Crack addicts

December 6, 2009 | Filed Under Uncategorized 

Roppongi station is a Gomorrah at five in the morning on a Saturday, but a long figure with the helmet hanging from his pack slips unnoticed through the red-eyed crowds and into the early morning. I meet T and K at the crossroads, and we point the car onto the highway and towards the west coast of the Izu peninsula. The city melts into sparse towns, which in turn dissolve into tiny fishing hamlets which huddle in rocky bays on the cold shore of the Pacific.

It’s almost midday by the time we reach the bottom of the climb. The walk in was a vertiginous trail with steep falls into the churning ocean, and a rappel into the bay below.

“OK gentlemen, we’re crack climbing today. Wristwatches off, tape on.” T announces.

He leads the first pitch; K and I join him the belay some twenty minutes later.¬† I score nul points for style.¬† “Like Twight said, it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun,” T says. I had fun, I assure him. “Then you’re doing it wrong”.

K leads next, a traverse and then a staircase-like gash in the rock, up to a narrow ledge which is studded with stunted pines. Half a dozen sun-bleached slings flitter from a dead tree which sticks out from the face; it’s stomach-churning to think people rappelled off it.

T shoots off up the crack in the next wall, twisting impossibly through an overhang before disappearing out of sight. Higher up, a wide crack splinters the rock face in two; we jam our hands and feet into it and sacrifice some skin to the mountain gods. From a shady ledge at the top we watch the sun start to drop into the ocean. The crux is two pitches higher up, but we’re done for the day.

We rap back to the forest below. Darkness is already settling as we scurry back along the cliffs and climb out of the bay. Then the unmistakable pac-pac sound of rockfall echoes up from the behind us, sending a shower of sparks through the darkness from the spot we’d stood just minutes before. A parting shot from the walls of Mt. Umikongo, and then stillness¬† again, just the sound of the sea crashing against the shore below. We hurry back through the night, grateful that the dark conceals the drop off at our feet. Addiction is a dangerous thing, but sometimes you get away with it.


17 Responses to “Crack addicts”

  1. George on December 6th, 2009 6:48 am

    So I told my wife there’s a new entry in your blog and to check it out.

    Click-click and silence for a moment or two, then..

    “Iyaaaa! konna ni kirei de kowai…”

    Hmm…? “Did you mean kirei but kowai?”

    “No. Kirei and kowai-kowai-kowai..”

  2. Mikael on December 7th, 2009 10:27 am

    Quite a location! The most exciting rappel I’ve done was from a cliff with a lake about 200 meters below. Even knowing there would be a ledge about 50 meters down the face to land on and walk away from, just seeing the water far below from up on the edge it felt more airy than anything I’ve experienced before or since. There’s something in your pictures putting those butterflies in my stomach again.

  3. Hendrik M on December 7th, 2009 12:09 pm

    I love to see the sun, Chris. Haven’t seen it in weeks here, so your superb photos gave me some much needed Vitamin D. Thanks for that.

  4. David on December 7th, 2009 1:31 pm

    Is it an endless summer in Japan? Looks a lot like it.

  5. Project Hyakumeizan on December 7th, 2009 4:18 pm

    Pictures and text that capture the particular magic of climbing in Japan – and recalling some tense moments abseiling off trees that would look more at home in a bonsai pot ….

  6. Tornadoes28 on December 7th, 2009 5:11 pm

    Beautiful, amazing pictures.

  7. Mike on December 9th, 2009 3:06 pm

    Nice pictures Chris. Loving the blue in that sea. Must have been a fun climb with such scenery around you :) Keep me posted in the future when you get a group hike together so I can join you!

  8. Heather on December 10th, 2009 1:31 am

    I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while now, I really love your images. Its hard to imagine that it’s the middle/late autumn there; it looks like the mediterrean in the summer!
    Thanks for your inspiring images and words.

  9. CJW on December 10th, 2009 8:49 am

    Hey George – you’re wife was close – it was more like kowai and kirei, kirei, kirei!

    Mikael – it’s definitely a great location. Amazing to be climbing up there with the waves crashing in the background. The only downside is the salt air which eats through the rappel bolts..

