瑞牆山冬の壁 Mt MIZUGAKI WINTER WALLS

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.

大谷不動とエスプレソ壁 OYAFUDO, ESPRESSO WALL & MID-WINTER BIVYS

the second week of February is statistically the coldest of the year. the days are getting longer again with the sun higher in the sky, which combined with the cold plunge and the mid-winter weather pattern usually means a window of good ice. this season held true. after an enthusiastic dispatch from CLIMB JAPAN (cheers Tony, next coffee’s on us) about the icefalls in Oyafudo, Nagano, we changed course for the fat ice center of Japan.

hefty routes often result in hefty packs: expecting all sorts of weather and a comfortable base, the pack in was a big element of the trip to Oyafudo

the easiest route in the valley: at WI5, despite being fat and blue, it takes psyche and the right zone to pull off 40m of steep ice

the Oyafudo basecamp: comfortable. long days of steep approaches and hard ice demand easy living

Oyafudo’s WI6 ice pillars: hanging from the surrounding escarpment, the number of international quality, hard routes make this a kind of hidden gem of world ice climbing

Oyafudo isnt the place for easy climbing. almost nothing goes below WI5, pitches are usually >45m, everything’s steep and much of the mixed pro is ‘local’. you have to be on form. after 2 days on the lactic threshold it was time to head back to Yamanashi before the impending snow dump and psyche-out got the upper hand. Down at Lower Kaikoma things were cold, but the passing snow and mid-winter conditions resulted in good ice with the mixed lines on Espresso Wall being thin, hard with lots of exposed granite seams

Espresso Wall is still uncovering new lines: snow, cold, sun and cleaning shows up more and more thin lines and pick-width seams

after several trips lugging heavy packs wed opted for a lighter approach, taking bivy tarps instead of the big base camp tent. always a gamble, we got the pitch just right and weathered out the strong winds, snow and -14c night in relative comfort.

not quite the same as the Oyafudo base camp, but livable none the less: at under 1kg, two tarps on hard snow makes a lot of room

despite the minimal materials and cold temps, using the right gear inside makes it all doable: cold weather stoves and 4 season insulation make all the difference

 at -12c, a degree of creativity to keep the important things insulated makes minimalist nights out less than suffering

百竜壁アイスプロジェクト WHITE DRAGON WALL ICE PROJECT 2015

northern honshu’s Sendai area has the best ice & mixed climbing in Japan. possibly asia. ‘best’ means the largest range of routes worth coming across japan or around the world for. these are not fun little local routes, rather they are committed, steep / overhanging and technical routes a good distance from the car. you have to work for them, they dont come easily.

working it out: some routes are long forgotten, most are unclimbed, all need time to figure out, clean and assess.

the White Dragon Wall Project is now in its 3rd winter, with the first trip done. 5 days in the valley showed us 3 things – that early conditions on the White Dragon Wall are fluctuating wildly, that conditions on the opposite wall are the best weve seen them with more route than ever, and that viewed from the opposite wall the White Dragon Wall is waaaaay more extensive than previously thought.

early images here, the good ones are on the way time & supplies: the equation for going to work new areas out boils down to hard work and preparation. choices made in the car park resonate for the whole trip.

 the process of working routes out means getting what you need to where you will use it. when that beta isnt clearly defined you have to cover as many options as possible

 extended stays mean eating properly and taking the time to relax. multi-day efforts need more sophisticated energy consumption than just snickers bars and instant coffee

our week-long base in the valley. comfortable and protected.

 

tho when the snow front hit things looked a bit different.

