fbpx
    • Spring
      • video

        Finding the Flow from Kansai to Kochi

        Shikoku’s many mountains, valleys and proximity to the ocean has made it a hidden gem for rafting, kayaking and canyoning enthusiasts willing to take a step or two further from the Golden Route of Kyoto and Osaka.

        Solace and Giant Salamanders in Akiota

        Just beyond Hiroshima City is a tranquil outdoor destination home to some of Japan's last remaining oosanshouo, the elusive giant salamander.
        Kyoto Oni Trail Outdoor Japanvideo

        The Oni Trail: Hiking Coastal Kyoto

        The mystical oni is prevalent in Japanese children’s stories, usually as a way to scare kids straight. Adventure Travel Kyoto is shedding a new light on this folklore and developing a new hiking route in the countryside of Kyoto.

        Spring Skiing in Japan 2022

        It may be spring in Japan but you can still ski in select ski resorts open all the way to Golden Week.
    • Summer
    • Autumn
      • Pow Bar Founder Megumi Scott

        Beyond the Brand: Pow Bar

        An interview with Megumi Scott, the founder of Niseko brand Pow Bar.
        Churamura Okinawa Sea Turtle Marine Conservation

        Churamura: Footprints in the Sand

        Churamura, an NPO in Okinawa, work to conserve marine life and protect endangered sea turtles in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
        Kawazu

        Fall in Love with Kawazu

        Enjoy waterfall hikes and hot springs, beautiful beaches and delicious seafood in Kawazu on the western coast of Izu Peninsula.
    • Winter
      • Spring Skiing in Japan 2022

        It may be spring in Japan but you can still ski in select ski resorts open all the way to Golden Week.
        Indy Pass Outdoor Japan Tohoku

        The Resistance

        The Indy Pass arrives in Japan to bring avid riders to local resorts that punch above their weight class and offer varied terrain.
        Shinano Town Outdoor Japan

        Go Deep into Shinano

        Discover Snow Country in Shinano Town in northern Nagano, popular for its deep powder but also its mountainous winter scenery.
        Evergreen Outdoor Center Japan

        Japan Snow Guide: Winter 2022 Events & No...

        Check out the latest news and winter events held at ski resorts all over Japan in 2022!
    • Near Tokyo
    • Near Kyoto
      • video

        Finding the Flow from Kansai to Kochi

        Shikoku’s many mountains, valleys and proximity to the ocean has made it a hidden gem for rafting, kayaking and canyoning enthusiasts willing to take a step or two further from the Golden Route of Kyoto and Osaka.
        Kyoto Oni Trail Outdoor Japanvideo

        The Oni Trail: Hiking Coastal Kyoto

        The mystical oni is prevalent in Japanese children’s stories, usually as a way to scare kids straight. Adventure Travel Kyoto is shedding a new light on this folklore and developing a new hiking route in the countryside of Kyoto.
    • All Regions
    • Article Map
    • Ocean and Beach
    • River and Lake
      • video

        Finding the Flow from Kan...

        Shikoku’s many mountains, valleys and proximity to the ocean has made it a hidden gem for rafting, kayaking and canyoning enthusiasts willing to take a step or two further from the Golden Route of Kyoto and Osaka.
        sawa nobori wakasa fukuivideo

        Shower Climbing High Abov...

        Learn about the uniquely Japanese activity of sawanobori, navigating up rivers and waterfalls, in the Wakasa region of Fukui Prefecture.

        Solace and Giant Salamand...

        Just beyond Hiroshima City is a tranquil outdoor destination home to some of Japan's last remaining oosanshouo, the elusive giant salamander.
    • Mountain and Land
    • Sky
    • Snow and Ice
      • Spring Skiing in Japan 2022

        It may be spring in Japan but you can still ski in select ski resorts open all the way to Golden Week.
        Indy Pass Outdoor Japan Tohoku

        The Resistance

        The Indy Pass arrives in Japan to bring avid riders to local resorts that punch above their weight class and offer varied terrain.
        Shinano Town Outdoor Japan

        Go Deep into Shinano

        Discover Snow Country in Shinano Town in northern Nagano, popular for its deep powder but also its mountainous winter scenery.
        Evergreen Outdoor Center Japan

        Japan Snow Guide: Winter 2022 Events & No...

