Posted tagged ‘Hyakumeizan (百名山)’

Gassan (月山)

May 30, 2008

Gassan is highest peak in the Dewa Sanzan trio of religious mountains, nestled snugly between Mt. Chokai and Mt. Asahi in Yamagata Prefecture. Known for white clad pilgrims and summer skiing, the peak offers alpine vegetation and scenery without climbing to air thinning altitudes.

The hike: From the parking lot, follow the signs (and crowds) towards Gassan shrine (月山神社). The path is well trodden and easy to follow. You’ll reach a mountain hut in about 90 minutes or so, at the base of Mt. Omowashi. The trail starts to get a little steeper from this point, but overall it’s a relatively easy and enjoyable ascent. It should take another hour or so to reach the summit area, which is pretty overdeveloped. There’s a huge shrine on the summit, which you’ll have to pay to enter. The true high point, however, is on a group of unmarked rocks directly behind the summit, and it won’t cost you a thing to sidestep the shrine and enjoy your lunch away from the crowds. There’s a big hut a short descent from the shrine, appropriately named ‘Summit hut’ (山上小屋). The hut is only open from late June to late September, and doesn’t have any drinking water for non-staying guests. Continue past the hut, and turn right at the next two junctions, where you’ll drop to a huge saddle. This is where you’ll see summer skiers. At the saddle, you’ll find a two-way junction. You can either turn left to reach the top of the chairlift, or continue straight towards Mt. Yudono (湯殿山). I recommend heading straight, unless the weather has turned foul or it’s getting late. You’ll reach a junction in about 20 minutes, but ignore it and stay on the ridge line. Another half hour or so along the trail and you’ll be standing at the base of Mt. Yudono. There’s a water source and a free emergency hut here, as well as a 2-way junction. Turn right to drop to Yudono shrine, or take a right to descend to Shizu (志津) campground. Unfortunately, there’s no trail up to the summit of Mt. Yudono, so you’ll have to be content with staring at it from the hut. The drop to Yudono shrine is pretty big, but you’ll be rewarded with a foot bath on the shrine grounds. If you’re headed in the direction of Mt. Asahi, however, I recommend turning left and descending to Shizu. It should take about 90 minutes of enjoyable hiking to reach a nature museum and the campground. Be extremely careful crossing the numerous wooden bridges if it’s wet. I went sliding off one into a creek about a meter below the trail! The campground surrounds a scenic lake, and each site costs 500 yen (register at the hut). If you continue walking down route 112 for about 1/2 an hour, you’ll find Shizu hot spring. Another half hour or so beyond that, and you’ll be sitting in a huge auto campground. Whatever you do, don’t descend this far, because they’ll try to charge you 3500 yen for a place to pitch your tent! Luckily the staff gave me a ride all the way back up the road to the cheaper and more scenic Shizu campground. There are buses back to civilization from the campground, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any on-line information. Hitching is also a definite possibility.

When to go: The buses from the Mt. Haguro side only run from July 1st to August 24th, but you can definitely go earlier than this if you’ve got your own transport. The peak gets meters upon meters of snow in the winter, and stays around most of the summer. Click here to see the conditions during Golden Week.

Access: From Niigata (新潟) station, take the JR limited express ‘Inaho’ to Tsuruoka (鶴岡) station. From there, take a bus bound for Gassan-hachigome (月山八合目) and get off at the last stop. The bus makes a 15-minute ‘pit stop’ at the top of Mt. Haguro (羽黒山頂), allowing enough time to offer a quick prayer to the mountain deities. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change 824m).

Mt. Myoko (妙高山)

May 28, 2008

Mt. Myoko is a steep, rocky, volcanic peak located just across the Nagano border in Niigata Prefecture.  Famed for winter skiing and hot springs, the area is certainly worth exploring.

