Posted tagged ‘Hyakumeizan (百名山)’

Mt. Suisho (水晶岳)

November 9, 2008

Mt. Suisho, also known as Mt. Kuro, is a spectacular alpine peak located a stone’s throw from Mt. Washiba in the Kita Alps. In fact, most people climb these 2 peaks in succession as a side trip from the main Kamikochi-Tateyama trekking route.

kuro1

The hike: Follow the same instructions for the Mt. Washiba hike. From the top of Mt. Washiba, continue hiking north on the ridge line (up and over Mt. Warimo) until reaching a junction called Iwakoke-norikoshi (岩苔乗越). If you turn left then you’ll soon reach a 3 way junction down to Kumo-no-taira (雲ノ平), but ignore this and continue on the trail in front of you. In about 30 minutes or so you’ll reach the Suisho hut (水晶小屋). Open from mid-July to mid-September, it’s a very small hut with room for only 30 people. Click here for the website. There’s no reliable water source, so make sure you’ve filled up your bottles at the Mitsumata hut before the climb up to Washiba. Leave your pack in front of the Suisho hut and prepare yourself for the short, adrenalin-inducing climb to the summit. Unlike its close neighbor Washiba, Mt. Suisho is a steep, rocky peak with plenty of chains bolted to make things easier. The views from the peak are stunning to say the least. Retrace your steps back to the hut and make a decision about where to go next. You have 3 options. The first option is to retrace your steps all the way back to Mitsumata and the main trekking route. Option 2 is to retreat back to the junction and descending down to Kumo-no-daira. I must admit that it’s one area of the Northern Alps I have yet to explore, but the area looks spectacular and there’s a hidden hot spring at the end of a long valley. The third option would be to take the only trail you haven’t been on, which will take you across a long saddle and over to an adjacent ridge line. This is the route I took and it should take you about 90 minutes or so to reach Mt. Masago (真砂岳). Just before the summit you’ll find a trail junction that leads down to Yumata Hot Spring (湯俣温泉). This is another of Japan’s hidden hot springs, and there are a couple of huts you can stay at. It really is in the middle of nowhere, and it’ll take a few hours to get there from the junction. Unless you’re anxious to get out of the mountains, I’d recommend staying on the ridge for the time being and climb up and over Mt. Masago. 20 minutes past this peak, you’ll be sitting on top of Mt. Noguchigoro (野口五郎岳), which has incredible views back across the valley to Mt. Suisho. It’s from this vantage point that you can see how Suisho also goes by the name of Mt. Kuro. There’s a hut and plenty of fresh water here. If you’ve still got the energy, then I’d recommend continuing along the ridge to Eboshi hut, which is about 2-1/2 hours further north. Click here for the hut website. I made it all the way from Sugoroku hut to this point in one day, but I was carrying a fairly light pack and was acclimatized to the altitude. There’s plenty of room to camp around the hut and the sunsets are magical. The next day, wake up early and traverse about 40 minutes further north to the summit of Mt. Eboshi (烏帽子岳), one of the 200 famous mountains. The final rock climb to the summit is pretty challenging, but fun. You can continue climbing on the ridge line all the way to Hakuba if you’d like, but please make sure you take a right when descending to the river and not a left, or you’ll end up at Kurobe lake and not at the top of Mt. Harinoki. If you’d like to get out of the mountains, then it’s a 4-hour hike from Eboshi hut to Takase dam (高瀬ダム), which is an 8000 yen taxi ride out to Shinani-Omachi (信濃大町) station. You could also try your luck hitching.

When to go: This hike can be done from late May to early November. Just like the neighboring peaks of the Kita Alps, Mt. Suisho is considered an expert climb in the winter, and challenging even during Golden Week because of all the remaining snow.

Access: From Takayama (高山駅) station, take a bus bound for Shin-Hotaka Hot Spring (新穂高温泉) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also buses from Matsumoto station (松本駅) in Nagano, and there may even be direct night buses from Tokyo.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1896m).

Hachimantai (八幡平)

October 18, 2008

Rather than viewing Hachimantai as a mountain, think of it as a series of rolling marshlands, with excellent views out to its volcanic neighbor, Mt. Iwate. Avoid the weekends if you want to escape the crowds.

The hike: From the bus stop, follow the trail up to the summit of Mt. Chausu, which has excellent views across the valley to Mt. Iwate and over to Mt. Chokai on a clear day. The 200m vertical ascent should take about 20 minutes or so. There’s a hut near the summit which I think is free to stay in. Continue on the main trail towards Kuroyachi Shitsugen (黒谷地湿原), a wonderful marshland area. The trail is relatively flat and very easy to follow. You’ll reach a trail junction, with a trail branching off to the left. Ignore this trail because it leads back down to the road. If you’re in need of drinking water however, walk a short distance on this trail and you’ll find 熊の泉, the bear’s spring. Anyway, keep traversing west towards the summit of Hachimantai, and you’ll reach another trail junction marked 安比岳分岐 (Appidake-bunki). The trail to the right leads to the summit of Mt. Appi, which will take about a half an hour to reach. You can actually take this trail, soak at Appi hot spring, and return to Mt. Chausu by turning right at the only trail junction you find. This would make for an interesting detour if you’re staying at Chausu hut. Otherwise, just ignore this trail and head towards 源太森 (Genta-mori), which has nice views over the marshlands. Stay on the same path, and a little further along you’ll come across yet another trail junction. You can actually go either way. but I recommend staying straight, on the northern edge of the lake until reaching Ryoun Hut (陵雲荘). This is another mountain hut which I also think is free to stay in (most people just use Hachimantai as a day hike area except in the winter when they stay in the huts). Soon after passing the hut you’ll find yet another trail junction (Hachimantai does not have a lack of hiking options!) Stay to the right for the easy stroll up to the summit. This is the only mountain in Japan that has a wooden viewing platform built right on top of the summit – otherwise you’d have no views! From the top, turn left and follow the paved path past a couple of small lakes until reaching the massive parking lot. Enjoy some curry and rice in the huge rest house while waiting for the bus back to Morioka. Alternatively, you can easily hitchhike back to the city on the road.

