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.
japan, asia & the world now have 2 new routes, both unique in their style, concept and location. with minimal working, maximum work ethic and a frontier mentality, Will Gadd & Sarah Hueniken forged both lines under crazy pressure during an express trip to the Tohoku region. with nearly zero beta and under dangerous conditions both routes were put up ultra-fast and climbed unrehearsed. both routes are on thermally affected geology that demand a blend of fixed and natural protection. both routes were done in a period of strange conditions with very lean ice at the start of the season.
FUN CHIMES 40m, m9, bolts and natural, Zao Ice Garden
Sarah Hueniken stepping onto the hanging dagger of Fun Chimes
weird spray features, thin pillars, hanging daggers, overhanging iced cracks and frozen earth; Fun Chimes runs the true spectrum of ‘mixed’ climbing. a 15m frozen crack links a short ice section to 15m of delicate vertical picking via a frozen crack and hanging feature. bolts reduce the risks of nasty falls, vocal ice and otherwise-unprotectable icerockearth.
FROZEN GOLD 90m/3 pitches, WI7, bolts and natural, Futakuchi
Frozen Gold: 100m of vision, gall & skill
a monster route with a monster vision, Frozen Gold earns its WI7 grade by blending bizarre skills, extended stress, lean ice, grim fall potential and objective uncertainty. years of ideas distilled into a vanguard route that Will rates in the top 5 he’s done. thin and globular ice in slightly overhanging sections, initially punctuated with narrow mantels and before a long pitch on decreasingly sized blobs then a final swing out onto a big frozen squid and some easy fat ice to the top.
OLD YUWATADO BRIDGE IM7 (INDUSTRIAL MIXED), 30m
weird weather, strung out and feeling fat? Industrial Mixed could be the answer to many first-world-problems.
athletic, sustained, pumped out and questionably trouble-making, the Old Yuwatado Bridge line is bomber safe and conveniently located. heel hooks, rag dolls and figure 4’s & 9’s all the way to either a swing off, pull over onto the top or down climb. eye protection recommended.
white dragon wall: hard mixed routes like this cover large parts of japan
japan has a good reputation for hard rock climbing, hard bouldering. well known climbers regularly put up world class efforts across japan and foreign climbers often come and repeat them. when japanese climbers go overseas they take this with them and do things like speed records in Yosemite and vanguard boulder problems likewise japanese alpine climbers and mountaineers put up consistently hard routes in the big ranges and pull off impressive mountaineering stunts. its a rare year for the Piolet D’or to not include japanese names.
but at home, in japan, the state of japanese winter climbing is dire.
during the 60s, 70s and 80s hard japanese climbers put up thousands of serious routes across the country. from horrorshow death routes in places like Tanigawadake to desperate short mixed routes in the north. with over 20 peaks above 3000m and another +30 over 2500m – most with >1500m of prominence – plus a massively carved topography exposing spires, walls and ravines – there was a lot to choose from. over this time an attitude of hard climbing intent fomented as teams and individuals, often connected with universities, bounced off each other to put ever more committed lines, often in remote areas. that many died cannot be denied and a visit to the granite boulders around the base of Ichi-no-kura is a sobering experience, where dozens and dozens of brass plaques are placed directly below the face of the mountain claimed to have the highest death toll in the world. with research some of those names will also be found listed as the first ascents of lines and variations throughout the country, as well as in places like the Karakorum and Patagonia. for over 20 years climbers in Japan pushed the standards of difficulty wherever they went, and of those who survived many can still be met in the mountains, climbing well into old age.
directly from this era sprang the likes of the Giri Giri boys, Hirata & Taneguchi, Hanatani and Manome and the other ‘last generation’ of Japans elite alpinists, now all in their 40s and wondering what comes next. these climbers brought Japanese style out of the reputation for siege tactics and suicide routes by rebelling against an earlier tradition of climbing hierarchy that makes the battles for Yosemite appear trivial in comparison. consistently and daringly they took what they learned in Japan and reinvented it for the international stage with stunning success. in the mix with the Eastern Europeans, Italians and Americans they were climbing at the edge.
the roof at Mizugaki: dozens of horizontal mixed lines to match the Canadian stuff.
but some time around the turn of the millennium it all ground to a halt. the attitude lapsed and within Japan the idea of climbing hard stuff evaporated. overseas Japanese climbers still did good stuff, but it was the same names getting better – no one new was joining by coming up thru the ranks. there were no wonder-kids like Will Sim and David Lama, no precocious teenagers wanting to tag along. within Japan these days its rare to hear about serious new alpine routes, variations and hard repeats. despite an explosion of gear shops, outdoor media and busy car parks at the trailheads, the locations of Japans serious climbing areas are quiet, guidebooks are out of print and the trails to access where the good stuff have been forgotten. its like one day the notion got turned off. the old guys stopped telling and the young guys stopped asking.
the issue isnt that Japan ran out of hard climbing options. a visit to any of these places reveals decades of new climbing still to be done, not to mention link ups, variations, winter attempts, free versions, faster versions, solo versions, non-stop versions and new interpretations of existing routes. climbers like Hanatani and Hirayama have done isolated versions of some of this, but the idea itself hasnt gained traction. unlike in Europe and North America where the spirit of alpinism burns hot and fire-brand young climbers compete (sometimes suicidaly) to put up edgier and edgier routes, cheered on by and enraging their mentors of the generation before whos ideas they are extending. the energy in places like Vail, Black Rock, the Ruth Gorge and Lofoten is palpable and real – and no doubt parallel to what went on in Japan when things were moving forward. that it all fizzled out is the dropping of a baton that effects climbing everywhere.
what happened is a multi-faceted thing that at one end is a young climbing scene without the idea dangling before them, and the other end is a community of older climbers with a dead tradition behind them. between the two is a large climbing media – local and international – that does NOTHING about it. in climbing centers elsewhere the associated media acts as a recorder, collator, distiller and deseminater of the sport of climbing. sometimes cloaked with a thick layer of advertising and hyperbole, at other times dryly documented, it is considered fundamental to push to idea of climbing better and better. in Japan this process is pale and ill-directed. that foreign climbers know nothing of japans climbing potential is only in accordance with the lack of knowing within japan itself. talk to any aspiring Japanese alpinist and they know far more about the exploits of Ueli Steck and Tommy Caldwell than they do of the hard climbers at home.
thin, desperate and high: areas like White Dragon Wall have a unique Japanese style
of course the easy blame goes on ‘lazy kids of today’, risk adverse cultures and long work hours – but other sports arent suffering. hiking, skiing, surfing and trail running are exploding off the shelves, as are other forms of climbing – its just winter alpinism thats failing and that anomaly points the finger at the players. what could be happening is that the elements that oversee the climbing scene, the media, the retailers, the top climbers and the gear companies – same as everywhere – promote the idea of serious climbing. instead they pander to an introverted, exclusionist crowd have already decided climbing hard is not for them. the very idea of seeking out aspiring young climbers doesnt exist as an aging scene of mediocre guidebook junkies chooses not to see them. the process where young climbers have the inspiration and opportunities before them to get better and more creative is not cultivated nor seen as interesting.
where the international climbing scene fits in is in its lack of recognition of a significant contributor to world alpinism. both foreign and japanese climbers are to blame. when international climbers visit japan they do nothing of interest, maybe a day at a crag between awkwardly translated presentations at the Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear stores. it can be counted on one hand the number of sponsored climbers who have actually come here to climb, despite the good reports. the exotic culture and language divide these days is not enough excuse – plenty of hard skiers can do it. the japanese climbing media is a large part of the problem, bottle-necking anything about climbing in japan and denying what happens in japan exposure outside. the external outlets that could cover japanese climbing simply dont and the people whos job it is to collate it are not doing their jobs.
why it matters is that world alpinism , like any scene, is a constant interplay of ideas from disparate elements opening up new possibilities. in the 80s Japanese climbers brought unique ideas to world climbing that saw major efforts on the worlds hardest routes, and tho not all had perfect outcomes they were a huge part of the climbing-scape that was the cauldron from which contemporary climbing emerged. perhaps second only to the Polish, japanese expeditions filled a crazy outer edge that pushed possibilities ever higher in places like K2 and the Latok group and the eastern Himalaya.
