daytime temperatures are hovering around 12c at 2200m and hitting 0c on the 3000m peaks, so with the shortest day soon things will get cold fast. being in the cold sink between peaks and in the shade, as usual the ice forms fast, with the first alpine routes doable in about 4 weeks and Ice Candy ready to go in about 6 weeks.
inadvertently by tradition, we are usually the first and the last to climb on it, having earned a bit of approval over the winters. time to start making plans now.
yatsugatake’s Ice Candy ice wall: seems like only a week ago when they pulled it down…
every winter ascents of Fuji get more in demand, but the mountain doesnt get any easier. to keep it safe and doable, we limit the number of trips we run up there, and focus on genuine big mountain-style ascents, treating the peak like we would any other big alpine objective. this means;
trips are often single-push, done in a non-stop up and back carrying minimal gear. cost: ￥75,000 per climber
we do high camp options, staying at about 3600m in full alpine conditions, over 2 days. cost ￥95,000 per climber
we do the Asamayama / Fuji double header which gives you 3500m of cold ascent over 2 days. cost ￥115,000 per climber
these trips are aimed at people with previous alpine experience, often who are testing gear for future trips to Denali, Everest etc. we give priority to climbers wanting this as a part of a bigger mountaineering process. over 8 winters and 42 winter ascents, experience has shown us that as a one-off holiday jaunt with little previous experience, this trip is significantly harder than most expect. the minimum time weve done an ascent in is 10hrs. most trips take about 12hrs.
we dont do specific ‘sunrise ascents‘ as climbing thru the night at -25c isnt as easy as it sounds and it still costs as a 2 day trip. if you want to see a winter sunrise from the top of mt fuji then take the high camp option and bring an alarm.
climbers wanting a winter ascent need to realize it requires full winter alpine gear, including crampon-compatible boots, ice axes, harness etc. we can supply all the hardware but do not provide boots, clothes and food in most cases. the indication here is that a climber prepared for the ascent will already have these things.
winter ascents take place between the 3rd week of Nov and the 3rd week of March. due to demand confirmation requires payment of the full amount. we usually cannot change dates, but in 8 winters iceclimbingjapan has only ever cancelled 1 trip due to weather. this trip does not guarantee a summit: we stick to a very doable schedule for safety and optimizing conditions and cannot extend into risk due to a climbers personal lack of ability.
contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org asap to schedule a winter mt fuji trip.
you dont hear much about the east face of Maehotakadake (3090M). the north ridge is a classic alpine techy scramble, and a panoramic trail crests its top, but the big, jagged, looming east face is usually little much more than an ominous view as people go past it on the way to other things. with good reason. its a loooong way to the base, via dense, barely maintained trails, endless loose scree and – if you get caught up in the many complex gullies – year round ice.
planning with a different route in mind, we set out for the east face, thinking it was something else, to find a true corner of rarely visited Japanese alpine climbing that easily fits the distinction of Alps-style in Japan. soaring buttresses, detached pillars, high icy cols, hidden lakes, waterfalls and couloirs leading into rarely seen upper faces. with 3 days to spend we were soon overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the terrain – 3 days is barely enough to into the faces upper reaches – and relinquished to return another day. scant attention means access is hard, requiring adhoc navigation and guesswork in the faces swirling complex of gullies – most ending in ice-smoothed chutes and dangerous ravines. tell-tale evidence from ancient pitons, few and far between, denote this place has escaped the hardware-happy decades. a trip here demands more than the short ropes and anemic rack often suitable for the popular routes.
the east face of Maehotakadake: plenty of alpine ice in those gullies, a lot of complex terrain
a 400 – 500m summer ice line, looking across at the east ridge
the east face of Maehotakadake is a beguiling objective, mysteriously bridging the gap between established routes on the Japanese survey maps. this is unique climbing, a hybrid of european scenery with asian details and the heart of Japanese alpinism. anyone who thinks Japan has nothing new left to try hasnt been up here. with a lot of gaps filled in the plan, we will be back to try again, with more time, more gear and a higher degree of commitment. a mention in dispatches for Matt for cheerfully soloing dodgy ice and wet rock, brushing off the bugs and knowing when we were beaten.
this is the first post in a series of ten with Will Gadd. the rules were simple: no editing, no word limits, no punches pulled, no need to even be coherent. shoot from the hip straight to an audience who want to know. as usual Will delivered 110%.
