you may recall our winter efforts at Mizugaki, that were cold, hard sufferfests in a place no one goes to for 4 long frozen months. well i was back again when the road reopened, and in preparation for a trip to Tibet in October (http://iceclimbingjapan.com/news-2015-expedition-dossier-now-available/)
; i got out solo to nail my methods in preparation.
part of the aim was to relax after winter, climbing without big gloves, sharp tools, melting snow and the general grind of cold climbing. i aimed to take my time, not having to keep moving to stay warm, and also to try out some ideas for Tibet - something are better after all learned in a t-shirt not a down jacket.
the main thing to try out was a solo variation of the 'Single Pack' method that reduced having to haul - climb with a leaders pack then pick up the motherload for the jugging lap, the load being left clipped in a drybag whilst leading. repeat for 10 pitches, staying about halfway up.
another thing to try was some cool new stuff Polartec is bringing out - Power Wool. touted as a big deal, id tried it in Tibet last year and new market ready stuff is out soon so Spring would be a good trial.
like all good climbs, things start with an early drive in then carrying a loaded pack to the base of the route. all winter i fantasize about carrying lighter loads in summer, but it never goes that way. what gets left out in hardware gets made up for with water.
i chose an old aided route that now goes at about 5.10b. Japanese ideas about grades and pro use a fuzzy logic that makes less sense the longer the route gets, and it looked a good choice for climbing solo loaded with gear. i wasnt there to push my grades, there we other things to be tested, and even on roped solo i like a good margin. 5.10 was plenty and i would frig what i needed to.
which was a good option as a quick look at the gear altered the reality.
until recently Japanese 'bolted' routes didnt really use bolts. unlike a 12mm deep sunk expansion bolt with a rated hanger flush to the rock, Japanese routes used 'ring bolts' - something more akin to a rivet. sunk only about an inch, with a split and wedge expansion, about 8mm diameter and with a sketchy dangling ring, theres nothing about them that inspires confidence. on aid, ok. handling a fall - nahhhh. thousands of these things adorn routes all over Japan, and they still sell them in shops (yes, proper bolts are available too...) and many of Japans hard routes were done on them (think Giri Giri Boys big alpine stuff).
my guess is they wouldnt hold over a 4 or 5kn loading. what goes first - the shaft or the ring? so it opens up a weird psychological grey area when climbing on them on often crackless slabs - rivet or bolt? especially when roped solo is enough to mess about with.
so the route started with a ladder of these things (plenty more to come too).
the route links a series of about 7 granite slabs, up a spire, with treed ledges between. Mizugaki is a series of spires stacked up into a mountain, with this route being about 250m, topping out at 2200m.
pitches were a good mix of exposed faces, wandering traverses and a high chimney/offwidth that lead out onto the pillars top.
Day 1's pitches ran together seamlessly. the Single Pack system working mostly ok (note: make the drybag a bit smaller than the pack for easiest loading) and most anchors were good - despite the nasty ring bolts the upward oriented anchors that might take a fall relied more on cams, with only the jugging/rap anchors being just onthe rings.
by 5:00pm id found a decent ledge, and fixed / cleaned the 6th pitch for the following day. the night was quiet and calm, only the distant sound of a sound system from a group of boulderers far below (some of Japan's best bouldering is in Mizugaki, put up by the likes of Dai Koyamada) - till about 4am when things got cold as the sunrise wind picked up.
i figured it was time to just get on with it and coffee would smoothe out any bugs.
gambling i had the rope i jugged to my high point and climbed a scary pitch to fix together. too cold to really climb, i aided a few moves up the pitch, the entire thing being a ladder of the sketchy rings. without the coffeee theres no way i could take on that head game. the pitches went at 5.10a & 5.10b - but other than the mid-point belay that had a single real bolt amongst the rings it was 55m on rings only, no cracks for gear, only a few easy (5.8?) moves on frozen hands.
character building for 5:30am.
i topped out at about 10:30 after doing the 2 grim pitches and the higher chimney/offwidth that wasnt much better but at least things had warmed enough to have more free moments off the rings.
at the top i got a phone signal and messages about the quake in Nepal, with several friends climbing around Everest missing. my adventures on paperclip rings suddenly seemed less big a deal.
rapping off was easy, i was down in a few hours. despite not using a haul line to get my gear up i still had a 5mm tag line as (scary) back up and to rap double pitches to get down faster.
at the base of the wall it was just a matter of dumping the little pack into the big one, dumping water and walking out. that evening when i got home i found my friends accounted for, one safe on the north side and another stuck in C1 on Everest, thankfully above BC.
ive been thru a bunch of quakes, in Japan and elsewhere, and tho climbing sharpens my character its still a game - big disasters are not. the sum of a person isnt what they do with the battles they choose, its what they do with the battles forced upon them. the people trapped in the rubble of the Kathmandu shanty towns give 'danger' a real perspective.