Kaikomagatake: crucible of Japanese hard alpinism, dozens of ice, mixed and wall routes awaiting new ascents.
whats this got to do with foreign climbers? for decades Japanese climbers have contributed to the evolution of climbing around the world. as a world sport its always been the way for ideas from different countries to catalyze another, and on this is built the world of climbing. right now japan is at a low ebb and needs resuscitating. international climbers that come here will find a unique climbing world that is well entrenched but not overrun. despite generations climbing, japans mountains are not crowded and sold out to tourism. unlike climbing meccas elsewhere the effects of attention havnt damaged the very thing climbers come to see. most foreign climbers are astounded at the lack of permits, fees, camping restrictions and inflated prices. the flip side of this is that Japanese alpine areas are undeveloped by western standards. very few cable cars bring the peaks down to size, climbing here is still usually a matter of multiday efforts. in the years since japanese hard climbing went into hibernation the alpinists world has moved on and evolved, and japan has been distant to a lot of it. standards in mixed, wall and style have exploded, rendering a lot of serious japanese climbing ripe to be picked up on. in some ways things were pushed as far as they could go 30 years ago, to a threshold that ability, gear and ideas couldnt breach at the time. right now Japan is ripe for things to fire up again.
Oyafudo: some great routes done – many more waiting
what can be done about it?
the problem needs to be addressed from both sides; make Japan more accessible for foreign climbers and foreign climbers need to harden up and come here. in turn this will spur interest from the young locals. iceclimbingjapan knows thru years of experience that foreign climbers are treated warmly everywhere they go and the thirst for interaction from the young Japanese climbers is enormous. winter after winter we talk with Japans top climbers and the very idea that foreigners want to climb here stirs a significant climbing scene to know more. the goal is to rekindle the process of Japanese hard climbing before it blinks out. the landscape, the culture, the logistics are already here – whats needed is the fire. the goal in not to transplant the climbing fervor of Alaska, Chamonix and Scotland, but to bring some of the attitude from those sorts of places to show the young japanese a way forward. like everything here, the ideas will be fused, rewoven and spat out in their own peculiar way and winter climbers everywhere will benefit.
Mt Fuji as we do it is a single huge push up and back in a day. we start at the bottom and return to the bottom, hopefully via the summit. at its most streamlined its still a 10hr round trip, covering 2500m of vertical gain, and all of it is cold, wind-strafed and upwards. most trips take about 12hrs. add it all up and its a 4500kcal day.
the effort is a constant slow grind forwards and cold becomes the major factor. without adequate kcal intake the chances of topping out are small. now those 4500kcals dont need to be consumed on the mountain. with a 750kcal breakfast, another 250kcal snack in the car and 750kcals waiting for the return, theres about 2750kcals left and less again if you apply the idea that replacing at least 50% will get you thru.
lets say consuming 1500 – 1750kcals over the +10hrs is the goal.
