The Three Ridges – Yatsumine

The whole length of Yatsumine with Chinne and the Sannomado col in the middle right

The whole length of Yatsumine with Chinne and the Sannomado col in the middle right

If you would imagine Mount Tsurugi as a fortress and its main summit with all the buttresses as the citadel, the Yatsumine ridge would have to be its fortification walls. Sharp, jagged and hostile, thing build to repel any attacker just by the sight itself.
For mountaineer however, it is a sight of unparalleled beauty.

Being spoiled by many trips to the Italian Dolomites, Japanese Alps were always missing something in my eyes. There are no solitary wild rocky spires towering many hundreds of meters above the valleys below, no vertical walls shooting all the way to the sky from peaceful grassy plains.
Japanese mountains are stretching over hundreds of kilometers in endless chains of ridges and seemingly undistinguished peaks. They have their indisputable beauty, but not the kind rock climber is looking for. Except for Tsurugi. Or at least sort of.
“If only we had more mountains like Tsurugi in Japan”, once I heard a mountaineer complain.

I didn’t know much about the mountain until recently. Only that they call it the hardest mountain that can be climbed and that it’s vicinity used to be the last blank space on the map of Japan until quite modern history.
Then I heard about the Yatsumine ridge, when Chris White attempted it last winter. It was supposed to be the most challenging one from the famous three, a climb for the big boys only.
Pictures were showing real climbers on vertical walls, all climbing on double ropes, scary void underfoot.
I was going through the photographs with my new, shiny single rope and trad rack beside me, guts twisted inside my belly.
“Would you dare?”
I was burning to find out.

Tsurugi had one more mystery that had been creeping on my mind for many months. On Google Earth, when you zoom just a bit north from the main summit, one small photograph will appear. On this photograph, there is a climber scaling a sharp rocky pillar, serious grade, and in the background one more fantastic rock needle stands erect.
“Chinne and Cleopatra Needle”, reads the title. Chinne, Chinne, for a long time this Tibetan-like name had been back on my mind. Until once I wrote it into the search window in my web browser.
That instant the whole of my ideas about japanese mountains was shattered to pieces.
The formation of sharp rocky pillars and pinnacles that appeared on the screen was more like a piece taken somewhere from the Aiguille du Chamonix and the most grandiose of them all, the flawless spur falling deep into the Sannomado col was Chinne. Never have I seen anything like this in Japan.
I had to see this on my own eyes. I had to climb it!

The old picture I saw on the internet. Top of Yatsumine, Cleopatra Needle, Chinne and the Gendarme

The old picture I saw on the internet. Top of Yatsumine, Cleopatra Needle, Chinne and the Gendarme

The problem was I had very few experience and very few capable partners. If only there was someone to lead, I would so love to follow on this route. Rebouffat has been there, he has done it. Sly smile appeared on his face and his eyes were lit with sparkles when he was telling me about the 13 pitches of climbing it took them to scale this piece of rock. But he had no time.
Carolyn was interested, but after consultations with her sangakukai, she backed off. According to them we were not ready for even the Yatsumine and there could be no thoughts about Chinne.
The only person crazy enough that I could count on was the unbeatable New Zealander Isobel, but her conditions were that I would lead it all. I knew I was not yet ready for such a thing, but deep down the desire to try was stronger than prudent reason and I accepted at once.

The weather played to our cards perfectly. Huge typhoon passed over Japan just the day before our departure, wrecking havoc wherever it moved, but also cleaning the air and presenting us with bright blue sky and a forecast of whole week of sunny weather.

With the rope, ambitious climbing rack and food for five days packed, my rucksack weighted over 25 Kg. At first it was a terrible burden to carry, but quite soon I got somehow ‘acclimatized’ for it and all went well. We were set to begin and it was bound to be a massive adventure.

I was awaken from my dream soon enough. We made our way from Murodo through Raichousawa and Tsurugisawa down to the Choujiroutani deai in a reasonable time, but on the way, Isobel sprained her ankle and felt extremely tired. She had a hard day of traveling with Japan Railways turned to ditch by the typhoon behind, so there was nothing to be held against her. I just thought she will sleep out of it, but when I saw her collapse on her inflatable pad right between some boulders and go to sleep without looking left or right, I knew it is not good.
I set up my tent on a huge flat boulder, two corners of the tent hanging over the edge above the snowfield. There was a scary crack in the rock right underneath my sleeping body and I woke up a few times during the night in terror, seeing myself tumbling down the snow together with tons of shattered stone in my dreams.
I offered Isobel to pitch her tent next to mine, but she was using its fly sheet as a bivvy and refused, saying she’s just fine.