下甲斐駒変 ESPRESSO WALL MIXED LINES

despite a good range of well known ice routes the mixed lines at lower kaikomagatake are almost never climbed. obvious and striking and right by the access road, the hardish mixed lines are short, direct, bold and powerful – earning them the name Espresso Wall.

thin, techy & steep: Reed tapping his way thru the middle section of Espresso With Ed . who says you cant climb delicate ice in horizontals?

riding a precise weather window we sunk a few days into cleaning, developing and sequencing a couple of Espresso Wall’s lines. navigating the freeze-thaw oscillation to avoid the legion of hanging ice on Espresso Wall’s mostly-overhanging face, we got 2 routes climbable, going at about WI5+ / M4 and WI5 / M6.

pumped out, frantic and athletic: Reed approaching the only rest on Espresso With Reed, just to the right of Espresso with Ed

due to being ignored over the years, everything on Espresso Wall needs careful cleaning on rappel and top rope. granite blocks teeter on slick ledges, all the cracks are full of grass and thick icicles form rapidly as soon as the sun goes then shed when it comes back. the sound of crashing ice forms the ambient soundscape of Espresso Wall. also a good thing, the absence of any action means the entire face is bolt, peg and rivet free.

debris at the base of Espresso Wall after a days cleaning

around the sessions on Lower Kaikomas esoteric routes theres lots of time for getting onto the Japanese classics. known mostly for the gully routes, Lower Kaikoma has little of the crowds that throng to yatsugatake, and is several degrees warmer with earlier direct sunlight.

warming up on Lower Kaikoma’s signature ice fall – albeit on the rarely climbed left pillar mixed line

one of Lower Kaikoma’s granite boulder caves that adorn the gully routes

cold, twisting and a good mix of snow, rock and ice: Lower Kaikoma’s gully routes combine trad alpine climbing with quintessential japanese landscapes

the ‘Kaikomagatake Hilton’: south facing and at only about 1400m, Lower Kaikoma gets early sun that makes it comfortable to bivvy

hard mixed climbing doesnt have to mean hard living: when the days warm up and there’s too much ice crashing down, the wait till the sun goes need not be wasted

 

 

 

THANKYOU HYALITE & BOZEMAN

crossing the pacific for the first time, our first foray into the north american ice climbing scene was a blast. representing teton bros. and polartec, iceclimbingjapan touched base with the soul of american ice climbing at the bozeman ice festival.

downtown Bozeman, Montana: where heel spurs, shotguns, baggy pants and ice climbers gather peacefully

where the mountains meet the prairies, Bozeman is as much stoner cowboys, snowboarder hooligans and big city game hunters as it is serious ice climbers. home to Joe Josephson, Doug Chabot, Conrad Anker and Jack Tackle (plus a legion of transient climbers and home to the Alex Lowe legend), Bozeman and Hyalite were the perfect hosts to our entourage from Japan.

Hyalite Canyon and peaks in the distance

Bison: pretty much says it all

strikingly similar to the ice area in Sendai, Hyalite is layer upon layer of tiered icefalls and squiggled gullys. fat cascades fill the lower ampitheaters, steep cliff lines are hung with daggers and thin twisting routes lead up to the high icefalls that loom overhead. there is ice everywhere.

iceclimbingjapan’s Nae Yagi on a warm up icefall on Unnamed Wall in Hyalite

and on her usual terrain: M10 route to the right of Bingo Cave, with House of Flying Daggers in the background

days in the canyon tended to start early to avoid the festival crowds, and by mid-afternoon we were usually back in town and deep in the festival, where the UIAA championship circuit was the focal point for competition climbers from across Europe, Russia, Asia and North America.

moon over Hyalite: serene and luminous before the festival crowds arrive. apparantly at the right time coyotes actually do howl in the distance…

Yamagishi flaying the rope for a pre-dawn warm up in the Mummy ampitheater

Westy crossing a snow gully on the way towards Zack Attack (WI5)

Marat figuring out the M sequence at the start of a thin and barely connected The Matrix WI4, upper Mummy area

Mens difficulty finals outside the Emerson in downtown Bozeman

 coffee, coconut oil and organic food: the perfect diet for fuelling a whirlwind trip to one of ice climbings meccas.

many thanks to the good folk of Bozeman, especially Marat and Westy for showing us around. the staff of the Lewis & Clark Motel deserve special mention for cheerful service to the no doubt annoying demands of ice climbers keeping weird hours, stomping snow thru their lobby, eating all the cake and brewing espresso in the rooms. special thanks goes to Graham from Cilo gear for the tour of small town Montana that included Bison watching, excellent conversation and the quintessential American experience – outrunning an oncoming train across the rails in a speeding car.

