This blog is dedicated to the vertical world, especially the harder to find crags in Japan. I’ll introduce some of my favorite areas, and some of my favorite climbs from those areas. Don’t expect super-rad first ascents in the alpine, tales of V13 highballs, or mono-dynos over micronuts. You can expect approach beta and info about some really quality moderate trad climbs that I’ve been able to climb in some pretty fantastic Japanese mountain terrain.
From the micro-crimp pulling go-dan climbers to the 5.14RX first ascensionist to the hardcore Himalayan alpinists, there is some seriously sick stuff getting thrown down by Japanese climbers. But just like in war, where every front-line soldier is supported by 25 people behind the scenes, there is a thriving scene of recreational climbers here. That’s where I fit in.
In this blog I’ll try to give you the information you need to visit Japanese areas as a respectful community member.
It’s my hope to make a bridge between the Japanese climbing scene and… you. During my early days, I struggled to find consistency with climbing. A lot of that was due to the draws of the nightlife. As you would expect, a nasty hangover and the mental challenges on the sharp-end do not go well together. This chaotic approach to climbing, and also an unformed concept of where climbing fit into my life, led to feeling out of place, and not really belonging to a climbing community here. I found it hard to find good information about the crags, and felt like Japan didn’t offer much climbing for me. That’s when I started to travel.
Every holiday I got, I’d be bouncing out of the country as soon as possible to get to some really awesome spots as quickly as possible: Tonsai, Yangshuo, Squamish, Laos, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Blue Mountains, Grampians, Arapiles, Liming, Chullila, the Bugaboos. The draw, so I thought, was only the rock. But as I learned, trip after trip, the real draw was the tribe. My fellow rope monkeys who chased the buzz of pulling hard moves above their gear. What, I didn’t realize, until last year when I started climbing regularly in my local crag, Nabari, is that a warm and welcoming community of serious and adventurous climbers was right under my nose the whole time.
The community here is so strong, and there is a true love of the climbing areas. The stewardship, and work that goes into maintaining the areas and access to the areas is truly awesome. The warmth and joy I’ve experienced through the local scene is priceless, and I can only say that I want to do as much as possible to give back to that community. In this blog I’ll try to give you the information you need to visit Japanese areas as a respectful community member. To be fair, if you’re able to get along at your local crag, chances are you’ll be fine here too, but every once in a while there are little things that are just really nice to know. I try and find those and pass them along.
In the coming posts, I’ll introduce my home crag, Nabari, a paradise of pure crack climbing. I’ll introduce the four main crags which have around 100 different routes, I’ll pay special attention to some of the climbs I’ve done there. I’ll also introduce Mizugaki, a magical place of granite wonder deep in the mountains of Yamanashi. I’ll look at Mikura, a wonderful granite crag in Hiroshima with hundreds of routes from crack, to slab, to face climbing. And finally Odoukaigan in Kochi prefecture, a stunning seaside crag, which, as my friend OGT puts it, has unlimited development potential for the motivated. Stick around, sign up to be notified of new content down below, and come check out some of these special places with me.
Daiichi Ganpeki or Daiichi, which translates roughly to First Cliff, has the widest array of climbs in the 5.10 range in the Kochi-Dani. The pitches tend to be shorter, but it’s possible to creatively link pitches together and create fairly long climbs. With the development of the “Deep wall” to climbers right and back of the main wall, there will be something open on even the busiest days. Most of the pitches start off ledges on the main wall, so multipitch skills are a must.
Daiichi shares the main approach with Sunnyside. Park here and carefully follow the rules about marking your car as a climber’s car with a brightly-colored towel.
Descend to the river and walk downstream about 50 meters to just upstream from where the river narrows.
Cross here following the shallowest line aiming for the large boulder across the stream.
Local climbers ask that you do not leave your sandals here, but leave them closer to the entry point to the forest. This is because caretakers cannot tell which crag you are at if you leave them just at the fording point.
Head downstream after you cross, after about 100 meters the boulders will end, and you will enter a flat grassy area, look for the tree with all of the nails in it. Put your orange marker and sandals here. Continue along the riverside for another 150 meters or so until the approach trail heads up into the forested hillside. Contiue up for a few more minutes and the crag will come into view.
