, water bottle leaks etc).
theres a lot to be said about using 2 sleeping bags combined, and im just starting to really work it out. the more i tweak the bag system the more im also seeing how the mat system beneath me and the shelter around me affects things as well – not to mention the calories within me as well. easily enough material to devote a few thousand words to, before even introducing a third down or synthetic bag. andy kirkpatrick, the crash-test-dummy of british climbing, gives his more developed and tested thoughts here on the matter.
2/14 – Teton Bros @ Yokohama
2/13 – Lost Kingdom Redux: tanuki suicide, lower kaikoma, middle kaikoma & gun-ma taki
kaikomagatake holds a special place in Japanese alpine climbing, being the a step away from the popular stuff across the valley at Yatsugatake. theres several areas amongst the maze of valleys leading in to the peak, with the north east side forming the ‘lost kingdom’. this last trip we went into the lower and middle kaikoma areas, taking advantage of this seasons minimal snow.
kai komagatake’s NE face
this is the easily accessable area around the road in from Nagasaka that includes several classic ice routes like gun-ma taki.
twin ice pillars in lower kaikoma (WI4)
single ice pillar in lower kaikoma (WI5?)
ice chandeliers in lower kaikoma
gun-ma taki F1 (WI4)
middle kaikoma fast becomes another world. dropping to the valley floor and pushing up the river to take the right fork climbers are soon greeted by the true ‘lost kingdom’, with ice falls right to river level along either side of the river that soon becomes frozen enough to walk on.
ice falls along middle kaikoma
section of frozen over river
tanuki suicide WI5-, M4+, 120m
undoubtably seen but with no record of being climbed, weve called this route ‘Tanuki Suicide’ after the splattered remains of a tanuki that looked like it had fallen at least 60m onto the top of the first pitch.
tanuki suicide: WI5-, M4+, 120m. lots of variations, we took the lower left (out of view) then upper right
the namesake dead tanuki at the first belay
pitch one is a short ‘Scottish-style’ line up a mix of good ice, crap ice, frozen turf and wet rock, to a decent belay if you consider spectres OK for such things.
pitch two is a stressful blend of trashy ice, running water over polished granite, a bit more frozen turf, and eventually onto good ice. protection is grim – a single decent piton, spectres into soil and a tied off tree root, the belay is decent tho, with screws into ice but better with threads if the suns straight on.
looking up into the 3rd pitch
pitch three is nice soft ice, steep steps, more running water and tied off roots, but ends at good trees to belay.
all in all it sounds ghastly – and on lead its a real head game – but its also fun as hell. not often you get to place spectres, screws, threads, tied off roots, pitons and sling pillars on a single root – with almost all of them nasty. most of the climbing, tho steep at times, is sun-exposed enough to get good sticks – but not enough to hold screws, so earning the grades for risk.
tanuki suicide topo: click to enlarge
2/7 – kaikomagatake stuff
even tho its only 3 hrs from tokyo, going ice climbing in kaikomagatake is not that unlike heading into somewhere like western sichuan. from the road head its a hard days slog into the lost kingdom, so combined with the amount of climbing to be done in there its more worth it to head in over about 5 days, which means dialling in your gear and food.
MSR twin brothers tent: light and big. room to stretch out, keep all gear inside, put your gear on standing up, cook and hang out
double sleeping bag: 5 days is enough to loose 1/3 of a down bags insulation to moisture, so a thin down and a thin synthetic is a good compromise
silver foam: fantastic stuff. a 2m square sheet weighs and costs nothing and can insulate with tent floor
thermarest: combined with the silvered foam, the insulation of a closed cell mat but much less bulk.
oats: start the day with slow release carbohydrates and water
homemade energy bars: slow-burn for the afternoons, fast-burn for in the days
coffee: no ones going anywhere without coffee. the ONLY way to face early mornings
salami: loads of fat and protein in a single hit. if it works for the russians on K2 it will work here
instant rice: light, hi-kcal, fast-carbohydrates straight into the system
peanut butter: with about 4000kcal days, one of the easiest ways of getting calories in
hot chocolate: helps you sleep
stove: jetboil sumo rigged to hang, fueled with gigapower pro-iso
water: should be running water, but just in case weve got a snow bag and foam spade to melt, plus an extra drombag to store it.
insulation: like the sleeping bags, a mix of down and primaloft
outer layers: Neoshell of course! possibly some snow, so worth a bit of extra protection
mid layers: primaloft all the way
base layers: Polartecs power stretch, top and bottom
boots: gotta be doubles to manage the moisture, in this case La Sportiva Spantiks
gloves: 3 pairs of climbing gloves + 1 pair of liners.