800kcals of liquid energy + 1200kcals of salami, nuts and bars. chocolate coated coffee beans added for the hell of it.
to consume that amount of kcals in that time doesnt happen by chance. a couple of snickers or Clif bars and a bottle of water wont do it. to get it right means a constant flow of carbohydrate into the bloodstream, and after a while replenishment of fat and protein. efforts that long push well beyond what simple carbohydrate consumption serves, not to mention that amount of kcals in carbodydrate form is pretty bulky.
food works best when it is real as the balance of nutrients tells the metabolism and brain it is satisfied or not. gels are fine for a few hours, but aside from solidifying they throw the bodies sense of satiation. carbohydrates in the form of dense bread and quality bars contain a good amount of bang for the weight. complex sugars in the form of dried fruit comes buffered in fiber that makes the brain happy, slowly releases the sugars and gives the bowels something to work on. fats in the form of nuts trickle easily into the system with less of the digestive burden of saturated fats. and salami as a source of protein, extra fat and sodium keeps the body ticking nicely. along with being ‘real’, these foods can be easily found, and picked up 24hrs a day at Japanese convenience stores. 1000kcals from a balanced mix of these things is easy to throw together in a ziplok bag and fits easily in a pocket or top of a small pack.
liquid kcals can come in the form of weight gain powder, endurance concoctions or meal replacement drinks. dumped into a 1L sports bottle its easy to carry 750 – 1000kcals in fluid form. good liquid kcal mixes contain fat, electrolytes and protein in proportions close to what your body will need replacing. you wouldnt want to live on these powders, but for occasional use they fill a gap easily worth their refined natures.
those attempting the Asama-yama-Fuji double header will need to consume like this on both mountains, as fueling (after endurance training – but its too late by then) is the biggest factor towards both safety and success.
conditions at Yatsugatake have finally stabilized and the Ice Candy ice wall is fully functional. as usual the shape has been altered a bit for the season, and its still thin – but as the ice is less picked out and still forming our opinion is its at its best. now is the time to head out and get your couple of hundred meters of top-roped volume in to get in fighting form for the mid-season hard climbing. dont let this season slip by.
fat enough to be fun, lean enough to be interesting. Akadake-kosen’s Ice Candy wall on Dec 20th.
its been about 20 years since the last comprehensive guide to japan’s mountain routes came out, and finding them for sale has been near impossible for the last 6 or 7 years. the older versions became classics, recording much about the Japanese attitude at that time, like a time capsule of climbing at the end of the bubble era.
this new book does away with a lot of the introductory stuff the old ones had – its a straight up guide. its also a summer only guide, in that it doesnt cover the ice and winter routes that made up much of the earlier versions. also, its a weird selection of peaks, showing big routes right across the country with a lot of new data and infinitely more detail, but big chunks are missing. included are great chapters on Tanigawadake and Kaikomagadake, showing a lot of newer stuff, but missing are supposedly unmissable peaks like the Tsurugi massif. presumably theres another volume planned…
Japanese mountain routes, with one of Tanigawadakes infamous faces on the cover
now note that these are Japanese routes, most dating from the era of Japanese hard climbing. these are not polished trade routes covered in pin scars and detailed with minute descriptions – these are gritty, wild, gnarly routes on bizarre gear that ride the features of the faces they are on, many see little passage year to year, some like the one on the cover have claimed a lot of lives. this is Japan’s soul of climbing in its unique style. these routes say a lot about the timeline of the country’s climbing right up to today. these are the routes the Giri Giri Boys graduated thru, and names like Yuji Hirayama are throughout the book. any international climber wanting to get their head around the enigma of Japanese climbing should start with this book.
of course its written only in Japanese….
it’s like posting a photo of a yeti. disputed by many who claim its a myth, the Fuji caldera icefall indeed exists, albeit fleetingly and crazy hard.
70m? WI6?? ‘involved’ access: Mt Fuji’s caldera ice is rare. this photo was taken probably a week or 10 days after its prime, but note the lack of fallen debris at the base, suggesting it’s doable – but by who?
now this is no beginners ice climb. the caldera rock face is about 80m high, so accounting for the snow at the base this icefall is about 70m. the upper half is a series of overhanging suspended daggers, the rock is friable and globular, and the top out…well its over onto a nearly featureless plateau of snow on rock. this is Will Mayo-type stuff. not to mention the 2500m of wind-blasted volcanic slopes to get the gear up there.