Mt. Sanbe (三瓶山)

Sitting on the edge of the Chugoku mountain range in northern Shimane Prefecture, Mt. Sanbe is a  glorious collection of 4 rounded conical peaks surrounding a large ancient volcanic caldera. It makes for a wonderful alternative to the more popular destination of Mt. Daisen to the east.

Options: There are no shortage of routes up the mountain. The quickest approach is via the northern face, starting at 青少年の家. From here it’s a 2-hour hike directly to the summit. Another option is to start at Sanbe Onsen and climb via Ko-Sanbe (子三瓶山). This route is tough and challenging, taking anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to reach the summit. The other option is to approach from the south via J0-Sanbe (女三瓶) and the ski resort. This is the most developed part of the mountain, with the top of Jo-Sanbe covered with antenna. Avoid this part of  Sanbe unless you want to be disappointed. The other approach is from the west, and this route is described below.

The hike: There’s a restaurant at the bus stop that sells noodles and other food. It’s a good place to kill some time if the weather is bad or to fill your tummy after the long train and bus ride. There’s no official water source here, but I’m sure you can ask them to fill up your water bottles there. There’s also a supermarket a block from Oda station, so you can buy water and other food there. Anyway, cross the main road and enter the vast meadow that spreads out towards Mt. Sanbe. You’ll see two peaks hovering above. The right peak is Ko-Sanbe (小三瓶), the child, while the peak on the left is Dan-Sanbe (男三瓶), the father. In the autumn, this meadow is filled with beautiful pampas grass (susuki in Japanese). Follow the plowed path towards the mountain until it enters the forest, where you’ll soon reach a junction. You have two choices here, but the path on the right is much more challenging and takes longer. My advice is to take this path on the descent, making the hike a wonderful loop. At the junction, turn left and follow the sign that says 男三瓶山90分. The trail climbs steadily through the forest for about 30 minutes until reaching the first of many switchbacks. Just like all volcanoes, the route steepens the closer it gets to the top, with the views opening up above the tree line towards the west. It should take an hour or so to the edge of the treeline, where the path becomes much rockier and steeper. Keep pushing on for about 10 more minutes and you’ll reach the top of the first false peak. From here the path flattens out, traversing over a series of rolling hills until reaching the summit. Again in the autumn this area is covered in pampas grass. It should take about 2 hours or so from the bus stop to the summit of Mt. Sanbe, where you have several options. The shortest way off the mountain is to the north, which is marked by a path that reads 姫逃コース下山口. From here it’s an hour to the bus stop and a Sanbe Burger! The best option would be to stay in the free mountain hut in a saddle just below the high point, where you can catch the sunrise and sunset. There’s no toilet or water source, so you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag, food, and plenty of water. The hut is new and really clean, with two floors of sleeping space. If you’re just up for the day, however, then head down the stairs away from the direction of the mountain hut, following the sign that says 西の原85分. At the bottom of the stairs turn left, following the summit plateau towards the southwest before dropping off the southern face of the peak. The path is steep and incredibly slippery in wet weather. You’ll see the summit of the child peak directly in front of you, and it should take about 30 minutes of tough descending to reach the saddle between the two peaks. Here you’ll reach a junction, where a decision will have to be made. If you want to get off the mountain quickly, then turn right and descend back to Sada-n0-matsu bus stop in about 30 minutes. If you want a hot bath, then continue on the ridge another 30 minutes or so to the summit of Ko-Sanbe, and then down the other side to Kei-Sanbe (系三瓶) and then down to Sanbe Onsen. Another option would be to head left at the junction to check out the caldera lake called Muro-no-uchi (室の内池). After reaching the lake, turn right and climb up to Kei-Sanbe and then a left down to the onsen. With so many options, you could easily spend a couple of days exploring the different peaks and paths. The path from the ridge junction back to Sada-no-matsu bus stop is easy, through a bit of cedar forest before crossing over a concrete dam. A short distance after the dam the trail meets back up with the original junction that you saw just after you entered the forest. From here, turn left and retrace your steps back to the bus stop.

When to go: This hike can be done anytime from late April to late November, when the snow is gone. A winter hike is also possible if you’ve got winter hiking experience and equipment. November is the most scenic time, with fields of pampas grass and stunning fall colors. If you want to avoid the crowds, then head mid-week and you’ll probably have the entire mountain to yourself.

Access: Since it’s a long way from anywhere, it’s almost impossible to do this as a day hike if coming from Osaka. Plan on staying overnight in either Oda city, Sanbe hot spring, or at the emergency hut on the summit. From Okayama (岡山) station, take the JR Yakumo limited express train bound for Izumoshi (出雲市) and get off at the last stop. At Izumo, change to a local train on the San-in line (head towards Hamada and not back to Matsue)  and get off at Odashi (大田市) station. You can also take a limited express train from Izumo but it will cost you more. The connections are usually timed, so take whatever train is waiting on the other platform. The connections are sometimes tight, so run if you have to because trains are few and far between. From Odashi, take a bus either bound for Sanbe Onsen (三瓶温泉) or Seishounenkouryuu-no-ie (青少年交流の家) and get off at Sada-n0-matsu (定の松) bus stop. There are only 3 buses in the morning, so plan your trip accordingly. Click here for the bus schedule. It takes close to 5 hours from Okayama station to the trailhead.

Map: Click here

Live Web Cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~700 meters)

Distance: 6km to 12km depending on the route (4 to 7 hours)

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