GOLDEN WEEK – BE CAREFUL

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.

2015 / 16 WINTER THAT WAS

2015/16 was a strange winter. conditions were strange, the atmosphere was strange, the locations were strange. it may be part of a greater cycle…or maybe its not.

to go with the strangeness, we spread ourselves over a large spectrum this winter. avoiding being too focused in a season that had a large degree of unpredictability from the start. we avoided some places we usually focus on and spent a lot of time in areas with a lot of untapped potential. we didnt get everything done we had planned, but we did set in motion the wheels for the next phase. fresh back from Tibet, we entered the winter with a bigger perspective and with trips to Iran on the horizon we had another objective to channel things towards.

unusual weather meant some places had easier access as the streams froze. a rare convenience.

FUJI

we really consolidated things on Fuji this winter, with a lot of trips over a very short period. at the peak of it we did nearly 13,000m of ascent in 11 days in winter conditions.

the South West face of Tanigawa-dake. theres a reason people dont know about this place.

ICE

some people called it a ‘bad ice year’. we thought it was excellent. late arrival meant no trash ice in the mix, so what formed was lean but clean. in some regular places no ice formed at all, whilst other icefalls formed the best weve ever seen them,perhaps due to the widely oscillating temperature variations.

we also worked hard on the ice we had, fortifying what we could do with straight volume sessions. this winter we were simply better climbers.

Will Gadd’s WI7 route Frozen Gold in Sendai. setting the new bar high for the possibilities in Japanese winter climbing

MIXED

modern mixed is where japan’s biggest winter potential lays. effectively so little has even been thought about the possibilities are unlimited, no less as the season is also longer and the summer can be spent working the hard bits.

the big event here was Will & Sarah coming over to prove the point, putting up the two hardest routes in the country while they were at it and identifying dozens more. this is exactly what Japanese winter climbing needs before it sputters to a halt.

Espresso Wall at Kaikomagatake. the short, sharp, powerful dose of mixed climbing Japan needs.

ALPINE

as a low snow year this was the time to head to places like Tanigawa-dake’s more esoteric aspects. having been away from the area for a few years it was valuable to return with a fresh outlook and get into places wed overlooked before. what we found was big, daunting, quality and profound and will become a new focus for us, tho it will take time to get it right.

the faces at Mitsutoge became one of our favourite mixed alpine locations.

IN GENERAL

this was the winter to reset directions and launch into new ideas, tho it took several years of accumulated experience to make it  go. as expected we proved to ourselves that motivation and derring do backed up with preparation made it work. new frontiers and climbing goals are needed in Japan and we have done what we could to get things rolling – and the right people have responded.

winter 2016/17 is already falling into blocks. get on board fast.

THE SORRY STATE OF WINTER CLIMBING IN JAPAN

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.

 

 

NEW JAPAN ALPINE ROCK ROUTES GUIDEBOOK

finally!

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….

 

 

 

 

甲斐駒ヶ岳下のルンゼ LOWER KAIKOMA GULLY ROUTES

despite the volume of random single pitch ice falls, lower kaikomagatake is known for its several gully routes known as ‘runzes’ in Japanese. Presenting a mix of mixed alpine, steep ice, ice & rock steps, snow pitches and even a few cave pitches, these gullys go for 8 or 9 pitches and make a good days climbing.

always entertaining: even for climbers with a solid history of climbing, digging thru lower kaikomas cave pitches never grows dull lower kaikomagatake’s gully ice is usually crystal blue and hard, making for well protected routes…. ….most of the time

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

 

 

 

下甲斐駒変 LOWER KAIKOMA ESOTERICA

every winter odd little trickles of ice form around lower kaikomagatake, but this year those trickles are fatter more developed, in step with the general excellent ice conditions. shifting and transient, these ice falls change daily and will be gone by mid-winter, but for now they provide a fleeting chance for thin, technical climbing on delicate formations.

delicate and varied: dozens of options

measuring between 15m and 45m, most falls are steep with mixed sections on decent granite. most routes are below the treeline and rapped into. unlike a lot of ice falls, the majority are best in the afternoon.