When I went to check her in the morning, I found she erected just the tent body between the boulders during the night to make herself warmer. Long hours of rest didn’t help a bit and Isobel was in no state to continue further.
“You really are not lucky for partners”, she started to apologize to me. “I’m sorry, but you will have to play by yourself. I am looking forward to see what you will do”, she said.
“I am afraid of what I will do”, I said.
I didn’t know if I can let her go alone to the hut a bit down the snowfield. I didn’t want the same situation like with Carolyn a month earlier. I felt responsible.
“I can make it 30 minutes to the hut!” Isobel said in a shogun tone. “Even if it takes me 4 hours I’ll just go there and make them call me a helicopter.”

And so we parted our ways. At first I felt a bit disappointed for myself, because losing a partner meant no chance for Chinne and even the Yatsumine was in doubt. Then I thought about how much more disappointed Isobel has to be and suddenly saw that there was nothing bad on my situation at all. The sun was shining bright and the sky was blue.

Three climbers descending the Choujiroutani snowfield

Three climbers descending the Choujiroutani snowfield

The snowfield in Choujiroutani is steep and scary this late in the season. Signs of great forces being at work here can be seen everywhere around. Massive snow blocks collapsing as the meltwater keeps digging its icy tunnels deep below, long cracks providing me a look into the depths underfoot, stones and boulders fallen from the steep slabs above laying on the surface in the middle of craters they created during the impact. The most unnerving phase is always the transition between the snow and rock, when you can see the deep caves which had melted around the bedrock.

Fortunately it didn’t take too long before the oppressive walls around me started to open up into a beautiful valley, framed by the Genjirou ridge on the left side, Yatsumine on the right side and big, broken pillars of the head ridge finishing the frame in the front together with the summit of Tsurugi itself. The sight reminded me a lot of Karasawa, only this was much more beautiful in its unspoiled serenity. Sometimes I could see a tiny character or two appear far up on the peak of Tsurugi, but that was as close as normal hikers come to this place.
Right in the middle of this spectacle lies the Kuma no iwa, a grassy platform with tremendous views through and beyond the valley. There was place to pitch at least ten tents, but I was alone. The loneliness felt liberating.

While setting up my camp I was already planning what to do with such a fine day. I hadn’t yet gained full confidence to attempt the Yatsumine, but the Genjirou ridge seemed accessible and the calling of Tsurugi summit irresistible.

The line I spied should have led me through a gully to the ridge, right at the upper base of Nihou, the second of two huge rock masses forming the iconic shape of Genjirou ridge. But as it usually goes, soon after traversing the scree slopes leading from my tent to the base of the ridge, I got caught in climbing so enjoyable, that I abandoned my planned route and started improvising, picking the line that looks the most beautiful and also challenging. I was scrambling on an edge of reasonably angled rocky spire and as I did, the terrain was becoming steeper and steeper and the holds looser and looser. The line I took was really the best looking there was, but it brought me to a point where I was thinking about it as the limit of what I find mentally comfortable without any belay.
A group of climbers who had just abseiled from the Nihou were watching me curiously and even gave me a short applause when I reached the point they sat down for a snack. We exchanged a few words and I continued on my own.

The way I climbed from Kuma no iwa to the top of Tsurugi over the final part of Genjirou ridge

The way I climbed from Kuma no iwa to the top of Tsurugi over the final part of Genjirou ridge

The Yatsumine from Genjirou ridge

The Yatsumine from Genjirou ridge

One hour after leaving my base camp at the Kuma no iwa, I was already standing on the top of Mount Tsurugi, the best mountain we have in the whole of Japanese Alps. The sun was burning mercifully, it was just before noon and the views were spectacular.
Most of the time on top I spent studying the Yatsumine ridge and surrounding playing possibilities. The climb up to Genjirou reawakened the sense for joy of climbing in my body and it was already decided that I will climb Yatsumine the next day.
Lively Tsurugidake summit

