A 2,418m tall mountain on the border of Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures and is known to offer the best rock climbing in Japan. It has over thousands of routes, majority consisting of single pitch sport routes, there are also multi-pitch routes and trad climbing and a ton of great bouldering. The rock is granite and super sticky. Just take note, that this area is not easily accessible without your own transport, best would be to rent a car with friends.
Finding the crags
Navigating the forest area to find the crags is not the easiest either, the guidebook for the area is in Japanese, however, I will provide some links below to English sites with Topos and area maps courtesy of http://www.ogawayama.com. There's a Guidebook on Amazon, which is also sold at the Ryokan (Inn), however, it is in Japanese, but the topos in it would be of help and for those that can read Chinese characters they can make out some of the text as Japanese Kanji is very similar.
Cash is king in Japan
especially so far out of the city, they do not accept credit cards, make sure you bring enough to cover food, groceries and accommodation expenses.
The Meet Up
Sunday 6th Sept: A total of 7 of us came together for this trip, we all came in on separate flights and went to meet up at an Airbnb accommodation we booked in Tokyo or met up at the car rental place the following morning.
Our Japanese friend Toyoda helped us book two Suzuki Swifts for the trip. We rented them for 6 days, at about ¥6200 per car per day.
On Sunday morning we got up bright and early to meet our fellow climbers at the car rental place. As climbers from Singapore we were very fortunate to have two fellow Japanese climbers who both work in Singapore to show us around beautiful Japan.
The trip was a bit less than 3 hours North West of Tokyo. It helps to rent a car with a GPS, make sure the GPS is able to switch to English settings, it may be a bit hard without someone who is able to read and understand Japanese to follow the road signs, however with a GPS it should be no problem to find your way.
The address of the climbing lodge called Kimpu Sansou in Ogawayama:
金峰山荘 (click for google maps)
546-2 Kawahake Kawakami, Minamisaku District, Nagano Prefecture 384-1401 Japan
On the way, just before reaching the lodge I recommend to stop by at the supermarket closest to the lodge, it’s named Nana’s and you can stock up on lots of Japanese goodies and supplies before finishing your journey to the lodge.
We reached the Ryokan! You can drive to the front to unload your gear, then proceed to park your vehicle at one of the parking lots there, if you stay in the lodge, parking will be free and you can claim an exit card from the reception desk when you want to drive out to open the gantry.
Find out more about the accommodation and its’ facilities [here].
Sadly upon arriving the weather was not the best, however even with the mild rain we were eager to go check out the potential climbs, so we set off with our gear and water proof jackets. There are a lot of boulders a short distance away from the camp site and Inn.
FYI you are able to rent crash pads from the Lodge for ¥1000 a day.
Sadly the rain got a lot heavier and we had to abandon our expedition and head back to the lodge. Hopefully the weather would be better the next day.
The first proper day of climbs
Monday 7th Sept
Even with the rain we still head out in search for some dry rock to climb. After making our way up a 30min inclined trek we reached our first lead wall. The wall is called Tanuki Iwa, info can be found here.
The wet rock won’t stop Mineaki-san from getting straight to it on Long Long.
While Mineaki-san and Toyoda-san were working on the dual pitch route. I was eager to get my hands on some rock. To the right of Long Long was a route which we originally thought was a 6b, so I went for it as the first half was pretty dry. The first 4 draws were no issue at all, until you reach an overhang portion with a slight traverse to the right on a small high step foothold, that goes from a very comfortable undercling to a very uncomfortable right-hand side sloper which you would then have to proceed to match with both hands, switch feet, and right foot smear to go to a far right-hand hold. At this point, I realised that this set of moves could no way be a 6b climb and after falling several times on that section decided to give a more experienced outdoor climber a go.
Michelle and Mel, both very experienced outdoor climbers, went ahead to give the route a go and they fared a lot better than me.
After Michelle, Mel and Chris’s attempts, it dawned on us that the route was actually graded as a 7a+… not an appropriate first warm up climb. Mel ended up getting to the 9th draw.