 

 

COFFEE & CLIMBING: PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUG?

it is if you’re doing it right!!!

a recent spate of discussion, including comments on the iceclimbingjapan trip to Gangga VII and reactions to the blog post on Andy Kirkpatricks site, have raised the issue of climbers drinking coffee. and fair enough. tho the discussion usually centers on supplemental oxygen and then dexamethasone, Diamox, nifidipine etc coffee always gets roped in as an example of the grey area. yes, the effects are recognized by the highest authorities, but no, it aint banned except in specific circumstances, and indeed in most circles its celebrated.

drug? definitely. unacceptable advantage? not really. bottled oxygen is because its too high, Dex is because youre dying and Diamox is because youre going too fast. coffee is because its 4:00am and theres things to get done.

where coffee warps the envelope with alpine climbing is it has no effects specific to altitude. its well researched that it has distinct effects for endurance activities in general, but above 3500m (or whatever altitude ‘altitude’ begins at…) the effects are nothing special, indeed some references suggest stopping drinking it if its already being regularly consumed to be a problem.

in other endurance sports coffee is only looked down upon within the regulations of Olympic grade events like triathlons where immediate ‘race doses’ that require pharmaceutical dosing (and therefore leave whats meant by ‘coffee’ and enter whats considered doping). ultramarathons, adventure races and stage races have no restrictions on coffee.

an element that clouds the matter is alpine climbings definition as a ‘sport’, which defines then what is ‘fair’ or not. is an ascent done with regular espressos having an unfair advantage the same as an ascent done dexed up or using bottled oxygen? should ascents done by coffee addicts be defined as such? are there ascents being done with coffee that couldn’t be done otherwise?

the thing with coffee is its only performance enhancing when you drink enough – disqualifying dabblers, coffee-wankers and drip. to get the endurance effects requires about 5 cups, which is no big deal over a day but in order to peak a few hours after takes effort (youre looking at espresso for that). according to some literature its main enhancing potential is in training, as to get enough right before a maximal effort would require tablets or suppositories, which stretches the definition of ‘coffee’. enough to blow the idea that Eckenstein insisting on afternoon tea on K2 was getting any enhancing benefit from it (tho who can say what Crowley may have added to the mix…)

coffee paraphenalia. no syringes, no pills, no prescriptions, no sherpas to carry it all.

unlike most drugs used in climbing coffee doesn’t do what your body cannot do itself nor alter the environment you climb in. coffee doesn’t keep you alive or extend your abilities like a true amphetamine or steroid, its simply not invasive enough. its hard to imagine anyones directly been saved by the stuff (tho indirectly thanks to its properties to temporarily sharpen a mind clouded by exhaustion). in this respect coffee is more like beet juice or throat lozenges in that it enhances the scope of a set of functions. it doesn’t initiate them, nor does coffee make up for a genetic disposition like Diamox does. asprin is of greater pharmacological effect than caffeine at altitude, as is ibuprofen. sub-‘altitude’ both are considered standards for the basics of endurance injury.

just what coffee does do to enhance endurance performance is not really clear. apparently it stretches fat metabolization so its broken down over a longer period, starting earlier thus ‘saving’ glycogen so it can be broken down over longer. but how it does this is undecided. compare this to the invasive actions that ‘real’ performance enhancing substances used by climbers have and tho it’s a drug for sure, its pretty low key, certainly lower than many effects of regular diet have, ie taking amino acids, drinking coconut oil or energy gels.

where it is banned is is not because its harmful or has side effects that are nasty, nor that it imparts a risky unfair advantage to some like blood doping – which can kill you – other than I suppose people that may have an allergy reaction, its safe for everyone competing to use without risk of someone going too far.

is it unethical? im not sure how. procuring it certainly isn’t (unless we get into bird friendly, picked by disabled women in impoverished countries stuff) so theres no dodgy doctors or communist conspiracies involved. it doesn’t exclude anyone normal from its use due to cost, metabolism, risk or method of ingestion.

