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Sawanobori – Japanese Shower Climbing

Warner River, New Hampshire

Philip kayaking in New Hampshire

I was reading the Japanese version of the Montbell site last night and came across an interesting sport I’d never heard of that has a following in Japan, called Sawanobori, or Shower Climbing. It combines all of the gear and techniques that I own for whitewater (above) with backpacking and rock climbing.

Shower climbers climb small waterfalls in creeks and streams. Like any adventure sport, shower climbing can be very dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.

  • You can drown if you are not wearing a life preserver and don’t understand whitewater flow dynamics
  • You can become hypothermic if you are not wearing a wet suit and get chilled.
  • You can break your head if you are not wearing a climbing helmet.
  • You can fall if you are not using proper climbing protection.
  • You should go with at least one person whitewater rescue and wilderness first aid training.

Despite the dangers, I can see the attraction of the sport – plus, it means that I could wear all of my gear at once! I’ve never tried that. This would include, at a minimum: a life preserver, a kayak or climbing helmet, a wet suit, proper river booties with heel, and potentially a climbing harness, carbiner, ATC, and top rope. In addition, it probably makes sense to bring a small backpack with warmers, a thermos of tea, sweet foods, and a change of clothes, all wrapped in waterproof stuff sacks.

From the few english descriptions that I’ve read about this sport it seems that summer is the time to do it, and even then, those mountain streams can be very cold. I can already think a few spots in Vermont and New Hampshire to give this a try.

Have any of you tried shower climbing before?


  1. If you decide to do this at Hawthorne Falls (or is that too much height), please include me on the bushwack portion of this adventure.

    I am told Hawthorne Falls is easier to get to from the ridge.

  2. Hawthorne does seem ideal from the pictures I've seen of it. But I'm going to have to put this off a year. Just too much going on this summer. Plus, I need to get a wet suit. I sold mine long ago when I upgraded to a dry suit (gore-tex) for spring and winter whitewater kayaking. Neoprene is needed for shower climbing.

  3. Wow, I read this thinking "okay this has to be a joke" (I can't see the video at work) and then after doing a Google search, I see that there are guides and companies that run these canyoning or shower climbing trips!

    I'd imagine that Bear Grylls it the champion at the sport since he does this in almost every episode of Man vs. Wild "without" the safety gear. haha.

  4. We do this a lot in Japan – it's a great way to cool down in the hot summer months. The kayaking bit is new to me, though – usually the streams are too steep and boulder-choked to be able to kayak down. It's a heck of a lot of fun, but the one thing to watch out for is the leeches…!

  5. Thought you might like to read this account of some classic sawa-nobori in Japan:

  6. I liked it, especially the bit about the "unstructured situation." I've been thinking about you the past week – glad you got back in touch.

  7. Thanks Earlylite for this excellent and succinct write-up and Chris for the reference to the Kurobe River post @ Project Hyakumeizan. The Kurobe river, though, is quite untypical of sawa-nobori. Most sawa-nobori "routes", if you can call them that, follow smaller (though not necessarily un-challenging) mountain streams and gullies. At the risk of being a somewhat self-serving blogger, I can refer you to accounts of such routes here:-

    Akagi-sawa, Japan Northern Alps (an all-time favourite of mine)

    and Ogawa-dani-roka, in the Tanzawa mountains near Tokyo


  8. Cool website and nice article on Sawanobori – yes hypothermia is always a concern when getting into Japanese rivers and streams anytime of the year as they are usually very cold.

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