Lively Tsurugidake summit

But before that I took the pleasure of following the main ridge from Tsurugi summit to the Head of Yatsumine, the highest peak of the whole Yatsumine ridge above the Sannomado col.
An “X” character on the Tsurugi summit marks this part of the mountain as “expert climbers only” territory, but it is nothing too serious.
Several routes can be made out along the ridge. Some traversing below the big rocky spires on the eastern side, others, more adventurous, climbing straight over the tops, always keeping on the highest crest.
I chose the second option of course and I can tell you, the views from the rim along the way are incredible! Although the eastern side is steep and the views very beautiful with all the famous mountains like Goryu, Kashima-Yari and Harinoki forming an amazing horizon, it is the western and north-western views that blew my mind.
Right from your feet the mountain just breaks straight down and falls super steeply for hundreds of meters before breaking once more into a brutal maze of deep rocky gorges between the Hayatsuki, Tsurugi and Komado ridges. The whole scene resembles a massive crushing mill. Your eyes have no friendly spot to rest upon in the mass of dead rock and I felt like looking into a whirlpool of stone, sucking me and the whole mountain somewhere deep down below the crust of the Earth. They call the small valleys with a few puffing sulfurous springs below Tateyama the Jikokutani, the “Hell valley”. No no, what I was looking at right now was the real Jikokutani!
Just a few kilometers further to the north-west, almost 3000 meters lower, the land flattens and you can see the Toyama city on the shore of the Sea of Japan. I was wondering if Grace Yamaholic, the extraordinarily committed Brazilian climber living there is looking up at me right now. This is her mountain and I am climbing in her spirit.

From the end of the ridge, right before it breaks into a huge, steep scree gully falling to the Sannomado col, I caught sight of the Chinne for the first time.
You see it from rear-side angle here and the shape is very different from how I had glimpsed it for the first time on the internet. But I have seen many photographs since and knew what to expect. When seen from the Yatsumine side, the Chinne most resembles the disc of circular saw driven half into the mountain. From the Sannomado side, it looks like a giant tooth, which eventually gave it the name. Chinne is just Japanese pronunciation of German word Zinne, the tooth.
Being one who had grown to love mountains in the Dolomites, I was pleased with how this rock structure resembled the famous Zinnen in Italy, although the scale is totally different of course.

From right to left, Yatsumine Head, second peak, Chinne with its western wall and hardly recognizable Gendarme

From right to left, Yatsumine Head, second peak, Chinne with its western wall and hardly recognizable Gendarme

Satisfied with seeing it all this up close and knowing tomorrow’s weather should be this amazing again, I embarked on the scree descent back to Kuma no iwa and my tent.
View from my camp on the Kuma no iwa

View from my camp on the Kuma no iwa

It is really an awesome place to camp, the Kuma no iwa. Splendid views, mountain stream 10 seconds walk from my tent, green grass and blue sky… who could ever wish for more?
I had loads of time to make myself comfortable that evening. While eating my dinner I kept studying the Yatsumine. A,B,C and D, all the faces of peak 6, the Roppou, were lined up in front of me. C face should be the easiest. The slab is a bit easier sloping than the other three and seems to offer plenty of holds. The line of ascent is easily recognizable. How I’d like to try it. Maybe some day when I have a partner.
D face looked totally unclimbable to me, starting off with a huge, smooth overhang and never becoming less than vertical. I don’t even dare thinking about attempting something like that.

When the sun set in the afternoon I saw a figure ascending the snowfield slowly towards me.
I won’t be here all alone after all, I thought.
Half an hour later the older man crossed from the snowfield to the solid ground and I went to greet him.
“I’ve been here last week, but the weather was terrible. Now the weather is great, so I came back”, he said.
“And where are you headed”, I asked him.
“Tomorrow I plan to climb the Yatsumine. I have done the lower half last time and now I want to finish it off”, he replied.
“Great, I’m planning the same”, I said.
“So we will be seeing each other”, he spoke. “But these old bones are not so fast any more and you will probably be back down the time I make it to the top!”

The night turned out cold in my light sleeping bag. The moonlight was so bright that I didn’t have to use my headlamp at all and the air was dry. No dew fell that night.