The hike: From the bus stop, head up the paved road past the hotels. The road will turn to gravel and you’ll see a signpost point the way to Mt. Myoko (妙高山). Additionally, you’ll pass by a really famous mixed, outdoor bath called Ougon-no-yu (黄金の湯), with milky white water. It looks like a great place to take a bath, so keep it in mind if you end your hike here. Anyway, the path initially follows a forest road through the Seki ski fields before reaching the trailhead proper. Follow the path for about an hour before arriving at 2 huge waterfalls. There is a section with a few chains and you’ll climb up and to the left of the falls. A few minutes past the falls you’ll see a path come in on your right. This will lead back to Tsubame hot spring, but there’s no need to turn back so soon. Cross the river, being very careful during periods of heavy rain if the river is swollen. Follow the paint marks and the path for about an hour to reach Tengudaira (天狗平), where you’ll find a junction. If you turn left then you’ll reach a forest road at the top of Ike-no-daira ski resort in about 20 minutes (an alternate way off the mountain). Ignore this path and turn right. You’ll pass by a small lake and will eventually reach the rocky summit area. There are a few chains bolted into the rocks, so use them to help you climb higher and higher. You should be sitting on the summit about 2 hours after leaving Tengudaira. On a clear day the views are outstanding. From here, you’ve got several options. You can continue traversing down the other side of Mt. Myoko and over to Mt. Hiuchi. If you’re only up for the day, then descend back to Tengudaira and either turn right to get to Ike-no-daira and Akakura Onsen Ski Resorts, or turn left and head all the way back to Tsubame. No matter which way you go, you’ll have plenty of options for a nice hot bath.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid July to late October. It’s also possible to go earlier in the season but be prepared for a lot of snow.  The steep summit area is heavily prone to avalanches, so a winter ascent is not recommended.

Access: From Nagano station, take a local train on the JR Shinetsu line (JR信越線) and get off at Sekiyama (関山) station. The train takes about 40 minutes. From there, take a bus bound for Tsubame Hot Spring (燕温泉). Click here for the bus schedule. Depending on your plans, it might be more time efficient to take a taxi to the start of the hike (which should cost around 2000 yen or so).

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1200m).

Mt. Goryu(五竜岳)

May 24, 2008

Mt. Goryu is a peak many have stared at from Goryu/Hakuba 47 ski resorts, but few have thought about climbing out of season. A venture beyond the slopes, however, will reveal a magical alpine world filled with flowers, alpine lakes, rocky peaks, and stunning views.

The hike: From Kamishiro station, walk out the front door and turn right on route 148 in front of you. Walk about 100m and turn right at the next stop light. This street will take you all the way to Escal Plaza, the start of the hike. You’ll pass by Hakuba Alps guesthouse, as well as countless other pensions and hotels. It should take about 20 minutes of road walking before reaching the ski resort. There is a gondola that will whisk you up to the top of the ski resort in only 7 minutes. The problem with the gondola is the start time. The first one isn’t until 8:15am on most days (and it doesn’t even run between May 15th and June 28th!). Click here for info. Anyway, it’s darn near impossible to do this as a day trip unless you camp in the ski resort. I recommend camping at the bottom of the Dai 2 & 4 (アルプス第2) ski lifts. Set up your tent on the wooden platform under the lifts and enjoy the awesome night view of Hakuba village. You can follow the forest road that cuts through the ski resort. The next day, just continue following the lifts up to the high point of the resort. From there, follow the signs towards Mt. Kotoomi (小遠見山), which should take about an hour to reach. The panoramic views of Mt. Kashimayari, Mt. Goryu, and Mt. Shirouma are fantastic. From here, the signpost says it’ll take 6 hours to reach the summit, but you can do it in less time if you’re fit. Follow the ridge line for several hours. If the weather is good then you can see exactly where you need to go. There’s a lot of up & down, and be careful of crevices if there’s any remaining snow. Just before you reach Mt. Nishitoomi (西遠見山), you’ll find a small lake with a beautiful reflection of Mt. Goryu. The path between NIshitoomi and Mt. Shiro (白岳) is steep, exposed, and covered in snow most of the year. During the month of May, you can easily bypass Mt. Shiro and go directly to the hut by traversing through the deep snow, but be careful of snow slides. Once you reach the top of Mt. Shiro, you’ll meet up with the main Shirouma-Oomachi trekking route. Turn left and descend steeply to Goryu hut (五竜山荘). You can buy water here and stay the night if you’d like. Take a break, because the biggest climb awaits you. The map says to allow one hour to reach the summit, but if there’s remaining snow it can take twice the time. You’ll basically be rock climbing most of the way, but it’s not too bad compared to some other peaks out there. The views from the summit are incredible, and you’ll see all the way out to Mt. Fuji on a clear day. You can continue trekking over to Mt. Kashimayari, or head back to the hut. If you’ve got a few days, then you can head the other direction over to Mt. Karamatsu towards Mt. Shirouma. If you’re a sucker for punishment like I was, then you can head back down the mountain the same day. I descended from the hut to the ski resort in less than 2 hours, thanks to the massive amounts of snow remaining.

