Ice Climbing Trip to the Land of the Rising Sun
Text: Albert Leichtfried
For skiers the Japanese Alps are already a well known paradise. The strong winter in Hokkaido, the most northern island of Japan, offers loads of powder and cold temperatures. This should actually make it a perfect ice climbing spot as well. However, there is very little information around Europe about Japanese ice and the possibilities to actually climb there. A trip to a land, where you virtually can’t communicate, where the normal course of life is totally different than the one you are used to, and on which you are furthermore searching for climbable ice, is a real adventure. But eventually this is what Markus Bendler, Hermann Erber and I wanted to face up at the end of this ice climbing season.
A leap in the dark
After long preparations for this journey one thing came clear immediately: Without any help of a local or someone who speaks Japanese and is familiar with the Japanese culture and mentality you are going to be totally lost over there. Therefore I tried to contact the local ice climbers and asked them for help. This came out to be a real challenge because in Hokkaido there is only a bunch of ice climbers and most of them don’t speak English at all. As well, as I had to find out, it is not in the Japanese mentality to answer any question with “Sorry, I do not know”. This fact didn’t make the preparation any easier. In the end it took me about two months to find few climbers who where actually capable of understanding the questions we had. With only little knowledge about what was going to happen to us in Hokkaido we jumped on the plane with direction to Sapporo on February 26th.
Making plans with the hospitable locals
When we arrived in Japan we experienced the totally different world and mentality of the people more than once. When we picked up our RAV4 at the car rental we already caused the first sensation. The woman at the rental office couldn’t believe her eyes, when she found out that we weren’t able to speak any Japanese and that we were actually searching for the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car.
Sebastion Nault, who turned out to be the most helpful contact over there, picked us up from the airport and supported us the whole time in Hokkaido. On the next day he invited the whole local climbing scene and his students for outdoor education to his flat. With a spontaneous slide show we talked about former adventures and while having sushi and beer we planned our time on the island together with the friendly and hospitable locals. Although we landed in Sapporo during a huge snow storm, the ice climbing season was reaching its end as well in Hokkaido. We decided to start off with the warmer spots at the coast, leaving us the possibility to climb on the cooler spots in the centre of the island in case of a thaw period.
Successful start – first ascent of Lector WI7
Our first climbing destination was a coastal spot called Raiden. Directly on the sea side we climbed Nairu WI6 and Runzee II WI5. I wasn’t only satisfied with the fact that the salty air on the seaside was having a soothing effect to my sustaining cold, but even more that we had a lot of fun climbing on the challenging Japanese ice already on our first day.
At the weekend Genki Narumi – one of the Japanese ice freaks – joined us and showed us a mixed climbing crag in Chiyosubetu where the hardest mixed routes of Japan with routes up to M9+ can be found. On the way to the crag we were attracted to a stupendous persistent ice formation sighted right in the middle of the mixed routes. When we had a closer look we decided to skip the mixed routes for then because we wanted to have a go on this ice monster with its giant natural ice roof at the exit. The third pitch had incredibly steep ice and we had a hard struggle in red pointing it. Because this tough formation taught us a lesson in waterfall ice climbing we named the line Lector and graded it WI7.