I knew I had just led my longest and hardest pitch when I saw the blood on the carabiners while setting up the anchor. Just a cut on thumb, but I didn’t notice it at all in the midst of intense focus on the climbing.
With Asahi Rebouffat, we have already climbed the easy 6 pitch south-eastern spur of the Jizoudake, the smaller subsidiary peak of mount Seppiko. Only the last short slab wall posed some challenge with its almost vertical inclination and about 5.9 grade.
From the top we moved back down under the mighty north-eastern wall, where Yoshida-san, our company senpai, showed us the next route. The thing is you do not know how mighty the wall is until you see it from distance.
Well, I had not seen it from distance when I accepted the proposition to lead the first pitch.
Line of bolts was shooting to the sky in one straight line above, but even before I was able to reach the first one, I knew this thing is beyond my level. All the holds were pointing in the wrong direction, like tiles on a roof. An incredibly steep roof.
I gave up on the bolted route and traversed just a few meters above ground to the left, where the craggy surface seemed more in my favor. Some two meters higher I clipped the first quickdraw into an old ring-bolt. Initially this gave me some feeling of security, but I knew well enough how false a feeling that was. These rusty pins can not be trusted.
I was having doubts about the whole thing. Part of me wanted to be lowered down, apologize and ask someone else to lead. The other half was unwilling to give up despite the fear gripping me. I continued, nervously looking for another piton or bolt to aim for. Most of the available hand holds were vertical, asking for some side pressure in order to be used. Feet had to do with the tiles.
One more rusty peg further on served me as another psychological protection and above it I reached kind of horizontal break in the wall, where I could at last stand without too much exertion.
Several meters higher I could see yet another bolt, but it was being used by a party climbing different route further to the left. I could not aim there. I was too much off-route and had to get back to the right to our intended line of ascent somehow. I had to do with the horizontal break, sometimes turning into a few centimeters wide ledge. It was the most fearsomely looking traverse, without any protection.
Once more I thought about retreat, but it was too late. There was no way down from here.
I do not remember the exact details of the steps that followed, but I do remember the emotions. Or to be precise, the strange lack of any. My brain stopped perceiving its wider surroundings as well as time. My friends and their voices were lost to me in the depth below and even the precipice somehow lost its significance in my mind. All I had was focused on the wall, on the step I was taking and the next. I was surprised how my feet were able to hold onto the rock. It was like if the wall had its own gravity, which held not only my body, but also all of my consciousness.
In the middle of the traverse, after what felt like an eternity, another bolt came to my aid. Move after move, one more insecure than the other, I was climbing further over a concave feature on the wall until a wide corner appeared on my right.
I got in and clipped one of the ropes into a nail-like bolt. An unsuccessful try to get back onto the rugged concave rocks got me locked in the corner. To get further up, I had to force my way over its featureless sides.
Fortunately there were more ring-bolts on the way, which I used as holds on one occasion. Slowly I was making progress.
“Five meters of rope! Find someplace to cut the pitch!” the shouts of Rebouffat reached me from the depths.
I knew I have used most of the ropes length already. My friends down there seemed tiny and the drag caused by my Z-shaped line was immense. But there was no way I could cut the pitch in any position like this if I didn’t reach the set of bolts I was hypnotizing for some time already further up.
“Kuso!” came out of my mouth spontaneously, even though I was convinced the rope will suffice.
The last few meters I climbed quite confidently, but the moment I clipped my self-belay into the two bombproof Petzl bolts and all the mental pressure was relieved felt exhilarating.
Then I noticed the blood marks on my gear. It didn’t bother me at all though. I made it!
This was the first time for me to operate in a hanging belay position and I was enjoying the adventure mixed with occasional feelings of uneasiness.
After bringing up Rebouffat, it was his turn to take on the lead.
The difference in our abilities was remarkable. The second pitch was short, but led over some sections of pretty smooth, vertical steps. Although he was using quickdraws as a support while moving around bolts, he was able to overcome all of the difficulties quite quickly and efficiently.
I wish I had tried harder to climb it clean as a second. One feels so much safer and at ease with the ropes above. But as soon as I started using aid to get over the most difficult spots, I just couldn’t get myself to stop.
On the second belay, we spent some time discussing out options.
The route proper went straight up to the summit, rising with total verticality over smooth, wrinkled wall. There was no way I could lead it. Maybe Asahi could make it if he used aid, but even he considered it to be too much.
The other option was to continue diagonally further right and get to the summit by climbing the right kante on the edge of the wall.
I gave up in the end and asked my partner to go first on the last pitch also.
Soon he disappeared from my sight.
Time went by while I was paying out the rope patiently. When I shouted the signal for approaching the end of the rope, all turned still. For a long time. Wearing only one long sleeve T-shirt, I was getting seriously cold. Two hours have past since we started on this route and as the sun was nearing the horizon, the warm autumn afternoon had changed into a chilly evening.
Rebouffat was shouting something down to me, but I could not understand the meaning over the rocks separating us. Did he want me to disassemble the belay, or did he run into difficulties and wanted me to give him good belay? I was missing the crucial detail. After some time when nothing happened, I asked him to pull up the slack in the ropes. Slowly he pulled up the rest of the 50 meter one, but over 10 meters of the 60 meter line were still sitting coiled on my thigh.
“The green one, pull up the green one!” I shouted up.
In reply came three blows of whistle, meaning for me to climb.
For some time more I demanded him taking up the slack, until I accepted the fact there has to be some problem on the way and he is unable to manipulate the second rope.
Finally I recoiled it on my shoulders, tied it off onto the harness and signaled “climbing”.
The last pitch was not difficult, but the slack rope was getting in my way all the time as I had to put more and more coils onto it as I was moving up.
Finally I reached him and a short walk got us to the summit of Jizoudake for the second time today.
Yoshida-san with Yuki-chan were still on the wall and we hurried down to see how they were doing. Asahi was half expecting them to be abseiling of the face in retreat because of the difficulty, but that didn’t turn up to be the case. While Asahi went to the base of the wall to retrieve some luggage, I went to search for a vantage point from where we could watch the situation.
When I found such a place on a huge boulder and first saw the wall flat in front of me, my heart jumped.
We have just climbed that?!
If somebody had showed me the wall from here and told me to climb it, I would have said he was crazy. The idea of leading half of it would have seemed totally out of reality.
I watched Yuki-chan stand on the belay spot where I finished my first pitch, while Yoshida-san was securing the anchors at the second belay. Than he brought her up. She seemed quick and climbing with confidence. More than myself, probably. Definitely no reason for retreat here.
Than Asahi came and as we watched the other two climbing further, he produced the crags topo out of his pack.
The first pitch: 5.10b
The second pitch: 5.10c
The last pitch we avoided: 5.11
Our escape line up to the right kante was not graded.
“Damn!” I thought. I’m glad nobody told me all of this in advance, otherwise I would have never agreed to lead such a thing!
Truth has to be said, the most difficult part of the first pitch was probably the one I avoided right at the beginning and I don’t believe I was leading true 5.10b, but considering this was my first proper uninterrupted multi-pitch, it felt like a great achievement nonetheless.