the easy access, good anchors and short routes are ideal training material for bigger stuff requiring more commitment. the routes are quick to get pumpy with delicate moves and a lot of cleaning, so a good place to go hard and fast and develop upper threshold technique.

warming up; when the ice is steep and varied it pays to have a good warm up set to help performance and recovery between days climbing

FULL METAL ALPINISM: JAPAN IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK

simply put; the world knows almost zero about climbing in japan. even the most educated climbing geeks struggle to name a single route in japan, with even the names of japans peaks eluding them.

the mark of a climbing culture is what its members achieve out in the world of ‘big’ climbing – ie on vanguard routes where their climbing peers can evaluate just how good the climbing is – and tho Japanese climbers have a history of high end results, the climbing that formed them is largely unknown.

can’t read Japanese? then chances are Japan’s alpine climbing is a totally unknown world to you

a degree of this hole in the climbing worlds collective knowledge goes down to language; japans climbing information is mostly written in Japanese of course, but the real reason is the Japanese attitude towards climbing. the climbing industry is simply quieter in showing it. indeed Japan has sponsored climbers and significant producers of sponsoring companies, but the heroes of Japanese climbing are not athlete-celebrities telling us what to wear on Vimeo. so, in an attempt to answer the many emails iceclimbingjapan gets asking ‘what is Japanese alpine climbing all about?’ a condensed version is provided here.

Kaikomagatake: more than one climber has noted how its not what they expected of Japan’s mountains

first off, Japan has a lot of climbing. +/-80% of the country is covered in mountains, with dramatic topography hewn by a blend of volcanic, erosive and seismic activity that lends itself to rock types and formations that cover most climbing demands. japan has 21 mountains over 3000m with another 33 over 2500m, most with starting base levels below 1000m giving a lot of climbing in excess of 1500m height gain.

being a deeply featured landscape with profound weather conditions, Japan’s mountains are complexes of ravines and narrow ridges, hiding a huge area of ice and alpine potential. few peaks have an obvious set of faces and approaches, more often having dozens of options that follow an array of features deep into rarely visited regions. its normal for even the most-visited peaks to have entire faces and sides that go unaccessed for years.

approaches in Japan can be the decisive factor: steep, complex topography keeps Japan’s alpine objectives remote and esoteric, requiring more than just a passing degree of interest

walls

japan has about a dozen walls of +250m, with a handful reaching 450m. tho little of these rank as the common idea of big walls, most of them sit within alpine topography that makes them closer to an Alpen or Alaskan comparison than to Yosemite. huge approaches lead to exposed granite faces that go to summits via complicated routes. theres little of the developedment that surrounds famous wall areas in the US and Europe, most japanese walls are remote require total self-sufficiency.

rock

below Japans walls is a large cannon of multi-pitch routes dispersed across the entire country. routes between 3 and 12 pitches cover the huge amount of stripped faces from high alpine buttresses to the endless sea cliffs. routes are found in nearly every corner of Japan, with an impressive collection of 5.13 upwards routes put up by Japans core of hard climbers. Japan has relatively little of the focal valleys as found in Europe, being closer to the US style that centers climbing around peaks and the UK version of isolated crags. despite a huge amount of attention go to places like Ogawa-yama, most of Japans rock potential is untapped, with enormous possibilities in all across the country for new routes. even Mizugaki-yama on the back side of Ogawa-yama sees minimal attention considering the vast amount of rock of exceedingly good quality and easy access. if japan is known for any sort of climbing its bouldering, with guys like Dai Koyamada doing as much at home as he does around the world. every weekend finds a legion of pad-carrying boulderers jamming up the train carriages out to the bouldering areas, draining the 7-11s of coffee and onigiris on the way.