When to go: This hike can be done from Golden Week to mid-October, when Goryu hut is open (五竜山荘). There will be a lot of snow if you go before July, so bring crampons and an ice axe and do not attempt in bad weather. A winter ascent is also possible, but be careful of avalanches in the col below Mt. Shiro (白岳)

Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take a local train bound for Shinano-omachi (信濃大町). From there, change to another local train bound for Minami-otari (南小谷). The trains are not very frequent, so take care when planning. Another option would be to take a Limited Express train to Hakuba (白馬), and either backtrack on a local train or take a taxi to the ski resort.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2100m).

Mt. Utsugi (空木岳)

May 20, 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. Utsugi is the highest peak in the southern half of the Central Alps. The exposed crags offer outstanding panoramic views of both the Kita and Minami Alps.

The hike: From the top of the gondola, take the trail to the left towards Gokuraku-daira (極楽平). It should take about 20 minutes to reach the ridge line, where you’ll be all day. Turn left once you reach this point, and make your way to the top of Mt. Hinokio (檜尾岳). The path is well-worn and easy to follow and you should be sitting on the rocky summit in about 2 hours. If the weather is clear then you should see the top of Mt. Fuji peeking out over the Minami Alps, as well as a stellar view of Ondake. Your next target is Mt. Kumasawa (熊沢岳), reachable in about an hour. Another hour after that, and you’ll be on top of Mt. Higashi-kawa (東川岳), which has a great view of Mt. Utsugi right in front of you. Unfortunately you’ve got a big drop and climb between here and there. Drop down to the saddle, where you’ll find Kisodono hut (木曽殿山荘), which is a pretty nice place to stay. Unfortunately there’s no room to camp here, and the water source is a 15-minute walk down a spur trail. The hut is only open from July 1st to October 10th, so if you’re going outside of these dates it’s better to push on and stay at the emergency hut on the other side of the summit. Click here for the hut website. From the hut, it’s a 90 minute climb with a 450m elevation gain to the top. The hard work is worth it when the weather is cooperative. Otherwise, it’ll be another rocky peak in a blanket of cloud. From the top you’ve got several options. You can either retrace your steps back to Kisodono hut, and take the trail to the left for a 7 hour descent to Kuramoto (倉本) station, on the JR Chuo line that runs between Nagano and Nagoya. Another option would be to continue on the ridge line towards Minami Koma-ga-take (南駒ヶ岳) and then descent about 3-1/2 hours to a forest road in the middle of nowhere. The final (and probably most feasible) option would be to turn left once you hit the top of Mt. Utsugi and descend to the Mt. Utsugi emergency hut (空木避難小屋). From the hut, it’s a grueling 4 hour descent, where you lose close to 2000 vertical meters of altitude! You could also do this hike in reverse, but you’re faced with a daunting climb if you do. Eventually the trail will spit you out in Komagane Kogen (駒ヶ根高原), where you can take a bus back to Komagane station.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to mid October without too much trouble. The gondola is operational year-round, so you could attempt this in the winter if you’ve got the proper equipment and training, but be warned that the ridge line is very rugged. Click here to see some brave climbers during Golden Week!

Access: From Okaya station (岡谷駅) in Nagano Pref. take the JR Iida line (JR飯田線) and get off at Komagane Station (駒ヶ根駅). The local train takes about an hour. From there, take a bus bound for Shirabi-daira (しらび平) and get off at the last stop. If you don’t want to take the gondola, then you can bypass this area by taking a trail from Hinokiobashi (檜尾橋) bus stop. From there, it’s a grueling 6-hour climb to the ridge line just below the top of Mt. Hinokio (檜尾岳). There’s a free emergency hut you can stay in just below the summit. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 if using the Gondola (elevation change ~200m).

Mt. Tokachi (十勝岳)

May 18, 2008

Mt. Tokachi is an active volcano, and one of the great symbols of Daisetsu-zan National Park. The image of the peak hovering above the clouds from Mt. Biei is a memory I’ll cherish forever.

The hike: From the bus stop, take the gravel road that starts next to the hotel. The initial trail is pretty easy going, but soon you’ll reach a trail junction, where the real climb begins. Take the trail going to the right, towards Kamihoro Bunki (上ホロ分岐). It should take about an hour before reaching the junction. Turn left here and climb up the wooden steps. There must be at least 5 or 6oo steps built into the volcanic landscape, but eventually (with enough perseverance) you’ll reach the rocky ridge line. Turn left once you do reach it and make your way to the summit of Tokachi. It’ll take about an hour or so to reach the top, where you’ll have outstanding views of the rest of Daisetsu-zan Nat’l Park. Tokachi is a very shy mountain, so consider yourself lucky if the cloud isn’t in. From the peak you’ve got several options. You can either take the trail to the left, which will take you to Bougakudai (望岳台) in about 3 hours. This is in fact the most popular trail to the summit, but there’s no public transport, so you’ll have to either hitch or take a taxi if you go this route. The trail to the right makes its way through a massive scree field before leading up to Mt. Biei (美瑛岳) and the main trekking route to Asahidake. You could also retrace your steps all the way back to the hot spring and reward yourself with a bath. Whichever route you choose to take, you should definitely consider stopping by Fukiagerotenburo (吹上露天風呂), an wonderful, free, mixed, outdoor bath located in the Tokachi vicinity. Click here for some English information. It’s by far one of the best hot springs in Japan.

When to go: This hike can be done from late May to late September without too much trouble. The winter starts early in Hokkaido, and a winter ascent is also possible, but only with the proper avalanche training. 4 people were killed in an avalanche on November 23, 2007, so please heed the warnings.

Access: From Sapporo (札幌) station, take the JR limited express ‘Super Kamui’ to Asahikawa (旭川) station. From there, change to the JR Furano line (富良野線) and get off at Kami-Furano (上富良野) station. At Kami-Furano, take a bus bound for Tokachi-dake Onsen (十勝岳温泉) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule. As of 2009, it appears that the bus departs from the town hospital (町立病院) instead of in front of the station. It’s best to ask the tourist information center at Kamifurano station. They definitely speak English there and will be able to get you sorted.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1100m).

Mt. Shibutsu (至仏山)

May 17, 2008

Mt. Shibutsu is a deceptively rocky peak separating Oze marsh and the rest of Gunma Prefecture. A fair number of hikers also make it the final peak of their Hyakumeizan endeavor, as the Chinese characters translate as “reaching Buddha”.