After Toyoda-san and Mineaki-san finished their climb on Long Long, Moribata-san and myself decided to give it a go, by this time most of the route has dried up. I took the lead to the first anchor point, Moribata seconded up. Then the others decided to join us up there :)
Mel took the lead up the next pitch and Chris followed up, but then it started to pour down again. We had to quickly get everyone back down in the rain and pack up. Sadly, once again our climb was cut short due to the unfortunate weather.
Wet weather program
Tuesday 8th Sept, Indoor bouldering and sightseeing at Matsumoto
The forecast looked pretty grim, so we decided to drive to Matsumoto and spend the night there. Matsumoto is the nearest major city to Ogawayama, it’s about a 1.5 hr drive from Ogawayama.
Our first stop was Matsumoto Castle. It was built in 1504 and is one of the most well preserved castles in Japan and is listed as a national treasure.
Next up, traditional soba. There was a queue and being Singaporean, if there is a queue that means that the food must be good right?
We were all super eager to get our climb on, even if we had to resort to plastic holds. We made our way to Edge & Sofa, a local indoor climbing gym.
Personally I love heading to indoor bouldering gyms in foreign countries, there’s almost no better way to meet new people than sitting in front of a boulder problem and trying to figure out a solution together, this transcends even the language barrier, I’ve been to several bouldering gyms within Tokyo as well where I’ve made friends with fellow climbers through sign language, google translate and cheering on your fellow climber progressing on a route. Ah, I love this sport…
The problems set here were pretty damn awesome. A lot of thought was put into them, especially the back wall where the routes were set in a competition style. We spent just over 3 hours here, unfortunately, our group had more casualties during our indoor session than the actual outdoor climbing. Mel injured her knee and I overextended my thumb :(
Just some pointers to take note about some gym etiquette in Japan, unlike in Singapore where a lot of boulderers tend to sit around on the mats right in front of the wall, this hardly happens in the boulder gyms I have been to in Japan, they tend to keep the mats clear and sit instead on seats provided nearby, if they do sit on mats, it’s usually quite a distance away from the wall. Also, the same basic respect for letting anyone finish their climb first before attempting your own problem on the same wall applies here too. Another thing to note is the cleanliness, most places you will visit in Japan are extremely neat and tidy, this applies to the climbing gyms as well. As per usual, walking shoes are always meant to be taken off and placed in the shoe racks provided and your personal belongings to be placed in either shelves or lockers provided and not to be left lying around the bouldering areas.
That evening we spent the night at a Ryokan Hotel within Matsumoto, which had a Japanese style bath with spring water pumped from a nearby hot spring.
Miso, Wasabi and Boulders.
Wednesday 9th Sept 2015.
I started to believe this whole trip was cursed by bad weather, we were greeted in the morning by rain again. The first stop was a local place where they produced Miso.
Moribata explaining to us tourists the process of producing good miso paste. It takes one to three years to produce Miso which fermented in large barrels, usually the longer the fermentation process the better the Miso, different parts of Japan have different ways of producing it.
After our Wasabi experience, something amazing happened.
The sky started to clear and the sun came out. We rushed to our cars and made our way back to Ogawayama!
We quickly dropped all our bags back at our rooms at the Inn, rented a crash pad and headed straight to some boulders.
This problem was super and relied heavily on a very high right heel-hook which Michelle was able to heel very nicely and finish the route.
There are many good boulders located really close to the campsite. It got dark pretty quickly from when we arrived back at Ogawayama, so we had to start heading back to the Inn to rest up for the next day, hopefully the weather holds.
As the sky cleared a bit I wanted to go check out the night sky and see if I was able to get some decent shots of the stars.
If you have clear skies, do go out and do some stargazing, due to the low light pollution (unlike Singapore) you’ll spend quite some time counting stars.
River crossing & Tree climb free solos
Thursday 10th Sept. Imouto Iwa & Mara Iwa walls
No river will stop an eager climber. This was supposed to be the easiest crossing point to the other side, luckily we managed to stay mostly dry.
