It was 12pm on Friday night, we were waiting at our rendez-vous in Tokyo. A people carrier pulled up, it was Minato, Keiko and Ton; we all piled in, the first thing we noticed was that they were watching football, Iran playing Japan, on the in-car guidance screen. Very nice.
We settle in for our 7hr drive to Kumaishi cave.
7am, somewhere. Lots of hills covered in snow; we pull up outside a 7-11 type place and spill out into the cool morning air, stretching and yawning.
After grabbing ourselves a breakfast of doughnuts and crisps, we take a windy winding road up and up into the snowy hills. Outside the local farmers house we stop to leave a gift; then head up a track into woods. At a grade 3 changing spot, we stand in the snow and take off warm fluffy clothes, replacing them with minimalist cave clothing: 3/4 length boiler suit (still with traces of Morocco's finest mud), walking boots and thermals.
With tackle bags of rope, borrowed SRT kits and familiar petzl hangers and maillons, we set off. A short walk later up through the trees, we stand peering into a 20m shaft, blowing out delightfully warm air. Tetley gets nominated lead rigger.
At the bottom of the first pitch Clewin and I are in some confusion about the way on. Aswell as being spiky, the rock has the structural properties of Ryvita which makes climbing and traversing a bit exciting - which is exactly what we were attempting, over bottomless pits. Where had everyone buggered off to?
Down a second pitch and then we are stood at the top of a 60m drop. Tetley rigs down, tentatively; his light swinging around the shaft as he disappears downwards, tying belays that alternate between bolts and rusty pitons. He seems to take forever, but we eventually start to follow. The fine shaft opens out and deposits us on a rubble pile, sloping down into a big chamber. A short climb up on the left leads upto the final pitch. This drops into a chamber by a monster rock-slab, propped up against the wall.
At this point we head out leaving ropes rigged.
In town we picked-up breakfast supplies and beer. I say we, personally I was struggling with the fact that we were in a normal supermarket, yet playing 'animal, vegetable or mineral?' with the products down the aisles!
We then head to an onsen, fantastic hot baths, including an outside steam pool with views over the river. Afterward we are relaxed in the lobby rehydrating, Clewin was straight onto beer. Keiko had a grey Sesame Seed flavoured ice-cream, I try the Green Tea. After a delicious meal, we head to our cabin; traditional mats and mattresses, and paper walls which don't seem too good for insulation. But, there's a secret weapon. In the centre of the main room we sit cross-legged around a low table, which has a duvet around the edge to cover your legs and a built-in heater, fantastic. So we drink beer, whisky and play paper, scissor, stone to decided whose making breakfast.
After breakfast, we meet the 'VC' and explore further into the system with Ton and Satoshi. Clambering under the slab we had seen before, we thrutch through some rifty stuff which opens up into a series of impressive galleries. A short pitch drops into a chamber, followed by nasty spiky rift, with increasingly hairy climbs, obviously very little visited. Really wishing I had some knee or elbow protection other than a flimsy bit of cotton, we finally reach a truly underwhelming sump pool. On the main pitch, on the way out, a second rope has been rigged so its one 40m hang, which is quite impressive.
Soon we pack up and head back to Tokyo. Minato offers to drop us off at our hotel, our blank stares bely our standard lack of forward planning. 'Er...No plan!', we say smiling and shrugging. This has become our catchphrase. Its the perfect opportunity to explore the delights of capsule hotels, but thats another story...
Jan Evettsrequire('../footer.php'); ?>