        Check out the latest news and winter events held at ski resorts all over Japan in 2022!
    • Travel
    • Food and Drinks
    • Races and Events

A Dream of White Horses

Glancing down to check my footing, I tried to ignore the forty meters of rope snaking down below me without a single piece of protection securing it to the steep snow of Mt. Shirouma’s famous headwall. I knew that Michael was anchored to a good piton in a solid rock protruding from the snow but, if I fell here, it would be a big one. 

Spreading my weight and thinking light thoughts, I kicked a few more steps upwards to just below the overhanging cornice that marks the transition from the East Face to the summit. I then unclipped the snow stake from my harness. It went in like a hot knife through butter…probably not much use here, but it would have to be enough. “Breathe,” I told myself, savoring the jaw-dropping exposure of this moment I’d been dreaming of for month.

How did this moment come to pass? As so many plans do, it started with a photo in a book and a name on a map. At 2,932 meters, Mt. Shirouma (白馬岳), or “The White Horse,” is the queen of Hakuba’s giants: the chain of peaks that runs north to south on the eastern edge of the North Alps of Japan. This is big snow country, and people flock here in winter to ski the famous powder resorts on the flanks of the mountains.

As luck would have it, there is a direct route to the summit up the main ridge of the East Face. In summer it is so steep and loose that it would be madness to go near it, and in winter the deep snow rules it out. But in April, when the spring temperatures arrive and the snow consolidates, a window opens up for those with the right skills and experience to pass through.

I first became acquainted with the main ridge, Shu-ryo (主稜), of Mt. Shirouma while perusing the “Challenge! Alpine Climbing” guidebook. The color photo on page 27 was a side shot of climbers pitching the headwall at the top of the East Face. The image grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. What would it feel like to be up there, adrift, with the whole East Face dropping off below your boots? There was only one way to find out.

Shouldering heavy packs full of camping and climbing gear, Michael and I began the short hike from the Sarukura Trailhead in the late afternoon. An hour later we chose a safe site for our tent at Shiroumajiri and began leveling out a platform. We had deliberately chosen the day before the start of the Golden Week holidays for our ascent, and were pleased to be the only tent. The ridge would be ours alone.

After a quick breakfast we donned harnesses and crampons and set off in the darkness, crunching our way up the firm lower slopes to gain the ridge. It pays to set out early on snow routes like this, to get as far up the ridge as possible before the mid-morning sun wreaks havoc. As the sun rose behind us, we hit the start of the ridge proper. 

The Shu-ryo is a series of rising peaks and bumps, numbered in sequence from P8 at the top of the approach slopes all the way up to P1—the summit itself. Connecting these peaks is a thrilling knife-edge snow ridge, with a total height-gain from basecamp to summit of approximately 1,400 meters. In places the ridge is overhung on one side with huge whipped cream cornices. We took care to stay well away from these.

At P5 things opened out and began to steepen, and we could feel our excitement rising. Conditions were perfect, and we made quick progress. By mid-morning we were front-pointing up the final knife-edged arête to the top of P2, the last resting spot at the foot of the infamous headwall. As Michael pulled over onto the small flat perch, I unpacked the rope and contemplated the line I should take. The headwall is approximately sixty meters high and exposed on all sides to enormous drops. Our rope was fifty meters long, so it would take two pitches. Twenty minutes later I was reaching up with my ice axe to begin hacking out an exit through the fabled cornice. 

As I pulled over onto the flat summit, I felt elated. Walking several meters back from the cornice I sank the shafts of both axes into the snow, equalized them for an anchor, and shouted to Michael to take me off belay. As he climbed the pitch, I couldn’t resist whipping my camera out to take the classic shot of him on the headwall, the whole East Face sweeping down below him.

Temperatures were now quite high, and we jogged down the Daisekkei in our base layers, anxious to minimize our time in the avalanche zone. After striking camp and packing up, we looked back at the perfect route we had just climbed. Bidding farewell to The White Horse, we headed back down in the direction of our car and wherever the next dream might lead us.

[novo-map id=2 individual=”yes”]

Outdoor Japan logo tree

Related

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest posts

Categories