the entrance to O Take tani, showing the start of White Dragon Wall
after the seasons first trip to Miyagi we were revved up to get back onto the White Dragon Wall (Haku-ryu Heki, 白竜壁) again. conditions had evolved since the first trip, warming up but also clearing, letting us recce more of the wall and stay at its base.
the view along part of the White Dragon Wall from camp
part fun, part development for next year, time was spent working out where to base from to have best access to the wall. having north and south facing walls, the valley has dozens of options, requiring extended time to see more than a single area. with ice falls every few meters along kilometers of valley logistics is pretty much determined by what the topography allows – in our case forming a ledge to stay on in the steep valleys side.
the base tent nestled into the lee of a convenient boulder; afternoon sun loosened the snow that shed down the slopes
we returned to Shimo-jiro to find it fattened out nicely, tho a bit bleached from the longer days. Shino-jiros left hand sister route (potentially called Wan Wan) had also thickened out well, as had the pillar and upper cascade that formed the second pitches.
…compared to just over 2 weeks earlier
the flip side of great weather was that afternoon sun meant we had to be off the wall and slopes by about 12:30, as ice and snow came down in a process of shedding that had some hairy moments. with a cold plunge predicted this could be a good thing, cleaning out crap ice from early in the season and snap freezing the recent melt into good (but probably thin) lines. over the couple of days we got most of next winters access and planning sorted out, stay tuned for winter 2014/15s revised schedule.
Dave enjoying the good things in life as conditions warm up: life is simply more colourful with espresso
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…
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.
January had perhaps the best winter weather window in the last 5 years, where we clocked up 22 climbing days across half a dozen locations. after a brief Tokyo hiatus to get office stuff done it was back out for 9 days of expedition development and making the most of the winter peak conditions.
another addition to our Car Park Gear-Up photo collection: getting a lot of stuff into shoulder-able loads
lumping it all in: Kaikomagatake has broken many a team, often over the approach/load equation
steep ice and mixed climbing isnt rock climbing: getting good at the hard stuff requires a lot of time on top rope doing things you wouldnt risk on lead
by the time you get onto the deep fat stuff you should be well honed and climbing well within your zone
single pitch stuff is a no brainer, but multi-pitch routes soon become about the transitions between climbing, linking icefalls and rigging/derigging belays. staying warm and tangle-free over 8 pitches of varied climbing is about much more than clipping ropes and changing gloves, especially in a group of 3. the risk managment as the days goes on and complexity increases escalates – especially when you also need to rappel the route too.
a shift to Amidadake across the valley bought a change in style, this time faster, lighter and covering double the distance
after enough time working it out and building confidence, short steep stuff becomes solo-able and a much faster (ie warmer) process getting to the bigger stuff further in
the ice is of course what we come for – but its usually the snow between that gets the pulse up. 12 pitches over several kms makes for a lot of transitions between low angle trudging and steep agility.
after 9 days in the cold relocating to a lower, warmer place to focus on alpine aid basics was a welcome change
alpine aid is a stripped down and guerrilla version of ‘true’ aid; racks are lighter, theres less cams and moving parts, rope systems simpler and clothing heftier – all better developed somewhere comfortable before being used high up
…especially things like high-stepping onto hooks in big boots
…and using gear in ways that push the design; yes, thats a Pika Toucan touqued in backwards
stacked micro-wires are another thing best worked out on top-rope before done on lead…
mixed alpine climbing is about a varied skill-set executed with confidence and focus. it takes time to develop and needs attention and committment. getting to the top is one thing, getting home is another.
all photos by ‘Green Machine’ Cam Bowker & ‘Aero-press’ Rob
Cams blog with lots more photos at http://cameronbowker.com/japan-2014/
its a good ice year in Japan – cold, dry and clear. plans exist for higher stuff, but with such a window it would be folly to let the chance of good lower ice slip past. from about 1250m conditions have ripened ice all across central Honshu, making this the finest year in ages for the stuff that gets less attention.
the forecast: perfect
gearing up in the car park
all good trips start with the ‘car park gear up’ – sorting food and deciding what luxuries can be given up. the process is much easier when the carpark is almost empty, most people deterred by the forecast of low temperatures
kaikomagatake from the approach: always foreboding, looking up into the 1000m alpine routes that keep things in perspective
as its own massif, Kaikoma hides dozens of lower valleys that lead up to the main peak, some are warm, south facing with fat early season ice, others are remote and gruelling with thin cascades hundreds of meters high. roads allow access to about 1000m before the walking starts
blue ice on granite: some of the valley ice
lower kaikomagatakes valleys are steep and narrow, with their upper terraces getting enough sun to allow the melt to creep down into the floor. the blend of spring and snow water makes for clear and blue ice that forms well over the granite
mixed sections thru caves
in the summer Kaikoma gets a wide temperature oscillation that generates a lot of boulder piles, which freeze safely over winter to make for constricted routes thru squeezes, caves and narrow sections. shifting trickles from snow build up makes for interesting ice lines, sometimes thru boulder caves
interesting mixed sections thru contorted passages
as most runzes are below the treeline, belays are often off solid trees, making exit-rappels easier in the short winter days…
…except where theres no trees and the nastiness of old japanese anchor building comes out. unsavoury anchors are a part of japanese climbing, sometimes crazy, sometimes just badly informed, its vital to carry independant anchor gear when confronted with stuff like this. we cut several meters of aging crap from dubious anchors over the course of the trip
the rarely forming ‘Iran’: 25m WI 5+, M5, this year thin and squeezy
lines below the trail dont often form well, getting too much melt with not enough cold. but this year, already in condition, the serious mixed lines ‘Iran & Iraq’ are climbable. starting from fat ice pillars, both routes then thin out into thin smears and granite placements – all steep – that make for entertaining climbing
‘Iraq’: 20m, M9. this year very thin and highly sketchy, scary climbing
Amidadake from the approach
tho just over the ridge, with longer routes and with a much shorter approach, the Amidadake ice routes get much less attention than the main Yatsugatake ice area due to the lack of a lodge.
dirt bagging it at -8c in the carpark before the approach: ‘the way we roll’
the night slog in, snow starting to fall
the following morning, after a damp night at -15c
about 25cm of snow fell over night, catching us on the approach and continuing thru to the small hours. the next day was devoted to thawing frozen gear and body parts. having the right tools for the job matters when its far below zero oC, so a tent with a large vestibule makes things a bit easier
between the Japanese Alps and Hokkaido lays a huge, mountainous region with ideal ice forming condition – its just little ventured into during winter. all across the region we have come across reports of isolated icefalls that only the locals know about and amongst these is an area near Sendai.
it took a lot of looking and trawling thru old guidebooks but we found it: the area map