Posted tagged ‘Minami Alps’

Mt. Warusawa (悪沢岳)

March 22, 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. Warusawa is the 6th tallest peak in Japan and the gateway to the southern portion of the Minami Alps. Its remote location and huge elevation gain make it a must-climb for burgeoning alpinists. The peak is also goes by the name of Mt. Arakawa (荒川岳) so don’t be confused – they are the same mountain.


The hike: Most people start and finish this hike at Sawara-jima, knocking off both Mt. Warusawa and Mt. Akaishi in the process. Allow 3 days to complete this tough but scenic route. From the bus stop at Sawara-jima, continue hiking north along the paved forest road for about 10 minutes until reaching a large, green, steel bridge. The trailhead is on the left, just before you cross the bridge. The path is relatively flat for the first few minutes or so, until crossing a large suspension bridge over the river. The bridge is really narrow and not for those with acrophobia. After crossing the river, the trail winds its way through a scenic forest for about an hour and a half or so, before meeting up with a gravel forest road. Cross this road and head up a metal staircase built into the hillside, marked with a 千枚小屋 signpost. This is where the true climb begins, as you’ll start climbing making some significant gains in altitude on a well-worn trail through a beautiful virgin forest. Unfortunately, you’ll cross the forest road again after about 45 minutes and will actually be running parallel to the road for most of the way (though it is out of sight). Keep climbing steadily another hour or so and you’ll reach a flat area called Shimizu-daira (清水平), which has a water source. Fill up on water here, as you’ve still got a few hours of hiking left before reaching your home for the night. There’s only one way to go, which is up, up and then up again. About a half hour after leaving the water source, you’ll pass through another marshland, where the views will start to open up. If the weather is clear then you can see both Mt. Akaishi and Mt. Warusawa rising high across the vast valley to your left. You’ll be about 2100m above sea level, but you’ve still got another 500m or so before reaching the hut. Your next landmark will be a small pond on your right, and you’ll soon cross over a set of cables running overhead, which are used to haul supplies to the nearby mountain hut. Continue hiking through the primeval silver fir forest and eventually you’ll arrive at Senmai hut (千枚小屋) and campsite. The hut is open from mid-July to mid-October and costs 8000 yen with 2 meals or 5000 yen without. Camping runs 600 yen per person. Additionally, the 2nd floor of the hut is open out of season and won’t cost you a thing (but you’ll need your own sleeping gear and food). According to the map, it should take about 7 hours for the 10km, 1500m vertical ascent from Sawara-jima to the hut, but you can do it in less time if you’re fit and traveling light. The next day continue on the same trail to the top of Mt. Senmai (千枚岳). Soon after leaving the hut, you’ll pop out of the tree line, and will be there the rest of the day. The trail will become quite rocky, and the views are nothing short of spectacular. From this vantage point, you’ve got an unobstructed view of the entire Minami Alps, which is rare since the towering peaks usually conceal the larger ones behind. Anyway, stay on the ride line for about 45 minutes, and you’ll reach your first 3000m peak of the day, called Mt. Maru (丸山). A short up-and-down traverse later, and you’ll be sitting on top of Mt. Warusawa, the target peak. From here, you can retrace your steps back to Sawara-jima, but I really recommend staying on the ridge line a few more days. Get ready for a huge drop down to a saddle on the other side of Warusawa and a strenuous climb up to Nakadake (中岳), where you’ll find an emergency hut. There are a lot of ptarmigan in the saddle between the two peaks – I was luck enough to see a family with recently hatched chicks. The emergency hut at Nakadake is another possible place to stay, but be warned that it’ll cost you a jaw-dropping 4500 yen to stay in a place with no water or food! This hut is shut tight in the off season, and camping is prohibited in the vicinity. The astronomical costs are due to a monopoly by the Tokai Forest corporation, which owns every single hut on the route. Just behind the hut, you’ll find the summit of Mae-dake (前岳), where you’ll have to make a decision. Turn left to descend to Arakawa hut (荒川小屋) and the gargantuan climb up to Mt. Akaishi. Turn right if you’d like to head towards Mt. Shiomi, which will take another 2 days to reach. Click here for some great photos of the entire Warusawa/Akaishi loop.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to the end of August, when the bus to Hatanagi dam is running. If you’ve got your own transport then you can attempt much earlier or later in the season. A winter ascent may able be possible with the right equipment and experience.

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 for the bus from Shizuoka to the dam and here for the shuttle bus schedule from the dam to the lodge.

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

Mt. Hijiri (聖岳)

December 1, 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. Hijiri, situated on the border of Nagano and Shizuoka Prefectures, is the southernmost 3000m peak in Japan and home to one of the best panoramic vistas around.