Q: where was ice and mixed climbing 10 years ago, where is it now, and what’s happened in between?
WG: Ice and mixed climbing are both healthy and going strong. Not a ton of development there in the last 10 years, just a lot more potential globally. More climbers, more areas, more farmed ice, more towers, it’s going great! I’d say it’s another golden age for ice and mixed, just tremendous opportunities globally, from China to South America, just lots to do!
What has changed is dry tooling. Ten years ago it was headed toward being its own sport, now it is its own sport entirely. Ice tools are used, but increasingly it’s done in steep caves on drilled holds, or with bolt-on logs and other features. Drtoolers have gotten good enough to hang onto ice tools for hours at a time even in a flat roof, which is awesome, but if you can hang on forever in a flat roof it’s hard to make routes harder. The grades from about M12 on are basically meaningless these days, more about ego and length of horizontal climbing than difficulty. Some of the harder routes are hard, but a lot of them are just endurance events without any hard moves, especially in Colorado’s Vail area.
To make the drytooling routes harder we’re cutting off more points. Back in the day we cut our spurs off because it made the routes boring and easy, but now some people are cutting off the “rake” points to make it harder to get rests, leaving only a single frontpoint. This actually doesn’t make things tons harder if you can hang on forever, so we’ll need to cut some more points off to make it harder again… At some point it’s going to make sense to just use rock shoes, and then that will probably get too easy so we’ll just have to use our hands again with a chalk bag. So I think drytooling has gotten to the point where it’s basically rock climbing with hooks. I’ve lost interest in this game. I also don’t like the chipped nature of the harder routes, just seems odd to me even though I’ve done a lot of it…
the ice fall inside Mt Fuji’s caldera is real. it exists. and the last 2 winters we have documented it – tho missed it both times despite a spectrum of dates. we know it forms in mid to late spring, but being so hard to check on…well, you know.
+/-70M, interesting access, no good top anchors, enough altitude to feel it, 3 weeks too late
annoyingly, this year it looked like it had formed even better than normal, despite bizarre conditions all winter long. we arrived about 3 weeks too late id say, to find the remnants much bigger than last year and a lot of smaller but cool stuff along the calderas rim. it didnt seem much had crashed down yet as its still below Oc up there, but UV and sublimation are taking care of it.
expedition climbing differs from alpine climbing by how much the day to day stresses effect the outcome. on an expedition youre as likely to get hurt or run down by the loads, the approach and the way you sleep as you are by the actual climbing. you need to be fit and resilient to pull the moves AND to survive the general process, often exposed to altitudes regular alpine climbing may not entertain which means recovery is compromised.
strength for expedition climbing isnt just the obvious bulk capacity to carry stuff upwards. by developing the deeper, unseen elements like breathing musculature, body tension, load bearing musculature etc you can go far beyond what just endurance and climbing training can cover. Dan DaSilva arriving at 4600m with a 30kg load – he may look like a male stripper but he climbs like like an orangutan.
training for expedition climbing needs to address the specifics often glossed over with regular alpine climbing, namely: the load bearing muscles, the diaphragms and the ‘sleeping muscles’. lots of climbers get very good at the general and the climb-specific elements only to find that endless pull ups and hill intervals havent prepared them for the workhorse stuff. these exercises address that by making stronger max function and increasing range of motion to help prevent injuries.
