Happy new year ! Forecast was for winds to calm down to 30-35km/h at the top of Kagura today, so I decided to give it a go. I wanted to practice the transition on my split further to increase efficiency. The parking lot was near empty as new year drunks were recovering from their hangovers. I got on the top lift and shared the chair with a patrol guy. He told me winds were currently 18m/s and that they would shut if it hit 20m/s. So I decided against joy runs in the side country and headed out to start hiking. As usual,a few locals showed as soon as I boot-packed the entry to the start of the hike. They were followed by a couple of punters without any gear who had to slug it back to the resort. The locals were headed out towards Nakaone, but turned around quickly, and did a quick run down the first ridge & headed home. I decided to break my own trail along #5 as usual given the shitty weather. I was by myself the whole way and thouroughly enjoyed the hiked in the howling winds. What a pleasure to split into some soft crisp pow when I know I would have been postholing thigh-deep on snowshoes. The top near #5 had been windblasted and the last few meters were on hard sastrugi. Transitioned back into board mode and ready to go. The winds had picked-up substantially and I could see the top chairlift had been closed. It meant winds were probably in the region of 80+ km/h, which is not surprising given I almost got knocked down a couple of times. So much for the 30-35km/h forecast ! Had a nice day out despite the weather, good practice and good exercise.
Picked-up Yannis at the station at 7h25 and we headed straight out to start hiking. There were a couple of tracks ahead of us that quickly vanished into the forest after a couple of kilometers, most likely snow campers. We had to break trail the rest of the way.
We were not sure whether there was enough snow to make it past the creek above the damns. As we got there, the river was still flowing in full force. There was about 2 meters of snow but many areas had not yet been filled in. We carefully set our trail amidst a large number of gaping holes trying to pick the thickest possible snow bridges. We eventually made it past the creek, but probing every 20cm took its toll on our schedule. We could not make it to the top of the ridge although it would have been feasible given enough time.
Instead we hiked an adjacent valley and made our turns there. That little valley had some good lines and tree runs but there were signs that it was the run-off area of a couple of avalanche gulleys. Debris were visible and trees were slanted showing signs of stress from frequent avalanching. We decided not to stick around too long. Yomogi-Toge has a long approach to get to the goods and the splitboard was great to have. On the way down I used the ski/telemark mode instead of using the snowboard mode. So easy! I just wish there was a way of fixing down the heel in ski mode as I am not much of a telemarker myself. It was a good day out and good exercise in a pristine environment.
With Chris (aka toothpaste man) & Iida-san.
Woke-up late to beautiful weather & low wind. Headed out and started hiking straight away. The backcountry was very busy with many large guided groups coming from the Gunma/Minakami area. I have always wondered why with such great terrain around Minakami, these guys need to come all the way to Yuzawa...anyway. Chris and I reached our target summit mid-afternoon, had a nice break at the top. We saw George, Izumi and their gang on a nearby peak slashing it into submission. Iida-san reached the summit solo and joined us for the ride down. The river lower down still has some areas which are not filled but the upper section was ok to cross. The snow on the other hand was not great. The 23rd rain crust was solid, and the 20-30cm on top were not enough not to hit it. The powder on top though was very stable and did not even sluff, while the crust did not break but it was not the best conditions. The worst was on the hike up with the splits having the tendency to slide on the ice crust. I couldnft believe I should have brought crampons. It was a nice sunny day, and it was great to get Chris on his Gotamas and meet Iida-san.