By 5 o’clock we were both up and getting ready. But there was still no sign of the dawn to be seen and it was dark, so we decided to postpone our start.
By 6 AM we were standing on the tight 5,6 col, cold in the shade of peak five’s western face.
I let Kono-san go first. He knew the route and in fact was not slow at all at the beginning.
The route starts by easy climbing in a kind of shallow gully in the middle of the head wall, but traverses out of it to the right very soon after. From here on human-caused erosion and abrasion on the rock showed us the right way.
The Roppou soon eased off and turned first into simple scramble, then into walk up almost all the way to its top.
Kono-san was lagging behind a bit now, but I decided to wait for him and adjust my pace to leisure mode, so that we could climb together. It was a spectacular morning again, the route ahead was not so long and while walking as a party, we could at least take pictures of one another.
The remaining three peaks and many other smaller ones with all the saddles were lined up in front of us. The lean and graceful spire of the Cleopatra Needle was shining in the morning light and behind it the black mass of the Chinne with its circular, jagged rim was drawing my attention constantly.
From the Roppou, the first down climb came. Many abseil slings and cord loops could be found at the top, but we decided it was reasonable enough to climb down, both of us lazy to unpack the rope. It was easy.

Somewhere on Peak 6

Somewhere on Peak 6

Yatsumine, Cleopatra Needle and Chinne from Peak 6

Yatsumine, Cleopatra Needle and Chinne from Peak 6

When I was reading notes about this climb at home, everybody was talking about multiple abseils and multiple tiring ups and downs.

Well, let me be the one who breaks the myth of Yatsumine right now and tell you straight away that the whole climb unquestionably is very enjoyable, but also very easy. There is no place where using ropes would be strictly necessary. All the points where abseiling is possible are also down climbable without particular risk. Note that I am talking only about the upper half of Yatsumine in perfect summer conditions. But also note that we climbed all the peaks along the way. All the time I was leading the most exposed crest line, never traversed under any peak, for which there would be possibility if one were in distress. We were climbing in a leisurely pace and still it took us just two and half hours to reach the final summit of the Yatsumine Head.
I was hoping that I am going for a bit challenging climb, but no. Yatsumine from 5,6 col in summer is simply still just a variation route, not a real climb.

Although all of this is true, it is still probably the most beautiful route I have climbed in Japan to this day. The climbing might be easy, but at least it is sustained and a lot of fun. It never turned hard enough for me to be afraid and thus really was just a pure pleasure.

There was one place I knew from the photographs that scared me. One photograph that made me doubt my readiness all the time. The one I noted once already. A man standing on a boot-wide narrow ledge, smooth, featureless, vertical slabs both up and below. Totally like a picture taken out of some adventures of Walter Bonatti. ‘Traverse on the Yatsumine Head wall’, the title stated simply. That is some serious exposure, I thought. That must take real balls to climb.
When we came there, I had to laugh. Those suckers! They took the picture in a way that it looks like Alex Hannold standing high on the ledge of Half Dome, while in fact it is just a few meters above ground and there is another wall right behind your back! Well, it still is the most vertical bit on the whole route, but there are in fact many holds and it feels quite secure. Secure enough for Kono-san and myself to hand our cameras to each other and try taking similarly cool looking shots. Only in our case, with the sunshine and our wide smiles, they look much less menacing.

Tvaverse on the Yatsumine Head

Tvaverse on the Yatsumine Head

After summiting the Head of Yatsumine I immediately climbed the second peak to the right to take some more pictures. The view from there is truly marvelous. The long line of sharp peaks forming the Yatsumine against morning light on the right, Cleopatra Needle right below me and Chinne on the left is a sight to behold. Deep down I could see the Sannomado snowfield falling over thousand meters to the valley of Tsurugisawa.
Just climbed the second peak

Just climbed the second peak

Cleopatra Needle and Yatsumine from the second peak

Cleopatra Needle and Yatsumine from the second peak

One twenty meter rappel got me down again and I climbed the Head back to Kono-san to say some formal farewell. He was continuing up to the summit of Tsurugi by the way I came down the day earlier. My own plan was to continue north and traverse Chinne and the Gendarme before returning back from the Sannomado col. I wanted to see Chinne really up close.