The hike: Although there are several approaches to the peak, I will describe one of the more popular routes via Tayori-ga-shima (便ヶ島). Fill up your water bottles at the picnic area across the road from the mountain hut near the toilets. There’s no water from here until reaching the hut at Hijiri-daira, so take plenty with you. The trail passes over a short hill before reaching a tunnel, where the trail flattens out for a 4km hike on an old boxcar route (the tracks have been pulled up). This area is absolutely stunning when the autumn leaves have changed color. After about an hour of hiking, you’ll reach the end of the road and find a metal box suspended on a pulley system over the river. This interesting contraption has been built to assist hikers in crossing the river, as it’s nearly impossible to cross without wading through frigid water. Use the ropes to pull the carriage towards you, and hop in. It works much better if you’ve got someone else with you to help with all of the pulling. After crossing the river, the trail makes its way through a series of steep switchbacks until reaching an abandoned mountain hut. This would make a really good place to film a horror movie, so I don’t recommend staying in this place unless you’d like to have some nightmares. Continue climbing past the hut, through a small cedar forest and a never-ending series of switchbacks. There are some steep places, but plenty of ropes tied into the hillside to keep you from falling. After about an hour you’ll see a small clearing to your left, which has fantastic views down to the valley below. The path keeps climbing up and up, through a wonder virgin forest filled with beautiful flora. One thing you’ll notice, however, is that a large percentage of the older trees have fallen, which leads me to believe that a massive typhoon must’ve come through here a few decades ago. Because of the dense foliage, you won’t have much of a view of the peaks until just below the main trail junction, so keep a nice steady pace and your fluid intake up. It should take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours to reach aforementioned junction, which sits on the main Minami Alps traverse route. Take your pack off and enjoy the outstanding scenery. From here, you can either turn left for the 3 hour slog to the summit, or save it for the following morning. I would base your decision on the weather and on your physical condition. If you’re going to the hut, then turn right and head downhill past the fences built to keep the deer from trampling the wildflowers. You’ll reach a junction in about 20 minutes, so turn left and follow the wooden planks to the hut. Check into the hut or pitch your tent in anywhere out front. During the ‘off season’, you can stay in the adjacent emergency hut for free. Just bring a warm sleeping bag and plenty of food. The next day, retrace your steps back up to the junction you came from the previous day. From here, the trail climbs up through a wonderful forest towards the summit of Ko-hijiri (小聖岳). You’ll pop out of the tree line just below the summit of this 2600m peak, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Mt Hijiri, Mt. Kamikouchi, Mt. Usagi, and Mt. Fuji. From here, you’ve got a fairly straightforward, switchback laden climb to the summit of Hijiri. It looks close but it’ll take around an hour to reach the top. Take a break and congratulate yourself for climbing the southernmost 3000m peak in Japan! On a clear day you’ll have views of the Chuo and Kita Alps, as well as most of the Minami Alps, Mt. Ena, the peaks of Chichibu-Kai-Tama National Park, Mt. Fuji and Mt. Tanzawa. After a well-deserved break, you can either retrace your steps all the way back to Tayori-ga-shima, or continue on the main trekking route towards Mt. Akaishi.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to early November, when most of the snow is gone. If you’ve got the right equipment and experience, then you can also do this in the winter, since the hut at Hijiri-daira is converted into an emergency hut from September to June.

Access: This is one hike where you’ll need your own car, unless you come from Sawara-jima or Kita-dake. Alternatively, you could take a taxi from Hiraoka (平岡) station on the JR Iida Line, but it’ll cost you close to 20,000 yen! If you’re rich and want to shell out the money, then tell the taxi driver you want to go to Tayori-ga-shima (便ヶ島) and Hijiri-tozanguchi (聖登山口).

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

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).

Kita-dake (北岳)

April 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. 

Kita-dake is the 2nd highest peak in Japan and has one of the best vantage points for viewing Mt. Fuji anywhere around.

The hike: From the huge parking lot at Hirogawara, walk a little back towards the main road and then turn left. You’ll see a pedestrian suspension bridge crossing the river, and this is where the trail starts. Cross the bridge and follow the path for about 20 minutes. You’ll come to a junction and you have 2 choices. Both trails lead to Kita-dake, but I recommend taking the one on the right towards Shiraneoike hut (白根御池小屋). It’ll take about 2-1/2 hours or moderate climbing to reach this hut. There’s a campground here, as well as a water source. Take a break here, because the real climb is about to start. Take the trail that goes past the campground, and begin your steep climb up to the ridge line. Most maps allocate 3 hours for reaching the ridge, but if you’re traveling light or in good shape then you can do it in half the time. Once you hit the ridge, turn left and hike for another half hour until reaching Kita-dake kata-no-koya (北岳肩ノ小屋). This hut is perched on a saddle just below the summit, and there’s a campground and water source here. You’re over 3000m now, so make sure you bring plenty of warm clothing even in the summer. I camped here in August and it definitely hovered around the freezing mark at night. The next day, rise early to watch the sunrise from the second highest peak in Japan. It should take about 45 minutes or so to reach the top. The views pretty much speak for themselves, and you can easily see why this mountain has become so popular for Japanese hikers. Continue down the other side of the rocky peak until reaching a junction. You can continue on to Ai-no-dake if you’d like, or you can take a left at the junction for an alternative route back to Hirogawara. Hike about 45 minutes and then take another left at the next junction. It should take about 2-1/2 hours to descend back to Hirogawara. I must admit that I’ve never done this trail, so I can’t attest to the condition/difficulty, but the maps say that snow remains until early August and that it’s quite rocky.

