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vicino a Okuhida-onsengō-nakao, Gifu (Japan)
Traffic jams in Nagano caused the trip to Kamikochi to last 1 hour more. After about 3 hours' sleep we rode a taxi (the trunk wouldn't close and the driver fastened some bands so that nothing fell) as the access to Kamikochi is restricted to buses and taxis.
5:40 AM, among hundreds of bustling mountaineers readying themselves we started from the bus terminal, shouldering a 30-kg backpack . We reached Yokoo some 12 km further, at around 8:00 AM, no clouds to be seen. The path was free of snow 99% of way and even dry. About 1.5 to 2 km more on busy trails and we reached the bottom of the 3rd gully, our access way to Yokoo ridge.
Gradually increasing in slope the gully was streaked with a vein of fallen rocks remainder of the force of nature and how small we stand in front of the mountain. I put on crampons and relied on my ice axe from the start. High temperatures caused the snow to be soft and flat footing was borderline on the last third, a switch to the more secure yet more tiring front pointing technique.
After the gully a steep and bushy ridge followed for a change of setting. Yari sharp and free of snow emerged through branches in the background.
We passed the steep section and most of the trail went through low bushes while sections of rotten snow sometimes wouldn't support my weight.
The landscape opened progressively in all directions and at 3 PM we got to a flat snowy patch ideal to make camp.
We stayed outside until it was dinner time. I expected a purple-colored sky for sunset but clouds accumulated around the chain to the West and the sky remained mainly grayish until the sun completely disappeared.
The clouds dissipated under the moonlight, the moon almost full, offering enough light for night shots.
Overall a great day.
More pictures here: https://drive.google.com/folder/d/0B8dPS_LBwxeLfkpzZ2N4UU56eWlka1R4VHhXcFFDWFhUaXdWYlgwY1pOS09wZGtCc3VWRjg/edit
I woke up during the night for a few pictures. The moonlight was too strong for crisp view of the stars but the setting moon around 2:30 AM when we rose was a beautiful sight.
After an easy slope we got to Yokoo no Ha the technical rocky stretch of the ridge. The use the rope and set protections using slings. I-san led an I removed the protections going last.
A second pitch required a lot of time for one of us and only after that and a steep downhill were we back on snowy surfaces. We could see the whole ridge all the way up the pass connecting the Yari's south ridge. Vertically 400m to go up this relatively steep snow ridge, exposed on both sides, with warm temps causing the snow to be soft (poor axe purchase and risk of slip of a foot) yet the absence of wind eased our task.
A group of skiers ascended the West side and skied down back as we met a pair of climbers going down the yokoo ridge. Walking in their stair-like tracks made it easier for the last few minutes to gain the pass.
The weather was getting cloudy and 45 minutes later whenn reaching Nakadake our first 3000m peak, we were in the clouds. The weather forecast had just been released: rainy and windy weather on 5/4 from the middle of the night and sunny & windy on 5/5. This prompted a change on plan for the rest on the adventure. We would go to Yari but gave up the dai kiretto and go back down to Yokoo.
On the way North towards Yari I saw 2 raicho and that was the last ingredient missing for the day: a bit of fauna.
As we closed in on Yari, the trail was free of snow. We removed crampons and ice axe and reached the hut just below the peak. Dozens and dozens of climbers were on the mountain face.
30 minutes is the standard map time from hut to summit. A steep rock with chains and ladders, just a couple of icy stretches easily avoided by walking on their side, it took me 12 minutes to reach the top and I waited 15 more for the last of our group. Surrounded by clouds we took a group picture and went back to the hut.
I geared up to prepare my slide down the snow slope along the yari sawa trail.
The top was just the right slope and I followed the tracks from a precious climber. In a matter of a few seconds I slid my way a couple of hundred meters and fell asleep lying on the snow while waiting for the others for what seemed an infinity. After walking a few minutes the slope got suitable for another slide, longer slide on a clear track, not too seep so I didn't have to break.
Then the trail became almost flat and progressively the snow level decreased and below 2000m if was a melting slosh and finally we had more dirt than snow and we got to Yokoo in the dark at 19:30, 15 hours after our morning departure.
700 yen per head, to spend the night but water available (and no need to melt snow).
Overall: another great eventful day with wonderful landscapes to animate my dreams for many nights to come.
More pictures here:
A night spent under light rain and a late rise for a late start around 9 AM.
After a change of plan due to storms at high altitude we were targeting Karasawa campsite just 3 hours from Yokoo.
Clouds and light rain, nothing much to see or comment on except a few kids some not even 6 years old, I wondered if they slept in tent...
We pitched the tent around noon and tried to dry as much equipment as we could around the stove in the hut.
Overall a rainy transition day between two main objectives, only 2 crappy pictures.
A night spent under the tent with moderately strong winds and rain, the weather had considerably improved as we rose at 2:30 AM.
Around us the many tents were bustling with activity as we departed with light backpack shortly before sunrise. A handful of climbers preceded us in the ascent towards Hotaka hut, and a crowd followed in our tracks.
Clouds obstructed the sky and blocked sunrise, the snow was almost as hard as soft ice and good traction easily obtained with the crampons while it was hard to drive the ice axe more than a couple of centimeters at best in the hard medium.
The slope increased almost exponentially to a degree requiring front pointing for security as flat footing became impractical. It leveled down to a more reasonable slope in the final 50 meters.
A fresh breeze blew on the ridge and I donned my jacket while waiting for the rest of our group I had passed in the ascent.
The ridge was partly free of snow but loose rocks being a hazard we had to go up 2 very steep snow/ice sections. The wind meter read 6 m/s sustained and gusts around 10 to 12 m/s while the weather cleared and progressively dark blue conquered the sky bit by bit until clouds were just remote and tiny in the distance.
We took turns with other group to take pictures in front of Oku Hotaka summit, after a rather long rest with warm weather and even the luxury to listen to a couple playing musicc for a few minutes we started to go back the same way surrounded with lighter landscapes.
We negotiated the snow walls and secured T-san with the rope while the rest of us unclimbed unprotected.
When we returned to the hut there had been an accident and 2 climbers had slid to their death on the snow face between the camp field and Hotaka hut.
I gave up the idea to slide down, partly because the mountain police was advising for caution after the accident, partly because the sheer slope was all too impressive.
Under a blazing sun the snow had considerably softened, making each step more slippery. I unclimbed my way down a good 150 vertical meter showing the ice axe shaft 50 cm deep every other step for security.
Back at the tent we packed out gear and had as much of it dried under the strong sun and started the slow descent to Yokoo with snow first that progressively turned to slosh, water puddles and dry dirt.
From Yokoo to Kamikochi bridge 3h05 map time, we walked separately. I only paused for a few pictures and got to Kappabashi bridge in 1h48, passing many hikers and more tourists on my way. I-san reached me 30 minuted later and the last two 55 minutes after me, too late for the Kamikochi ice cream, which was excellent.
Overall a great day, the final of a series of 4 days of mountaineering in the Kita Alps.
More pictures here:
Best shots of the 4 days: