It was a clear morning and the sky was almost blue. The sun was out just in time for me to dig a hole. The wind was mild, but the orientation of the evacuation chute/hose still needed to be strategic. Amazingly, the beehind did not really feel the cold, probably because of the adipose tissue cover. The scrot on the other hand did. By the way, I do not recommend Taku’s snow tissue paper technique. A proper burial later and we were on our way. It was summit day!
(Click on image to enlarge)
At 1235m, there was no point putting skins on. It was all crampons, short poles and following Taku with the occasional peek at the spectacular panorama below us. The clouds were moving in quickly and we were reunited with our friend, the wind. It was not as strong as yesterday and we enjoyed our transient good visibility. It was a pleasant climb and it would have been nicer if we did not have to use the ice axe so much, which meant we would be cruising up on pow. We negotiated some narrow ice chutes before reaching a small platform where we could part bury our skis which were really starting to cause problems in the wind.
It was cold at 1720m. We summited in 2.5 hours. Rishiri had 3 peaks cloaked in white and wind battered. Every time we put our cameras away, the clouds would clear shortly to allow us to see the other 2 peaks. Since this might be our last snacks, as Taku kept telling me, we shovelled the delicious mix into our mouths before heading down.
A super speedy transition with frozen fingers, and a cheeky press on the boot warmer switch, we were ready to ski Rishiri for the first time. Now we just need to pick the line. The rain and the wind had completely killed the snow cover. We saw that on the way up. We were looking for the wind loaded aspect towards the east side and we found a maximum of 5-10cm, alas on top of sheet ice. There was a lot of traversing, side slipping and vibrating. One fall was all it took to ruin our day.
We found patches of skiable snow over short distances, and Taku had to peer over the edge to check the conditions. This place has so much wicked terrain and steep chutes if only we had some pow! I could feel Taku’s mind battling with his eyes as he surveyed the landscape, and I was glad he picked the less aggressive line down. We traversed over to a skiable slope to find lines of cross loaded snow amongst exposed sheet ice. The striated pattern extended all the way down the mountain. We picked one of the softer line and ripped it up. Nothing taught me to ski tight turns than rough icy borders on both sides.
As we descended, we went along the natural drainage of the mountain. The sides of our path became more and more like a rock climber’s playground. Huge rock faces and steep chutes on both sides. This meant we needed to get out of that area as quick as we could. The snow/ice striations became narrower down the mountain to <20cm strips. Taku somehow just skied through the variable lines and turned in the snow covered areas. I followed, struggled and fell. So I decided to grind those icy lines like rails in the park.
We skied down to 590m elevation. My thighs were burning and my knees had a work out, but I was beaming as I have never skied such terrain and conditions before. The time was 2:10pm, so we had to high tail it back to the hut before sun down at 5:30pm. I noticed the much steeper skin track Taku was cutting, he meant business. It was most inconvenient that my Achilles Knee started to ache. I tried tapping into that Zen-like state where I don’t feel anything but peace… and maybe a dash of pain, wind burn, runny rose and the need to make yellow snow…
We picked the snow covered strips to skin up until it became too narrow and steep. The transition to crampons was a little sketchy on a slippery narrow strip of snow. I battled the idea of taking some anti-inflammatory, as that would mean I have to fish it out of my pack in the wind and on an unfavourable pitch. I dropped back a little from Taku, and at times I would lose sight of him until I climbed pass the next crest. Repeatedly kicking at the ice for grip actually hurt a little as I found out later after my toes warmed up.
We stayed on this never ending ridge for the next three hours. Visibility had diminished, and the wind? Yes, it was present. We would rise to the top of a crest, strain our eyes to see and without fail find the bottom of the next pitch. I was on all fours moving up mindlessly with the macro view of my gloves and the slope inches away from my face. I was in my own hooded bubble, chipping away at the distance and elevation. I was glad Taku was navigating, and that his crampon marks were guiding me through the white out and howling wind.
To pass time and encourage myself, I was thinking that I would eat that pack of grape looking and tasting sweets, and then drink a mini bottle of whisky soon as we make it back to the hut. I imagined the taste whilst I laid almost flat against the slope as the wind tried to rip the skis off my pack. It was an inopportune place, but I guess on the narrow ridge was where the strongest wind was going to blow. I wondered if I moaned and groan in the howling wind when no one could hear, did I actually moan at all?
The wind occasionally eased, but visibility was on permanent vacation. We reached the top of another crest to find a huge wall. Altimeter: 200m to climb still. Taku: ‘Good job young man! We are almost…. somewhere!’ Out came the map again.
We finally reached the mellow section of the next ridge, and in a distance we saw an ice covered structure that looked like a coral. I did not remember seeing that before, but Taku was quite excited about it. We saw some frozen footprints again. By this stage, my goggles were frozen and foggy. I had to remove them to see the contours. The snow/ice was coming down hard on my face and eyes. Those grape sweets are not far now!
We finally made it through the roughest conditions yet to find our way back to the hut. We dug the snow off the trap door, and hauled ourselves in and cranked on the stove. I tore open the sweets packet and gave Taku 2 for every 4 I ate. I was so charged with adrenalin I did not feel the cold and my knee was actually bearable. It got cold quickly though as I was wet. My luxury item for the trip was now an essential change of clothes. All my shell layers were frozen solid in no time.
I moaned and groaned with delight as I drank hot soup, hot chocolate and ate tuna pasta all within half an hour. It was of great reluctance that I shared my sleeping bag with my boot liners, gloves and wet socks in hope that they will be dried by the morning.
My knee had decided that my Rishiri climbing adventure was over. I was, however, allowed one more ski adventure (down to base). Tomorrow I would have a chilled day, literally… (to be continued)…
Here is Rishiri Expedition Part 1 if you have missed how we got to this point….