‘deep’ exercises are ones that develop stuff you cant really see and address weaknesses you probably dont know you have, making them powerful when integrated with the usual climbing training. these sorts of things pull together the rest of your training and increase overall energy efficiency but they are not quick fix only-10-minutes-a-week vanity exercises. these exercises may be targeting things you have never consciously trained before so may find surprisingly weak and deserve to be a fundamental part of any training regime. other types of these sorts of exercises exist, these are just ones that require little/no gear and have direct applications. remember these are all strengthening exercise – do them at about 3-6RM.
1) Lung Lifts
the drop in diaphragmatic efficiency as you gain altitude is startling – the other muscle groups that see such double-digit loss of capacity get huge attention but are peripheral by comparison. just as groups like leg and thorax musculature require a blend of max strength and base endurance to optimize, so does the diaphragm. running etc provides the basic base line, but Lung Lifts target the max strength.
hold 2 x weights (combined weight about 90% of 1RM overheard press) at chest level, pushed together to focus the load onto the sternum area. breathing should obviously move the load.
stand against a wall or horizontal bar to prevent leaning back and shifting the load onto the lower back and hips. you should feel a forward pull.
exhale and allow the abdomen to collapse, dropping the shoulders forward to allow the diaphragm to retract as much as possible.
inhale, using the expansion of the lungs and strength of the diaphragm to raise the load and straighten the body against the wall/bar. hold for 4 or 5 seconds.
repeat for the usual number of strength-oriented reps (3 – 5) and sets (3 – 5).
2) Tension Push Ups
being able to maintain body tension in a prone or reclining position is key to resting in grim bivvies, long drives on bad roads, miserable belays and cramped tents. its usually a matter of holding a static state of tension from the shoulders to the feet, length-ways AND across the body. Tension Push Ups build the recruitment to body needs to know what is doable and the range of motion necessary to engage it across a spectrum of forms. if you thought you have body tension down, think again.
place hands on floor, arms extended as for regular push ups.
place the soles of the feet flat against a wall with no support aside from friction (no toe holds, no smears etc). height same as shoulders to create a horizontal bridge of the back.
raise your back and use tension to hold feet against the wall. perform push ups. reps as usual (sets up to 12 before adding resistance)
raising feet or placing hands further forward makes it easier.
3) Plate Stretches
carrying serious loads (>25kg) for serious time (>5hrs repeated daily) requires strong hip connections and lateral strength, plus a strong range of movement to keep it safe over uneven terrain. standard core strength focuses on forward -back strengthening that also compresses or fails to elongate the musculature (front squats, front levers etc), limiting the range of movement and overlooking the direction of real-world loading. Plate Stretches are an old school gymnastic exercise used to strengthen the waist for things like pommel horse that require lateral strength to keep the legs and shoulders aligned – sound familiar? they combined several functions linking static holds with stretching and core strength. start light to get the movement before risking lower back strain ie <5kg to begin.
sit with legs splayed as wide as possible, hamstrings to the floor, feet pointed at the ceiling, both ass cheeks evenly seated.
raise load (plate, KB, DB etc) above head, arms straight, body straight.
lower to each side in alignment with legs, aiming to touch elbow to knee and hands to feet. bend by compressing one side and lengthening the other NOT by raising the ass/hips. keep the body straight.
raise the load by lifting compressed side and retracting extended side NOT swinging load upward with momentum.
5 or 6 reps to each side before adding weight.