As you approach the wall from the hike up, you will find yourself on a flat area. There are no climbs starting at the base of the cliff directly above this, instead, you can go to the left most side of the cliff to the base of a left-facing corner, this is the start of Wing (5.9), which goes up 40 meters to the top of the band, or you can split after about 10 meters of climbing and climb the offwidth on the left to the top of a large pillar, this is Chokuto (5.10a). Slightly right from the flat part at the base of the cliff is Saki-Saka (5.10a). Further right along the base of the cliff is Koke-Otoko 5.10c.
1. Wing, 40m (5.9) Start up the thin finger crack in the left facing corner, climb fun hands to a ledge, then continue up the double cracks. Pull through a roof higher up being careful of rope drag. Traverse right under another large roof to an unprotected wide section at the top, or keep traversing right to the anchor of Gold Finger. Many people cut this climb into two pitches, stop the first pitch at the ledge on the left about 15 meters up just after the cupped hands section. If doing in a single pitch take extras in the .75-#3 range. Gear: SR
2. Chokuto, 5.10a (15m) Climb the start of wing, stay in the crack until it slowly widens to offwidth. SR + #5
3. Yanko Maritai, 5.10d (15m) About 5 meters to the right of the start of Wing is a series of broken face cracks. Follow these up and left to the anchor of Chokuto. Gear: ?
4. Dekai-tsura Direct, 5.10+ (15m) Climb the same start as Yanko Maritai, but take the broken cracks more or less directly up instead of going left. Break right along the ledges to access RS, Ojyozu and Snakeman. Gear: .3-#2, nuts
5. RS, 5.11c (25m) climb the same start as Yanko, and Dekai, but climb the steep finger crack starting on the far left end on Snakeman terrace.
6. Goldfinger, 5.10 (20m) Climb the crack just up and right from Chokuto-terrace. The crux comes midway when the crack shrinks down to flaring fingers. Gear SR to #3
7. Submarine, 5.10- (20m) Climb the appealing hand crack up from the anchor of Dekaitsura-direct. Climb through an awkward slot finding gear in the cracks in the back. At the top climb on top of the pillar for the anchor. Gear: SR
8. Ojyozu, 5.10c (35m) Climb the cruxy finger crack right off snakeman terrace protecting carefully with small gear. Follow the crack up and around a traversing roof. Gear: SR + small gear
9. Snakeman, 5.11 (32m) Climb the stunning, sustained, thin hand crack. Where the crack terminates carefully transfer to the arete, make some delicate slab moves before climbing blocky terrain to the anchor. A fantastic climb, and possibly the best line at the crag. Gear: SR + extra .75 and 1. No #4. One #3 is fine.
10. Kondo-san, 5.10c (35m) Climb the fistcrack which slowly shrinks. Transfer to the crack to the right before finishing with some easy face climbing. You can approach this climb by rappelling from Hana terrace, or so I’ve heard by climbing 5.9 (unprotected?) around the arete from Snakeman. Gear: SR
There are two climbs on the ground to the left of Sakisaka of which I don’t have information of. One is called San-ji which is 11a, the other is Sankutoplutonium which is apparently 11b, and which links into plutonium up high.
The following climbs are reached by traversing to the left of Momonga terrace. Climb the fist crack to a ledge, then climb a short unprotected 5.8 chimney to Hana terrace.
11. The Nabari, 5.11d (32m) Climb the crack just left and down from Hana terrace. Gear: ?
12. Hana, 5.10- (20m) Climb the perfect hand crack off Hana terrace until it shrinks, then switch to the larger crack on the right. Save a #3 and a #4 for the top. Pull an awkward move to get to the chains on the pillar to the right. Many people have taken nasty falls at the top because they didn’t save a larger piece for the traverse. Gear: .5-#4 + two or three each 3s and 4s
13. Plutonium, 5.10c (20m) Climb the slowly widening crack to the top of the pillar. This climb shares the anchor with pitch two of Saki-saka. Gear: SR + #5 and #6.
14. Saki-saka, 5.10a, 3 pitches – P1 5.10a climb the corner crack to a roof. Place some good protection and work out the cruxy moves to pull through the face. Traverse a little left on momonga terrace and belay at the base of the right-facing corner. P2 5.8 – Climb the corner crack to the top of the pillar. P3 5.10a – Climb the wide crack. Descend by rappelling.
15. Espuri, 5.11b (30m) From Momonga terrace climb up the recessed crack. Gear: ?
16. Blue, 5.10 (30m) Start from Kore-nan terrace and traverse left. Make the airy step left to grovel up the wide and dirty double crack. Take plenty of slings as pro tends to be found deep in the cracks. Be careful of rope drag at the top. Gear: SR + #5
17. Fox Cry, 5.11c (24m) From Kore-nan terrace, this is the second crack from the left. Climb the tricky finger crack that slowly widens to thin hands, pull the excellent roof and keep trucking to the anchor. Watch rope drag at the top. A 5.11a variation climbs Blue for the first 5 meters, skipping the finger crux, then traverses right along a small stance and enters the thin hand crack. Gear: SR + small pieces
18. Takadaya, 5.11a (24m) Climb the second crack from the right from Kore wa terrace. Climb the tricky and thin start carefully placing small protection. Continue climbing the unrelenting crack to pull the roof. Gear: SR + small pieces
19. Kore wa nan desu ka, 5.10-, (24m) This is the right most crack from Kore Wa terrace. Climb an easy hand crack to a good stance. Then climb the wildly overhanging perfect hand crack. After pulling onto the ledge, trend up and left to the anchor. Gear: SR
20. Mossman (Koke Otoko), 5.10+ (10m) Climb the hand crack to a small stance, then do a tricky move to enter the finger crack. A 5.11a variation skips the rest at the stance and goes directly to the finger crack.
*Since I published this in December 2020, there has been some development of some climbs at the crag, mainly to the left of Mackerel. But also, in between Catfish and Galaxy. I will update the information here in due time, but please take care to double check your route before heading up.* (Feb 9th, 2021)
Morning Light gets great sun from early in the morning, even in the winter. It’s the go to crag for cold weather. There are about 20 established climbs in the 5.9-5.12 range, some climbs are short, 10 meters, others are up to 40 meters long. The crag was developed around 2010, and then abandoned after a few years. In 2019, people started visiting again, and an effort was made to clean the routes. Today it is a really nice crag with a well maintained base. However, if you see a way to help clean up the routes, or make the base of the crag more people friendly, please use the tools provided to do so.
Follow the general approach for the Kochi Valley and park here. Look across the valley from the parking lot, slightly to your left and you will see the Morning Light crag. Across the road to the left, go down the staircase to the river. Follow the river downstream about 50 meters and you will see a large square boulder. Cross towards the boulder and aim to land on the opposite shore just downstream from it. Walk along the shore until you see red tape on a tree, this is the approach trail marker. Leave your sandals/waders and bright colored marker here. Please place your marker so that it is easily visible from the road. Hike up the trail, it is a steep 15 minute hike with a few fixed ropes. When you reach the crag, you will be at the base of Mackerel (5.9, 15m). The next climb to the right is Catfish (5.10b, 20m).
Here are the climbs from left to right.
1. Unnamed, 5.10+ (7m) This short but stout flaring finger crack is about 15 meters to the left of Mackerel. Carefully place your protection. Climbed on-sight ground up in 2021. Gear: .00-1″
2. Paprika*, 5.10 (10m) Short but interesting. Good movement on a steep 5″ crack. Gear: #3-#6, double #5s
3. Mackerel, 5.9 (15 m) Start in a widening hand crack, up the chimney to the double crack. Gear: SR
4. Catfish*, 5.10 (20m) Thin hands slowly widens to OW. Gear: SR (+#5 for the top)
5. Snapper (Catfish var), 5.10b (20m) Variation starts on the crack to the right of catfish, traversing in to the top crack midway up.
6. Get Wild. 5.9 (23m) Needs to be cleaned, many loose blocks
7. Rockfish 5.10- (20m) Climb the right facing corner just to the left of Kitty-chan Pillar. This climb requires careful protection for your first couple of pieces. Do an insecure crux move above these pieces, climb nice hands until the crack widens into an easy, dirty chimney. Most of the chockstones are secure, but climb carefully over these, slinging for protection. SR, take a #6 to place just before the first chockstone.