When to go: This hike can be done from Golden Week to early November, when the road to the summit is open. Alternatively, a winter snowshoe trek is also possible via Hachimantai Ski Resort. A trail leads off towards Mt. Chausu from the top of the final chairlift.

Access: From bus stop #3 of the east exit of Morioka (盛岡) station, take a bus bound for Hachimantai (八幡平) and get off at Chausuguchi (茶臼口). As of 2011, there are 3 buses a day, running from Golden Week until the beginning of November. Click here for the schedule.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change ~250m).

Mt. Tekari (光岳)

October 2, 2008

This blog post was written back in 2008. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Tekari is the southernmost of the alpine peaks in the Minami Alps mountain range and is one of the best examples of the “rising tree line” phenomenon plaguing a lot of mountains worldwide.

The hike: There’s a toilet and small shelter at the parking lot, but not much else. Walk down the road about 100 meters and you’ll see the trailhead on your left. A short distance from the parking lot, you’ll see a stream running down the hillside and crossing the forest road. This is the only water source before reaching the hut, so fill up accordingly for the 1700m ascent. The path crosses a tall suspension bridge over the river before climbing steeply up into the forest. There are ropes secured into the hillside to help you traverse through the narrow sections. As you climb higher and higher the views will start to open up on your left. In mid-summer it’s difficult to see, but if the leaves have fallen then you’ll have an outstanding view across the valley to Mt. Hijiri. Keep slogging along for about 90 minutes, following the pink tape on the trees and you’ll reach your first real place for a rest. It’s signposted as men-daira (面平) and it’s one of the most beautifully forested areas in Japan. There are dozens upon dozens of giant cedar trees, which are reminiscent of the scenery of northern California. That, coupled with the moss, make for a pleasant spot to contemplate life. There are even a few flat places to pitch your tent, but the lack of water might pose problems for campers. Continue climbing through the giant trees, and eventually the summit of Mt. Tekari will come into view on your right. It should take about 2 hours or so to reach the summit of Mt. Irou (易老岳), which is on the main ridge line of the Minami Alps. Congratulate yourself – the toughest part of the hike behind you. Turn right and descend down to a flat area with incredible views to your right. This is supposedly the only place with cell phone reception on the mountain, and it sits on top of a massive landslide that occurred long ago. From here, there’s a fair amount of up and down for the next 30 minutes or so. This is followed by a long climb up a rocky gully, which becomes a river in a rain storm. Near the top of the gully, you’ll reach a water source at an area called Seikou-daira (静高平). Fill up your bottles here, as there’s no water at the hut. Continue climbing up the trail and about 10 minutes later you’ll reach the junction for Mt. Izaru (イザルヶ岳), which is 50 meters lower than Mt. Tekari, yet is above the tree line. There’s no view from the top of Mt. Tekari, which has been attributed to rising global temperatures. You can either head up to Izaru or head directly for Tekari. The trail flattens out and there are lots of wooden planks to help limit erosion. The hut will soon come into view, as well as Mt. Fuji off to your left. Tekari hut is in really good shape, and run by a lovely couple. There’s room for about 5 or 6 tents directly behind the hut. Drop your pack off here for the 15-minute climb to the summit. Although there’s no view from the top, if you continue 10 meters past the high point you’ll find a rock formation with outstanding views to the south. This makes for a much more pleasant rest area than the narrow, forested summit. From the peak, retrace your steps back to the hut and either check-in for the night or prepare yourself for the long, long slog back to the trailhead. Another option would be to traverse over to Mt. Hijiri, which will take at least another day to reach. Click here for a good blog (in Japanese) with lots of great photos. Click here for the hut web site.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to late October, depending on the season. It’s also possible to go earlier than mid-July, but the hut is not open and there’ll still be a lot of snow. The hike is 23km return, so make sure you get an early start for the 9 hour hike (or break it up into 2 days by staying/camping at the hut).

Access: There’s no public transportation to the trailhead, so a car is necessary unless you want to fork over an arm and a leg for a taxi. Regardless, from Toyohashi (豊橋) station take the JR Iida Line and get off at Hiraoka (平岡) station. The limited express train takes about an hour and 10 minutes. From there, hop in a taxi and tell the driver to take you to Iroudo (易老渡). The taxi ride takes about 90 minutes and costs a whopping 17,000 yen!

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1700m).

Mt. Tsurugi (剣岳)

September 16, 2008

This blog post was written back in 2008. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Tsurugi fights a fierce battle with Mt. Yari as the most sought-after peak in the Kita Alps. The adrenalin-inducing, nearly vertical climb to the summit is not for the faint-of-heart or inexperienced, as each year people fall to their deaths.

