Day 1, Saturday
Saturday was a bit of a fiasco. After finally falling asleep around 3:30 am I got up two hours later and went across the city to pick up Wataru, who was soundly and wisely sleeping when I came by. I bullied him into driving to no avail. I couldn't sleep in the car, never can. Well well. Some hours later we arrived and met up with Itoh in the campground in Ogawayama. Itoh did manage to break some form of Japanese record this year and took 11 days off around Golden Week. Well done there! Well done, indeed!
We started to warm up on the famous Kujira-iwa, the Whale boulder. I was too tired to climb really, could hardly get off the ground on the warm-ups. So when a thunder-storm started to move in I was more relived for not having to climb than anything else. I got over my glee quite quickly when it started hail and later to snow. An inch or so.
Well the ryokan have an ofuro, a hot-water bath house. Godsend on a cold day.
If it was cold during night? Eh. That would be a yes then.
Day 2, Sunday
»If you're going climbing with young people, you get very, very used to seeing your climbing partner as a tiny little dot.«
– Chris Bonington,
who, I'm sure, was thinking about plodding up snow-capped hills when he remarked thus. The statement is, however, possible to generalise.
The forest of Mizugaki is owned by the Emperor. It is said that his imperial highness decided to grant his forest a visit some five years ago. Since the mountain had an embarrassing lack of infrastructure it was decided to construct a new road in place of the old 4x4-only road, and to thin out the dense pine forest.
Now a paved road leads up to a huge parking lot, and a dense system of well-kept footpaths criss-cross a rolling landscape where huge granite blocks is thrown out in a random somewhat sparse fashion. Higher up spires and walls looms.
The Emperor went there once and never came back, but you will not hear any complaints about wasting money on just one imperial visit from us climbers. The access is much better now, thank you very much. Oh, to be an emperor!
Well, a fine day it was. I still felt like shit and did a half-hearted warm-up. Did a few tries on Indora (1-dan) which gave me a broken blood-vessel on my ring-finger and nothing more. Also tried Ninja, which comes in from the left on super-sharp pockets, to no avail. Meanwhile Wataru did the cool crack Asura (1-dan), and then Indora, both in a few tries. (For an explanation of the mysterious sounding Japanese bouldering grades, look no further than to the exposition on this very blog: Grades and Steps.)
There is a video of Jason Kehl's flash of Indora on drtopo.com. Wataru says it's closer to 1-kyu then 2-dan, so easy 7a+ employer des cotations français.
I did a nameless arête (2-dan) left of Asura but with French start, so no tick I suppose. Higher up in the forest Wataru ticked a cool 2-dan I would like to come back for. He and Itoh also did an easy 1-dan I should have done but I slipped off from the top and couldn't be arsed. It was 1-kyu anyway according to Sourgrapes-san.
The day finished with a visit to a Thermalbad with radium-rich water. Very good for the healt apparently.
Day 3, Monday
We had pitched our tents on the parking place. We shouldn't have. Not allowed. However, new regulations says that it is OK to camp on the lawn beneath for 1000¥ pppn.
Anyway, we climbed some bolted vertical routes on granite above the valley by a creek called Kasamerisawa. Nice but nothing special.
Day 4, Tuesday
Oh, Sugar! It's raining cats and dogs dear!
Days like that are perfect for staying in the tent and reading children's books. I read the second and third part of Jonathan Stroud's Barthimaeus-triology; only interrupted for a few hours in the middle of the day when we jumped into the cars and went over a mountain-pass, and down another valley to get to an onsen with a hot-water spring by a waterfall.
I liked the fact that all main characters in the Barthimaeus-trilogy are assholes. Not common in children's literature.
Day 5, Wednesday
After a spot of indecisiveness I and Wataru decided to drive to 湯川 [Yukawa], about half an hour from Ogawayama. According to the guidebook, Yukawa is a good place to learn crack-climbing. Wataru had never, apart from the 4 meter tall second pitch of Ogawayama Layback, done any trad climbing. So off we went with the rack we borrowed from Wakabayashi. On the way there I pondered the name off the place, Yukawa, which I took to mean “hot-water river”.
Yukawa is a small cliff of volcanic tuff (凝灰岩, [gyoukaigan]) split by vertical crack-systems, with perhaps 20 routes up to 20 meter or so. All routes have fixed anchors so it was indeed a very convenient place to have a crack-climbing course. Anyway, Wataru is an engineering student and can boulder 3-dan, so my tutelage was limited to explaining for a few minutes how protection works, sorting out the relevant pieces and telling him to climb to the top. He was a natural at climbing cracks, only stopping to place protection at natural shake-outs. Impressive.
But sweet Jesus, they have some really rather stiff grading for cracks in Yukawa (or all of Japan, what do I know?) Granted, I haven't climb trad in almost two years, and have perhaps tied in to a rope 15 days since moving to Japan in September 2005, so my opinon might be worthless. Maybe I'm just crap. We started on some 5.8 and worked our way up to the 10's. The hardest route I did was a three-star 5.10c, slightly overhanging crack that went from fingers to thin hands with not much in the way of holds outside the crack. A midway jug saved the onsight but, gee-whiz (him again, shouldn't take the lord's name in vain perhaps), I almost pumped out!
On our way back we stopped by a small waterfall just by the dirt-road that leads to the cliff. Much to my surprise, we were high up in the mountains after all, the water wasn't cold at all. Aha! Thus: Yukawa!
Day 6, Thursday
Back to bouldering. Down by the river that flows by the campsite I did a 3-kyu I couldn't touch last year, a Fountainebleau-esque humiliation-bloc. Moreover we managed to start in the wrong place on a 2-dan, which turned it into an 1-kyu/1-dan or so. I was too impatient to get back to my nemesis from last year, Boukyaku no kawa or “River of Oblivion” (2-dan), to care. The moves felt strangely awkward and hard, I managed to do every move without being close to link the entire problem. I broke a nail. Wataru cruised it. No surprise there.
Afterwards I and Wataru did Kami no Hitomi or “God's eye/pupil” (1-dan). I did it in the famous style “almost flash”. Oh well, 2:nd go on the scorecard then, if I had one. (I should get one. When I expressed interest in trying ”Out of Oblivion” Wataru gave me an incredulous look and told me I did it last year after almost a million tries.”)
I also went to check out Mike or “Tortoise pattern” (perhaps?) a morpho jump I suspected was overgraded at 3-dan in the topo. It felt really doable, and like a perfect tick for tall grade-chasers.
We also went to another area to check out Chris Sharma's “The two monks” (2-dan). Fun but to hard when tired. Got nowhere near doing that one.
Day 6, Friday
Rest-day for me. I hiked the “Panorama course” and took a few pics. Wataru went back to Nagoya via Mizugaki.
Day 7, Saturday
A good day. Down to the riverside to warm up. Managed to do Mike after changing around the feet a bit. It is 3-dan in the topo, but nowhere near 3-dan for me. Oh well oh well, I had a stated goal of despatching an overgraded 3-dan so I was pretty happy.
Here is me on Mike, but with crap beta. Put left foot on the smear instead.
Straight after I sent River of Oblivion. I celebrated by resting fifteen minutes and did it again (except the non-trivial top-out which is creepy w/o a spotter.) Yes! There's nothing like lapping an old nemesis! Nothing!
The rest of the day was spent failing to get up anything regardless of difficulty. I couldn't care less. The weather forecast for Sunday said 90% risk of rain. I went home.
The pic of me on the traverse is from last year, but I still have the same jeans. The only difference is that I'm fatter now. The pic will do.