The following routes start on top of Kitty-chan Pillar
8. Galaxy, 5.10 (20m) Climb the rightfacing corner. Gear: SR
9. Android*, 5.10b (24m) Carefully climb the disjointed crack and face holds while placing small cams. Climb through the flaring .5 crux to fun hands. Gear: SR + small offset cams
The following routes start just below and to the right of Kitty Chan Pillar.
10. Bonito 5.11a (24m) Carefully face climb past two bolts to enter the crack system above. Climb double cracks to stop at the Android anchor. Gear: SR
11. Open Air (Bonito ext) 5.11c 38m Skip the Android anchor, and head up through the thin crack. Clip 3 more bolts.
12. Morning Glory***, 5.11a (35 m) – Start on a ledge just above and to the right of Bonito. Climb a wonderfully varied crack until the sustained thin hands crux. Save a number 4 for the top. Careful not to let your rope suck your cams into the crack as you pull the bulge. Gear: SR + extra .5-#1
The following routes start on the ledge up and to the right of Morning Glory.
13. Her Rock, 5.11b (35m)
14. Rainbow, 5.10d (35m)
15.Berket Corner, 5.12a (35m)
The following routes start down and to the right of the Berket Corner ledge
16. Wide Show*, 5.10c (20m) Scramble up the chimney to the ledge underneath overhanging offwidth. Gear: SR + #5 and #6
17. World Wide Web, 5.9 (20m)
Follow the cliff all the way to the right and just above a fixed rope are two climbs.
The Kochi Valley area outside of Nabari in Mie prefecture is a true heaven for crack climbing. The valley is not just used for climbers, but also “sweetfish” or Ayu fishermen, and for tourists enjoying the landscape. It’s a series of Welded Tuff crags that jut up the Kochi valley walls. The Tuff forms columns which make up cliffs whose faces are conspicuously devoid of features and many times even friction, meaning that you climb the cracks between the columns. Imagine Trout Creek in Oregon, or Devil’s tower in Wyoming to get a sense of the features. The lack of friction assisting in your upward progress means that your jams have to be perfect, or you will slip. The grades tend to be stiff in Nabari, with many first-time visitors cursing and expressing disbelief at the difficulty of a 5.8, not that there are too many 5.8s to begin with. The vertical nature of the columns means that the majority of climbs are in the 5.10-5.11 range. Everytime you visit Nabari, you learn a bit more about rock climbing, usually a subtlety of jamming, gear placement, or mindset.
The standard rack at Nabari is a double rack from .3 – #4 camalot with a #5 being necessary for some climbs and #6 as well. One climb at Sunnyside requires a #7 and #8. Most climbs require modifications to the standard rack. An 80 meter rope is necessary for the longer climbs at Byobu-Iwa, otherwise a 70 should be fine. ALWAYS KNOT YOUR ROPE.
Topos (or lack thereof) and Access Issues
There is no publicly published topo at the time, but there are laminated topos at the crag for Byobu and Daichi as of (12/2020). With some luck, I can write my own topo and publish it here. Access for the crag is always on edge, with a series of accidents one crag was permanently shut down, and since then access is tenuous. One more accident could shut down access for everyone. Local climbers work very hard to maintain access, so how awful would it be for a visitor to have an accident that shuts down local climbing to the area. Therefore, Nabari is not recommended as a beginner area, if you are a beginner, it’s best to find a confident 5.10 crack leader to take you out for your first time.
In order to maintain access in the future, the Kochi Valley Safety Monitoring Association asks that you follow these rules:
Don’t use any flames.
Take away any of your garbage
Stick to the trails and don’t impact the forested areas
Don’t add bolts or pitons to existing climbs
No guiding or other business related activities are allowed in the valley.
As the rocks are shrine-like, please do not say or do disrespectful things.
In addition, local climbers ask that you follow the following best practices:
Wear a helmet. It’s easy to get a rope behind your leg while crack climbing and flipping upside down. There are also loose rocks on some routes.
Always knot your rope. Many routes are long, so make sure to put a stopper knot in your rope. A 60 meter rope will not be long enough for many routes at Nabari, in some cases an 80 is necessary.
Do a safety check with your partner before every climb. Harness, knot, device.