ice

that Japan is barely known as an ice destination is an anomaly. with the right climate, latitude and topography it should be obvious to anyone looking at a map that Japan ticks all the boxes. from remote valleys and alpine faces, to road-side cascades and ice-park style areas, ice can be found all over the upper half of the archipelago between November and April. as an untapped repository of ice routes, Japan conceals areas comparable to the famous locations in Europe and Nth America with comparable areas to Lofoten, Hyalite, Alaska and parts of the Alps – minus the crowds.

classic alpine

the connected alpine routes of japans high ridges and buttresses are an entire culture onto their own, having been the center of Shinto and Buddhist activity for centuries. even the hard technical routes are usually approached to some extent via ancient trails that lead to shrines and ascetic practice areas, with some peaks like Kaikomagatake retaining some of the active Shugendo facilities.

classic mixed ridges and gullies flank dozens of Japans alpine peaks, ranging from suicidal lines to straightforward semi-technical routes.

the Yatsugatake massif: one of several centers for Japanese Alpinism. photo: Kylie H.

mixed

more than once Japanese mixed has been likened to Scottish mixed – tho with better weather and more reliable temperatures. strafed and rimed rock on exposed buttresses with no bolts are all over Japan. this tho belies the ‘athletic mixed’ climbing also found yet barely developed that awaits exploration across the winter-affected regions. volcanic geology and cold conditions results in endless extreme rock formations that are connected with sections of ice. much of it is unclimbable in summer, making for true mixed lines.

culture

Japanese climbing culture is relatively free of the bickering and aggressive navel-gazing found elsewhere. the culture as a whole is both respectful of climbing as a pursuit, and tolerant of new ideas on style. perhaps the absence of industry pressure to define ‘climbingness’ alleviates the egos that flare over matters of style and apparent ethics.

despite having climbing concurrent to the rest of the world, Japanese climbing is still very ‘Japanese’. a degree of recent climbing styles have been copied from the west with many Japanese climbers having travelled to climb, but much of the base culture is deeply rooted in Japans own attitude to the mountains.

Japan’s mounatins have been active places for centuries, going into and climbing them has a cultural element different to the West

even amongst teenage boulderers, an attitude of organic attachment exists to the mountain geography – for many Japanese being in the mountains is as important as what happens in the mountains, and the sense of being out there is to be cultivated with certain ways of doing things. the Japanese don’t try to extend their ultra-urban attitudes into the mountains by bringing home with them, they recognize ‘mountain time’ as being almost the default setting. this is noticed in all sorts of ways, from the attention given to eating when in the mountains, to the distinction between where the mountains begin and civilization ends. many Japanese climbers have distinct psyches they switch into when in the mountains, sometimes seen as a ‘purer’ version of the self, with appetites and reactions allowed to flow more organically than the weekday Tokyo personas they so dilligently maintain.

the future

international attention on Japan as a climbing destination is still a fair way off. Japan is not a 3rd world destination needing a hand from the western climbing industry to develop and exploit its potential, and nor is it a place with nothing else to offer. Japan is more than happy to remain obscure, with its climbing available only to the few willing to find it. foreign interest indeed exists, with a small number of motivated climbers dropping by each year happily knowing they dont have to compete with hustlers and crowds to climb what they want. japan is free of difficult redtape, extorionate fees and the climbers bubble that exists elsewhere. despite world-class climbing the usual accompaniments that go with it are happily absent and for those who like that its a true alternative.

being able to climb hard with minimal hassle gets rarer and rarer every year, making Japan an ever-more valuable destination to escape the pressure of a climbing world saturated with exploitation and the race-for-the-prize. that entire vallys of alpine climbing remain unspoken of and intact speaks as much for the blinkeredness of the worlds climbing media as it does for Japan’s ability to keep things well managed despite trends elsewhere.