yes, coffee helps at altitude in a way that non-coffee drinkers wont be getting but it also does that on Sunday morning in a beachside café with a copy of the Economist. the divide between coffee drinkers and non-drinkers isn’t what exists between dopers and non-dopers or ‘O’ users and non-‘O’ users. coffee doesn’t open up otherwise unclimbable peaks, nor does it create high-altitude scandals and controversies. people don’t die because they ran out of coffee and sherpas don’t risk their lives for meagre wages to carry it.

do we strip alex lowe and ueli steck – both renowned for their coffee habits – of their achievements because they drink coffee on the mountain? rather than hide it and/or lie about it like Armstrong et al these guys chose to celebrate it. holy heck, Kyle Dempster even owns a cafe! the early morning smell of BCs and highcamps the world over suggest its hardly a clandestine affair, and tho popular use doesn’t justify anything, comparing the numbers of coffee drinkers to summits and O users (or Dexamethasone or Diamox users) and summits suggests the performance enhancing effects are pretty minimal – unless you consider the ambiance of highcamp at 4:00am and ‘enhanced effect’.

in the end im not sure anyone’s stood on top of a mountain, route or boulder directly because of it, but im damned sure they’ve been happier at 3:00am when they decided it was game on.

be aware this rant is about coffee. it isn’t an attempt to change anybody’s mind, disqualify anybody’s achievements or justify anything that’s been done. nor is it about posturing a pro-PED stance for supplemental oxygen, ‘dexing up’ or prophylactic use of pharmaceuticals for the effects of altitude.

UNSEEN, UNNAMED, UNCLIMBED: GANGGA VII 2014

anyone saying the era of real exploration is over is simply wrong

gangga VII, 5425m, north east tibetan plateau. south east coulouir, 5.7 M4 VI, 85degrees ice, 40 – 60 degrees snow, +/-500m, 9 pitches to 5340m. no summit…this time

over a month from September to October iceclimbingjapan lead another trip to the Sichuan/Tibet plateau to find & climb new peaks – new as in totally unclimbed.

based on 15 years of trips to remote parts of China ICJ teamed up with the master of Tibetan exploration, Tomatsu Nakamura, to get the inside knowledge on whats out there to do. from his vast base of data we settled on an objective that suited ICJs model of small footprint, highly mobile trips that shed many of the problems associated with the big, dinosaur industry ‘expeditions’ found elsewhere. the Gangga Massifs were chosen with their +/-5500m mixed peaks and relative easy access, which made for a streamlined ascent profile that fitted our window.

aside from that almost nothing was known. first we had to find the base of the mountain before thinking about climbing it – a big matter considering only half a dozen photos of the Gangga peaks existed, all of them from the same side. it didn’t help too that the area was known as a center for civil unrest, with access restrictions forming a large element in the planning…

SO WHAT’S THERE?

even several months of speculation didn’t touch on the amount of climbing out there. what turned out to be extremely complex topography uncovered decades worth of routes in just the one part of the Gangga we recced (approx. 10% of the range). characterized by a series of high cirques (+4500m) ringed with rock peaks theres climbing everywhere. from ideal boulders to 1200m big walls, ski routes, hard alpine, moderate ridges and huge ice lines theres endless possibilities.

basecamps mostly sit above 4000m, on grass yak pasture (nomads use the Gangga valleys connecting the Yalong river to the higher grasslands), with pristine spring water (ie very comfortable). high camps tend to be up the steep scree slopes that lead into the cirques thru openings in the walls (ie not so comfortable).

 Gangga VII highcamp (4500m)

another common feature of the Gangga massifs geology are the formations of spires and pillars that form maze-like networks of couloirs between faces and snow fields, making for complex route choices requiring a broad spectrum of climbing ability. theres lots of steep snow plodding to be had – but it takes solid mixed alpine to get to.

WHAT DID WE DO?