When to go: This hike can be done from around Golden Week to early November. The road to Hirogawara is closed in the winter, so it’ll be pretty difficult to get here unless you hike a long way to the trailhead. That being said, there are exceptions!

Access: From Kofu station (甲府駅), take a bus bound for Hirogawara (広河原). Click here for the bus schedule in Japanese.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1673m)

Mt. Kai-Komagatake (甲斐駒ヶ岳)

March 8, 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. Kai-komagatake is a glorious ‘horse shaped’ peak located across the valley from Japan’s 2nd highest peak, Kitadake. The views are wonderful when the weather is good and the sandstone rock formations are intriguing.

Mt. Kai-komagatake

The hike: From the bus stop, take the trail that starts to the right of the mountain hut Choueisou (長衛荘). The path zig-zags through a forest for the first hour or so, flattening out a little once you hit the ridge line. You’ll see the rocky peak stretching out in front of you. It looks so far away but just take it one step at a time. In another hour, you’ll reach Komatsumine (駒津峰). The trail splits, but take the left fork (it should be obvious because the right fork goes down off the mountain). Slog on for another 20 to 30 minutes and you’ll see yet another junction. You have 2 options – the ‘expert’ course lying straight ahead or the ‘beginner’ course branching off to the right. Both trails lead to the top. I decided to climb the ‘expert’ and descend via the ‘beginner’. The ‘expert’ course is rocky and kind of steep, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be. In any case, it’s a much shorter course, but takes about the same time as the ‘beginner’ because of all the climbing involved. The top of the peak is rocky and exposed: not a place you want to be in a thunderstorm. If the weather is good you’ll have a breathtaking view of the rest of the Minami Alps, and Mt. Fuji rising to the left of Kitadake. Yatsu-ga-dake will be behind you, and the Chuo & Kita Alps to the north. Head down the beginner path and soon you’ll be back at Komatsumine. From here you have 2 options. You can either go back the way you came, or take the left fork to Sensui-toge (仙水峠). From this mountain pass, turn right and you’ll soon come across a mountain hut and campground. Another 20 minutes down the path and you’ll find yet another hut and the road back to Kitazawa-toge.

When to go: This hike can be done anytime the road to Kitazawa-toge is open. I’m not sure of the exact dates, but probably from Golden Week to early November. If you want to try an alternative approach, you can try a winter ascent via Kuroto ridge just like these people did on New Year’s Day! You’ll need winter climbing experience and the right equipment though.

Access: From Kofu station (甲府駅), take a bus bound for Hirogawara (広河原). From there, change to a bus bound for Kitazawa-toge (北沢峠) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule (in Japanese).

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 987m)

Mt. Houou (鳳凰山)

February 23, 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. Houou is one of the most beautiful yet most overlooked of the Minami Alps peaks. The rock formations are stunning, and the views out to Mt. Fuji are breathtaking to say the least.

The top of Mt. Kannon

The hike: First of all, this is almost impossible to do as a day hike unless you get a really, really early start, so plan on camping/staying at a hut along the way. From the trailhead, follow the signs to Yashajintouge (夜叉神峠). It should take around 45 minutes to hike up there. The views are great if the weather is good. There’s a hut and campground here, but don’t quit hiking quite so early. There’s a 3-way junction here, so hang a left toward Yakushi-dake (薬師岳). Most Japanese maps list the peak as 6.5 hours away, but if you’re in good shape and carrying light, you can do it in a little as 4 hours. Luckily, there are 2 huts along the way in case you got a late start or are a slow hiker. The first hut you’ll come to is MinamiOmuro-goya (南御室小屋). There’s a campground and water source here. If you continue another 90 minutes or so you’ll reach Yakushidake-goya (薬師岳小屋), just below the peak. This is a fantastic place to stay if you’d like to catch the sunrise. If you’ve made really good time and aren’t too tired, then why not continue another hour or so to Houou-goya (鳳凰小屋). This is where I stayed, but I approached from Hirogawara instead of Yashajintouge. No matter where you end up staying, you’re in for a treat of a sunrise in the morning. Mt. Houou has 3 main peaks – Yakushi, Kannon, and Jizou, all named after Shinto Gods. The highest peak is Kannon (観音岳), while the obelisk shaped Jizou (地蔵岳) is the symbol of the mountain, appearing in most photographs. If you stayed at Yakushi hut, then climb up to the top of Yakushi, ignoring the trail coming in from the right side. The ridge is pretty easy to walk on, and the limestone rock formations look a lot like snow. Mt. