Posted tagged ‘Hakuba’

Mt. Shirouma (白馬岳)

February 17, 2009

This blog post was written back in 2009. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Shirouma is the highest peak in the Hakuba section of the Kita Alps and on the top of most Japanese hikers ‘to climb’ list. It also happens to be one of the few peaks in Japan with year-round snow fields.


The hike: From the bus stop, the trail starts between the large mountain hut and the toilet. If you don’t have crampons then you can usually buy simple 2-pointers from the hut which should be sufficient (unless climbing early in the season). The trail initially follows a gravel forest road, passing by a gargantuan concrete waterfall – easily the tallest artificial fall in Japan. The road eventually turns into a hiking trail proper, and you’ll reach a pair of huts and campground, just below the start of the Daisekkei (great snow field). Take a break and inquire at the hut about current snow conditions/avalanche risk. The Daisekkei is not to be taken lightly, as a landslide in July 2008 killed two people and rockfalls are very common. Bring a helmet just in case if you’ve got one. Put on your crampons before stepping out into the snowfield and please wear some eye protection if the sun is out. You’ll be hiking in the snow for most of the way, so just follow the crowds/footprints. Overall it’s not too bad of a slog, and you should reach the ridge line in anywhere from 2-1/2 to 4 hours, depending on conditions. There’s a huge hut staring at you at the junction, as well as a modest campground. Turn right and pass another hut, and you’ll be on the summit of Mt. Shirouma in another 10 minutes or so. The views are outstanding if the weather is good (consider yourself very lucky if it is – Hakuba is notorious for cloudy weather in the Alpine backcountry). From the summit, you’ve got 4 options. You can either retrace your steps all the way back to Sarukura, or continue on the same ridge line over to Mt. Yukigura (雪倉岳) or down to Mt. Norikura (乗鞍岳). Alternatively, you can head down the back side of the mountain towards Keyaki-daira (欅平). This trail is not used very much, so I can’t attest for the condition. A better option might be to stay on top overnight, catch the sunrise, and then hike along the ridge over to Mt. Yari (鎗ヶ岳) and down to Yari Hot Spring (鎗温泉). Take a left at the first junction on the other side of Mt. Yari, and you’ll arrive at the hot spring in another hour. This trail actually ends up back at Sarukura, making a great 3-day loop hike.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to early October, when the buses to Sarukura are running. You could also go earlier if you’ve got crampons and an ice axe. Avalanches are common in the Daisekkei until the end of May, so be careful if hiking in the spring. Click here if you don’t believe me.

Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take the JR Ooito line to Hakuba (白馬) station. From there, take a bus bound for Sarukura (猿倉) and get off at the final stop. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also overnight Alpico Group buses from Shinjuku station in Tokyo directly to Hakuba

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1702m)

Mt. Kashimayari (鹿島槍ヶ岳)

February 21, 2008

Mt. Kashimayari is arguably one of the toughest day hikes around, and the hike described here is a shorter (and more scenic?) route than the Ogisawa (扇沢) approach.

the ridge to Kashimayari

The hike: The trailhead is at the end of a long, dirt, forest road that is, unfortunately, closed to vehicular traffic. That means you’ve got a 4km warm-up at the beginning of the day. The forest road follows a beautiful river, and you should reach the end in about an hour or so, depending on your pace. You know you’ve reached the end because there’s a giant concrete dam staring right at you! This dam is so big that a tunnel has been built to let hikers through to the other side. When I did this hike, it looked like they were preparing to build some kind of pedestrian bridge across the river, but if they haven’t then just use the tunnel. The trail wastes no time in gaining altitude, so fill your water bottles at the dam before setting off. The trail climbs up, up, and up some more. It’s not too difficult at first, thanks to the abundance of small log ladders built into the mountainside. After about 2-1/2 or 3 hours of climbing, you come to a flat spot known as the Takachihodai (高千穂台). This is a great place for a snack, as you’ve got the huge peak of Kashimayari rising directly in front of you. It’s difficult to believe that you’ll be sitting on the top in several hours. After adequate rest, head up the mountain some more. Depending on when you go, you’ll probably run into your first batches of snow in the next area. The trail definitely gets rockier and steeper, but if the weather is good you should have no trouble finding your way. The ridge line will come closer and closer, and eventually you’ll have to traverse to the right in order to hit the ridge. Everything is marked with paint and arrows, but be very careful if it’s raining or foggy. Once you reach the ridge, the trail splits. Left will take you to the top of Jii-ga-take in about an hour, but you’ll want to go right for about 30 minutes until reaching Tsumetaike Hut (冷池山荘). This is a good place to stay if you want to turn this into a 2-day hike. Otherwise, fill up on water and prepare to climb some more. It’ll probably take about 1-1/2 to 2 hours to reach the summit from the hut, as you’ve got a lot of up and down. If the weather is good the views will be phenomenal. If not, then race as quickly as you can so you can come back and rest at the hut! Kashimayari has 2 twin peaks, and the first one you come to, nanhou (南峰) is the higher of the two. The views are stunning to say the least. Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Tsurugi tower to the north, as Mt. Goyru and Shirouma flow gracefully to the east. Look westward, and you can just about count every peak in the Kita Alps. Mt. Fuji? Yep, it’s visible too (on a clear day, that is). Once you pat yourself on the back and pinch your to see if it’s a dream (and take some photos), head back to civilization the same way you came. Or, turn this into a multi-day trek by heading toward Mt. Goryu or the other way to Mt. Harinoki.

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, but the earlier you go, the more snow you’ll encounter. I did this hike in early June, just before the rainy season, and you can see how much snow there still was!

Access: To do the hike described here, you really need your own car (or lots of money to hire a taxi). The trailhead is accessible on the road that goes past Jiigatake Ski Resort (爺が岳スキー場). If you can make it to Oomachi Hot Spring (大町温泉)by bus from Shinano-Omachi Station (信濃大町駅), then you can take a taxi from there or try your luck hitching. Because of the length and difficulty of the hike, you need to camp at the trailhead in order to make it off the mountain before dark!

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change: ~1600m).