Gangga VII SE face:  SE couloir starts from the top of the visible snow/scree and emerges at the ice/snow that disappears round to the north side at the obvious notch on the right skyline. (note: the peak appearing to the left is a sub-peak foreshortened, +/- 5050m)

our permits were for the most distinct peak in the Gangga’s central massif, unnamed despite being so prominent, marked simply as 5425m in Nakamura’s images and sometimes referred to as Gangga VII. after looking into options from the accessible eastern side and balancing a large team of varied ability, we eventually settled on an ‘easy looking’ mixed couloir that twisted from the SE side thru pillars and faces around to the NE headwall – via several blind spots. other options included direct and variant routes on the SE face, a wandering mostly-rock line on the south face, linking pulpits of snow on the NE side and taking the SSW ridge from a notch in the west side of the cirque. all elegant choices that one by one got crossed off due to time, safety, logistics and ability. in the harsh light of reality – when theres been no one to go before – of all the gear used for climbing Occam’s razor is the right tool for the job.

top of Pitch 1

so the SE couloir it became and 2 attempts under very different conditions got us to within 4 or 5 pitches of the summit after 500m of steep final approach from highcamp and 9 pitches of mixed alpine up to WI4+ of ice and M4+. things ground down as they got steeper, difficult routes choices turned against us, the ice proved thin and an underestimation of the gear needed (twice as much thin gear next time…) meant we pulled out just before the transition to the (unknown) north side, at about 5340m.

mention must be made of Rob’s outstanding lead on pitch 8; run out above minimal gear and a stressful belay and the hardest moves capped with the last short screw left.

as a first attempt on an unattempted peak in an unexplored massif in an unknown range in a restricted corner of the Tibetan plateau things went exceedingly well. all members of the climbing team and support staff came home with the fingers and toes they left with as was the defined goal. the seamless efforts of the logistics staff maintained a perfect platform for the climbing, supplying excellent food, a comfortable BC, happy living atmosphere and unobtrusive local liaison. its no exaggeration that BCs in China are arguably the best anywhere – an even bigger deal considering theres no mass industry running to format with dollar-a-day locals.

imposing: Gangga VII as seen from the approach

SO WHATS NEXT?

as always, further, cooler and more efficiently. back in Chengdu we met up with Tomatsu Nakamura and started laying down the next trips ideas and organizing the next lot of logistics. the team has been solidified, access and BC locations have been mapped and equipment is being arranged. initial interest is centering around a healthy blend of walls, mixed lines and high altitude ice, with short recce trips further into other parts of the Gangga range (including the whole undocumented western side).

fresh food, good coffee, clean water and variation: BCs in China are healthy, happy and relaxing, meaning good recovery and sustainability in remote places

this years trip established the groundwork for pulling the climate data, access, bureaucracy, supply and resources into line with the demands of climbing, creating a ‘light & fast’ model that functions extremely well. yes, climbing in China has its idiosyncrasies, but beyond that is a level of function that can open up serious expedition climbing like its never been done before. when you have the inspiration and know how to do it of course.

as always, interest & inquiries for 2015 are welcome from both independant teams and individuals. numbers will be limited but several trips can run  and several teams can climb from a shared BC

2015 CHINA EXPEDITIONS

interest for the 2015 China expedition season is already pouring in, with several objectives lined up as things take shape. the right questions are being asked at the right time – with 9 months to confirm and put the wheels of preparation into motion – so a distilled version is offered here.

unclimbed +/-5500m peaks. there for those who have the motivation. photo Tom Nakamura

why China?

its been decades since significant new expedition climbing destinations have opened up. as expedition ability has evolved in the cauldrons of Alaska, Baffin and elsewhere, true exploratory climbing to unexplored ranges has been a little thin. many climbers have glanced over China (with exceptions of course) but dismissed it as too hard to organize – which has been a good thing, leaving vast areas untouched.

the tightening up of protocols for climbing in China deterred many, but in effect has done exactly what was intended – preserving the high peaks of China from a rush of crass commercialism. now the high peaks of China are there only for those with the motivation to approach them as true expeditions. theres no ‘sign-and-climb’ safaris here.

