Arriving in Japan with the initial idea to be practicing Sawanobori – waterfall climbing – on smaller ascents, in this film by The North Face James Pearson and fellow climber Caroline Ciavaldini – alongside Japanese climbers Yuji Hirayama and Toru Nakajma – were thrown in at the deep-end with a towering first challenge: taking on the 350m Shomyo, Japan’s highest waterfall.
Sawanobori as a subset of climbing is varied in itself, with bouldering problems and mini routes as well as big walls. ‘I was overwhelmed by those spaces – difficult rocks, slimy rocks and the volume of water – realizing that there lurk unknown dangers in comparison to normal climbing,’ Hirayama explained.
‘At the end of the day they’re all just vertical playgrounds for us to explore.’
Tackling dense vegetation to reach the falls, an approaching typhoon made the conditions even more challenging for the athletes, with the already damp and slippery rock soaked by intermittent downpours.
‘Day two on the Shomyo falls was really about stepping into the unknown – the only thing that was clear was that we needed to be fast. The more I see the Japanese climbers, the more I’m impressed by their vision of the sport. They look at things in a completely different way,’ said Pearson.