富士山 FUJI IN A DAY…ALMOST

summitting fuji never comes easily. well schedued trips in ideal conditions still demand a big output in serious cold, but over time its possible to unlock the process than makes summitting more probable.  so the chance to test pilot a sharper, faster format is always welcome, especially with other motivated climbers.

Mt Fuji in a single day requires serious overlap of strategy, weather conditions, physical capacity and motivation. 2400m of acsent in real cold – done safely – is significant by any standard. more so when weather conditions dont play along.

a 3:30am start with a 1km handicap due to snow blocking the road had us planning for a midday summit window, beating the brunt of the late morning  weather pattern that moves in off the ocean most days and is a gamble. extra snow from the previous months record falls added an element of the unknown to what has become one of iceclimbingjapans signature trips.

ahhhh the alpine start: the pre-dawn gear-up at 1200m

there’d been a bit of snow hereabouts…

conditions above the snow line started clear and bright, with hard snow making for fast movement. a streamlined strategy had us carrying little gear, which was a big plus when negotiating the extra snow accumulated on the ledges.

eventually tho the weather caught us. at 3650m – 100m short of the summit. 80kmph winds at -15c meant windchill of about -30c, and at those windspeeds more time is spend immobile, bracing than moving and generating warmth, and the equation starts to crumble. not to mention the fields of glassy ice on Fujis upper flanks than make a (fatal) slide into avalanche chutes very real.

a valiant effort that only affirms the notion that non-summit trips can be more interesting

it doesnt look windy….our high point at 3650m. we had the strategy spot on for a midday summit, but long bouts of bracing on bullet-proof ice foiled the plan

FUJI FILM: 3450m, 16hrs, 75kmph winds, -10c

video: mt fuji winter summit caldera

Fuji is obviously a volcano – and a barely dormant one at that – which means it has a caldera in the top, in this case 200m deep.

because of the conditions, we usually summit about once in every 5 attempts, so topping out is still something special and not to be taken lightly. to get there usually means a night spent on a windblown ledge in temperatures down to -30c, after carrying decent  packs for around 1500m  of gain, most of it on steep snow in exposed cold and windy conditions. if you cant carry a pack for 8hrs uphill, manage your gear at low temperatures, be confident with steep cramponing technique and cope with cramped tents, then fuji in winter is a good way to debug the system before heading on to bigger things.

video: fuji winter climbing tent night 3450m

trudging uphill is secondary to what makes Fuji a good training peak. its the ‘house-keeping’ skills that determine your success on big mountains – can you lay in a freezing tent for 16hrs? can you piss in a bottle? can you happily co-habit a small space? can you stay relaxed in high winds? does your gear work when stationary? what Fuji lacks in altitude and technicality it makes up more than enough in exposure, temperatures, height gain and gradient, all things better learned within view of civilization than at the sharp end.

NOTE: weve already destroyed an alpine tent is winds like this. top marks for the new Mountain Hardwear Direkt2.

Mt FUJI SOUTH EAST SIDE

some trips you just have to do.

after being hit by record snows across central Honshu with 165cm/24hrs on Fuji itself we opted for the south east route. closed roads and mass clearing efforts put us waaaay back from the trailhead, with an 8hr slog and 5hr retreat ensuing. days like this its all about the right people in the right place at the right time – not everyone puts their hand up for such things.

looking happy before the 8hr approach

the way it was; 5hrs into 8hrs of thigh deep plunging with full loads. some trips are simply hard, grinding down into the darker elements of mountaineering, yet in the bigger picture it says a lot about a climbers real motivation.

road signs in Japan are the same height as any other country….

ON IT’S WAY

its been t-shirt weather so far, but early next week is seeing a temperature plunge that will usher in winter. predicted with >85% accuracy (class A) this potential drop – after some rain and light snow within a good freeze-thaw – is significantly lower than the previous few years. even if it creeps a little its still great news.

yatsugatake weather forecast mountain-forecast japan

 freeze level dropping from 3150m with rain to 500m overnight….perfect ice forming conditions.

even tho it wont stay for long, the freeze will supercool the ground and seed the ground soak for easier refreezing (ice forms at higher temperatures if the water already has the crystal template from previous freezing), meaning a better buffer for marginal temperatures after will produce more base ice.

also, with the first Mt Fuji trip of the season set for mid-next week, the forecast is looking like more realistic conditions than expected – always a good thing when testing new designs, speeding up the proto process right when it matters.

mt fuji weather forecast mountain-forecast japan

 

 

winter becomes spring

momo blossom

the first peach blossoms have started, the ice is frazzling, girls are wearing mini-skirts and you can smell the pollen in the air. winter is done. theres still enough ice for a few weeks at least and the snow will keep falling, but many areas are now either buried or dangerous, aside from notable exceptions which are now in their prime.

the alpine rock is till exceptional, fuji finally has bearable temperatures (tho higher winds) and in the lower ranges the alpine snow pack leading to the upper mixed stuff is beginning to open up – spring is by no means the end of cold-condition climbing.

amida dake from jogazawa ice climbing

above: looking back at Amidadake and a great winter. new ideas ahead

below: late season ice in Jogazawa. 30m & 60m ice routes with several weeks still left in them

jogazawa ice climbing 2014

down in the southern islands temps are already good for the Big Canyoning micro-expeditions on Kuchinoerabujima.

we finished off the winter with a few days at Futakuchi in Tohoku, Japans best ice and mixed climbing location – made all the better by almost nobody going there. +180 ice and mixed routes along two low valleys, laid out as if intended for the purpose, the mountain gods even being kind enough to put hot springs at the head of the gorges.

futakuchi sendai ice climbing

the road to Futakuchi: one of the worlds best kept ice & mixed climbing secrets

recon all sewn up, we will be starting next winter with a series of trips in there to film and train, along with new micro-expeditions with a focus towards winter walls.

winter wall training portaledge tent on ice screws

big ideas for big guys: Will from The Project trying out a portaledge on ice screws. and you thought regular ‘ledging was freaky…

so, spring is now all about conditioning; making up for what was lost over 4 months of specificity and making new gains for whats ahead.

in the schedule is several spring, summer and fall trips to test new equipment, develop new concepts, train new people and work on The Project Film that showcases the TMP gear system within the context of Japan and North Asia. amongst all this will be efforts to show the unknown, including Japanese multiday walls, hard alpine and places the world doesnt know. whatever clichés you have been accepting – prepare to sweep them away.