The hike: You’ve got 2 options for this one. You can either climb/descend to Hatomachi-toge or climb from Yama-no-hana (山ノ鼻) and descend to Hatomachi-toge. The trail from Yama-no-hana to the summit is for climbing only and is “closed” for people descending because of the rocks. I really have no idea why you’re not supposed to descend because it just adds to trail erosion to have so many people going up and down from Hatomachi-toge. Anyway, I strongly encourage breaking the rules and feigning inability to read the signs. Anyway, the trail from Hatomachi is well-marked and oh so trodden. It would be impossible to get lost even in the worst of weather. It’ll take about 90 minutes or so to reach the ridge line. The trail climbs steeply, flattens out a bit with lots of wooden planks to walk on, and then climbs up some more. You’ll pass by a water source at the base of a long set of wooden steps before too long. The map says that this water can become contaminated but I drank it unfiltered in September and lived to tell about it. Just past the water source the trail will flatten out once again and you’ll be faced with more wooden planks. While helping to alleviate trail erosion and protect endangered flora, the wooden planks become absolutely treacherous during wet weather, and I must’ve fallen a half a dozen times on the descent, so please take care. In a few minutes you’ll find a trail branching off on the left towards Mt. Kasa (笠ヶ岳), but just ignore it and continue climbing up. This is where you enter the rocky section, with lots of wooden steps and paint marks to help you find your way. It should take about a half hour to reach Ko-Shibutsu (小至仏山), which has awesome views of Oze and Mt. Hiuchi. Descend to a saddle and continue the steady climb through lots of rocks for about 45 minutes until reaching the summit. Take a break and admire the views, or take a quick photo and get out of there during nasty weather. The top is completely exposed – not the kind of place you want to be in a thunderstorm! From the top, you can either continue down the “closed” trail to Yama-no-hana, or retrace your steps all the way back to Hatomachi-toge, and then take the 1 hour “legal” wooden path down to Oze.

When to go: This hike can be done between mid-April and mid-November, when the road to Hatomachi-toge is open. If you don’t mind snowshoeing/skiing on the forest road from Togura then you can also try a winter ascent. Be prepared for a ton of snow even if you go during Golden Week. Click here to get an idea of how much.

Access: From Numata station (沼田駅) take a bus bound for Hatomachi-toge (鳩待峠). Please note that there are no direct buses, and that you must change to a shuttle bus at Togura (戸倉). The first bus leaves at 8:37am, but buses bound for Oshimizu (大清水) leave at 7:20 and 8:02, but make sure you get off at Togura so you can transfer. Please note that if you’ve got 4 people you can easily hire a taxi for exactly the same price as the bus! The taxi and bus are run by the same company, so you should really consider doing this because it will save you so much time. They may even give you the same price for only 3 people – usually they just turn off the meter when it hits the negotiated price. The bus costs a whopping 3100 yen per person, so you can see why the taxi drivers are eager for the cash. Click here for the schedule. Click on “路線バス” and then select “沼田”. Next, click on the schedule #12 that says “上毛高原”

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~800m).

Mt. Aso (阿蘇山)

May 15, 2008

On October 20, 2021 Mt Aso has once again erupted, so the mountain is currently off limits. Please avoid climbing it until the volcanic alert level is lowered. 

Last updated: September 21, 2020

Mt. Aso is an active volcano located about an hour outside of Kumamoto city in central Kyūshū. The peak is popular with hikers on the rare occasion that the mountain is actually open. Recent eruptions of the Nakadake crater have forced the closure of the hiking trails, but as of September 2020 the main trails have now reopened.