After this season's first try with Yannis, Chris and I decided to give it another go. As in everytime we head for Yomogi, the state of the various creeks we have to cross was a concern. We were not sure what state the various snow bridges we had to cross were in and whether we were going to make it accross. Lower down we made good time in beautiful weather. The snow was fresh and light as we started but the sun was pounding. Snow monkeys greated us after a few hundred meters. We made good time in the lower portion. The experience of the previous trip was useful as the navigating accross the various obstacles was easier. As the day progressed, the weather became incredibly hot and the exposed snow transformed into a sticky glop. Skinning with that heavy glop sticking to the skis proved tiring and challenging and slowed us down in the upper portion. Some of the snow bridges accross the various creeks were a bit iffy but easily negotiable with a bit of care. The sun-baked slopes had natural point releases but those in the shade still had great snow. As we arrived to the exposed gully we realized that we could not cut back onto the elevated ridge on lookers left. The lack of snow meant that the there were still too many trees to make it back onto the ridge. We continued into the gully until we reached an intersection with an nice open slope going all the way up the elevated ridge lookers left. We were hesitating between going up the open slope or keep a bit into the gully and head out towards the north facing slopes. Unfortunately we had already reached our turn-around time. Meanwhile quite a few Kamoshikas were frolicking, cutting the slopes above us... We had a quick dig in the gully and found the most unusual pack. The heavy top 30cm felt like wet cement and sat on top of a 15cm thick layer of graupel ! We dug our hands in it, it was exactly like styrofoam, rounded, super light and unbounded. In many years of skiing/Boarding, it was the first time I ever found such a thick layer of the stuff. What that meant for us was that the heavy top layer was pretty much on ball bearings and could release. We had not seen any sign of natural instability on north-facing slopes but did not want to test our luck. We knew we did not want to stick around. We packed immediately and started to ride back down. We had an uneventful ride back down with a quick snack along the way. We came accross the same monkeys from the morning and took a few pics before reaching the car. Although we once again did not reach our target, it was a great healthy day out amid stunning views. We now have the final route to the summit mapped out in the current conditions, so it was time well spent. Hopefully next time around good stable snow will alow us to summit.
Blue bird day. Unfortunately Tashiro made a mess out of that day. When opening in the morning, they ladder out the start of the various lifts, blocking the various slopes that get to them in the meantime. So, whenever they open the slopes to the next lifts, on an after-snowfall day, the whole thing turns into a Chinese downhill. Very dangerous. I was hit from behind by a boarder out of control. Put me in a foul mood for the rest of the day. Tashiro is amateurish, and they need to be told so by as many people as possible so that they change this farce. The hike was nice, but temps were really hot. Snow at the top was heavy powder, at the bottom is was sticky heavy cement. In some spots I would turn the nose of my board downhill and it just would not go…
With Izumi-chan, Junko-chan, Hayashi-san and George.
Early start at 6am for a hike in the Tanigawadake area. It turned out to be 1000m + of vert gain all on ice crampons. It was a nice change from the Yuzawa area as this area has more of a rugged mountain feel to it. Unfortunately visibility turned out for the worse towards the summit. Walking a tight ridge in a white-out is not my idea of fun but it was a good challenge. Towards the summit there was a rimaye we had to cross on a steep slope. As I slowly put pressure on my foot on the snow bridge started to give way. After my fall in Yomogi last year I was determined to beat the elements this time around. I managed to jump over it diagonally, put my crampons in the upper lip and pull myself over it. It was the trickiest section of the climb. Towards the summit, the cornice was starting to rip away from the mountain creating a void which had been covered in area by new snow and presented a fall hazard. Except for another lone skier, all the other hikers were mountaineers with full-on gear, some of them on double ice-axes. The ride down proved to be very challenging. The recent adverse elements had turned the mountain into a giant debris field that had re-frozen over. It was very tough both for snowboarders and skiers/telemarkers to hold an edge on boiler plate with death cookies sticking out waiting to grab your edge at every turn. Even the gully (pictured) with the least ice chunks sticking out of the snow looked nice from afar but was a sucker’s trap and I promptly managed to bust my shoulder there. It’s a shame as in good conditions it would have been a nice tight continuous 40ish line. On the way back we marveled at the ice fall that Hayashi-san’s friend was climbing on the same day. We also saw a night tight couly that had been recently boot-packed. As we made our way back towards civilization we came across a fisherman who was enjoying nature. A beautiful area, but the current conditions do not bode well for this coming spring….
Thanks to George & Izumi-chan for many of the pictures.
Could not wake-up early after driving in late the night before and finishing preparing the backpack at 2am. Got to the car-park and it was full.... Parked nearby, walked to the Gondola to find a huge queue. Thankfully it was for rentals and not tickets. Nigel got his ticket right away and off we went. Met George & Izumi at the top of the first Gondola. They were going back already as there was too much snow and it was too heavy. We went anyway to give it a go. We rode down & started hiking. It was between nipple to neck-deep in the deep sections while about knee-deep on the split & waist-deep on snowshoes. A group of Japanese skinners followed our track and caught up with us. They took turn to lay the track before the skin on my left ski came off. It just did not stick anymore. The mesh from the cheat-sheet had melted into the glue and made it useless. I now have to re-glue the suckers when I have a chance. we rode back down and hiked back out. It was a tiring day but good to be out. Hard boots felt weird on slopes before heading out into the side-country where it was really nice to use on the hike up and ride down.