The hike: Most people approach this hike from Murodo and Tsurugi-sawa, but I’m introducing this alternative route from the back side of the mountain. The hike is actually much easier (except for the huge elevation gain) and far less crowded. From the banbajima parking lot, head through the beautiful grass campground (fill up on water) to the start of the hike. There are a couple of shrines here, so pray for a safe journey. The trail instantly starts climbing up the steep Hayatsuki mountain ridge (早月尾根), but flattens out significantly after about 15 minutes. You’ll see a pair of benches on your right, and this is the last place to comfortably rest before the hut. The path is well-trodden but wonderfully maintained, with hundreds of sandbags used to help prevent erosion. Continue for about 1/2 km through a spectacular virgin forest with gargantuan trees. It really is a sensational section of hiking – straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie! You’ll soon reach a humongous tree with a circumference of at least 10 meters, and this is where the tough slog begins. All in all it’s not all that steep – it’s just that you’ve got a long, long way to go until the top. There are small metal signposts at every 200m vertical elevation gain, which make for good places for breaks. There’s no water on the trail at all, so make sure you’ve brought plenty from the campground below. Just after the 1800m mark you’ll find yourself on the top of an unnamed peak with a small concrete marker. Make sure to look behind you, back down to the small parking lot and hut at banbajima! The trail drops and flattens out a bit before reaching two small ponds. If you look up and a little to your left, then you can actually see the hut, but you’ve still got a few hundred vertical meters and about 1km of hiking in order to reach it. All in all, it should take you about 4 or 5 hours from the trailhead to reach the hut. There’re plenty of places to camp, or you can check into the hut. If it’s early and the weather is good, then you can consider making the 3-hour, 800 vertical meter sprint for the summit, but it’s better to save it for the following day. The hut costs 6000 yen for a futon only, or 8000 with one meal. There’s no free drinking water, and you’re only choice is to buty bottled water from the hut staff. A 2-liter bottle costs a whopping 800 yen, but hey – it’s the same price as a can of beer at the hut and about the average price of a cocktail in the city nowadays. The next day, try to wake up early and get some hiking under your belt before the sun rises. The trail is easy to follow if you’ve got a torch. Make sure you keep your fluid intake up to avoid dehydration and altitude sickness. Keep climbing up towards the summit, breaking out of the tree line in about an hour from the hut. From 2600m all the way to the top it’s a bit of a rock scramble, but you’ll do fine if the weather is good. The views are incredible. The summit towers directly in front of you, with the insanely jagged Hatsumine ridge line jutting off to the left. Mt. Shirouma is directly behind that. On the other side, Mt. Dainichi and Murodo will come into view, with Mt. Yakushi, Kurobegoro, and Mt. Kasa beyond. Hakusan is also visible to the right of the aforementioned peaks. Soon you’ll reach the 2800m marker, the final marker before the summit. This is where things get a little challenging. Directly in front of you is an area called the “Kani no hasami” (the crab’s scissors), a section of zigzagging chains built into the rocks. It’s actually not that bad to maneuver through, as the switchbacks make it relatively easy. There are plenty of footholds and the rocks are easy to grab onto. There are absolutely no ladders or any vertical climbing whatsoever. Soon enough you’ll reach the Tsurugi ridgeline, which connects with the main trail coming from Tsurugi-sawa. This is where the crowds will increase 10-fold, as this peak has quite a following. Turn left and follow the paint marks for about 10 minutes to the summit. If you’re lucky and the cloud isn’t in, you’ll be rewarded with hands-down the best panoramic view of the Kita Alps – I should know because I’ve climbed them all. Take your pick and you can see it – Mt. Yari, Shirouma, Goryu, Kashimayari, Kasa, Norikura, Oku-hotaka, Kuro. And that’s just the Kita Alps! Mt. Fuji, Yatsu-ga-take, the Chuo and Minami Alps all lie beyond, perfectly visible on a clear day. Anyway, you can either retrace your steps all the way back down to banbajima, or consider traversing down to Tsurugi-sawa and out to Murodo. Or do the opposite – ascend via Tsurugi-sawa and descend to banbajima. Hitching from banbajima is incredibly easy, as lots of daytrippers come to enjoy the scenery without climbing the peaks.

When to go: This hike can be done from early July to early October, when most of the snow is gone. It’s possible to go a little earlier or later in the season if you’ve got an ice axe, crampons, and ropes (plus the experience to use them). Do not attempt this hike in rainy weather, as the rocks are incredibly slippery and poor visibility could result in a wrong turn.

Access: From Toyama station (富山), take a train on the Dentetsu-Toyama railway bound for Unazuki Hot Spring (宇奈月温泉) and get off at Kami-ichi (上市) station. A limited express train takes only 15 minutes and costs only 100 yen more than the local train. From Kami-ichi station, take a taxi bound for Banbajima (馬場島). The taxi will set you back around 7000 yen, but there are plenty of taxis waiting for you at the station for the 40 minute journey.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2200m).

Mt. Poroshiri (幌尻岳)

September 5, 2008

Mt. Poroshiri is one of the best hikes in Hokkaido, if not Japan. Buried deep within the Hidaka mountain range, the peak offers awe-inspiring alpine scenery, unspoilt panoramic views, and a thrilling traverse through a swift flowing river.

The hike: There’s a stinky toilet at the parking lot, but not much else. The trail starts at the end of the parking lot, and quickly joins a gravel forest road. Hike along the forest road for 5km until reaching the terminus. There’s a concrete dam here and some kind of concrete building. Directly behind the building there’s an excellent place to camp, with nice grass and room for 2 or 3 tents. From the dam, it’s another 4km or so to Poroshiri hut (幌尻山荘). The trail starts off flat, and you’ll quickly reach a point where the trail climbs very, very steeply up the hillside. It’s a near vertical ascent, and you’ll see a lot of ropes. Luckily, there’s no reason to climb up here, as there’s an alternative route to your right, along the river. Climb up the rocks and traverse a small ledge, using the chains to help you through. This is the most treacherous part of the traverse, and be especially careful climbing down the rocks on the return trip. After passing this point, it’s pretty smooth sailing, and you’ll reach your first river crossing in a few minutes. The original trail used to stay on the left side of the river and only had about 15 crossings, but erosion over time has led to an increase in the number of crossings. Every year the number and extent of the crossings are different, and I can imagine a point in the future where the river crossings would start at the dam. Anyway, change into sandals, wetsuit booties, or any other alternative footwear you’ve brought along. The first 2 river crossings are very quick, and then there’s nothing for about 1km or so. There are lots of points where the trail climbs steeply on the left bank of the river, but in every case there’s a much easier traverse right next to the water. After your 6th river crossing you’ll come across a large waterfall on your left. The next 2 river crossings are quite deep, so be careful in this section. Between crossings 18 and 19 you’ll find a deep pool, which makes for a wonderful place to go for a swim (if you can stand the frigid waters, that is). After this pool you’re pretty much home free, as you’ve only got a few more crossings. The last crossing is just before you reach the hut. Drop your pack and check-in for the night. There are 2 different caretakers who alternate shifts. I’m told one of them is really kind and friendly, but the other one is not very friendly at all. It’ll costs 1500 yen to stay for the night (bring your own food and sleeping bag). Alternatively, there are a few places to pitch your tent, but it’ll also cost you 1500 yen to camp! There’s plenty of drinking water as well as a few toilets. You have to stow your backpacks in a small room under the hut during the busy season. The next day, take the trail that goes past the drinking water and start climbing up and up. It’s a 1100m vertical climb through virgin forest. The maps say to allow 4 hours to reach the summit, but you can easily do it in half the time if you’ve got a light pack and are fit. There’s a water source a short distance from the ridgeline, but it might be better to fill up at the hut, as the water is more reliable. Keep slogging along, and the views will start opening up. You’ll see Mt. Tottabetsu (トッタベツ岳) rising steeply to your left, and the summit of Poroshiri directly across from you on the left side as well, with a large col between you and it. The trail continues along the exposed ridgeline. If you’re lucky you can see Mt. Yotei rising up in the distance on your right. About an hour after reaching the ridgeline, you’ll be on top of the summit, taking in the awesome panoramic views. I can’t even begin to describe the scenery on a clear day, but imagine looking in all directions and finding no sign of human activity anywhere (no dams, electrical towers, or cedar forests – just row upon row of mountains!) From the summit, you can either retrace your steps back to the hut, or continue on the trail for the 1 hour climb to Mt. Tottabetsu. You’ll drop down to a col and then climb up to the summit, where there’s a nice view back towards Poroshiri. Keep trudging along the ridgeline for another 20 minutes or so until reaching a trail junction on your left. You’ll see a big red arrow spray-painted on the rocks with the kanji for Sanso (山荘), so take a left here. This trail isn’t used much but it’s relatively easy to follow until you get into the forest. Once you’re in the forest there’s a lot of bamboo grass that may or may not be overgrown when you go. I was unlucky and it was like swimming through a river of grass! I got completely soaked from head to toe and it was very difficult to see. Eventually the trail will spit you out in the river, which you can follow back to the hut. From the hut, you can retrace your steps back to the forest road and parking lot. It’s also possible to do a full-length traverse of the entire Hidaka mountain range. To do this, don’t turn left off the ridge line at the junction, but keep going straight towards Mt. Kita-Tottabetsu. You’ll have to camp at least one more night on the mountain, but if the weather’s good then it’ll be an investment well-made.

When to go: Poroshiri hut is open from July 1st to Sept. 30th, so this is the best season to attempt the hike. Whatever you do, do not attempt this hike if it’s been raining and the river is swollen. Every year people drown in the river, as there are 23 river crossings before reaching the hut.

Access: Unfortunately, you’ll need your own transport in order to make it to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the ‘village’ of Furenai (振内), which lies on highway 237 between BIratori (平取) and Hidaka (日高) or you could try to hitch. I was lucky enough to hitch from the town of Tokachi-shimizu (十勝清水) all the way to the trailhead, but it was a weekend at the height of the climbing season. For the bus schedule from Sapporo to Furenai, click here. For the bus schedule from Tomakomai to Furenai, click here. The phone number for the Furenai taxi company is 01457-3-3021.

Map:

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1552m).

Mt. Echigo-komagatake (越後駒ヶ岳)

September 1, 2008

Mt. Echigo-koma is part of the famed ‘Echigo Sanzan’ trio of peaks lying southeast of Minami-Uonuma city in Niigata prefecture. The mountain features wonderful alpine plants, lingering snow fields, and one of the best panoramic views in the Echigo region.

Note: The Urasa approach described in the first part of this hike has fallen into disuse. The path is overgrown and is hard to pick up. Future hikers may want to consider doing the hike as a up-and-back from Shiori-toge, where the trail is easy to follow.