4) Squeeze Bridges
bridge exercises are good because they develop the muscles along the spine (ie the stuff thats often weak because they cant be seen in a mirror…). this helps with heavy packs, hanging in a harness, bad sitting positions and steep or awkward moves. but – like sit ups, dips etc – once threshold is reached its easy to keep doing them mindlessly with diminished results and as the rest of the body gets stronger it becomes a weakness again. Squeeze Bridges combined the dorsal development with the lateral development useful for all those climbing moves that require pulling the body into position, perhaps most obvious on ice when climbing pillars and delaminated features where capacity to simply position the body may be undeveloped. lots of exercises strengthen the ability to push with the legs, but in the ugly, gnarly climbing common the mixed alpine pulling and torquing with the body is common.
lay on floor, hands positioned as for a regular reverse bridge. raise feet and position either side of an object thats about twice shoulder width, feet are unsupported aside from friction between them and the surface. exercise balls are easy, sides of a squat rack are hard.
feet should be placed about same height as shoulders when arms are extended into full position. squeeze inwards with the feet and push torso upwards into bridge position with abdomen raised as high as possible. hold until capacity starts to diminish. lower to floor.
get to 6 reps before adding weight (plate on abdomen etc). similar to Tension Push Ups, Tension Bridges are a progression of this exercise.
5) L-sit Levers
we all know L-sits. we all know Front levers. both are usually employed as static tension exercises which is great for hard overhanging moves (and so should be kept) but have little base level function for the other 90% of expedition climbing that isnt at the hard sharp end. L-sit Levers take the body tension of these exercises and combine controlled movement, joint rotation and core connection across a spectrum of function that develop the shoulders for carrying, the waist for moving and the body connection for balance and the stresses of awkward belays/bivvies. the classic gymnasts version is done on rings or a pommel horse, here hexbells (that wont roll) or push up bars will do. dip bars work once you get the motion. hands flat on floor may compromise wrist movement so use bells etc or knuckles to floor if you have the training or even fingertips if youre Bruce Lee.
raise into the L-sit position; legs straight, arms straight, active shoulder.
from the L-pose raise the hips and waist, straightening the body. keeping hands under center of balance, rotate shoulder joints so arm angle to floor drops. at maximum extension return under control to start position.
from start position push waist back and raise knees towards chest. angle of arms to floor opposite to previous stage.
get to about 6 reps of extensions in both directions where the angle between arm and body exceeds 45o. increase angle and/or add weight by putting weight in the lap and moving out along legs with progress.
6) Weighted Hip Rotates
hip rotates are stock-standard warm up exercises usually not thought much about. Weighted Hip Rotates are a way to develop the sort of leg-waist connection strength and quality range of motion that assists with carrying loads, prolonged periods sitting on belays and in tents and athletic moves requiring wide steps and stems. beyond just increasing the function motion of the hip joint, this exercise develops the inside of the upper leg and the static tension of an extended leg – this is the panacea for disco leg.
lay on the floor, shoulders, ass and hamstrings evenly flat against the ground. raise one leg so knee to chest. raised foot weighted (use a leg weight, Bulgarian bag etc).
starting clockwise with right leg (for the point of discussion, it doesnt matter) extend raised leg across the left leg until straight, keeping ass and shoulders evenly against floor. keeping extended, move leg in a wide arc till out from body, foot as close to ground as possible. continue arc, bringing knee to chest.
5 reps each direction, each leg, before adding weight.
these exercises may look like esoteric gymnastics stuff, but they are all doable like any regular movement and have arguably more real world function that much of what gets done in the name of climbing. done as strength exercises means twice a week is optimum, or once a week if other strength/power work is being done. the effects of this stuff wont be seen as cool abs or vanity muscle but it will be felt when climbing or carrying under load, especially at altitude where its like a plug for energy leaking out of a body that looks strong but actually has unseen weaknesses.
golden week is here. the highways are jammed, the trains are booked out and the carparks are full.
