March 6, 2016
Iwa-yama (岩山, 434 m) is less of a mountain proper and more of a lump on the ridgeline leading up to Kamipeipan-yama (上米飯山, 623.1 m), but I climbed it last Sunday as the weather started to warm up. The views from the summit weren’t phenomenal but the climb itself was quiet and pretty and the approach to the summit itself got the heart pumping something fierce.
I was out again on snowshoes here, but I didn’t regret it like on Fuyuji-yama because the skiing here didn’t look like it would be particularly great. I was heading up with a couple of Japanese friends who had checked out the mountain and heard of the huge cliffs at the summit and wanted to see if it would be good for rock climbing in the summertime.
There are a couple of places to leave your car–the two ideal ones being: 1) there’s a Shinto shrine here with a marginally plowed entrance–with a little shoveling it wouldn’t be hard to squeeze the car in; and 2) there’s a bit of a turnoff here where, I think, snowmobilers leave their trucks and trailers to shred the nearby fields. We left our cars in the latter of these spots. It seemed to be a part of some farm’s long driveway, but it also appeared to be a public road, and we didn’t run into any trouble leaving our cars there.
We walked down the road maybe 200 meters to a ramp leading down onto a field that some snowmobilers had evidently had some fun tearing up the day before. Between the road and the field was a deep ditch–not unnavigable but the ramp was certainly easier. From the field we followed a windbreak of bent, sorry-looking trees up to a small access road, passing an old log cabin on the way. we headed right and started climbing up a big field, obviously the site of some clear-cut logging a couple years before. Some wispy bushes stuck up through the snow but I can imagine that on a powderier day the skiing here would be pretty solid.
At the top of the clearcut we headed into a forest of old, tired-looking trees. A good number of them were bowed completely over, big arches covered in snow. Now and again we saw a piece of red tape attached to a tree, or a ‘beware of forest fires’-type sign; at one point we crossed a bit of a trail, but it didn’t seem to be heading towards the summit.
By and by we made our way to the top of the ridgeline, a little ways past a bit of saddle, and came upon some ski tracks coming up the length of the ridge. We followed them up the ridge, up a gradual slope, skirting a dark second-growth softwood forest until we saw the summit ahead.
The summit is easy to spot: there are two big bluffs sticking out of the top of a steep rise in the ridgeline. The trees are quite close here and in summer you probably wouldn’t see the bluffs until you were right on them; but in winter we could see them from a little ways away.
Just below the steep rise we decided to dig an avalanche test, and the results were much the same as I found on Fuyuji the previous day. There was a crusty layer about 5 cm thick, then a bunch of unconsolidated crystally stuff for maybe 10 cm below that, which broke apart on the fourth hit from the shoulder in a shovel compression test. After ten hits from the shoulder nothing had failed, we did a shovel shear test or whatever the one is where you stick the shovel behind a column of snow and pull forward; anyway the point is that we got the column to break at the same smooth layer that I saw the day before at Fuyuji. Here on Iwa it seemed like the snow was bonded a little better, except for the few centimeters of crumbly stuff on top. We decided to leave the packs down by the test and climb up to the craggy summit without them, taking the lowest-angle route.
We climbed up a couple of switchbacks below the bluffs made by the skier from earlier and came to the foot of the crag itself. The rock was totally split and covered thickly with moss, but it seemed like it could be climbed in the summer, with trad gear or a top-rope setup. We meandered around the back of the crag and found a bit of a path up to the top of it, which required a little footwork to climb. It would have been awesome to have an ice axe here but it wasn’t necessary. There was a little piece of tape attached to a sapling growing on top of the crag to indicate the summit.
We had a great view over the farmland below and suburban Asahikawa beyond that, but it was quite windy and we were three of us on top of a pretty narrow crag so we decided to turn around and head down. Furthermore it was starting to drizzle a bit.
We made pretty quick time back down through the forest and out to the car. I’m always surprised how quickly you can move down a mountain on snowshoes. All the work it took to get you up, breaking trail; and you can more or less jog down back down your tracks, if you’ve got the morale for it.
OTHER WAYS TO CLIMB
There’s a trail through the second-growth softwood just below the summit of Iwa that leads towards the main peak of the massif, Kamipeipan–if you had enough time it probably wouldn’t be too hard of a hike down that trail and along the ridge.
In fact, hiking up the side of the ridge like we did doesn’t have to be the game plan at all–it’s easy enough to leave the car at the end of the ridge and to do the whole climb at the top of the ridge. The ridge is broad and clear enough that the going isn’t tough to navigate.