When rappelling, take extra caution to check: knots in your rope, your rope reaches the ground, you’ve got a backup, and your rope is long enough for the rappel. In addition, don’t be H.A.D.: check your harness, anchor, and device.
If you see something, say something. Try to make a good atmosphere with the other climbers so that there will be no hesitation to call out dangerous or unsafe crag behavior.
The Valley itself is spectacular, and the drive in from Nabari city is beautiful every time. After passing the big red bridge over the Sho-Renji Dam you will drive Southward along the East side of the Dam for a few minutes. After the walls of the valley narrow you enter the Kochi-Dani valley proper. The valley walls are steep, and you can easily see why 75% of this country is uninhabitable mountain terrain. It’s about a twenty minute drive from the center of Nabari, to the parking areas. After which, there is the mandatory stream crossing. There are four crags. From West to East, they are Byoubu-Iwa, Morning Light, Daiichi-Ganpeki, and Sunny Side. Each crag has different parking and crossing points, different sun aspects and different temperature gradients.
The best way to come is by car, but it is possible to come using public transit. If coming by car, here is a pin that will put you in the right area for the crags. Check individual crags for parking and approach beta. From 2020, due to an access arrangement with the local fishing community, climbers must put some sort of brightly colored marker on their vehicle like a towel or a bag, and again they must put a larger, yellow, marker indicating the location where they entered the approach trail on the opposite side, usually a large yellow towel on a stick will do the trick. Please put the marker where it can be easily seen from the road. Also please leave your sandals etc. near your marker.
If using public transit, go to 名張駅 (Nabari-station) on the Kintetsu line. There are rapid express trains that will only have a couple stops from Tsuruhashi, but they are an extra 920 yen. It’s well worth it in the morning. Especially because you need to get the 8:05 bus from Nabari West Exit (名張駅前（西口）) for Yamagasu-Nishi (山粕西). The next bus is at 9:35, so if you miss the 8:05 much of your climbing day will be gone. You will disembark at 紅葉谷 (Koyo-dani) which also happens to be the camping spot. For the crags, you will need to walk back downstream (the way from which you rode the bus in). You will need to hustle to get the bus back to Nabari at 17:18. Alternatively camp at the area near the bus stop in the valley so that you can enjoy a full day of climbing the next day.
It is possible to Taxi out to the area, but it would be pretty expensive, maybe in the 4000 yen range. Also, returning would be difficult as there is no cell phone service once you’re in the valley proper.
For much of the year, you can cross knee-to-thigh-high water in sandals. Some sort of Neoprene sock makes the cold water much more bearable in the winter. Locals with cars use huge wader suits that look really comfortable, but a bit heavy for the train. I figure, if I can put up with painful jamming, cold water isn’t really that bad. The river does contain grey water from villages up stream, so swimming isn’t really a great idea. Also, if coming for multiple days, washing your feet soon after will help sensitive skin. Bring an orange or yellow hand towel that can double as your marker to dry your feet after the crossing.
When to Climb
You can climb in Nabari year round, with the exception of the rainy season when the river tends to be too high to cross safely. Furthermore, after heavy rains year round, the river level can be dangerously high. The following breakdown is only a guideline, and I’m sure you’ll find people at all crags throughout the year. Byobu tends to have shady aspects, and is therefore more suited for moderate/ warm temperatures. Morning Light gets great sun early in the morning, dries out quickly after the rain so it’s good for winter cragging. Daichi gets a lot of sun and is better suited for the spring and autumn. Sunnyside is a total misnomer and is actually best in the warmer months because of the shade afforded by it’s position in a side gulley and the breeze coming through. Check the weather for both Nabari 名張 and also Soni-mura 曽爾村 to get a good idea of conditions at the crag.
Where to stay
There are several business hotel options in Nabari city in the ¥4,000-5,000 range. My favorite is AZ Hotel, a nice budget option with clean rooms and a good breakfast buffet. It’s a 15 minute walk from the station. You can also camp here at the Koyo-Dani bus stop, it costs 1,000 yen. It’s about 1 km upstream from the Daiichi/Sunny side river access. There are no provisions available once in the valley. Please follow all low-impact camping procedures so as not to jeopardize climbers’ relationships with the local community.