I climbed back down and traversed left underneath the second peak. When the view to the east opened up to me again, I found myself standing right above the Cleopatra Needle. It is not too high from this side, just around 12 to 15 meters. What struck me was that there was a faintly visible path leading to it and the pillar itself didn’t seem that hard. I concluded that was worthy of exploration.
“This has to be the route climbers use to get down from the climb”, I thought. “Surely, it is not a route worthy of such a beautiful pinnacle, but imagine, just to get a look from there! How cool would that be to have some pictures from the top of Cleopatra Needle”, my egoistic self was talking to me. I climb mountains because it gives me so much joy, but we all do have that inner desire for recognition when we manage something outstanding, no?
At the base of the pinnacle I found one narrow grassy ledge and from the end of it I could see the diagonal serration of the rock formed a natural line of holds going seemingly all the way up, to the point where the wall eased off. From there nothing would stand between me and the peak!
I gave it a shot.

This was a game completely different from the Yatsumine. This wall spent most of its lifetime in the shade. The rock was harsh, covered with bone dry, sharp lichen. And it was vertical. But still the holds seemed plentiful and the moves were not difficult.
I followed the natural line diagonally to the right, move after move, meter after meter. Until my line of holds started to be oppressed by overhanging bulges from above. An old peg, rusty, but still solid-looking, was driven all the way into a tiny crack under the bulge and I clipped in with my self-belay. That gave me some kind of false feeling of security to follow with the next move, lean out over the bulge and reach to the next hold above it. As I tried to stand up to the new stance, the self-belay came taut, too short to allow me to erect myself completely in my new position.
“Crap”, I thought, half standing, half squatting, the rock pushing me out of balance over the precipice. I reached to unclip myself with my left hand, the right one clenching the solid hold above in a steel vice grip. If I’d let go, I would have to learn how to fly really fast. I didn’t let go. Unclipped, I stood up to get into balance. Now I wanted to get to the top just so that I could abseil on the rope and didn’t have to climb the scary moves down. The wall was easing off just some meter and half above my hand. I was almost there! But the rock separating me from safety was bulging again and with just a fingertip holds. Very severe. I was not mentally ready to commit that much. Not without a belayer down below.
I realized I had climbed a little too much to the right and the lowest place where the wall was leaning back was actually just about two meters to my left now. But again, the rock in between was too difficult for me to tackle.

Very carefully I started repeating the moves which got me up here, only this time backwards. Grab a tiny flake underneath the bulge, lean back and slide down to my previous step, clip in the self-belay… safe for the moment. Grab a solid hold, let one leg down over another bulge, unclip, make sure I don’t step on the wobbly stone, always maintain three points of contact… this way I got down the next series of moves to somewhat easier ground.
I tried a few more angles, just in case there was some secret way to the lowest point of the summit I missed on my diagonal line on the right. Vertical, pieces protruding to overhanging, no way I would try that without proper belay. There was nothing more I could do here. Little by little I climbed back down the remaining bit and returned to the ridge line going to Chinne.
All in all, just two or three moves from the peak I decided it was not worth the risk. Cleopatra was demanding just a bit more than I was willing to give.

My unfinished line up the Cleopatra

My unfinished line up the Cleopatra

Compared with Cleopatra Needle, getting to the top of Chinne was a mere walk in a park. Just a short length of easy scrambling and I was looking down the whole height of its north face. I wish I knew how many meters that was, but the sense of exposure while moving over the saw like teeth of the summit ridge is unparalleled to anything I have experienced in Japan.
It is truly spectacularly narrow ridge, on both sides falling down with almost perfect verticality. The northern wall may in fact be less than two hundred meters high, but the mountain simply ends with it and further there is nothing but steep gullies falling down over 1000 meters to the Tsurugisawa valley.
I was moving very carefully along the knife ridge. There was not much wind that day, but still I kept my guard, just in case some rogue gust would try to sneak behind and push me off-balance.
Airy Chinne ridgeline

Airy Chinne ridgeline

Serious doubts were boiling in my head about our courage and willingness to climb this thing even if Isobel were here. It looked so much over and beyond anything I have ever done. Part of it might had been the perspective. Every big climb looks impossible when seen from above. The pitches itself should not be too technically difficult. Nothing I wouldn’t do at the crags around Osaka. The real difficulty is the psychological one.
Anyway, while standing on the top I didn’t feel any disappointment that we couldn’t attempt the climb. The mountain will be here for us to have another try.