Yatsugatake’s Ice Candy. perhaps in Honshu’s most stable winter environment at 2200m in a shaded amphitheater, its usually still pretty solid in late April. photo from the Akadake Kosen blog.
every year it seems winter gets a bit shorter – certainly shorter than when the aging guidebooks were written – so those old favorite late spring routes are now really early summer ones. every year sees a few more accidents as climbers find out the hard way. the snow pack isnt what it once was, the slopes arent as stable as they once were, the rock isnt as frozen as it usually is, the 24hr temperature fluctuation can be broader.
add to that the undeniably weird weather over the last winter and theres real unknowns out there. be careful where you camp. be careful where you climb. be careful of the bigger picture.
welcome to another year of iceclimbingjapan expeditions. if you like your climbing comfortable, commercial, standardized and with minimal unknowns then please exit this website now
by the time you get to the start of the climbing a LOT of planning needs to have been done: Dan Dasilva at the drop-off for the first winter attempt on Se’erdengpu’s SSW face.
motivated by the successes of recent expeditions, over the coming year we will be going further into unknown areas with bigger ideas and more dynamic agendas – including ideas that are raising the eyebrows of even some of the most vanguard climbers around. like previous trips, we will be combining the latest in styles, logistics and resources to match objectives previously off the radar. not all trips are regular alpine climbing and this years schedule includes ice and mixed trips to places you’ve never heard of and peaks that dont even have names.
ice & mixed climbing in the edgiest parts of Asia. if you thought you knew where the frontier was, think again.
new routes on (barely) known peaks attempted in cutting edge styles ranging from big wall to big push
full first ascents of unnamed peaks, done in true expedition style
needless to say, these trips need commitment, both leading up to and during the trip itself. you will be expected to function as a full team member and that means having the physical ability, climbing ability and expedition mentality appropriate for the trip. these things can all be developed – but not overnight. if you need to sharpen your edge, you need to commit asap.
unusual places take unusual levels of commitment to get to.
this process starts with intelligent contact, which includes detailing your previous climbing experience. we dont hide the fact that not every trip suits every climber and we give priority to the right team, not the profit. each team is kept small and streamlined so logistics stay smooth and allow for optimum adaptability at the sharp end, and our unparalleled access and logistics in places like Tibet opens up options only dreamed about a few years ago.
obscured by clouds: for nearly 20 years we have visited the less known parts of Asia, sometimes under the radar, sometimes working with explorers like Tomatsu Nakamura. we take pride in our constant search for unknown objectives.
all expeditions are costed to include all exped-relevant costs, ie the permits and paperwork, ground logistics, logistic support & staff wages, operating management, hotels/meals when not climbing, team equipment and contingencies. on some trips paid positions exist for photographers.
part of the process will be inclusion in aspects of our custom equipment process. this takes time and once the production dead-line passes its gone.
a hell of a lot gets said about Tanigawadake – but almost none of it about this part. away from the constant stream of skiers, snow shoe groups and snow holers, way up another valley system altogether, are arguably the mountains premier pure ice routes. the confines of the topography and the lack of traffic make access less straightforward than the Ichinokura side, but being colder and less prone to collecting snow its maybe safer. maybe….
Japanese serious climbing at its most Japanese – crazed mixed stuff in quintessential style on an icon of risk. dont say you werent warned.
the 2 striking ice lines this year are strong but lean – getting on to them both requires a significant prowess at dry, mixed and alpine skill on the usual bizarro old school Japanese in-situ gear. a decent array of cams, beaks, pitons and wires will help a lot. in better years the ice extends to the ground, tho note its at the top of a large slope of potentially slipping snow. this is one place you want to get into and out of before things warm up. climbing-wise, these routes are not easy – little traffic doesnt pick them out and they are steep. regular years they apparently go at WI5. this year the ice alone might add a ‘+’ to the grade – along with the M-whatever it takes to get on them.
several other potential routes exist, mostly iced up crack systems, overhanging and grungy mixed. if you like your climbing on the wild side this is the place.
note: the objective hazards and lack of beta (even the old guide books barely mention this place) make this a serious place to go on an already notorious mountain. the Mikuni range is NOT like the Southern and Northern Alps and needs to be treated accordingly. any climber needs a lot more beta than whats here – weve intentionally kept things spartan – and should expect to have to find a lot out for themselves, just as we did. its not the place for everyone.