The hike: There’s a small campground at the start of the trailhead called Echigosanzan-shinrin Koen (越後三山森林公園キャンプ場). This is where you should tell the taxi driver to drop you off. The campground is free and unmanned, with a toilet and drinking water with a sign saying it should be boiled before using. There’s a gravel forest road running alongside the tiny campground, and the trailhead is at the end of this road, 3km upstream. The road is in terrible condition, but is relatively flat. About 2km into the hike, you’ll see a small concrete sidewalk on your right with a yellow arrow pointing down. There’s a tunnel here which has been built to bypass the massive snowfield blocking the road. Most of the snow will be gone by September, but use the tunnel if hiking in June or July. The tunnel is short and will meet up with the forest road again, so take your pick if the snow’s gone. About 10 minutes after leaving the tunnel, you’ll find the trailhead on your left. This is where the real hike begins. It’s 5.1km from here to the summit, and the path follows the spine straight up for an agonizing 1500m vertical ascent. It’s not technical or dangerous – just really long and steep. There are no signposts, but the trail is in relatively good shape, as it’s the main traverse route for Echigo-sanzan, as hikers can climb Echigo-koma, Naka-dake, and then Hakkai san before descending to a point not far from here. The first hour or so is pretty straight-forward until reaching Yukimi-no-matsu (雪見ノ松), a huge pine tree with outstanding views of Mt. Hakkai across the valley. Your next landmark is in another 2 hours or so, where you’ll find a small sign reading Rikimizu (力水), but there’s no water source here. Keep climbing for another 10 minutes or so and you’ll finally reach a ridgeline, where you’ll find your first views of Naka-dake. The summit of Echigo-koma is to your left, hidden by a large, pointy peak between you and the summit. This peak is labeled as Gushigahana (グシガハナ) on the map, but there’s no signpost on the summit. It’s a sweaty, steep one-hour climb. Just before the top of Gushigahana, the trail becomes overgrown with bamboo grass and very steep, with lots of large pine trees holding the ridgeline in place. Once you reach the top you’ll have your first view of the summit of Echigo-koma, and it’s an easy 40-minute hike away. The trail flattens out signficantly, so relax and enjoy the awesome views. In about 20 minutes or so, you’ll reach the true ridgeline for the Echigo-sanzan traverse, so turn left and head towards the summit of Echigo-koma. Just before the top you’ll find a trail branching off to the right. This goes down to Koma hut (駒ノ小屋), your accomodation for the night. Take in the scenery from the summit and ring the small temple bell on the summit, saying a prayer to the mountain gods for good weather. Retrace your steps back to the junction and turn left for the short 10 minute descent to the hut. A place to sleep on the floor will cost you 2000 yen, and there’s a caretaker there on weekends to collect money. Otherwise, there’s an honesty box to drop your money in. There’s no food here, so you’ll have to bring a stove and a sleeping bag. They do, however, have lots of silver sleeping mats and some blankets, so there’s no need to pack a sleeping mat. There’s also a clean toilet (bring your own toilet paper) and plenty of fresh water. The water is safe to drink but may run out in the autumn once all of the snow fields have melted. Enjoy a good night’s rest, and the next morning take the trail that descends just below the water tap. It’s pretty steep at first, but then flattens out nicely for a much easier (and popular) trail then the previous day’s climb. The maps say to allow 4 hours for the descent to Shiori-toge (枝折峠) but you can do it in half the time if fit. Your first landmark will be the top of Mae-koma (前駒), where the trail continues dropping off before flattening out. There’s a small lake in this saddle, followed by another descent to a trail junction on the summit of Mt. Kokura (小倉山). Turn left for an alternative finish at Koma-no-yu hot spring. Otherwise, continue on the same trail towards Shiori. About 30 minutes further on, you’ll see a junction on your right. It’s a short spur trail to the summit of Mt. Michiyuki (道行山), which has a nice view back to Echigo-koma. If the cloud is in you can just ignore this spur and continue descending. The next landmark will be a shrine, which looks remarkably like an emergency hut. Shortly after passing by the shrine, you’ll find a trail junction on your left marked as Kin-no-michi (金の道). This trail will take you to Kuma-no-yu hot spring in about 2 hours or so. Ignore this junction and continue on, where you’ll find a junction with another Kin-no-michi signpost. This trail to the right leads down to Ginzan-daira (銀山平), which has its own hot spring and plenty of accomodation. This is the trail I took, and it’s really well maintained and divided into 10-stages. It pretty much parallels route 352, but is much more beautiful than hiking down to the pass. At the 3rd stagepoint (三号目), you’ll reach a gravel forest road. Turn left and walk about 20 meters and the trail will drop off on the right side of the road. Take this trail and you’ll reach another forest road at the 2nd stagepoint (二号目). Turn right and cross the concrete bridge over the river. The road will become completely overgrown but don’t worry – keep going because it’s a short-cut to the hot spring. After a few minutes you’ll reach a paved road. Turn right for the 10-minute stroll to the hot spring. There are a lot of cabins and mountain huts, but the hot spring is on the left, in a large 2-story building. A soak will cost 650 yen and there’s a fresh water spring out front with drinkable spring water. You can either stay at one of the huts in this ‘village’ or walk back to route 352 and try your luck hitching. If you’d like to hitch, then I’d recommend turning right on route 352 and walking about 2km to the lake. Just past the trailhead to Mt. Arasawa (荒沢岳), you’ll reach an intersection. Turn left and wait just before the tunnel. Most vehicular traffic uses this long tunnel nowadays, and not so many cars pass by Shiori-toge.

When to go: This hike can be done from June 1st to October 19th, when the bus to Shiori pass is running and route 352 is open to traffic. It’s nearly impossible to do this hike before June, as the road is still covered with meters of snow and avalanche danger still high on the Urasa approach. However, Ginzan-daira (銀山平) is accessible by car from Golden Week onwards, but be prepared for lots of snow if attempting a May ascent.

Access: If you’re doing the traverse, then there’s no bus transport to the trailhead, and you’ll have to shell out around 3500 yen from a taxi at Urasa (浦佐) station. Otherwise, if you’re doing the up-and-back approach from Shiori-toge (枝折峠), then there’s one bus a day leaving from Koide (小出) station. Unfortunately, this bus leaves at 6:30am, meaning you’ll have to either stay overnight at Koide station, or take the overnight bus from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, which arrives at Koide at 3:15am! Click here for the bus schedule. The bus from Shiori back to Koide leaves at 4:35pm.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1700m).

Mt. Shiomi (塩見岳)

August 26, 2008

Last updated: August 18, 2017

This blog post was updated in 2017, but if you’re looking for the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Shiomi is a rugged, twin peak situated roughly halfway between Kita-dake and Mt. Warusawa in the Minami Alps. The panoramic views of Mt. Fuji and the Chuo Alps are incredible in favorable weather.

 

The hike: From the bus stop, take the trail just to the left of the hiking registration box and enter the forest. The route is divided into 10 stages and is clearly marked with signposts counting up from 1. It climbs steeply for about an hour to a ridge, where’s there’s a long traverse along a path loaded with wooden stairs and precarious walkways. Just before the 9th stagepoint (9/10) you’ll see a roped-off junction on your left that leads down to Shiokawa. This used to be the main trail up to the pass before the road was washed out in a typhoon. Continue on for another 30 minutes and you’ll reach Sanpuku-tōge (三伏峠), the tallest mountain pass in Japan. It should take about 4 hours or so to reach the mountain pass, where you’ll find an excellent mountain hut and campground. Sanpuku-tōge hut (三伏峠小屋) is open from July 1st to September 30th and charges 8500 yen for 2 meals or 5500 yen for sleeping space only. Click here for the website. I’d really recommend staying here, as it helps break up the very long climb of Mt. Shiomi and makes for a good base camp. The only drawback is the lack of drinking water. You can either buy bottled water from the hut or hike 20 minutes down the trail to get water. From the hut, turn left and walk past the campsite until reaching a junction. Turn left towards Mt. Shiomi (塩見岳). The trail drops to a saddle before climbing up to the treeline and the summit of Mt. Sanpuku (三伏山), which provides wonderful panoramic views in clear weather. If the weather is fine then you’ll see Mt. Shiomi towering above you across the valley and you’ll realize just how far you need to go. Continue along the ridge towards Mt. Shiomi and you’ll eventually drop down to the tree line and start losing altitude, where you’ll meet a junction with a closed trail on your right. This trail used to lead down to the old Sanpuku hut and campsite, which is now closed. Climb the steep trail in front of you past some wildflowers and after about a half an hour of steady climbing you’ll reach the summit of Mt. Hontani (本谷山), which also pokes out above the treeline. On the left-hand side of the summit you can see Kitadake through a clearing in the creeping pine. Keep to the ridge and you’ll once again drop down to a lush forest and reach a low point, where the trail will veer towards the right for a very long traverse towards Shiomi hut (塩見小屋), which sits perched on the edge of the treeline. Just before reaching the end of the trees, veer right at the junction marked for 塩見小屋 and follow the switchbacks through the creeping pine. It should take about 90 minutes from the saddle below Hontani to this hut, which makes for a great place to catch your breath before the final assault on the steep western face of the peak. The hut was completely rebuilt in the summer of 2016. It is now a clean hut with very friendly staff. Reservations are required to stay here, but they might be able to accommodate you if you show up early and they’re not fully booked. From the hut, the trail starts climbing towards the summit of Tengu-iwa, but just before reaching it there’s a traverse path on the right that skirts the edge of the mountain through a large maze of rocks. The route is easy to find in clear weather, but when the cloud is in then look for the yellow paint marks on the rocks. After reaching the far side of Tengu-iwa, you’ll get your first views of Mt. Shiomi in all its intimidating splendor. It’s hard to believe there’s actually a trail up that mass of rock on a nearly vertical face but rest assured – there is a path. Drop down to the saddle and carefully pick your way among the maze of yellow paint marks. There’s one section at the start of the climb that is susceptible to rockfall from hikers above, so make sure you keep your eyes and ears peeled for any falling stones. It’s a thrilling, somewhat precarious climb of around 45 minutes until you magically pop out on the summit plateau and can once again walk on relatively horizontal ground. The first summit is the western peak (西峰), which is just a few meters lower than Shiomi’s twin summit Tōhō (東峰) which is fortunately an easy walk along the ridge for another 5 minutes. After admiring the views, retrace your steps all the way back to Sanpuku-tōge, or continue along the ridge for another couple of hours to Kumanodaira hut (熊ノ平小屋), which will set you up nicely if you plan on continuing on to Kitdake the following day.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to late August, when the bus to the trailhead is running. If you’ve got your own transport, then you can go much earlier/later than this. Alternatively, you can approach via Kita-dake, but you’ve got to be careful if descending to Torikura if you’re out of bus season as it’s an awful long way from anywhere.

Access: From Okaya station (岡谷駅) in Nagano Pref. take the JR Iida line (JR飯田線) and get off at Ina-Oshima (伊那大島) station. The local train takes about 90 minutes. From there, take a bus bound for Torikura tozanguchi (鳥倉登山口) and get off at the last stop. The bus stop used to run to a place called  Shiokawa (塩川), but the road has been washed out and there’s no plan in the immediate future to rebuild it. This bus only runs from mid-July to the end of August, and there are only 2 buses a day. Click here for the schedule. My advice would be to take the last train to Ina-Oshima and either sleep at the unmanned train station or at the bus stop. The bus stop is sheltered with a long bench, making it perfect as a place to sleep. Just bring your sleeping bag. That way, you can easily catch the 6:45am bus! If you’re hiking out of the bus season, then you could pay 10,000 yen for a taxi ride to the trailhead.

