Climbing in Ogawayama

Adventurous climbing in Japan

Most memorable crack climb

When I told friends that I was going to Japan, I saw countless pictures appear in their mind’s eye. Samurai, geisha, women in kimonos, onsen (hot springs for bathing), tea ceremonies, skyscrapers with neon signs, mangas, crowded trains, temples and castles and Mount Fuji. I’ve been in Japan for almost a week and saw only skyscrapers, neon charts and full train platforms. Instead, I climbed the last pitch of “Selection” (Yane Iwa Rock) and was desperate because I was stuck at a corner with a gaping crack that had no ledges or edges. The crack is rounded and offered no support for laybacks  (a climbing technique). My little experience in crack climbing did not allow me to use special hand or foot techniques. Stemming, one of my favourite climbing styles, was surprisingly difficult. I fought for every inch.

It was the last pitch and Nicolas secured me from the top. Only a few minutes earlier he climbed this route. It was difficult for him as well and his tension was radiating to me. I mentally prepared for a fall and calculated the risks. My hands were sweating. This pitch was not bolted at all. He was able to set protection only two times. The gaps in between, however, were significant. Each fall would result in serious injury, as a huge ledge – from which I belayed him – would stop the fall abruptly. But he kept his nerve and made it to the summit. My nerves, however, were on the edge and despair spreaded in me. How am I supposed to handle this section? My muscles are tired. With my last ounce of strength I could reach the edge and realised it would not give me relief. The corner crack changed into a slab. My feet were still stemming the crack. I could not release them because I did not find any holds for my hands.

I feel like a seal that hangs on the edge of the pool and cannot get out of the water.

I felt like laughing and crying at the same time. I would like to close my eyes and finish the day. With my last ounce of strength I reached the summit: destroyed and relieved at the same time. What a day in Ogawayama and one of these days that will be particularly memorable for me.

Climbing mentality in Japan

Somehow this multi-pitch also distinguished the mentality of Japanese climbers. The route was thinly bolted. A crack does not need bolts. Hand and foot techniques and now and then a stopper would be enough to secure the routes. The first impression, which I had from Japanese climbers in China, has confirmed itself here even more. Risk-taking and persistent. Large spacing between bolts does not worry them as much as decrepit bolts. Their achievements can very well compare with those of well-known climbers. The only difference is, that the big brands and the marketing machinery may not have considered the Japanese market yet. But I am sure that will change with the Olympics in Tokyo 2020. But what united us again was the camp fire mentality. In the evening everyone searched for dead wood in the forest. Pile by bark, all of us pulled branches out of the forest to grill meat and vegetables over the self-made campfire and to warm ourselves from the oncoming cold. Laughter rang through the darkness, and here and there someone played guitar.

Climbing in Ogawayama

Ogawayama is located northwest of Tokyo. It is the largest climbing area in Japan for sport climbers and traditionalists alike. The unique granite rocks offer unusual crack and slab climbing. Since the guidebooks are only available in Japanese language and the representations of the routes and the maps did not meet the usual standards, the search for the rocks or the entry points for the routes was sometimes a scavenger hunt. Not only once we did not climb the route or rock we planned to climb. Somehow that was the charm of the area. Camping, Onsen and always surprises. Nicolas’ knowledge of the Japanese language helped a lot with the locals because in the rural areas only a few Japanese understood English. 

Climbing in Shizuoka

Despite the variety in Ogawayama, my favourite climbing area in Japan is on the Shizuoka Peninsula. Jo-Yama and Jogasaki have been my favorite places so far. Many rocks offer beautiful views of the sea or Mount Fuji. This Japanese icon has really exceeded my expectations. His sight immediately captivated me. Much has been written about him and I can confirm everything. Majestic and elegant, Fuji towers over the island and everything around it seems to fade. At sunset, its snow-capped peak shimmers pale pink and time seems to pass more slowly. Fuji is one of the volcanoes that emit a spell that I found difficult to escape. My trip ended with a sentimental view of Fuji, but it was not the only landmark I visited in Japan.