The hike: At Suisenkyo parking lot, you’ll find the abandoned ropeway station, a small visitor’s center and a restroom. You might be tempted to take the trail just to the left of the restrooms but that is the descent trail. Instead, head over to the other side of the parking lot (perpendicular to that trail) to find the Sensuikyo-one route (仙酔峡尾根ルート登山口). The trailhead is marked by a small wooden bridge spanning a ravine, so cross over the bridge and follow the remnants of the old concrete path up towards the spur. After passing by a rest bench, look for the kanji for Takadake (高岳) hand-painted on a rock and follow the trail through a short area of bush to reach the start of the long ridge. The volcanic rock looks as if it’s been cemented to the mountainside but in fact it’s a natural process that allows for good traction for your hiking shoes. The route is well-marked and easy to follow: just look for the generous amount of yellow arrows and circles painted on the rocks. As you climb higher, be sure to look back for the excellent views of the Kujū mountain range rising up across the valley. It will take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours to reach the summit plateau, so take your time and enjoy the excellent scenery. There’s also a fair bit of scrambling in the initial part of the climb, but as the spur steepens you’ll reach an exposed area with a fixed rope. Take care with your footing here. Above this section is a series of switchbacks until you pop out onto the ridge just to the left of the high point of Takadake. In clear weather you can see that you’re standing on the edge of an ancient volcanic crater covered with lush greenery. There used to be a trail that completely circumnavigated this crater but it’s since fallen into disuse and is incredibly overgrown. Look down into the crater and you will see a small stone shelter (called Tsukimi hut). Some hikers head left here on the ridge for the east peak called Takadake Tōhō (高岳東峰). The route to the summit has fallen into disrepair and it’s not recommended unless you want a close-up view of the spires of Mt Neko. Instead, turn right on the crater rim for the short 10-minute climb to the summit of Takadake, the highest point in the Aso mountain range. This is a great place to enjoy lunch before continuing along the ridge. Drop west towards the active crater down a well-used trail for Nakadake. Watch your footing on the loose rocks as you drop for 5 minutes to a junction. Ignore the trail left to Tsukimi shelter and stay on the main ridge. The gradient eases and it’s a fun ridge walk for 15 minutes to the summit of Nakadake (中岳). Just before the summit you will reach a junction. If you came by bus then you probably climbed up here from the touristy side of the mountain. This trail leading left from here follows the crater rim before dropping steeply down into the crater floor and the martian landscape of Sunasenri-ga-hama (砂千里ヶ浜). From there it’s an easy walk out to the bus stop (but watch out for toxic gases blowing over from the active crater). However, ignore this path and head straight to the summit of Nakadake. Continue on the ridge past the summit, taking care to watch your footing on the slope just below the summit, as loose rock makes for poor traction. The terrain abruptly changes, as you traverse through ash deposited in the 2014 eruption. Signposts warn of volcanic gas and you won’t believe your eyes as the trail heads towards the active crater, an area called Kakōhigashi Observatory (火口東展望所). You’ll soon traverse directly below a crumbly headwall on your left – take care of falling rocks on the narrow traverse. Stay on the ridge, following the yellow paint marks in times of poor visibility. The trail drops to a small saddle before climbing up to the remnants of the observatory, which affords spectacular views of the active crater. Just before the top of the viewpoint, a trail heads right towards the ruins of the concrete ropeway building. Ignore this and head to the observatory before retracing your steps to this junction and descending on the east trail past the emergency bunkers to the top of the old ropeway. DO NOT attempt to enter the ruins, as the building is incredibly unstable and was heavily damaged in the eruption. Instead, take the path to the right of the structure along the crumbly asphalt of the disused trail. Despite the poor condition of the trail, it’s an easy descent that will lead you back to the parking lot in about 40 minutes.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be prepared for snow during January and February. Click here to see the wonderful snow scenery. The peak is frequently closed due to volcanic activity, so please check here for the latest information (in Japanese).

Access: From Kumamoto (熊本) station, take a train on the JR Hohi Line (包皮線) to Miyaji (宮地) station. From there, either take a taxi (costing around 1500 yen) to Sensuikyo (仙酔峡) or try your luck hitchhiking. If you just want to see the active caldera or approach the peak via Sunasenri-ga-hama, then you can take a bus in front of Aso station (阿蘇駅前) to Asosan Nishi Eki (阿蘇山西駅). The bus takes about 35 minutes and there are 4 buses daily (no booking required). Click here for the schedule.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3.5 out of 5 (elevation change 692m)

Total Round-trip Distance: 7km (4 to 6 hours)

Mt. Yakushi (薬師岳)

May 13, 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. Yakushi is situated roughly halfway between Kamikochi and Tateyama on the main trekking route. Its remote location and access makes it nearly impossible to do as a day trip, but the splendid scenery is well worth the effort it takes to get there.