What I focused my attention from now on was the Gendarme, the last shark tooth shaped peak above the Sannomado col. Positioned right underneath the Chinne, it commands great view all over its north face.
I could see it right below my feet, no more than hundred meters lower. The puzzle was getting there. All suggested my best bet would be traversing along the west wall of Chinne, where a wide system of ledges was opening the way. By all means I wanted to avoid descending all the way to the big gully leading to the Sannomado col, because I would probably not be able to climb back up from there.

I retraced my steps back from the summit of Chinne to a point where a narrow canyon connected the eastern and western side of the massif. It really is a curiosity that such a feature is there, because it makes the transition so much easier.
From the end of it, exactly as expected, an abseil route led to the gully, while another footprints seemed to follow a ledge in my desired direction. The summit rim of Gendarme was visible from here. It was not far.
The first ledge was an easy one, horizontally crossing in the shadow of Chinne west wall. Then I started climbing down over a series of totally broken steep rocky steps. That was a tricky business, because nothing seemed to be holding in its place. Small stones were sliding under my soles and even the big boulders were mostly wobbly. But with some care and time, I got another ten or so meters lower.
From here I could finally walk another ledge and have a look around the corner to the north face. My heart was shivering with a mixture of happiness, adventure and uneasiness. I was imagining how it must feel to be standing on some great granite wall back home in the European Alps.
From here, the descent was so steep and unstable, the bedrock covered with loose dirt, stones and shallow rooted grass and other low alpine flora, that anything else than an abseil would be madness.
But where to anchor an abseil here? There seemed to be only one possibility, one I didn’t have much trust in. On the far left of the slope, right by the edge of the cliff falling several tens of meters to the gully, there was one old piton protruding from a stone block. Thin layer of rust was covering it already and it was not hundred percent firm in its position. But at least it was in all the way to the eye.
I cut off a length of cord, just enough to tie an abseil loop from the peg and secured it with double fisherman knot. My feet were sliding constantly on the low haimatsu hanging over the steep terrain as I was recoiling the rope. I had to keep changing my stance and sometimes to work with just one hand in order to stabilize myself. Finally I had the rope neatly coiled and tossed. I was ready to go.
Slowly I weighted the peg, then gave it a few tugs. It was flexing a bit, but otherwise felt solid. As swiftly and smoothly as possible I abseiled about 25 meters lower, safe. Shower of small stones went around me as I pulled the rope down.

On the descent to the Gendarme

On the descent to the Gendarme

Now I was standing on the edge of a completely vertical precipice, part of the Chinne north face actually. The Gendarme massif seemed to be connected here in right angle to the face, but the two peaks were separate in fact, a narrow canyon dug deep in between.
I wished so much I could just jump over it, but that was of course impossible, and so I moved all the way to the left, where the depth of the canyon was the lowest and prepared myself for another abseil.
One sturdy rock horn was the only natural anchor available. The thing that scared me here were the razor-sharp edges on everything around. I tied off the horn, trying in vain to adjust the cord in such a way, where it wouldn’t sit on anything that could potentially cut it. The next bad thing was the rope itself bending over the sharp edge of the canyon wall. But there was nothing I could do better I knew about.
I was scared during this abseil and wanted it to end very fast. On the way down, I passed one huge rock flake peeling from the wall, just about two centimeters thick and at least two meters high, looking like it must fall down if anything just touched it. I did all I could not to disturb it in its acrobatic stance.
Some 20 meters lower I landed on solid ground again, happy that the ride was over. The steep canyon was basically one great funnel through which the mountain was shedding all its unnecessary weight. Fortunately it was opening up right ahead and with it, the last bit of easy climbing to the summit rim of the Gendarme.

I made it, I was there, back in the sunlight after what felt like an eternity in the shade of the oppressive Chinne west face.
On the summit I sat down to rest and eat some snack, the north face looming high above me. It was a beautifully silent place and beautifully timeless moment. Just myself and the wall standing beside me, like a giant and an ant.
The sky was bright blue without a single cloud, the sunshine merciful again. I wasn’t watching time at all. It was still early so I didn’t care. And when the compulsion to move came, I left this place to its silence again.

