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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the asama-yama / fuji-san back-to-back is never easy. its a 2 day exercise in suffering and strategy with no easy way round it. physical condition plays the major role, shared with the weather, but perhaps more than any trip we run your gear choices have a big effect on the outcome
hour after hour of constant ascent in hurtling winds makes every gram count and function matter. unlike the stop-go schedule of ice climbing, asama/fuji is a constant push forward with little time to stop. the clothes and gear you use need to work for this. with 3800m of total gain attempted over 2 days, total weight needs to be as low as possible, but with temps so low and conditions so hostile (-5c to -25c and windchill easily bring things down to -35c) it all needs to be very warm and weather-proof.
clothing needs to be as dynamic as possible with as few superfluous bits as can be done without. approaches can be sweaty, but both routes have sudden emergences above the treeline when things get very cold very fast.
baselayer full sleeved, full legged, hooded, perferably one-piece
trousers tough, leg vents, preferably a bib
mid-layer mid-weight, vented, athletic cut, large pockets, hand pockets
shell jacket full weight, athletic cut, hooded, simple
insulation light exped weight, hooded, generous cut
face protection windproof, full face coverage, glacier rated glasses
boots as warm as possible, doubles preferably
gloves 1 x light and windproof for the approach, 1 x full alpine, 1 x insulated mitts for contingency
carried gear needs to be as light and low profile as possible but generous in design to swallow up gear in the howling gales. often too much is carried or choices are too complicated, meaning that keeping the wheels grinding forward is made harder than it has to be.
pack over-night sized, stripped of lid, waist belt and flapping straps, large snow throat
food glove friendly, 2500kcals per day, salty, freeze-proof
water insulated, sweetened, about 1.5L
tech gear needs to be light and sleek as possible. tho harnesses and helmets are rarely needed for objective matters they are in-place in case of accidents when it would be too late to get them on
crampons light and simple as possible, easy to don in nasty conditions with cold hands
axe light, straight shaft, insulated grip, teathered to harness
harness light, wearable with crampons
head torch +70 lumens, fresh batteries, carried against body
now none of this is very special, but when put together it needs to be streamlined and idiot-proofed as its too cold to stop and fiddle once under way. to nail the strategy demands constant progress just below max hill speed – sustained for up to 12hrs. anything that flaps, doesnt work with big gloves, freezes, demands dexterity, takes unnecessary time or isnt bombproof fast becomes a limiting factor. in trips past weve turned back due to problems that at other times wouldnt take much to solve. a face mask that doesnt cover enough skin, crampons that shift or zip pulls that catch can be just enough to lose the psyche thats needed to keep your head in an already difficult game.
as the hours grind on the inner dialogue needs to be kept bouyant and nailing down gear is one way to control the small window we can. its also our interface with the elements – all of which work against us – and creates the narrow micro-climate that allows us to survive.
weve said all along this winter was a good one for ice, and now after the first quarter its time to update
as the ice has fattened with an early weather pattern that brought mid-winter freezes occillating with warm spikes to form the best ice in years, recent snow dumps have covered some areas already, the well known Yatsugatake area especially so. where early freezes had made the ice good, associated early snow has covered it up meaning some areas are already choked, avi-prone and over-baked. oh well.
the good news is that other areas have had little of the bulk snow, but just enough that combined with the early freezes to make ice forming well in places weve not seen it before. in these areas lots of esoteric and quality ice up to several pitches high presents itself as a rare objective.
so far the weather patterns have been accurate to about 85%, and ahead looks like more deep freezes. heading towards mid winter the conditions for less-frequented stuff look excellent though colder than normal. beyond that into the second half of winter we are expecting the fattest ice yet for peak season.
fuji, where we have been focussing, is covered in a total layer of hard ice that starts well below 1400m. again, unusual.
the winter 14/15 Mt Fuji season kicks into high gear with the iciest conditions on Fuji-san weve ever seen. a dramatic freeze-thaw has the mountain covered an excellent layer of neve that makes for fast progress and anything exposed is covered in several centimetres of clear ice, with howling winds ripping off anything not solid.
temperatures and winds so far this season have been siberian, and with the sun long-gone from the northern slopes theres ice all the way down to Naka-no-cha at 13500m. that means 2500m full meters in deep winter conditions, something that doesnt usually hit for another month.
meanwhile, down in Kawaguchiko and new restaurant has opened thats become our go-to for pre- and post-trip calorie loading. no more grotty climbers descending on family ramen and gyoza restaurants, now we head for the Fugu tempura place for Japans most (in)famous meal. why keep the risks on the mountain right?*
*actually, Fugu isnt as crazy as its made out to be. yes, theres serious toxins, but all restaurants that serve it are licensed, and with only about 6 incidents per year (not all being fatal) as Yvon Chouinard said, ‘more people die from eating bad mayonaise’.