No. 1 - How Far would you go to Climb?
5,806 miles, one direct flight from Denver, and a bullet train ride later, we arrived in Yokosuka, Japan. A moonless night disguised the urban landscape around us, but we could already tell that this was not our typical climbing galavant. My American friend met us in Narita when we landed. She led us by train back to the costal town of Yokosuka, through a quiet maze of shops shuttered for the night, to our first unexpected destination of the evening: a dark Mexican bar with six seats. “Real estate definitely sells for a premium in Japan”, I thought. We wearily gulped down double chu-his, the local cocktail specialty, elbow-to-elbow with rowdy sailors before passing out back at our friend’s stamp-size hotel room. After a short night, we woke jet-lagged to a muggy March day. An acrid, salty smell hung in the air, but daylight revealed a vibrant naval shipping town with a substantial American population. Donut shops, malls, restaurants and vendors dotted the streets. “Arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you) with a small nod became a staple in every transactional conversation.
Exploring the streets of Yokosuka.
An old fishing boat near the ferry.
After exploring an anime convention in Tokyo and a defunct quarry turned Buddhist temple across Tokyo Bay that weekend, my friend returned to work on Monday and we were left to adventure on our own.
The bronze daibutsu (great Buddha) of Kamakura has served as an icon since 1252 A.D.
Hundreds of Jizo statues at Hasedera temple placed by parents of lost children.
Zen gardens in Kamakura.
We couldn’t wait to explore Japanese climbing culture. First stop: B-Pump Yokohama. The girl at the front desk pointed to the guest pass pricing on a laminated handout with English translations. Gangster rap reverberated off the walls. Upscale American brands and trendy North Face bags stocked the pro-shop near the entrance. Upstairs, disciplined climbers stretched, hangboarded, and trained one-arm pull ups with the ease of professionals. The place had a cool vibe!
Getting slapped at B-Pump.
Aged climbing holds stained black from shoe rubber covered the angles of the two story gym. I worked through the grades until I found the conversion sheet with Japanese to V-scale conversions. These were some sandbagged slopey climbs! I couldn’t wait to try the outdoor boulders for comparison. Ironically, B-Pump Bouldering Gym’s guidebooks were limited to sport areas only accessible by car. I wanted to ask one of the locals for beta, but I was afraid my (non-existent) Japanese would embarrass us. We found photos of the boulders at Mt. Mitake on the web that night. It looked like the most accessible option frequented by Tokyo residents, so we scouted the train route over WIFI at a craft brewery in Yokohama.
Sake barrels in Kamakura.
Cherry blossoms signal spring in Yokohama.
We caught the first train out of town the following morning. The route snaked North through Yokohama and Tokyo, then East to the Ome countryside. Temples and graveyards whizzed by the glazed train windows. After a considerable thinning of crowds, buildings, and vending machines, we approached the rural emerald green landscape of Mt. Mitake. Torri gates marked temples up the hill, and a red cable car shuttled tourists to the summit of Mount Mitake. Cherry blossoms sleepily blew in the balmy spring breeze.
Steps in a peaceful cemetery at one of the temples we visited.
We arrived at 1:00 pm, but the last train to Tokyo departed at 3:00…. We had just spent four hours standing on a train for two hours of climbing….”Whatever”, I thought, “I’m not about to waste the chance to climb outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes with no pads. YOLO, right?” We hurried down the steep canyon to a rusty bridge that led down to the turquoise river. Polished river-rock spackled the shore.
The scenic Tama River at Mt. Mitake.
The Ninja Boulder was the obvious attraction, but we chose to traverse the easier climbs because we had no bouldering pads. I was again impressed with the quality and level of climber attacking the Ninja. Constant gym training and persistent work ethic obviously paid off for the crushers.
The Ninja Boulder.
We topped several slabs before realizing that the last train departed in 15 minutes. We ran through at a small gear exchange on our way back and noticed pad rentals… a little too late.
Mike sampling one of Mitake’s slabs.
Ninja cowboy scenes greeted our return to Ome station. We managed to snag seats for the return trip, and I closed my eyes like a seasoned Japanese traveler. I slipped in into a dream about hot ramen and sushi…
The background at Ome Station.
I knew it wasn’t meant to be a climbing trip, but traveling nearly 6,000 miles for two hours of outdoor climbing actually seemed worth it for the experience. The details of that perfect day remain etched in my mind over a year later. I can always count on climbing to deliver memorable experiences. Do you ever stop to wonder how many days of the thousands you actually remember in vivid detail? I think about Mitake often… Guess I’ll have to settle for dreams of slopey boulders, hot ramen, and sushi until we return. Better start planning another trip!
-Abby Mills for Wild Iris Media