I’ve wanted to learn how to climb ice since I was a kid but never got around to it because of one bad excuse or another… But all that changed when I was asked to help with an ice climbing trip as a belayer and gear hauler in Nagano. Before the trip though I didn’t want to be a total ice climbing noob so I asked my friend Tetsuya to take me out to Takatori Yama, the local quarry, to get familiar with climbing with axes and crampons. Takatori Yama is a great place to learn ice climbing, if you cannot learn on real ice that is, because the ancient compressed volcanic ash has some similarities to ice in terms of holding a pick and crampon points.
The climbing at the quarry was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and amped me up to get out on real ice and put my newfound knowledge to work. Like I said before old man winter has been a little slow in visiting Japan. The typical weather patterns that engulf Japan during the winter were about six weeks late in forming. Consequently snow resorts are just getting started with some significant snowfall and while it has been cold enough for ice to form in the mountains, the formations aren’t nearly as big, thick, and significant as they usually are. Nevertheless we set off for Iwane Sanso, a beautiful hotel/ryokan nestled in the Okuchichibu Mountains, a stone’s throw away from Ogawayama (the paradise where I went rock climbing a few months prior)! Iwane Sanso also sports a 10 meter tall artificial rock climbing wall in their front yard!
It was a great day of climbing, despite a lingering cold. I was quite surprised at how much weight I could place on each of the axe and crampon points that went only 10mm (~0.5″) or so into the ice! The group had a blast and we each did ten or so laps on the wall throughout the day, lounging in the sun, snacking on onigiri, and soaking in the views of the majestic mountains covered in striking rock faces.
On a random side note: Last year I went on a trip to two Post Towns Tsumago & Magome (I wrote an article about it for Taiken Japan, for more on what a Post Town is check out the article here). During that trip we stopped in at a museum dedicated to the famous Japanese novelist, Shimazaki Toson. His novels about Japan (among many other things) have been translated into many languages and are quite famous in Japan. He wrote a book called “Chikuma River Sketches”. The Chikuma River flows through the central valley of the Okuchichibu Mountains. Here is a shot of the river, which is a ten minute drive from Iwane Sanso and Ogawayama. Looks like some good fishing…