ropes: hard to decide, but either a thin single or a thick double, plus a 5mm tag line.
hardware: 10 screws, 2 spectres, 1 beak, 4 assorted pitons, 3 mid-sized cams, 3 mid-sized hexs, half a set of wires, a bunch of slings & wiregates
tools: mixed tools
crampons: monos for all the thin ice, rock and snowpack.
first aid: trauma padding, role of ER tape, crepe bandages
headwear: helmet and Revision ballistic glasses
these lists work pretty much anywhere with a little tweaking for conditions. all packed should only be just over 10kg each without water. not too bad, and climbing from a base means we can leave most of the weight behind each day.
2/6 – kaikoma’s krazy konditions
we are heading into kaikomagatake in a few days on the back of a truely odd weather pattern. the usual trend at around 2000m (basecamp level) is to sit around -9 to -15 this time of year, with the occasional sprinking of snow. but looking at the weather forecast below you will see a real anomoly.
expected conditions from mountain-forecast.com
what we have here is an amazing temperature spike on the 6th and 7th where the freeze level soars from the usual average of about 350m to over 2500m! basecamp level looks to hit +3c, and not unexpectedly it comes with whats expected to be over 30cms of rain, before crashing again within 24hrs to back to -11c where it will normalize as winter trundles on.
so whats it mean to ice climbers?
potentially its gold! the spike + the rain will bring down and flush out a lot of UV bleached crappy ice and replace it with fresh stuff, plus load the soil with water that will leech out in any sun exposure to fill cracks and form pillars. a lot of the deep snow deposits will either flush out or refreeze as solid ice, and high water from all the melt and rain will strip a lot of the accumulation on the valley floor making for easier an approach.
essentially its a restart button on the season and as exciting as hell! even if it only plays out to be half as dramatic as ive described it will be amazing.
2/5 – project done
guerrilla climbing: steep, cool, with friends, in the dead of night.
neither climbing nor photos are easy when all you’ve got to go by is the spot from a head torch
a clear night at about -13 made for nice conditions. the added paranoia of getting spotted added to the pump of steep ice
the right stuff: Polartec being used in 3 of its forms – Neoshell, Windpro & Powerstretch
it wasnt huge and it wasnt grand, but it was a guerrilla-style caper with good friends for a long-awaited objective and we pulled it off and thats what i call fun.
after a bit of recon in the daylight we went back after dark and the plan unfolded perfectly – good enough to even swap the boots and tools around so everyone who wanted to could get a climb in. after much deliberation we decided to top rope it: the ice too steep, the top-out too sketchy, getting off the top logisticly a problem and shouting calls too risky for our cover. but what we sacrificed in boldness climbing we made up for dodging the security cameras.
a good little line too it turned out, well worth climbing in its own right. 15m of thinnish, partially hanging, vertical, nicely formed ice. slight vertical chandeliering made for great hooks but not too difficult for feet placements. the bottom 3m or so slightly overhangs once wed excavated the snow, and the top 3m thinned out to be a little hairy but worked out ok. i think it would go at maybe WI5- on lead as placing screws would be solid work.
thumbs up to nori & junko, beau and grassy, and the old guy who caught us scoping it out in the day, but after hearing the plan liked it so gave us the security beta and promised not to tell anyone.
1/30 – meals-in-a-bar: compact energy food recipe
i like to experiment with food at every level, but nothing more so than winter climbing. in some ways winter climbing is just one big test of all sorts of things, and food is a big part of that. also, all the fanciest insulating clothing means nothing if the calories arent inside you producing the heat. so maximizing efficiency across the whole system (theres that word ‘efficiency’ again) makes sense.
high energy food: kept in a silnylon waist-pack under you midlayer will stop things freezing
people go on and on about energy bars, gels and drinks, and you know youve stepped up to another level when you start making your own.
well heres the level after that: specific energy bars for rest and active phases.
for breakfast and after climbing your system needs to recover from the last effort and store energy for the next. you want fat and protein, slow release carbohydrates, micronutrients and vitamins, and fibre to keep your system moving. these are for fast breakfasts (can be broken into hotwater if you want), straight after climbing for the day and as a midnight snack if you wake from the cold. think where you will be eating these – at a bivvy, in a sleeping bag etc – so larger blocks may be more convenient to consume.