The hike: From the bus stop, take the trail that leads to Tarobei-goya (太郎平小屋). You’ve got a 1000m elevation gain before reaching the hut, so take your time and bring plenty of water, because there’s no place to fill up between here and the hut! The first 2 hours are pretty steep, but the trail is well-marked and easy to follow. The views will start to open up once you hit the spine of the mountain, and you’ll be staring down at lake Arimine (有峰湖) in no time. The map says to allow 5 hours to reach the hut, but if you’re in good shape and carrying a light pack then you can do it in about 3 or so. Once you finally reach the ridge line, you’ve got 2 options. Turn right for about 100m to check into Tarobei hut, or turn left and descend toward the mountain pass, where you’ll find Yakushitoge (薬師峠) campground. There’s a water source at both the campground and hut, so take your pick depending on your budget (500 yen to camp vs. 8500 yen to stay in the hut!). During the climbing season of July and August, there’s also a medical facility in the hut, which is good for those on the long Kamikochi-Tateyama trek. The next day, wake up early and try to catch the sunrise somewhere along the trail. It’ll take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours to reach the summit of Mt. Yakushi, where you’ll have outstanding views toward both Tateyama and Mt. Yari. Unfortunately it was completely foggy and I had no view when I went, but I’ve vowed to get revenge on this monster of a peak. From the summit, you can either retrace your steps all the way back to Oritate, or continue on towards Tateyama, which should take another 2 to 3 days to reach. You could also consider trekking south to Mt. Yari, which will also take another 2 to 3 days.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to early October if you’re relying on the bus, or from Golden Week to early November if you’ve got your own transport. Be prepared for a ton of snow if you’re going before the rainy season. Click here to see the scenery in mid-June!

Access: From Toyama (富山) station, take a bus bound for Oritate (折立) and get off at the last stop. The bus runs every day from July 13th to the end of August, and then on weekends only during September and early October. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1576m).

Mt. Akaishi (赤石岳)

May 12, 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. Akaishi, or ‘red stone peak’, is one of the most sought-after peaks of the southern half of the Minami Alps, and the red glow of the summit around sunrise/sunset makes the long, long slog worth it.

The hike: From the bus stop, hike a short way up the paved forest road (near the camp site) and you’ll find the trailhead. Make sure you take a left and follow the signs towards Akaishi hut (赤石小屋) and not towards Mt. Arakawa (荒川岳). The trails follows an old logging road for the first 2-1/2 hours or so, and then makes its way up the spine of the mountain. It should take about 5 hours or so to reach Akaishi hut, where you can either pitch a tent or stay in the hut. The hut costs 8000 yen with 2 meals or 5000 yen for a futon only, and is open from July 16th to October 13th. If you’ve gotten a super early start and want to make it to the summit, then you’re only 3-1/2 hours away! The hut has a water source, and there’s no water between the start of the hike and here, so bring plenty from the trailhead. If the weather is good, then wake up really early the next morning and time your hike so you can see the sunrise from Fujimidaira (富士見平). It’s on the trail to the summit, so you’ve got to pass by here anyway. It should take about 40 minutes from the hut, and it’s a good place to see the red glow of the signature peak. From Fujimidaira, you’ve got about 2-1/2 hours before reaching the proper ridge line just below the summit. It’s rocky and exposed, so watch your step in wet weather. Shortly after leaving Fujimidaira, you’ll see a signpost on your right marking the winter climbing route (冬山ルート), but ignore this and follow the paint marks on the rocks. Eventually you will reach the ridge and a trail junction, so turn left for the 20-minute climb to the summit. If the weather is good then you’ll have outstanding views of Mt. Fuji and the other huge peaks of the Minami Alps. About 5 meters below the summit there lies a manned emergency hut, which will cost 5000 yen to stay in, despite the fact that there’s no water! The man who runs the hut, however, is incredibly friendly and plied me with free warm tea after climbing during the middle of a typhoon! From the summit, you’ve got 3 options. Option 1 is a traverse over to Mt. Hijiri (聖岳), breaking up the trek by staying at Hyakkanbora Yama-no-ie (百間洞山ノ家) – a glorious hut famous for their tonkatsu. Option 2 is to head in the opposite direction and climb Mt. Arakawa (荒川岳), breaking up the trek at Arakawa hut (荒川小屋), another fantastic hut with great people and awesome views out to Mt. Fuji. The third, less desirable option would be to head all the way back the way you came down to Sawara-jima. Not only would you contribute to trail erosion, but your 2000 vertical meter climb will have gone to waste. When you’ve put in so much time and energy to reach the ridge line, you might as well stay on it for a few more days!

