Tsurugidake Komado Ridge

The second half of this years Golden Week was dedicated to another one of those ridges of Japanese mountaineering. Although I always try to avoid heavy backpacks and prefer staying in huts, this time there was no escape – 20+kg on a mixed ridge with two nights in the tent. What would sound to European mountaineers’ ears like crazy, it is actual very common practice in the alpinistically underdeveloped Japan. On the other hand, using the tent one can enjoy views – and isolation – which is usually impossible on huts.

Happiness above the clouds

We started from Banbajime, altitude around 800m, in the north-west of Tsurugidake. Tsurugidake (剣岳), often referred to as the mountain of hell, is not the easiest one, even the normal route involves some climbing like a via ferrata. Much less accessible it is from the north-west, but still, the parking lot is full, and on our planned route of descent, the Hayatsuki-ridge (早月尾根), many parties were striving for Tsurugidake.

Starting around 7:30 on Friday with far too heavy backpacks (but I swear, this time I didn’t bring 2l of wine, nor 1kg of mikan!) we walked into the valley, first following the forest road, later along the river. Due to the huge amount of remaining snow we could avoid all the wading (barefeet!) through the river that is described in the literature. Although we brought snow shoes with us, there was no need (another one of those useless items!), since the snow was hard enough to carry even the overweight combination of myself and the heavy backpack.

Along the way into the valley: fortunately enough old snow left that we didn't need to wade through the river several times

After passing through the – usually impassable – gorge we soon reached the entrance to the ridge, a big stone called “Stone of Thunder” (雷岩) from where it is about 300mH up to the ridge on steep but generally easy ground. This is probably one of the funny things in Japanese mountaineering: you start in an area where you feel like in forested low-lands, but at the end you reach zones that resemble European alps. Due to the very fortunate conditions our access to the ridge was not plagued by digging through deep snow, much more a easy walking excursion. Finally we have reached the ridge, which still feels like one of those nice Viennese Forest mountains around Vienna.

We have reached the ridge, still it looks more like pre-alpine forest walk

We reached the place where we planned the first night, at around 1600m altitude, around lunch time, much faster than expected. So we continued for another 2 hours along the ridge to the last very comfortable and huge place, at an altitude of around 2100m. Another then was already pitched up there, we were the second, and at the end there were 5 tents. After fixing everything, building a small wall to protect us from the wind, we dived into the tent (and sleeping bags) and started to prepare some excellent dinner, in my case freeze-dried rize with some kind of ingredients, and a packaged soup (did you expect fresh vegetables?). Fortunately Masumi brought also a small bottle of Shoju, which helped us a lot to devour the rather normal dinner.

What a delicious dinner paired with a bouquet of roses (or socks?)

After the dinner, enriched by a freeze-dried salad, some nuts and beans, we were close to falling asleep straight away, but fortunately we managed to crawl out of the (nice and warm) sleeping bag once more. When we left the tent, the evening sun bathed the whole area into a beautiful light. This is somehow one of the reasons I go into the mountains. Up there, all together maybe 12 people, far from any civilization, we became witnesses of a spectacular evening, a landscape tinted in colors that were close to unreal. The sea (Japanese sea) in the far, the water-filled rice paddies closer by, the snow-covered mountain every around us. And all that without the stupid noises of telephones, televisions, enervating announcements, a completely peaceful surrounding.

Happiness above the clouds

Our colleagues, most of them but two we haven’t seen before, but there are already something like friends, all of us are enjoying this spectacle. At these times I think about the years I worked as professional mountain guide, back in Europe. I am missing it somehow. But then, I am not sure how much I would appreciate it if it would be work.

The last rays of light on the tents

After a relaxing and long night we got up around 4am, had another delicious breakfast (cup ramen for me, rice for Masumi – the first time that Masumi brought more food then myself!), we quickly finished preparations and left around 6am. During the previous evening we have already investigated the next part of the ridge, and friends of us, professionals, warned us that this next part right in the morning will also be one of the most challenging. It started with a very steep snow/ice wall, which fortunately, again due to the perfect conditions and the snow which has fallen in the first half of the Golden Week, was steep, but still just walking up in the steps the previous ones made. Although on the previous day I didn’t use the rope, from this morning on I took Masumi always on the rope.