China realistically has several hundred >5000m peaks that are unnamed, unexplored and more often than not, unseen. climbing here reignites the same ideas about furthering the greater body of climbing knowledge as climbing in Nepal and Pakistan did half a century ago. these opportunities come often….

what a trip to China involves

trips start by landing in Chengdu – a large modern city totally unlike most entry points to high altitude climbing areas. consistantly in the top 5 chinese cities to live in, Chengdu is a major player with international flights, a subway, an easy layout, international hospitals & supermarkets and embassies. hotels are comfortable, and being the capital of Sichuan the food is world reknowned. along with 3000 years of heritage theres a large Tibetan quarter and as the self-proclaimed center of Chinas outdoor industry theres even a gear district. Unlike Kathmandu & Islamabad, things like gas canisters and energy bars are not hard to find in Chengdu, so we stock up here.

Chinas roads go to above 4500m so we do the trip up onto the plateau over two days. after leaving the Sichuan basin the roads go thru alpine forest and huge gorges as we ascend, eventually coming above the treeline then crossing over high, barren passed strafed with prayer flags and following the rivers where settlements are. usually we stay another day in medium sized Tibetan towns sorting redtape before heading out into the blank areas around the peaks. depending on the objective this may involve horses and yaks to get stuff to BC.

Chinese basecamps are comfortable and well supplied. at around 4000m we are low enough to acclimate to quickly, with the added advantages of theres no dhal baat and anything edible is permitted. the cooks that oversee the BC logistics take food very seriously and resupply of fresh food for longer trips is regular, meaning the level of recovery is greater. far from the uninhabites moodscapes of southern tibet or Baltoro, most BCs are on grassland and sometimes take advantage of existing rock structures left by the semi-nomadic tribes that cross the area between the lower forests and the upper reaches of the Yangzi and Yellow rivers.

the climbing itself is unique to the objective. the general area is the extreme fringes of the monsoonal pattern so rain helps carve up the geology as much as the movement of snow and ice. above 4000m freeze level starts hitting from around late September as the weather gets drier and clearer. day/night temps can vary as much as 20c. unlike further south towards Yunnan, snow doesnt build year round, making for more exposed rock including huge alpine walls. some peaks have glacial approaches whilst others have alpine grassland right to the base of the scree.

with so many objectives and such civilized access its easy to spend weeks and weeks looking into potential routes – only the dropping temperatures and ever-present redtape limit what can be done in a season. for long trips occasional forays into town to keep things sane are possible, with hotsprings, massage, restaurants and internet cafes to keep life on track.

returning to Chengdu is easy and can involve alternative routes thru other areas hiding new climbing potential. the descent from the high plateau is usually comfortable and the luxuries and sophistication of Chengdu a welcome distraction before flying out.

trips to 5000 – 6000m peaks requires equipment somewhere between regular winter and big wall gear

who are these trips for?

first ascents in unheard of places are not for everyone. if the safari-like process of summiting is all that matters and you want a contingency of support staff to make things as comfortable as possible then the obscure ranges of the Tibetan plateau will be a disappointment. there will be almost no climbing scene to fraternize with at basecamp, no well trodden trails and no mass-industry to answer every matter that arises.

these trips are for climbers who enjoy the process of working it all out; the route finding, the organization, the on-mountain processes and the bigger picture of going into undocumented places. unlike commercial ‘pay to climb’ trips that are guided along well-established schedules, iceclimbingjapan trips are real expeditions and require every climber to be part of the process.

the profile of a climber who ends up on an unclimbed peak somewhere near Tibet includes;

  • having a head for organization

  • a high degree of team awareness

  • a functional ability to self-schedule

  • an applied ability to use the right resources for the job

  • a clear perspective of undertaking complex activities in alien cultures

  • a comprehension of their contributing to the tradition of mountaineering

objectives

iceclimbingjapan specializes in unclimbed peaks. direct consultation with Tomatsu Nakamura, explorer of the Tibetan Plateau and Alpinist correspondent, provides a huge resource for peaks that are almost unknown. options exist for alpine ascents, big walls and technical routes, on peaks ranging from c.5500m to 6500m.

whatever your objective is, it will involve all the elements of exploration. despite iceclimbingjapan pulling together all the logistics, the lack of comprehensive cartography and local information pertaining to climbing still leaves inevitable gaps that need to be considered; in this part of the world simply getting to the base of a route is a significant objective, and all that is acheived – summit or not – furthers the greater data base of international climbing.

what you need

TIME: climbing in unexplored areas takes time – time to do it and time to prepare. whilst some peaks can be attempted with a 3 week schedule, most require about a month, especially if they have glaciated approaches. ground logistics in China are usually very good, with good roads going to high altitudes – but beyond the roadhead things things change; the absence of a developed ‘sherpa industry’ and the obscure nature of unexplored regions means approaches are hard to quantify exactly. but thats the nature of true expeditions.

