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Namesake: Izumi (“The Spring”)

[This Namesake story originally appeared in Alpinist 48 (2014). The author, Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama, is an original member of the Giri-Giri Boys, a group of Japanese climbers who have become known for their bold and visionary ascents. A story about the group’s 2008 exploits in Alaska appeared in Alpinist 26 (2009), and can be found here. Mt. Mizugaki, where this Namesake story takes place, was also the setting for another story in Alpinist 56 (2016) by Keita Kurakami, titled “A Thousand Days of Lapis Lazuli.”–Ed.]

Mt. Mizugaki, Japan. [Photo] E64, Wikimedia

Mt. Mizugaki, Japan. The mountain is featured in Kyya Fukada’s 1964 classic, One Hundred Mountains of Japan, translated in 2014 by Martin Hood. “Can one describe this mountain as a medley of crags?” Fukada wrote. “It is not the only mountain with crags, but what is unique about Mizugaki is the way it mixes its crags with its trees.” [Photo] E64, Wikimedia

The Spring

In traditional Japanese religion, people believed there must be gods for all forms in nature, especially for rocks, waterfalls and mountains. It makes sense that Mt. Mizugaki would be a holy peak, its granite walls rising like a fortress from a deep forest. It’s been ten years since I started to frequent this place. Although the tallest cliff is only a few hundred meters high, there’s something about climbing here that makes me feel stronger.

In August 2013, I hiked to Toichimen rock through the lingering heat and humidity. As I admired its dignified presence, I noticed an intermittent crack on the right-hand edge. To my disappointment, when I inspected the line on rappel, I found a row of old bolts and rotten pitons. But the series of holds continued from the bottom all the way to the top of a vast face, reminding me of my dreams of Yosemite.

I later learned that the fixed gear signaled the last pitch of a route established in 1975. I was impressed by the first ascensionists’ vision, by the way the line followed the natural weakness of the wall. Yet it made sense: If you saw the cliff without any previous information, this crack would immediately catch your eye. Somehow, for the past ten years, I’d been too focused on the classic routes in front of me to pay close attention.

In September, as the mountain began to turn to gold, I redpointed the pitch. Soon afterward, I traveled to the US. But the thought of Mizugaki remained in a corner of my mind–even when I stood before Yosemite’s massive El Capitan. In November, I came home to Japan. By linking this pitch with the rest of the crack, zigzagging between existing climbs and vegetation, I hoped to create a longer route. During winter snowstorms, I cleaned some of the moss. A large flake, where I hoped to place protection, fell to the ground with a roar.

When spring returned, to keep the rock free of new bolts, I put cams into small pockets and behind delicate flakes. At the crux, I attached a sling to a pinnacle and traversed tiny holds, trying not to think about falling. Below, the trees now shimmered like a thick green mist. At last, five pitches pieced together a single, radiant line. I named it Izumi, partly after the town of Oizumi, where my climbing partner and I live. But Izumi also means “the spring.” When we learn to see the mountains and rocks without preconceptions, even a small cliff becomes like a fountain, springing forth possibilities. I long to be the man who perceives these possibilities, who seeks them out and whose heart is, also, a rich spring of endless visions. A year has passed. Although my body hasn’t yet recovered from my summer trip to the Himalaya, I’m thinking of studying this mountain all over again with a new set of eyes.

–Translated by Hiko Ito

[This Namesake story originally appeared in Alpinist 48 (2014).–Ed.]