Be careful if approaching this hike from Nagoya, because the JR Iida line from Toyohashi station takes over 5 hours to get to Ina-Oshima! It’s much faster to take the JR Chuo line and change at Shiojiri.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1717m).

Mt. Rishiri (利尻山)

August 23, 2008

Mt. Rishiri is a spear-like, volcanic peak towering off the coast of Northern Hokkaido. It’s one of the few mountains in the world that offers an unobstructed panoramic view of the ocean on all sides.

The hike: From the campground, follow the paved path towards Kanrosen (甘露泉) spring, an underground spring with refreshing water. It should take about 10 minutes or so to reach the spring. Fill up your water bottles here, as it’s the last water source on the hike. Just beyond the spring there’s a sheltered rest area with a picnic table, as well as a trail junction. Turn right at the junction and follow the well-worn path through the forest. You’ll reach the 4th stage (四合目) in about 15 minutes or so. It’s a gradual climb for about an hour or so before reaching the 6th stage (六合目), where the real climb begins. There’s a toilet box here for those needing to use the facilities. Pick up a toilet bag at the trailhead to use for poop (there are no toilets on the mountain, and you’ve literally got to pack your shit out!). From here until the 8th stage (八合目), it’s a tough slog through brush pine and rocks, but eventually you’ll hit the ridge line, and your first real view of the summit. There’s still a lot of climbing to do, and the peak looks so close yet so far away. From the 8th stage, the trail flattens out before dropping down to the emergency hut, situated on a saddle. If there’s any morning dew then you’ll get completely soaked with all the overgrown vegetation, so consider bringing a pair of rain pants to help soak up the moisture. The emergency hut is in really good condition, bu t there’s no water source here, so bring a ton of water, sleeping and cooking gear if planning to stay here. From the hut, you’re faced with a 500m vertical climb through loose scree and red boulders. It gets quite steep and slippery in places, but there are ropes to help you along. At the time of writing they were in the process of building steps in some of the trickier sections, which will definitely make things easier if they don’t get washed away by erosion. Eventually you’ll reach the small summit of Mt. Rishiri, which has a colorful shrine and room for about 10 people. The panoramic views are absolutely amazing if you’re lucky enough to climb when the weather is good. From the summit, retrace your steps all the way back to the parking lot. Alternatively, you could take the seldom used Kutsugata (沓形) track to descend down to Kutsugata port. The trail junction is relatively hidden, branching off to the left shortly after descending the steep section with lots of red rocks. The trail is quite precarious in places, and not for the inexperienced or acrophobic.

When to go: This hike can be done from late June to early October, when most of the snow is gone. A spring hike is also possible with an ice axe and crampons, but keep an eye on the changeable weather.

Access: From Wakkanai (稚内) station, take a ferry bound for Oshidomari (鴛泊) on Rishiri Island. There are only 4 ferries a day, so plan your time accordingly. Click here for the schedule. From Oshidomari port, you can either hike uphill for about an hour to the trailhead, or catch a taxi for 1490 yen. There’s a nice campground at the trailhead that costs 300 yen per person.

Live web cam: Click here (from Rebun Island)

Map:

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1500m).

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Mt. Shari (斜里岳)

August 21, 2008

Mt. Shari is a pointy, rocky peak situated roughly halfway between the Akan lake volcanoes and the Shiretoko Peninsula. The views from the summit towards the Sea of Okhotsk and Pacific Ocean are awe-inspiring.

The hike: From the massive parking lot, take the trail that starts next to the hut. It cuts through a pine forest before quickly dropping to a gravel forest road! Turn left on the road and follow it for about a half a kilometer. The road hits a dead end, where the actual trail starts. This is where the original hut used to stand before the new one was built. Anyway, turn left into the forest. The path follows a beautiful stream for a short time and you’ll soon reach the first of 12 river crossings. There are rocks that you can step on to make your way across, so there’s no need for special shoes and for getting your feet soaked. However, if it’s been raining recently and the stream is swollen then you’ll definitely get wet on the crossings. Shortly after completing the last crossing you’ll reach a trail junction. You have two options, but I recommend doing this trail as a loop by climbing up the left path and descending via the right path. The path to the left is the Kyuudou (旧道 – old path) and the trail on the right is the Shindou (新道 – new path). The old path is also known as the waterfall route, as it basically climbs past countless waterfalls. Again, if the stream is swollen then you might want to consider avoiding this path. Take a left and you’ll soon reach your first waterfall. There are another half a dozen stream crossings along the way, and plenty of ropes and chains in the tricky sections. Overall it’s not too terribly difficult if you’ve got shoes with good traction. After about an hour of climbing the stream will start to peeter out and you’ll come across a junction. This is where the old and new paths meet to become one trail to the summit. It’s marked with a sign written as Kamifutamata (上二股). There’s a small flat space that has room for one tent and it’s probably the only place to pitch a tent on the entire mountain. Stay to the left for the steep climb up to Uma no sei (馬の背 – the horse’s back) where you’ll find your first view of the summit. Turn left again and climb up the steep peak just in front of you. It should take about 10 minutes to reach the top, where the path will flatten out and you’ll pass a small shrine. Drop down to a saddle just below the summit and climb steeply for another 20 minutes or so before reaching the top of Mt. Shari. The scenery on a clear day is fantastic, with a bird’s eye view of the town of Shari, the Sea of Okhotsk, Mt. Rausu, Kunashiri island, and even out to Mt. Meakan! Retrace your steps all the way back down to Kamifutamata and turn left. The trail is relatively flat at first, passing by a trail branching off to the right. You can either take the right trail that passes by a small pond or continue going straight. Both paths will meet up later on, so take your choice. This area definitely looks like bear country, so use your bear bell if you’ve got it. Shortly after passing the loop trail turnoff, the path will climb up to a mountain pass called Kumami-toge (熊見峠). The scenery is very reminiscent of the Japan Alps, as you pass through an area of brush pine with wonderful views over to the summit. After reaching the pass, the trail drops very steeply back down to the stream. On your way down take a look at the trees lining the path, as their branches have been stained with sweaty by countless hikers grabbing onto them. It’s kind of interesting to see how many hikers have grabbed the tree branch in exactly the same place! You’ll reach the original trail junction in about 30 minutes or so, and turn left again to go back to the forest road you started on. Overall, it’s a 9km round-trip hike that should take you anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on your speed.