On top of Gendarme, watching the North face

On top of Gendarme, watching the North face

The narrow canyon down between the two rock giants felt like a magic door with its brutality and coldness when I came out of it onto the big, sunlit scree gully behind. I was back in the world of men and that too felt good.

When I got back to Kuma no iwa base camp, it was just two in the afternoon. Emotionally tired to attempt any other climb, feeling like my job here was done for the time being and remembering the cold and quite unpleasant night before, I decided to take a few hours rest and then walk down the Choujiroutani snowfield to the hut where Isobel went. I wanted to know if she got out of there alright.

Time to go down. Kita one is waiting

Time to go down. Kita one is waiting

The snowfield was as scary as the day before. Maybe this time even more, because it had changed during just one day! One particularly massive snow bridge was now laying in the depths shattered to bright white pieces. On another place at least 50 meter crack appeared in the snow. The moment I stood back on normal trail felt relieving.

Not long after, the hut came into view. With its low structure and bare stone walls it most resembled a barbarian keep somewhere from the early Middle Ages, sitting nicely by the river. I was wondering if Isobel would still be there.
As soon as the hut owner saw me, he started:
“You are the foreigner, the Czech guy…”
“Yes I am. The white woman from yesterday, where is she? Was she alright?”
“Oh, she went back to Tsurugisawa and Murodo. The ankle looked quite fine. But you climbed the Yatsumine. We were more worried about you!”
“Me? Come on. I had a great time!”
So Isobel didn’t tell them anything about her bad shape after all. She must had gotten better to walk back on her own, I thought.

The next morning, just as the peaks high above got lit by the first rays of golden sunlight, I shouldered my heavy pack again and marched towards the mountain pass to the south-west,
from where I wanted to descend to the Kuranosuke valley and follow the river all the way to the mighty Kurobe dam. That was my escape plan from these remote lands.

I don’t know how to put it. The route is terrible, but it is also very picturesque and beautiful. Should I advise you not to take it, you would miss a lot of good, but know that if you do take it, you will suffer badly, especially if you would be carrying over 20 Kg of cumbersome luggage. If nothing else, the low branches and thick vegetation will make you swear in all languages you know. And you won’t forget the waterlogged trail!
You just have to see for yourself and make your own adventure.

I sat on the trolley bus, letting myself be carried through the depths of the mountains towards another adventure of my own.

There was one last mountain to be climbed!

You can watch a short movie from this adventure on vimeo here:
Tsurugidake short movie


3 thoughts on “The Three Ridges – Yatsumine

  1. wow very beautiful story! – I appreciate especially the lines of ascent drawn directly on the photos – that’s quite useful to get a better idea of what you are talking about. And it confirms also that on the photos the distances always look smaller than they really are 🙂 But I’m still wondering one thing – when you attempted that “shortcut” to the gendarme in the shadow of the western wall of Chinne – did you have any idea of the feasibility of this route or did you just try like that? Because in the latter case it’s always troublesome to me to imagine the possibility of finding yourself stuck in the middle of rocks, having no way further on and no way back (even more so if abseiling was necessary to get there…). Don’t you share the same concern? 🙂

  2. Well, you are right in that one might find himself stuck in a bad position when wandering like this. It happened to me once already in China after all. But here in Japan, there are usually feasible ways out, unless one would venture really onto the steep faces themselves. I had no proof of it being feasible, but I was convinced it was not that serious. So, I share the same concern to some extent, but in reality it is not that hard to judge the level of such danger. What I do is not really that extreme.
    Then, making my own ways is what I love on mountaineering. There is a long way still before I will be able to climb the mountains and routes I want to climb, but bit by bit, I believe I can get to the point where I will chose the one beautiful line up to some mighty peak and will have enough knowledge and ability to make it safely.

  3. Well anyway you seem to have reached quite a sustained level of climbing abilities so I think we can reasonable confide in your appraisal of the feasibility of the selected routes 🙂 Still I would feel more reassured if you were climbing accompanied by other people :-p

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