When to go: I used to recommend doing this hike year round, but because of the new bus limitations (see below), those without private transport will be forced to do this hike between mid-July and August. Hitchhiking will be difficult from Shizuoka, because it’s a walloping 3-1/2 bus ride to the dam! Hitching from the dam, however, should be relatively easy on the weekends. If you do this hike in winter, be prepared for lots of snow, so bring winter climbing gear. Click here to see someone who climbed around New Year’s.

Access: From Shizuoka station (静岡駅), take a bus bound for Hatanagi-daiichi Dam (畑薙第一ダム) and get off at the dam. Change to a shuttle bus bound for Sawara-jima Lodge (椹島ロッジ). Please note that the bus to Hatanagi-daiichi has been discontinued as of May 31st, 2008, and has been replaced by a seasonal bus running only from July 19th to August 31st. Click here for the bus schedule. These kind of antics really tick me off, because it is encouraging people to use their own transport to get to the dam and punishing those of us who don’t have cars! Click here for the shuttle bus schedule from the dam to the lodge.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2000m).

Mt. Hiuchi (燧岳)

May 11, 2008

Mt. Hiuchi is officially the tallest peak in the Tohoku region (although it’s just barely in Tohoku) and the crown jewel of Oze National Park. The reflections in Oze numa are mesmerizing and the views from the rocky summit spectacular.


The hike: From the parking lot at Numayamatoge (沼山峠), head into the forest across from the big hut and follow the red paint marks on the trees to the summit of Numayamatoge, which should take about 20 minutes or so. From the top of the mountain pass, you’ll see the big lake stretching out in front of you, and Mt. Hiuchi towering above to the right. Descend into the marshlands, where the trail will eventually take you to a small village with lots of huts. Check into Chozogoya (長蔵小屋), the oldest mountain hut in Japan. It makes for a wonderful place to stay, and you’ll enjoy the hot spring bath after the climb to the summit. From the hut, head back towards the way you just came from, but instead of going to Numayama, turn left and follow the forest trail that winds its way around the lake. After about 20 minutes you’ll reach a trail junction. Turn right to head up to Mt. Hiuchi. The trail starts off relatively flat, making its way through a dense forest before climbing up the spine of the volcano. The trail becomes steeper and steeper, and the views will start to open up. After about 90 minutes or so, you’ll start to see wonderful views over the lake out to Mt. Okushirane on your left, and nice vistas out to Aizu-komagatake to your right. You should also see the summit towering above you. Keep climbing up until you reach a rather large saddle just below the peak of Mt. Minobuchi (ミノブチ岳). This is the first of the 5 peaks of Mt. Hiuchi, so turn right and continue climbing up the steep, rocky spine to the second summit, named Manaitagura (俎嵓). Take a break and admire the incredible views out to Mt. Fuji on a clear day. The true summit is a rocky peak by the name of Shibayasugura (柴安嵓). Drop to the saddle between the peaks and up to the high point. It’s an easy enough climb in the summer, but absolutely terrifying during April and May when it’s a near vertical climb up a snow bank, so bring an ice axe and crampons if climbing in early summer. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You can traverse down to Jujiro (十字路) from here and turn left to head back to Chozo hut, or retrace your steps back to Manaitagura. If you’re only up for the day, then you can descend down to Mi-ike (or start/finish your hike there). I recommend heading back to Chozo hut so you can enjoy the mirror-like reflections in the lake and the wonderful food and bath.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to late October, when the buses to Numayamatoge are running. If you climb Hiuchi via the Mi-ike (御池) trail, then you can climb from mid-April to late November, when the buses to Mi-ike are running. The paved forest road from Mi-ike to Numayamatoge is closed to private cars, and the road doesn’t open until May 15th. If you’re climbing during Golden Week, then you can either hike up the road for 10km to Numayama (which is what I did), or plan your climb from Mi-ike.

Access: From Shinjuku station, there are direct buses to Numayamatoge (沼山峠), the shortest and easiest access route to Oze numa. Click here for the schedule and prices (in Japanese). You can also get into Oze via Oshimizu (大清水) or Hatomachitoge (鳩待峠), but it’ll take a lot longer and a lot more effort to reach Mt. Hiuchi.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~700m).