oats – restore glycogen and soothe nerve stress
oat bran – regulates absorbtion, traps water, keeps your intestines moving
wheat germ – soothes nerve stress, good for damaged skin and replenishes fat
almonds - easily absorbed protein and fat
sesame seeds – fat and vitamin B
sunflower seeds – fat, protein and nerve relaxing
flax seeds – essential oils and good for the intestines
coconut – fat
berries – antioxidants, vitamin C and enzymes
nutella – easy to eat
hazelnut butter – good alternative to peanut butter
butter – fat
honey – sugar
your system is zapping calories during this phase and doesnt want to be redirecting blood and hormones to digestion when youre climbing. you want a mix of slow and fast releasing carbohydrates, sugars to perk your brain up and flavours to make you want to eat, fibre to regulate absorbtion, plus just a hint of protein and fat to keep the system from crashing. these are designed to chow down at belays, on the move or when taking breaks. these will be eaten fast and in less-than-ideal places, so consider chopping them into bite sized chunks you can drop into a pocket or stuff sack and get to with gloves on.
chocolate – mood lifter
honey – quick release sugar for the brain
maltdextrine – slow release sugar for the muscles
making the bars is not rocket surgery and could even be done in a basecamp if youre out for a long time. liquify the goopey ingredients like nutella, butter, honey and maltdextrin together, toss the dry ingredients together, mix the two then cool in the ‘fridge or snow. chop into bars or chunks after with a really sharp knife. another way is to put the mix between two sheets of greaseproof paper and shape into bars by hand. the smart climber will shape them into 150kcal blocks to keep track of where their levels are at. it doesnt hurt to make them a bit more salty than sweet.
these things are cheap to make, $20 worth of ingredients will make enough bars for 5 days or so. keep them frozen or in the coldest part of the fridge to preserve any fats, carry in a ziplok, and when consuming throw down a good amount of water along with the bars. combined with a few basic other things these will make for a simple and adequate energy source, or even alone (just with water) you will survive many days before crashing too far into the red.
1/29 – secret projects, the ‘kaikoma konundrum’ & special testing
temperatures keep getting colder (japans coldest day on average is around Feb 2nd), the snow is only just starting to creep into the climbing areas and ideas running thru the associated industries are picking up steam.
closing in are 3 projects close to the heart of iceclimbingjapan: kaikomagatake, emergency responder stuff and The Project.
this is where winter climbing in japan steps away from entry level and into the stuff that reflects well on bigger peaks. kaikoma is more remote, more committed, more complicated and more profound in every way, and tho its not exactly masherbrum, its not to be taken lightly. whilst climbing in places like yatsugatake, sounkyo and even western sichuan allow for some of life luxuries to come along, kaikoma doesnt – the 10hr approach makes every gram matter.
kaikomagatake from the east: note the distinctive bittress on the southern side, and the obvious colouir up the cold, frozen north (thanks gurigurimomonga)
deep around every side of kaikomagatake are ice and alpine routes, with the valleys around the NE and north sides making the ‘lost kingdom’ of japanese ice. relatively know is the classic o-ren-tani alpine ice route, but usually over looked is the plethora of other ice that forms all over the valley walls.
the ‘Kaikoma konundrum’ is that the approach is so difficult its hard to carry enough supplies for the weeks worth of ice climbing in the valleys. dropping in fast just to climb out again is one thing – setting out for 5 days with a big days hard haul either side is another. the keys to the paradigm are:
having super light yet functional gear - stripped down packs, bivvy tents, fuel efficient stoves, moisture-efficient insulation
moving fast – using quick and simple system, carrying light packs, making good assessments and decisions
nailing nutrition – consuming calorie-dense, efficiently consumed, recovery-promoting, hydrating foods
using efficient, simplified systems – managing moisture, ropes, fuel & energy with high efficiency
notice the word ‘efficient’ popping up multiple times there? thats the focus for a trip like this and the aspect that relates most to big peak trips in places like china and pakistan.
for 4 winters now ive wanted to get onto a novel bit of ice ive found and this could be the season for it. its not grand or particularly amazing but being attached to a building its thin, vertical accessable and, well, covert. indeed its not even just the climbing that is attractive, but the essence of the project itself – fun – if it was forming in nature it would be an obvious line, but being somewhere ice isnt expected, its not.
dont ask where: my private micro-project. short, steep, thin and secret.
responder gear testing
another type of gear development iceclimbingjapan is involved with is specialist responder gear. mostly since the tsunami weve collaborated with several companies that share the overlap of emergency and specialist industry goods. the Revision ballistic glasses we carry come from this world, along with fire retardant textiles from Polartec and this company – Typhoon.
