Most and best pictures by George & Izumi-chan.
Dug a snow pit on a SE facing slope (Bearing 110) at an altitude of 1900m. Snow depth measured @ between 290cm & 320cm. Dec 29th rain crust sandwich at 40cm below surface (can be seen in the pictures). Compression test: 23 taps for a clean shear at around 10cm below the Dec 29th rain crust. Extremely dense snow pack overall.
Recon trip in the Tsuchitaru area with Chris. A couple more recon trips there should yield some good terrain. An investment for the future.
With George & Izumi-chan.
Very cold, -12c at the top. Slabby snowpack easily breaking off at around 20cm depth. Naturally occurring large stress cracks in the snowpack on South-West to West facing slopes.
With George and Izumi-chan.
Long hike in good conditions. Snowpack fairly stable but snow quite heavy in the forest. Large cornices starting to form due to wind actions. Some cracks in the cornices can be spotted up to the tree line = stay away from the edge !
What was supposed to be a long (3-day) week-end of hiking stunning powder fields ended with a trip to the local hospital (Yamato) and barely a few ski turns at one of the smallest local hills. Our little treasure fell sick and we had to look after him. I took advantage of some reasonable weather to take some pictures from the Kandatsu area towards Daigenta. When we went to Captain Kayama (interesting name, apparently there used to be a boat at the bottom of the resort), I took pics from the top of the resort. It covers among other things, Kandatsu and the Kagura area. For those with a keen eye, below are some of the things you can spot on the pictures:
•Daigenta-san and its steady SW-facing face + surrounding peaks
•Views of the Kayama resort Taken from the Kandatsu area
•Ludens ski jo + Kandatsu (spot Japan's steepest ski resort slope at 45 degrees!), as well as Kandatsu + Kagura area
•Shome-san and its NE-facing slope ( the more interesting SE-Facing slope is hidden)
•Kagura area. Those with x-ray vision will be able to even spot tracks (looks like Nakaone was busy busy).
With George & Izumi-chan & Sakuchan.
50cm of fresh snow at the bottom, 80cm+ at the top. Cold temps, -8 to -10 without windchill, very strong winds at the top making it bone-chilling. My supposedly rugged watch froze-up and starting to act up. No instability was noted in the snowpack on W-NW aspects which was quite refreshing and enjoyable. It was a very hard hike up in deep snow. Rode down once, climbed back up in our tracks and rode another time. Another good day out with friends. I have just added George's & Izumi san's pictures as well. Somebody is seriously gasping for air.
With George & Izumi-chan.
-10 degrees in the morning with a layer inversion and surface hoar. Temperatures soared as the day progressed but the sky stayed blue and the wind was almost non-existent. It was only my second blue-bird day this season! It just snows all the time in Japan. As usual George & Izumi san were super genki and hiking fast, while I was trailing behind. Snow on NW aspect was heavy but stable. A good day out in nice weather.
With Dave from Evergreen and 8 other students : Matt, (2) Mike (2), Daniel, Rowan, Wade, etc...
The second day of the avalanche class was in the field in the BC near Tsugaike. We hiked-up Hyodorimine, dropped into a north facing line. We hiked back up the shoulder and dug our pits. One group then had a simulation on flat terrain. We then hiked back up the ridge and our group had their simulation in a steepish gully. It took us 20 minutes of hiking up and down the gully in deep snow to pull out 6 victims, including one that had no beacon. We then rode down to an empty Tsugaike resort that had already closed down and down to the car park. It was another fine day weather-wise with a very stable snowpack.
With Damian, Luke, Corry.
With fine weather in the morning we decided to head-up to the top of Goryu and try the Tengu-Dake flutes that Damian and Luke have been trying to hit for a while. When we got there, the weather turned suddenly against us. Damian belayed down our intended line to check the pack. It was a combination of nasty crusts + facets/gobelets. Given the adverse combination of snowpack and weather, we decided to turn back. We considered hitting Mura-one but did not have the proper supplies for the terrain so opted out for the south face of Goryu since it had an easy hike out. The snow was yellow/brownish from sand that had been blowing over from china. The new snow that was falling did not help much and it was like riding heavy molasses or cement that was about to set. It was a new experience for all of us. At least the pack was stable, but tight trees with a large board and super-duper heavy sticky snow was so so. We rode down to Damian's cabin, had a hot chocolate and watched touching the void.