MOTIVATION: these are not ‘sign up and climb’ trips. all members need a high degree of motivation and independant ability, integrated with a perspective that caters to the exploratory nature of these trips. unlike trips to well trodden areas, not all of the process is known. a climbers motivation but be as much to explore as to climb, and must cope with the uncertainties that entails.

RESOURCES: whilst nowhere near the outlay of an 8000m trip, expeditions to unclimbed areas still entail ‘exped level’ costs and equipment. costs depend on team size, location, duration and specific logistics. iceclimbingjapan’s logistics covers everything to the mountain then a lot of whats needed on the mountain itself, but individual climbers need to have the right gear and make the right food choices for themselves.

what you get

iceclimbingjapans in-country logistics partner makes the perceived impossible happen. permits, accomodation, food, transport, liason, redtape and consultation are all arranged to support the on-mountain process. iceclimbingjapans unique and extensive background in the region pulls together a range of styles and possibilities that adapts to each trip, far removed from the normal commercial climbing experience.

the basics for planning include;

  • 3 week to 9 week schedules

  • multiple peak & route possibilities

  • costs cover all logistics from Chengdu and back again, except personal on-mountain equipment & food*

  • all team climbing equipment supplied**

  • all permits, chinese insurance & chinese taxes included

  • liaison staff, logistics staff & translators provided

  • all accommodation pre-booked

  • visa support letters provided

  • basecamp-only & on-mountain options

*some personal climbing hardware can be supplied at additional cost

**additional costs for specialized big wall equipment and objectives with glacial approaches requiring fixed ropes

China has unique logistics that once demystified opens up unprecedented possibilities

the expedition process

the basic schedule needs to be confirmed by the end of June and full payments in 90 days before departure. by this time the objective needs to be nailed down, the daily itinerary decided and the team consolidated around the expedition process. with this done we can arrange the paperwork that results in visas and logistical consolidation. China is not like Nepal, with a stack of pre-applied permits just needing the names on them, instead each permit is individually evaluated according to its specifics in a process as opaque as it is thorough.

long before this tho every climber needs to prepare for a style of climbing thats very open – no one can tell you whats exactly needed. covering this skill base means getting fluent in several branches of alpinism, and whilst mastery is not needed in all of them a solid base in general alpine climbing with a functional knowledge of technical rock, ice, big wall and descent is expected, as is being equipped to apply it all.

on a first ascent trip to China there wont be a contingency of in-situ locals to pick up any slack – the expedition is under its own steam to get to and climb. this means no miles of fixed ropes, pre-placed high camps, shuttled supplies or morning cups of tea handed thru the door. what you use on the mountain you carry on the mountain and that requires a degree of team dynamic often absent from industrial climbing trips.

the region

west of Chengdu is a huge area that begins at the edge of the Yangzi basin and extends far up to the high altitude rainshadow of the Tibetan plateau. encompassing forest, grassland and high alpine, to the south lays the jungled ravines of Himalayan Yunnan and to the north the deserts and steppe of Qinghai then the southern Gobi. collectively known as Kham and Amdo, the region buffered Tibet from China, acting as a cultural conduit thru its narrow ravines and high passes.

all down the length of the region are +5000m peaks, with most being unclimbed. previous attention has focused around Minya Konka and Siguniangshan, but beyond these focal points little has been climbed, mostly due to travel restrictions and a process with the authorities too difficult for most climbers. whilst the rest of the worlds big mountains are congested and perhaps over-travelled, Tibetan Sichuan is virtually unknown, with large villages still taken speechless at the sight of foreign faces and the idea of climbing mountains completely alien.