Typhoon has a base in drysuits, being one of the early developers of both specialist and recreational suits for everything from north atlantic surfing, emergency responder, pilot-ware and storming oil rigs – so combining all that you have the perfect provider for tsunami response.
so coming this week im taking a diversion from the ice climbing (except to have a go at my secret project) and am heading out to test responder gear in various winter scenarios.
Typhoon response gear: (clockwise) regular dry suit, 55L dry pack, goretex surface responder suit
1/26 – in from the cold (testing, training, talking & terrific times)
the Yatsu-ga-take volcanic range. a great part of the world, almost 3000m high, cold and easy to get to. the arrow is pointing towards the escarpment between Io-dake and Amita-dake that conceals lots of the ranges routes.
long stints out at yatsugatake are always revealing. 10 days straight of climbing ice and mixed alpine every day and living in the cold starve out some of the deeper aspects of what winter climbing is all about. its not hard just getting by for a night or two, but after about day 7 any failings are becoming obvious.
a few things that start to poke thru the weave are:
calories – are you losing weight, getting too cold or having mood slumps?
hydration – are you keeping on top of your water intake? what colour is your piss?
sleeping systems – are you waking from the cold every night?
moisture – how are your sleeping bag, insulating layers, tents ventilation and boots going?
body function – are you getting cramps, taking regular dumps, keeping an appetite, having aches and pains, getting numb fingers and toes, craving fat or sugar?
basic efficiency – are you wasting fuel, still messing with crampons, letting your water freeze, losing your gloves or waking too late?
climbing systems – are you moving better on harder ground? refining your ropework? developing your team symbiosis? increasing your confidence?
these are all things that should get more refined and become second nature with time. success on expeditions and long trips arguably rests more on these factors than actual climbing performance – its not much use being able to pull M10 moves or lift 3 x body weight if you cant survive effectively enough to employ it.
rope systems, efficiency, confidence, teamwork, functionality – are you getting any better as time goes by? a lot of the elements of winter climbing can only be learned and appreciated from long stints in the mountains where any weaknesses will show thru.
this last series of trips was also a testing period for Teton Bros new insulation designs. some of these ive played with before but the new 800 fill down jacket and Primaloft gillette in combination with other Teton Bros garments was interesting to test out – no less because Nori was in Utah at the Outdoor Retailer show at the same time exposing it to the greater market.
the new Teton Bros 800 fill down jacket: note how well it sits over a helmet and zips high over the face, all without lifting at the shoulders. also too the Revision ballistic glasses that have become my favourite thing this winter (saving my right eye not long after this photo was taken). and thats Rob ‘international man of mystery’ in the baselayer behind.
as for actual climbing, a whole spectrum of weather made for good times with Rob, Benjack and Damian as we nailed and attempted all sorts of routes in all sorts of conditions ranging from Mine-no-matsume in both full sun and knee-deep snow, Ura-do-shin in both cold-&-clear and whirling snow (including the upper mixed sections in a crazy race to ascend and down climb before visability totally went), O-taki in full sun (which meant screws didnt do much), the San-sa-hou runze in truely dangerous avalanche condtions (forcing us to get the hell out before the sun hit) and many hours on the ice wall (where i took a chunk out of my face from a big bit of ice – my first ever ice climbing accident, thanks Rob for patching me up).
Rob leading O-taki as the sun comes onto it: steep, pumpy and dodgy for screws
on top of all this i spent most evenings discussing ideas with Yasushi Okada for future trips everywhere from Kaikomagatake to western Sichuan in China to the north side of K2 to the Charakusa in Pakistan. hes one of the nicest guys around its a rare thing to get a glimpse into the style of a true elite climber.
also worth mentioning is that straight after getting home myself and the guys from the Tsunami Responder team were asked to attend a presentation by the British Chamber of Commerce and offer our opinions. i mention this because nearly a year later and basic information is still being distorted between the Tokyo boardrooms and the damage zone up north, and now just like then, we are committed to minimizing this. this means wherever we can the A-team is keeping the ball aloft for the people in the worst hit areas – whether its running supplies, rescue or representing them in Tokyo. its a long way yet to go.
the Tsunami ‘A-team’ goofing around at a big post-tsunami meeting: tough, motivated, smart – you couldnt get a better team
1/24 – how its done
more coming soon on the last 10 days trips, but for now amuse yourselves with this very cool video from a very cool guy
dont try that at home kids…..youll have to go into the mountains for it.