It was a late start for us as Chris came by shinkansen that morning. The road had been cleared all the way to the entrance of the train tunnel. Temperatures were high. Chris was having a good time on skis. Meanwhile I was still sinking 20-30cm with my snowshoes in heavy snow. The scenery all the way to the top was beautiful. It was great to be in such a peaceful environment. The terrain there has to be handled with care though with a lot of traps waiting for the unwary. The crossing of the creeks was really easy as there was so much snow. If you had not been there in the summer you would not know there was a river below. Still we could see a lot of sluffing and point avalanches higher up especially on south facing slopes due to strong solar radiation, but most of the slides were smallish. Of more concern was the large number of glide cracks and crevasses we could see waiting for us. As it turns out, towards the summit I fell into a 4m deep crevasse. It was a glide cracks that had run to the ground and whose top section had been covered completely by the action of the wind. I tied my 30m 8mm rope to my harness, and Chris helped me to get out of this nasty looking crevasse. The roof of the crevasse was still collapsing and cracking by itself while I was inside waiting for Chris. I was glad to have the proper equipment and be able to get out swiftly. Once again the backcountry teaches us another important life lesson. The ride down was very enjoyable with light snow at the top and nice slushy snow at the bottom. This area has a lot of potential for great lines and is virtually never ever visited. We will be back!
A fairly late start for an easy stroll along the bottom of Kedozawa. Warm temps, quite a few people on the trail, most of them being skiers. One Japanese hiker on foot broke through a snow bridge above one of the many small rivers. He was ok and kept on going. The hike all the way towards Mantaro looks promising but it is about 25km round trip with 1400m of vertical and has a long flat out. Explains why you do not see snowboarders around here!
Season opener, solo. Not much snow really with about 70-80 cm at 1900m, still enough for some enjoyable turns. I had to be careful as big boulders and tree stumps were still protruding. Sunny in the morning, overcast in the afternoon, almost no wind. Temps at 1900m -3 deg celcius, +7 at 600m. Snowpack had no real structure. A thin crust with about 10 cm of fresh powder, bottom section was more like sugar crystals. Hike was a bit difficult as the lackluster snow depth led to a few whoompfs into the sasa grass. We need another 100-150 cm for the whole area to be enjoyable. Given upcoming forecast, it may take a couple of weeks. It seems I had first tracks of the season up there except for the rabbits'. They are busy shedding and leaving their summer coat behind. For some reason the number of their tracks this year seems to be a lot more than last year. Met Saku-chan at the bottom of the gondola who rode Tashiro and had a good time there.
Back to Kagura. The Parking lot was almost full by 7am with most people sleeping in their cars. We need more snow so that other resorts open and people fan out. The day started with the mountains still shrouded in veils of clouds. The lower section of the resort was really close to bare of snow. I started hiking right away to soak in the views while the weather improved. It turned out to be a perfect blue bird day in the end, a feast for the eye and the camera. I did one run before hiking back all the way to the top. I had initially thought about heading along with others to 2 sections that had some fresh stashes. But on my way down the first gully I realized that the snow pack was 20cm of fresh on a hard crust that was going to either sluff or break into small slabs depending on the exposure. The lines that had fresh stashes also had bush-whacking exits. So I decided to go my own way. I broke my own trail to the top wanting to relax and was immediately followed by 5 people coming up behind me. So much for peacefulness J . They were easy-going tokyoites, very friendly to the gaijin and happy to have a chat. Not the kind that races each other for lines and pics. They left fairly quickly and I could soak in the views and have a bite. I then had a nice long ride back down, at one stage fighting off tightly spaced trees but in a very soft smooth (thanks to the sun) powder snow. At the bottom I met a couple of friendly Tenjin locals who had made the trip to Kagura and were digging a pit. It turns out Ichi-san had spent 2 full seasons in Tignes and was quite a keen off-piste man. Hoping to catch-up with them sometimes this season (my email is on the 2nd line of this blog guys).
After getting my split just before leaving Tokyo I was eager to give it a try but the Voile interface was still in the mail. George and Izumi lent me a Voile interface and some skins which allowed me to give it a try. Given the amount of fresh snow and the very strong winds that had hit the area recently I decided to try out my gear in a tame area. Blue Bird days after huge snowfalls and wind is when a lot of accidents happen as people feel comfortable with the conditions. So I hit Niwa which is low angle, has trees and was untracked.
Others tried their luck on Nakaone & Sankaku. I had planned to dig 2 pits, one on a southfacing slope the other one north-facing. Midway through the day I realized that I had forgotten my food....duh. So I turned back after reaching the top instead of digging pits. I fumbled with the transition from board to skis & the other way around, but that was expected. I can see how you do not want to repeat the exercise too often during a blistering cold day. The board itself performed incredibly well. Although I am pissed @ Venture with the whole saga that took place when I put my order, I have to admit they make great boards. It was another great day out.