When to go: This hike can be done from late June to early October when most of the snow is gone. A winter ascent is also possible with the right equipment and experience. There’s a sign at the trailhead prohibiting hikers from starting after 12 noon, so it’s imperative that you arrive at the trailhead in the morning. It’s a stupid rule that the hut manager does his best to enforce. If you arrive in the afternoon, then you can stay at the concrete bunker known as the Kiyodake hut (清岳荘) for 2000 yen. There are no meals served nor is there any drinking water. You’ll either have to boil and filter the water coming out of the sink or buy expensive bottled water from the hut manager.

Access: From either Kushiro (釧路) or Abashiri (網走) stations, take the JR Senmo Line and get off at Kiyosatocho (清里町). From there, take a taxi to the Mt. Shari trailhead. The station is small and unmanned, so call the Kiyosato taxi company at 01522-5-2538 and they’ll pick you up. The taxi costs roughly 4000 yen. Hitching is pretty difficult because the road is gravel and used only by people climbing Mt. Shari, who usually arrive at the trailhead at unreasonable hours! Hitching from the trailhead, however, is relatively easy.

Live web cam: Click here

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 857m).

Mt. Washiba (鷲羽岳)

July 27, 2008

Mt. Washiba, or ‘eagle feather’ mountain, is a glorious alpine peak lying on the Nagano-Toyama border in the Kita Alps. The granite peak is famous for its mysterious volcanic crater lake, situated just below the summit.

The hike: From the bus stop at Shin-hotaka, cross the bridge and follow the paved road toward the right. It’ll climb past the Hotel New Hotaka (ホテルニューホタカ) before turning into a dirt forest road. The road is really easy hiking, following a river. Follow the road for about 90 minutes, being careful not to take the trailhead to Mt. Kasa. You’ll pass by a campground and hut at Wasabi-daira (わさび平) before finding the trailhead another 20 minutes up the road. The trail starts climbing up a cirque, and after about 2-1/2 hours will reach a junction called the Kagami-daira bunki (鏡平分岐). Take the trail to the left if you’d like to climb directly up to the ridgeline towards Mt. Yumiori (弓折岳). Both trails eventually meet up on the Yumiori summit, so it might be better to stay to the right, so you can see the phenomenal reflections of Mt. Yari in the mirror lake at Kagami-daira. Kagami-daira hut (鏡平小屋) is open from July 10th to October 15th and has no campground. Click here for the website. Most people stay here for the night, but if you’ve brought a tent or it’s still relatively early in the day, you can continue on to Sugoroku (双六), which is another 2 hours away. Continue climbing on the same trail and you’ll reach Mt. Yumiori. From here to Sugoroku it’s a relatively easy ridge walk with wonderful views. Sugoroku hut (双六小屋) is run by the same people as Kagami-daira and offers exactly the same prices, but has the added advantage of a large campground. Use this as your base for exploring the surrounding peaks. The next day, follow the trail in front of the hut towards Mt. Sugoroku (双六岳). You’ve actually got 2 options. You can either climb up to the peak and stay on the ridge line to the summit of Mt. Mitsumata-renge (三俣蓮華岳) or you can opt for the easier shortcut trail that bypasses all of the peaks. Just take a right at the first trail junction you see after leaving the hut. Both trails meet up at the same place, so take your pick and head towards Mitsumata hut (三俣山荘). You’ll find another campground at this hut, as well as a water source. The hut sits at the foot of Mt. Washiba (鷲羽岳), and you’ll see it towering directly in front of you. It should take about an hour or so to reach the summit, where you’ll pass by a spur trail leading down to the volcanic crater lake. On a clear day, you can see all of the Kita Alps, including the peaks of Hakuba and Tateyama, as well as Mt. Yari, Hotaka, Kasa, Yake, Norikura, and out to Ondake. From here, you can either continue on the same ridge line over to Mt. Suisho (水晶岳), which is also one of the 100 famous mountains, or retrace your steps back to Sugoroku. The options for multi-day traverses are endless, and if you’ve made the effort to climb all the way up here, you might as well stay on the ridge line for a few days.

When to go: This hike can be done from late May to early November. Just like the neighboring peaks of the Kita Alps, Mt. Washiba is considered an expert climb in the winter, and challenging even during Golden Week because of all the remaining snow.

Access: From Takayama (高山駅) station, take a bus bound for Shin-Hotaka Hot Spring (新穂高温泉) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also buses from Matsumoto station (松本駅) in Nagano, and there may even be direct night buses from Tokyo.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1900m)