1/14 – peak season maintanence.
people are always talking about training for climbing and today i was asked what training i do during winter, between trips.
my reply was i dont. i train for winter, but during winter its maintenance conditioning.
the sort of complicated strength, endurance and power training that equates to good climbing capacity is too invasive to fit into the few days or a week or so between trips. chances of injury are too high, power results are too distant and recovery is too long – this isnt football where compromised performance can cost you points, with ice climbing it can cost you much more.
so between trips i aim to keep my condition from degenerating by working on form and keeping my system twitching and turning over in ways as specific to ice climbing as possible. i lay off any heavy body work that risks injury or endurance work that takes days to recover from, and focus on keeping the specific ice climbing condition fresh, which includes:
leg work: keeping the legs strong for approaches and pushing thru snow, calves strong for front pointing
arm circulation work: to keep condition for the pump, coiling ropes and the cold
structural integrity: working on upper body precision for placing tools, torso strength or carrying loads, lower body integrity for the uphills. keeping the body integrated as a whole
non-adaption: working on opposing and antagonizing muscle groups to keep the system in condition for specific and non-specific movement
cardio-spikes: keeping the bodys cardio capacity used to spiking and recovering.
so how to actually do this? what specific exercises? well, essentially i try and mimic the stresses of ice climbing, giving a bit of extra attention to the elements i lag at.
weighted step-ups, squats and ski machine for the legs and hip integrity
combinations of deadhangs, kettle bell presses, pull ups, reverse push ups and ring push ups (much of them one handed) for the upper body pump/structural integrity
offset GHD sits with weight for the torso integrity
monkey sets on two parrallel but offset pull up bars (mix of regular and single arm pull ups, snatching between the two bars and hanging)
turkish get-ups, cousin burpees and kettle bell swings for body integrity
plyometric push ups and pull ups combined with complex lifts to minimize adaption
intervals on the ski machine for cardio capacity
none of this is done to maximum, instead at sustained quality with focus on form, range of motion and function under stress with lots of time for recovery between sets. the aim is to stress, focus and activate the system – not blast it. like a climbing trip i want to perform every day at a good level, not need rest days after a single thrashing. each session is as much recovery as it is optimization, not maximization.
1/11 – proto-layers
its exciting times in the textiles industry. so much new stuff has hit the market this year its a bit of a whirl, and whilst everyone is obsessing over Neoshell and Dry Q, theres very very cool other stuff as well.
of the lot, because of its applications for ice climbing in Japan, climbing Mt Fuji in winter, ice climbing in China & expeditions to places like the Charakusa (ie, all dry), its the new developments from Primaloft that gets me revved up. having given up on fleece as a mid-layer years ago, synthetic insulation has become my friend as it packs better, handles moisture and wind better and works in better with surrounding layers.
so, seeing that more people are also thinking this way, Teton Bros and Polartec decided to go with it and are producing an integrated, modular insulation system that combines Primaloft and 800 fill down in all sorts of ways that work in the conditions their end users need them to (sorry Scotland, you guys will still need several leaps in technology before those conditions are dealt with). i cant show you everything, but heres what im taking out next week for 10 days of thrashing.
Teton Bros colourful winter insulation system prototypes, clockwise from top left: 800 fill down jacket, Neoshell jacket, Primaloft gillette, Primaloft mid-layer jacket. note the down jackets high neck and the pocket-minimal front panels.
the basis of all this is a Power dry grid baselayer (not shown), either a Primaloft jacket or gillette depending on the conditions, a Neoshell layer for when needed and a (european) 800 fill down jacket for belays and mooching around camp. the whole deal manages moisture remarkably in Japanese conditions (ie temps around – 5 to -15, dry, hi-aerobic) – hence no issues with down as a belay/sleeping layer as the Primaloft converts sweat to mild humidity coming off your body and the Neoshell lets it pass, by which time its essentially cool dry air that wont build up in the down.
1/7 – time out to work
winter climbing on Mt Fuji is always amazing and intense, so after 6 trips in as many weeks and clocking up 2 weeks collectively in tents at sub-sub-zero temps its time to regroup before diving head-long into deep winter. time to eat, prep gear, eat, work on Teton Bros/Polartec projects, eat, train, eat and do the logistics for the next series of the seasons trips.
lots of days in tents makes you appreciate all the little things that make life easier in the cold.
things take a step up in mid-winter, with trips planned multi-day alpine routes, Kaikomagatake, steep ice & mixed, photo shoots, gear testing, Hokkaido, Nara, winter training and a long stay at Yatsugatake. which adds up to a lot of time in sleeping bags, eating from a Jetboil, melting snow and coiling ropes. and a lot of time in good places with good people doing cool stuff of course.