In the early morning steep snow wall

From then on the ridge became more and more challenging. Rock, ice, snow in permanent exchange, on an at times very narrow ridge with many cornices. I thought I have forgotten my guiding qualities, but it turned out that due to several years of experience (and not allowing Masumi to make too many breaks – Japanese love to make many breaks!) we managed to overtake one of the group that have stayed on the same tent place, two guides with four clients, and keep up with Masumi’s pro-friends.

And finally we actually have to climb and crawl over snow covered rock

Although there are still trees visible, we are currently at an altitude of 2500m, and the ridge is going up and down between the Needle, the Dome, the Matchbox. Unfortunately, contrary to the weather forecase, the weather degenerated from the sunny morning steadily to snow storm and clouds and low sight from around 11am onward. Not that it made orientation much more difficult in these parts.

Higher on the ridge vegetation slowly retreats and real alpine feeling begins

After a steep climb down and rappel we climbed the last meters to the Sannomado col (三の窓), where we planned to put up the tent for the second night. Our friends, the experts, were already there and preparing for their tent. They had more ambitious plans, namely climbing the face of the Zinne on the next day. Since we were more modest in our plans (or better, we didn’t want to carry in addition all the climbing gear!), we decided not to put up the tent at the col, but continue inspite of the bad weather further on to a place as close to the top of Tsurugidake as possible. Since we have been here last year for climbing, at least we knew the area, since the sight was rapidly getting lost.

During the morning the weather has deteriorated constantly, so when we reached Sannomado saddle around noon it was all grey and cold. Still, instead of putting up the tent there as planned we decided to continue to close to the top of Tsurugidake

From the col it was a long and tiring ascent, followed by in principle easy climbing along the ridge, which was severely complicated by the clouds and fog, or better the complete white out. We needed to use compass to find the right direction. Finally we managed to arrive at the col below the top of Tsurugidake. I call it the Col of crazy people, as nearly three years ago I met here the most crazy people I have ever seen, but this is a different story. We set up our tent in strong wind, tried to protect it a bit by walls of snow blocks, and hurried into the tent. The first ours in the tent were horrible, strong wind, all wet inside, freezing cold (we are now at 2850m), and I couldn’t sleep at all. After a simple dinner (same thing as the last day for me) and some nuts we tried to sleep, with occasional excursions in front of the tent for shoveling snow away from the tent. Although I first though that will become the most horrible night in my mountaineering life, after taking some medicine against headache (I haven’t taken enough fluid during the day), I fell sound asleep till 4am in the morning. After the usual breakfast we packed up the stuff (now frozen, heavy) in freezing cold, but at least under a perfectly blue sky, and started at around 6am for the last 100mH to the top. Last nights snow fall and strong wind had destroyed all the old tracks, so I had to make new tracks more or less all the way to the top. But what a small prize for being the first, and alone, on top of Tsurugidake, 2980m, on a absolutely perfect day.

Two tired people - nobody else on the top at that time

From the top we could already study the route of descent, the Hayatsuki ridge. Although we have seen many many people on the previous day, this moring it looked like deserted. Not that I minded, since in the upper parts there is at least one rappel (or steep climb done) and many more steep walls one has to climb down. I prefer this in a less then Omote-Ginza frequented style.

Impressions from the descent

From the long but actually not too challenging ridge we enjoyed nice views onto the Komado ridge, which already looks so far from us.

View onto the middle part of the Komado ridge

Finally, after 2300mH of descent, we are back to the parking lot, our knees are huring, we are sweating from the sudden feeling of summer, our clothes (and especially the shoes) exhale an exquisite aroma, worth to be caught by Coco Chanel for the next series of perfumes.

Safely back in civilization - tired, huring bodies, but happy

Although it was a long and at times challenging climb (especially with the heavy backpacks), it was worth every drop of sweat I lost (and there were many of them!). It was now the third time that I was climbing on/around Tsurugidake, and this mountain – although always challenging – remains full of rewards. Thanks Masumi for this very nice tour!

More photos can be found on my photo gallery Tsurugidake Komado ridge May 2013.

Our track can be downloaded from here 2013.05.03-05.Komadone-Hayatsukione.kml, or enjoyed here:

1 Response

  1. Masumi says:

    Thank you, Norbert.
    I am very happy to climb Mt. Tsurugi, using the Komado-ridge and the Hayatsuki-ridge.
    This route was my 憧れ for long time.
    I can remember the snow steep face, mix climbing of rock, snow and ice, windy and snowy nights, cold air and very nice landscape.
    Thanks again!!

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