totally off limits till the 90s, most roads lead into eastern Tibet and the areas that are open today are controlled and limited – perhaps not a bad thing after seeing the crush of tourism in less regulated places. nomads still cross thru the valleys connecting the lowlands and high plateau, Khampa cowboys still ride thru town, monasteries are not tourist attractions and the approaches to mountains are along herders trails not trekkers highways. after leaving Chengdu its unlikely to see another foreigner.

security

Its no secret that western Sichuan has occasional flares up between the Chinese authorities and locals after centuries of facing off that span raiding armies from Lhasa, CIA-trained guerillas, gun fights well into the 90s and ongoing tensions centered on the monastic community, but China in general is a safe destination and unlike Pakistan and Nepal, foreigners are not seen as elements of leverage for upset locals.

historically the Khampa areas have been regarded as bandit-ridden and conduits for smugglers but aside from petty concerns like pick-pocketing in markets this doesnt seriously affect passing groups of climbers so long as precautions are taken. all climbing trips to peaks require a liason officer and a translator/camp co-ordinator to keep things on track.

beyond Sichuan…?

it doesnt end here. in the bigger picture of whats possible in China, Sichuan is really the start point – further west into deep Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang lay peaks and ranges that are mostly unseen, leading eventually to the northern side of the Karakorum. like Sichuan these areas are slowly becoming accessible, more a process of demand rather than supply. having spent 15 years in these parts of China, talking to the right people and being in the right places iceclimbingjapan has the wheels in motion for objectives rarely realized in the last half-century.

got what it takes and interested? inquiries and ideas via the bookings & contact tab

瑞牆山 Mt MIZUGAKI; SUMMER WALLS

mizugaki-yama is the quintessential Japanese mountain; high spires of teetering granite, gravity-defying conifer trees, trickling waterfalls and narrow gorges emerging from a sea of quiet deciduous forest and layers upward drifting mist. straight from an old ink painting, Mizugaki is as much an icon of Japanese-ness as it is of serious climbing. whilst crowds flock to Ogawa-yama, Mizugaki to the south remains quiet, the trails still faint and hundreds of lines still unclimbed.

esoteric and quiet; Mt Mizugaki is a good location for finding the soul of japanese climbing

more accessible than Kaikomagatakes alpine faces and less confronting than the big routes on Byu-bo Iwa, Mizugakis spires and walls are home to multi-pitch routes that link cedar covered ledges via long granite cracks and bold faces, making it an obvious choice for summer multi-day routes staged either from the base or wall-style, bivvying on the ledges. mizugaki is a good place to learn and refine alpine technique, with only the short stuff bolted, leaving the bigger routes either totally free or relying on just ancient bits of dubious iron-work.

 alpine-style climbing on Mt Mizugakis longer routes; getting fluent in the methods that will be applied to bigger things

most of Mizugakis climbing is at the harder end of the spectrum with a lot of 5.12s & 5.13s. big routes stretch to around 11 pitches, with a lot of pitch-length cracks and deep off-widths – which combined with the hard grades make for a good Clean Aid training ground.

steep lines and hand-width cracks; Mizugakis granite spires has hundreds of options for training and development

 no heavy gloves, down jackets, frozen hands, sharp tools or icy ropes; to make winters efficient theres a lot of preparation thats easier done in summer.

packing & carrying in all the gear is one thing, using it is another; alpine aid is a fine balance between resources and skill, with complex routes needing a wide of applied abilities

days & nights on the route; when routes get long the ability to live happily in adaptable conditions equals the ability to climb

summer climbing trips up onto Mizugakis faces tend to be relaxed, staying in caves and on pine needle-softened ledges. being at cloud level at about 1900m makes for ever-changing conditions as mist and cloud swirls between the spires, the sun bakes the exposed granite and views down the valley open up.

 a long way from winter; long days mean early starts and time to take things in. sometimes getting the coffee right is as important as chosing the route.

of course there are casualties: the testimony to great rock is often the effect it has on your gear