LOST KINGDOM REDUX: TANUKI SUICIDE & KAIKOMAGATAKE

kaikomagatake holds a special place in Japanese alpine climbing, being the step away from the popular stuff across the valley at Yatsugatake. theres several areas amongst the maze of valleys leading in to the peak, with the north east side forming the ‘lost kingdom’. this last trip we went into the lower and middle kaikoma areas, taking advantage of this seasons minimal snow.

kaikomagatake ice climbing

kai komagatake’s NE face

lower kaikoma

this is the easily accessable area around the road in from Nagasaka that includes several classic ice routes like gun-ma taki.

kaikomagatake ice

twin ice pillars in lower kaikoma (WI4)

kaikomagatake ice climbing

single ice pillar in lower kaikoma (WI5?)

kaikomagatake ice climbing

ice chandeliers in lower kaikoma

kaikomagatake ice climbing

gun-ma taki F1 (WI4)

middle kaikoma

middle kaikoma fast becomes another world. dropping to the valley floor and pushing up the river to take the right fork climbers are soon greeted by the true ‘lost kingdom’, with ice falls right to river level along either side of the river that soon becomes frozen enough to walk on.

kaikomagatake ice climbing

ice falls along middle kaikoma

kaikomagatake ice climbing

kaikomagatake ice climbing

kaikomagatake ice climbing

kaikomagatake ice trekking

section of frozen over river

tanuki suicide WI5-, M4+, 120m

undoubtably seen but with no record of being climbed, weve called this route ‘Tanuki Suicide’ after the splattered remains of a tanuki that looked like it had fallen at least 60m onto the top of the first pitch.

kaikomagatake ice climbing

tanuki suicide: WI5-, M4+, 120m. lots of variations, we took the lower left (out of view) then upper right

kaikomagatake ice climbing

the namesake dead tanuki at the first belay

pitch one is a short ‘Scottish-style’ line up a mix of good ice, crap ice, frozen turf and wet rock, to a decent belay if you consider spectres OK for such things.

pitch two is a stressful blend of trashy ice, running water over polished granite, a bit more frozen turf, and eventually onto good ice. protection is grim – a single decent piton, spectres into soil and a tied off tree root, the belay is decent tho, with screws into ice but better with threads if the suns straight on.

kaikomagatake ice climbing

looking up into the 3rd pitch

pitch three is nice soft ice, steep steps, more running water and tied off roots, but ends at good trees to belay.

all in all it sounds ghastly – and on lead its a real head game – but its also fun as hell. not often you get to place spectres, screws, threads, tied off roots, pitons and sling pillars on a single root – with almost all of them nasty. most of the climbing, tho steep at times, is sun-exposed enough to get good sticks – but not enough to hold screws, so earning the grades for risk.

kaikomagatake ice climbing

tanuki suicide topo: click to enlarge

ALPINE WALL TRAINING

winters looming so its been time to hone the sort of skills needed for trips in the pipeline. time spent on walls is always valuable, especially when its all about working stuff out, and usually thats easier done when its not -15c. this trip covered a lot of ground over almost 3 weeks, with time at Mizugaki yama, Yatsugatake, lower Kaikomagatake and then down to Tanzawa, each spot having its own stuff to work on.

rurp aid climbing walls alpine japan

theres nothing quite like a RURP, especially hanging from it when its in the underside of a lip

stacked wires clean aid alpine walls training japan

…tho stacked wires come pretty close

clean aid ball nuts alpine wallls japan
weird tools for weird placements: ball nuts fill a gap where nothing else besides nailing will

over the time we spent only 2 nights in hotels (the 2 nights when typhoons hit hardest), with the rest spent in portaledges, bivvys, tents and in-situ shelters. days were spent covering the logistics for foreign expeditions, playing about on dodgy aid placements, drilling systems, lugging huge loads, hauling water, reconning locations and refining the processes of extended periods being self-sustained – all the things that make the difference at the sharp end.

alpine walls clean aid hanging stove portaledge japan

living on a wall makes you rethink everything: hanging the stove between portaledges

clean aid training trip bivvy japan
after long, steep approaches its a luxury to stay right at the base of a wall

clean aid japan alpine wall training

getting onto the wall is only one part of a complex process, especially in a foreign country where you have to make all the decisions yourself. to succeed takes time spent not just on the sharp end, but getting a handle on the elements of a trip that dont get the romance and thrills that many overlook. by the time your clipped in above the ground youve already covered a lot of ground