Even when we finally have some morning sunshine, we still find ways to get wet. To reach the climbing area we planned for today we had to cross the shallow river / stream that separates the campsite area from an area called The Family Rocks which has 20 walls, with the recent heavy rain the water was deeper and faster flowing than it should have been.
After another 15-20 minute up slope hike and navigation we reached the bottom of Mara Iwa (translated Penis Rock, you’ll see why when you look at the topo). This area has several walls in close proximity of each other offering over 50 routes. You can definitely spend a whole day in this area, it also offers different types of graded climbs. On the left of Mara Iwa is Imouto Iwa (translated Little Sister Rock, don’t ask, I know what you’re thinking, why are these next to each other…).
We decided to go try some routes between these two rocks, however, to get there you need to free solo up a tree… I guess this is considered a warm up climb…just don’t get your bag stuck…
Our climbs for the day
Once up, facing where you scrambled up, you’ll have the back of Mara Iwa on the left and the back of Imouto Iwa on the right. Take note, if you go further up (the area behind from where the shot above is taken) you have an awesome elevated area to take some great pictures of whoever climbs either wall (as you’ll see from the pics I took below). Also, there’s a lot of loose rocks on the ground here, do ensure you wear a helmet if you’re standing further down.
From the perspective above to the right we all did a route called Ayaka *** (5.10c / 6a) on Imouto Iwa, it’s a classic 3 star route, however, it felt harder than what it is graded as, a very awesome climb though, with pretty good holds (if you find them). From the start, the route goes slowly to the right.
To the left is a route which we all did call Lali Guras (5.11a / 6b+) on the back of Mara Iwa. Slaby route with big moves. From the start, the route goes slowly to the left.
We all managed to at least get two climbs in, then sadly, once again the weather started to turn to rain.
A quick selfie on the way back while crossing the water obstacle again.
We headed back to the Inn and decided to have a short rest and hope the weather clears again, which after a while it did. Off to the boulders! We headed to the boulder in close proximity to the camp site as we did not have much daylight left.
The second hold after the start was super-duper sharp, it goes around the outside right to the top.
It got dark pretty quickly, time to head back and get up to this evening’s shenanigans. That morning we bought some miniature fireworks from Nana’s…If you try this I take no responsibility for you burning yourself ;)
The Last Day
Friday 11th Sept. Saiko not a Roof.
It’s always sunny weather on the last day of your trips, seems to be a trend for me. Before making the 3 hour drive back to Tokyo we wanted to get some final climbing in. We made the trek up the hill starting from the campsite towards a wall called Saiko Roof (Great Roof), it’s part of the Campsite Crags, so really close by. Don’t let the name deceive you, Saiko Roof is actually a big slab and not at all a roof.
We did two routes here, to the right is Nadeshi ** 19m (5.11a / 6b+) and to the left of it Shiraito ** 16m (5.10c / 6b), they both end at the same anchor point. Nadeshi is a big slab with reachy moves, puny footholds and big gap between each draw.
My last lead climb of the trip. I was quite scared on this route as the distance between each draw was pretty far apart, I haven’t been so scared to take a fall in a while. Many people I know call climbers crazy, why put yourself at risk and in these kind of scary situations? Yet, this is partly what I love about it… I put myself in these situations because I have to tell myself to not be scared, everything will be fine, overcome the fear and just go for that next move and focus on the climb. Then that great feeling when you’ve finished and you think back at it...that wasn’t so bad, why did I panic? Anyway, falling is essential for advancing. The saying goes: “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying hard enough.” I have that quote pasted on the wall at my desk at work.
On the way back to the Inn we wanted to head to a boulder called Whale Rock to check out a famous boulder problem called Captain Ahab (V6). There were several other climbers there already who set up mats, they were really friendly and let us all have a go using their pads.
Me on Ana Shain (V4) left of Captain Ahab on Whale Rock. Just as we were packing up I decided to have one last go and finished it.
By Kai Reuber.
Most shots were taken with an Olympus OMD EM-10
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