things to do right now that others might like to know about:
treat gloves – caring for the leather and inners gets years of use from them. good, well cared for gloves get better with age
put long pulls on zips – why the industries dont already baffles me
patch clothes – crampon nicks and scuffed elbows let in snow, which melts inside your sleeping bag
sharpen tools, crampons and screws
air out insulated gear – down and primaloft appreciate a week of uncrushed warmth
de-slip things like thermarests and waterbottles – a few dabs of seamgrip makes these things much easier to use
copy maps & route inf0
enough for a week between trips to the office to pick up more Teton Bros/Polartec prototypes. its always exciting seeing the new designs, but this lot is really cool with hybrid insulation layers, merino bases, softshells and guides gear, plus early designs for the new generation ice-specific gear thats got me really psyched.
1/6 – mt fuji 3630m, -21c, wc -40c & neoshell
just down from fuji after an insane trip that started with the usual quiet approach from the first station and lead to a brutal high point in true kamikaze conditions.
we stayed at 3200m after climbing till about 10pm when the winds got too strong, then after waiting out the morning found the wind to have dropped enough for a summit push set off again at about 8am. skies were clear at first, until a big front came in and visability dropped. we pushed up to the 9th station before calling it quits – climbing in full insulated layers.
not the usual description for Mt Fuji huh?
within minutes of starting to descend the sky cleared and we considered going back – before the winds came in and the temperature dropped even further. we made a good choice. looking into it back at base-level, the winds at our high point of 3630m were around 95kmph and an ambiet temperature of – 21c, making for windchill of about -40c.
another 2hrs in those or worse conditions for the extra 150m to the summit would have been nasty. like we tell everyone: in winter Mt Fuji is a very real mountain with conditions similar to big peaks everywhere.
Paul at the first station – not showing the insane conditions far above
high point 3623m, 95kmph wind, -21c, -40c windchill. amazing effort Paul, and stay safe where youre going next. OO-RAH buddy.
anyway, a great test for the new Neoshell range from Teton Bros. happy to report that the textile cut the wind like a true hardshell, breathed for the hardwork like a true softshell (including the tent phase where most shells get nasty with moisture), and didnt go stiff like some fabrics do. none of the zips froze and everything was OK with double mitts on, and #1 was the hood design – the throat coming high enough to protect my face and it all cinching down nicely to protect my head. well done Teton Bros – not a lot of gear that gets a chance to be tested like that outside a windtunnel.
1/2 – Mine-no-matsume
recently back from 5 days at Yatsugatake, this time focussing on the ice in the Mine-no-matsume gullies.
rarely visited due to their relatively difficult access, these are really nice ice falls that get sun most of the day and lead up to high ice curtains thru beautiful pine forest. a slightly lower altitude and direct sun meant things were much warmer, and tho a little wetter, well worth it to climb in a baselayer.
12/22 – kold klimbing k-calories
im getting asked a lot about snack food for ice climbing trips, something ive experimented with a fair bit. its great having all the coolest insulating and breathing gear, but without the fuel going in the whole system is very inefficient.
as always i tell climbers to keep away from high sugar day-food. the heat-producing calories are just not loaded with enough fuel to put out what you need.
this seasons food of choice is almost cringe-worthy in its brilliance. i have american friends who are even impressed: i give you the Pizza Peanut Butter Sandwich.
take 2 pizzas, as good as you can get them. cook, then whilst still warm lather one lovingly in peanut butter and slap the other on top. allow it all to ‘cool’ (ie, congeal) and slice into 8ths. each section guaranteed a minimum 250kcals if you loaded it right. not bad when you consider you only ingest about 300kcals an hour.
12/21 – early season exotica, Neoshell & okada-san
just back from another great early season trip to yatsugatake.
this time was spent testing the latest Neoshell products from Teton Bros by getting onto some of the more obscure routes that are only accessible early in the season and climbing fast to see just how well these textiles and designs really perform: and lets just say they are impressive.
the key to breathability isnt just the textile, but the design – vents in the right places, cuts that allow humidity to be dumped, features that let you custom the way things flow. Teton Bros is good at nailing all that, and even before Neoshell came into the equation had designs that let trapped heat escape when and how you wanted it. combine the two and you have a very good bit of gear.
click here to read the full review, and here if you’re interested in getting your hands on one yourself.
good gear needs good places to test it, the routes it all got tested on being more examples of fine japanese ice sat along beautiful frozen streams thru conifer forest in some places, or up steep snow blown gullies in others. all great routes and all leading to alpine pillars and mini-cirques of more ice that are still yet to peak in form. its great knowing theres still so much of winter left ahead!
