TOKYO — The Pacific Ocean Wall, a popular free-climbing wall on Tokyo’s Miyakejima island, part of the Izu Islands chain, was badly damaged by Wednesday’s earthquake, whose shocks reverberated among the climbing community.
The quake caused a 60 to 70 meter section of the eastern face of the cliff to collapse, according to a local free-climbing club. The quake’s intensity was upper 5 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7.
The cliff is on the island’s southern coast and has been popular with top free climbers since its discovery by a group of mountain climbers in June 2009 when they were visiting to conduct research on wild birds.
The cliff is about 200 meters wide and ranges in height between 20 meters and 30 meters, making it one of the country’s largest.
As fallen rocks from the quake-struck cliff now block the beach, and the bedrock is considered unstable, climbing experts are scheduled to visit the site to determine its safety.
Some local climbers said they were upset over the damaged cliff, as it was where free climbing began on the island, and they wanted many people to enjoy climbing the wall.
After the cliff was discovered, top free climbers from around Japan ascended the cliff, and about 40 climbing routes were discovered. In recent years, about 100 people climbed the wall annually, according to the Miyakejima Free climbing Club.
“It’s one of the biggest (free-climbing cliffs) in the country. It’s very valuable, because you can climb it not with safety gear … but rather only using your hands and feet,” said Yuichi Enokido, 37, of the Japan Free Climbing Association.
On Miyakejima, the Miyakejima Freeclimbing Club was formed by participants after a free-climbing event in 2008.
About 260 people, or nearly 10 percent of the island’s population, are members of the club. About 30 members participate in practice sessions twice a week.
The Miyake village government set up a wall in 2011 for practicing free climbing at the gymnasium of the former Tsubota Primary School in the village.
The village’s tourism promotion plan, compiled in March last year, views free climbing as a leisure sport with the potential to boost tourism.
Four free-climbing spots including the Pacific Ocean Wall have been developed on the island. Before the quake, the village government was scheduled to advertise the spots as a major tourism feature.
Yuichi Okiyama, 46, president of the club and one of people who discovered the Pacific Ocean Wall, expressed his shock over the cliff’s quake-triggered collapse.
“We have a special feeling toward the rocks there, because that’s where the island’s free-climbing history began,” he said. “It came as a great shock to me, as some routes have vanished with the collapse.”
Still, he has hope for the island’s climbing future. “The island has many undeveloped rocky areas,” he said. “Even on the cliff that was damaged, we may find new routes after confirming its safety.”