    Hendrik – I guess the days are getting pretty short for you now? Glad we could provide you with some vitamin D, Japanese style.

    David – December is a great month in Tokyo – big blue skies, warm enough for T-shirts on some days. But there’s snow on the peaks, and winter is just around the corner. Yay!

    Project Hyakumeizan – I thought this might bring back some memories. There’s something indescribable about vertical bush-whacking..

    Tornadoes28 – thank you, as always!

    Mike – the views were stunning, and the weather was just perfect. Will definitely keep you posted the next time we head out on a group trip – probably late next spring (unless you like seriously sub-zero :-) )

    Heather – I imagine it’s already the depths of winter up in Hokkaido? Brrr. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you for the comment!

  10. Claus on December 13th, 2009 12:20 pm

    I remember an exposition where it was said that “art does not evolve in the eye of the spectator”.
    Watching your photos, I think it is true.

    I am looking for a black-board, to find people in Tokyo region, for a 3-4 days hike this new year. Could you please let me know one ? (other than clubs where people tell their memories from military, please).

    Thank you for this beautiful blog.


  11. Jason on December 13th, 2009 7:58 pm

    Adding rock climbing as well? Nice. I like the direct downview of just the ocean.

    When I lived in Korea I had a co-worker who was into rock climbing. He got me to go on a few one pitch top-rope climbs and I liked it. Next thing I know him and his badass lead climber friend have me on a 9-pitch climb on some massive rock face north of Seoul.

    Did you guys hike back down?

    Rappelling is damn scary, and those fools that time started us on a rappel from an overhang. I never forgave them for that! I just had to trust the rope and do it, not wanting to be left up there.

    Most challenging thing about rock climbing I feel is trusting the rope, and especially trusting the anchors.

    I look forward to the next rock climbing report.

  12. Tony on December 14th, 2009 2:10 pm

    Hi CJW
    It was nice to see these pics. It looks like a lovely route. Can you give any details about the route? What’s it called? Where is it? How many pitches? Grades? etc…
    I’d be interested to head down there and get on it sometime, so would appreciate any info you could share. I’d be more than happy to reciprocate if you need any ideas for good places to climb or good alpine rock routes or winter routes.
    Climb safe.

  13. Peter Skov on December 16th, 2009 1:08 pm

    Good to see you were out pounding stone again. The blue of the ocean is very enticing and I love the rock face in the first photo. Though I knew it must be Japan, I was still guessing if you hadn’t gone off somewhere abroad.

  14. CJW on December 19th, 2009 6:49 pm

    Hi Claus – you could try the Outdoor Japan forums (, the GaijinPot forums ( or maybe contact the International Adventure Club (

    Hey Jason – well, it is “hiking AND climbing in Japan” :-) You’re right, though, it’s all about trust. The rope, the guys you’re with..

    Hi Tony – it’s called Umikongo, and should be in any of the Izu guides. 10 pitches, 9.10a crack – I can get more details if you need, just let me know.

    Peter – yup, with that view and those conditions, it was hard to think that we were in Japan in December!

  15. David H. on December 21st, 2009 2:25 am

    Nicely written and photographed as always…so nicely done that I am of mixed emotions visiting your site. One one hand it’s very and entertaining and motivating, and I get a bit envious on the other hand since I haven’t been able to get out of Tokyo much this year .

    Guess I’ll have to endure the jealousy.

    Please be careful on the rock climbing—as I am quite sure you are—25 years ago last October I lost a friend who was on a climb.

  16. Keela on February 8th, 2010 9:25 am

    The water looks amazing! Wish I was there

  17. phone-sex on May 21st, 2013 7:26 pm

    My husband and i felt now contented that Emmanuel could do his web research using the ideas he discovered out of your web site. It is now and again perplexing just to choose to be giving away guides that many people could have been selling. And we all take into account we have got you to be grateful to for that. The illustrations you’ve made, the simple web site navigation, the friendships you can make it possible to instill – it’s got everything terrific, and it’s helping our son in addition to us feel that that concept is excellent, which is truly serious. Many thanks for all the pieces!

Leave a Comment

Your comment should appear immediately after hitting the Submit button. If it doesn't, then you've fallen prey to the spam filter... Do send an email to "cjw" at the site address if this happens!