some of the linked ice falls in the Sansahou Runze, yatsugatake.
and some of the lower ice below the snow line
and meanwhile, back at Akadake Kosen, evenings were spent discussing Pakistan and China logistics with no other than Yasushi Okada from the Giri giri boys. i try generally not to be one to name drop – but hey, when its a giri giri boy whos picked up a piolet d’or and he wants to talk Pakistan…
12/17 – Kai Komagatake plan
after 3 weeks now of running trips out to Yatsugatake people are asking about Kai Komagatake – the Lost Kingdom of Ice. we were in there last year, then ran it as a Big Canyon in summer, so are possibly the only people to have done it multiple seasons.
in ‘The Kingdom’ theres more ice than could be climbed in a season, with pure and alpine routes in every direction. thin gullies run for half a dozen pitches up big walls, huge waterfalls freeze out forming 1000m alpine routes, smaller cascades create hanging pillars, big faces of granite offer unseen mixed routes. if this was Europe there would be hundreds of people in there all winter – but in Japan, this place sees only a handful of teams a season.
big ice in The Lost Kingdom: ascending out up the O Ren Dani, NE Kai Komagatake
helped by me pointing the peak out at every opportunity from the approach, interest is building, so a trip is in the works. details you need to know are:
basic climbing experience vital – this is not the place if you’ve never used an ice tool before
5 days duration – full day in, 3 days ‘in the kingdom’, full day up and out
totally self-supported – theres no lodges, trails or power supply in the lost kingdom
team numbers will be limited to 6
dates will be around early February, places available until a week before - very possibly we will run a second trip too
if this sort of thing sounds like you contact iceclimbingjapan via the links on every page and get on board.
12/15 – Teton Bros & Polartec testing time
the latest protoypes from Teton Bros new Polartec range have arrived, including some of the Neoshell and baselayer gear, so before the ice season really gets busy it’s testing time.
Teton Bros is a niche Big Mountain skiing company that shares its foundation between the big slopes of Japan and Utah. their designs take the modular concept to full extension, with their shells, insulating and baselayers working seamlessly together, and their innovative use of new technology and designs – they are masters of putting zips in the right places.
Teton Bros prototypes featuring new fabrics from Polartec
add to this Nori and Junkos cool tastes in colours, and it wasnt long before the specialist industries took notice – so much so they secured the rights to the Neoshell range for all Japan, as well as licenses for Pertex, Primaloft, Merino and Keprotec. these guys are going places.
now that Teton Bros has made its name amongst sharp end skiers, they are turning their attention to ice, alpine and expedition climbing. its exciting days down at the Polartec offices in Tokyo – ideas are flowing as new textiles allow for new applications. of course theres the hardwork that goes with making an idea into a prototype, but after that the good stuff starts with testing and reviewing.
12/12 – early season ice and mixed
conditions keep getting better and the ice fatter. enough snow has fallen to add to the afternoon melt, freezing again fast when the sun goes down and things get cold.
this latest round had us out in the gullies and up on the exposed ridge routes, with the ice noticeably thicker each day.
the same ice fall in the photos 5 posts down. fatter, colder and linked. both photos taken by Tony from Climb Japan.
higher up the route
12/4 – the week ahead
conditions ahead: constant 0 – minus 12, short days, no precipitation. click the image for updates on mountain-forecast.com
after 2 days of rain and snow (which we got caught in…) the week ahead is looking cold and clear, a continuation of the ideal conditions for ice formation as melt and sleet freeze deep in the gullies, with little follow up snow to make access hard.
12/1 – from the good folk at Teton Bros
Nori at Teton Bros has given us a bunch of beanies to give climbers this winter. hes been working hard all year on designs for big mountain and ice climbing clothes, using all sorts of the latest textiles including the new Neoshell fabrics from Polartec.
the Mountain Lion logo and some of the colours of the promo Teton Bros beanies
11/30 – hokkaido ice climbing dates
the last week has seen a spike in interest in climbing in Sounkyo in Hokkaido. to keep it all worked in with other trips it makes sense to do things in a block, devoting the second half of January to it.
with Sounkyo being super cold, ice forms quickly, with almost zero melt-off during the season
Sounkyo is a cool place to climb, with easy access to a ravine full of ice falls. the town itself is deep in a long rocky gorge, with hotsprings in every hotel and a famous ice festival. for a long time only Japanese climbers and serious BC skiers/boarders knew about Sounkyo in the winter.
by train/bus it’s about 7hrs from Niseko or 4hrs from Sapporo. theres dozens of places to stay, tho its worth booking early as deals can be really good.
11/29 – return to yatsugatake
being back at yatsugatake made me think. the last we were out there was when the quake and tsunami hit tohoku and the confusion of the disaster slowly dawned. being cut off, it took a few hours for us to realize we were needed elsewhere, resulting in a hurried departure late at night thru deep windblown snow and the process of getting back to Tokyo with the transport system in chaos.
since the tsunami we have continued to work in emergency areas such as Wakayama and Nara
it made me think of how things have changed since then, and the intensity of the weeks that followed as our team went deep into the damaged ‘red’ zone, getting people and supplies into and out of the worst areas, bringing real time info back to Tokyo and to the media. it made me think about the team itself, and the good and bad elements associated with it. it made me think about risk, and how circumstances change where you perceive ‘the edge’ to be.
its sounds corny, but we used a lot of concepts common to ice climbing whilst responding in Tohoku: the fast & light idea, the formulas for energy consumption-to-capacity and out put, the basic risk assessment ideas, the cold conditions experience, the navigation and topographic assessment stuff. there was a big difference tho in that, although serious, ice climbing is still a game you dont have to play if you dont want. disaster response isnt. theres no other way to know how you will react when things go really, really crazy, but i now know what i will do.
after all that im really motivated to be back climbing again.
11/28 – IT’S ON! first routes done, perfect conditions, more coming.
an unexpecting trip on the 26th & 27th to check the ice at Yatsugatake became a whirl of soloing as the early season ice was found to be in good condition. almost no snow but a week of low temperatures meant that, even tho the ice was thin, linking the icefalls was as easy as it can be, and add to that the lack of needing heavy winter gear – other than at night all i climbed in was a baselayer, sometimes not even needing gloves.
Yatsugatake: the same route in late and early season
ice in this condition can be great to climb, with short days keeping the ice less affected by UV and no snow build up can give an extra 3m in height.
lower part of the icefalls in Dai Do Shin Runze. WI3-4, about25m. by late December snow will cover to above the large boulder at the bottom right
add to all that, Ice Candy – the icewall at Akadake kosen – is set to go, opening to climbers the first weekend of December. the crew at the lodge worked hard during summer to add several new features to the existing structure to increase wall space by about 30%, including new corner sections and redoing the low angle area.
ice candy early-season. compare to this to the image here
the week ahead continues with more ideal conditions predicted, a dusting of snow, maybe some drizzle during a warm spike, then a sudden drop to well below freezing that should fatten the ice nicely, and still make for easy approaches.
11/19 – freeze thaw update & shakespeare wasabi
a good amount of rain, short days, snow on the horizon and a big drop in temperatures over the next continues the near-ideal ice forming conditions. with moisture freezing into the ground from the combination of rain and short days, theres a good cold base that will minimize thawing as the season evolves – meaning the eventual arrival of snow can layer as ice rather than melting away, making for good fat ice flows.
all this means the potential for another good year across Honshu, which means ideas are in the pipeline for a trip to visit Shakespeare in early february. Shakespeare is an iconic icefall in the mixed Wasabi-tani route in Nara – well known to Japanese ice climbers due to its photogenic nature but rarely visited by the majority of climbers – and even then the further 7 or 8 falls above it that make up the full Wasabi route get even less attention.
start thinking about this now as the fall doesnt last long and we will do it as a 2 day thing, setting up at the bottom of Shakespeare for a days playing about, then running the full Wasabi-tani route the next day. think that i may take a day either side of travel from the big cities to get there.
11/9 – first good freeze & how it works
today is the first of a 3 day freeze/thaw cycle thats almost perfect in its timing across the minami alps (yatsugatake, kaikomagatake etc). click here to see the weather report.
to understand a bit about how ice forms, go to here for the science.
11/7 – first real cold patch & snow coming in
today sees the start of the decent into a 2 day cold period in the mountains. freeze level is predicted to be about 1800m and the 2500m-3000m range should sit at about -1 to -6 making perfect ice forming conditions. it wont last though – a warm, moist front coming after should bring a little rain, but it’s all good for the freeze/thaw cycle. snow is predicted on Kai komagatake in the same cold patch which is great.
by the looks of it theres a similar cold drop after the rain, making late next week possibly the beginning of the mixed climbing.
11/1 – first sub-zero temperatures on the radar.
this last week sees temperatures in the mountains starting to touch below freezing above 2500m. things still get up to +4 or 5, but each cold drop gets colder, stays longer and drops lower. first snow where it matters wont be long.
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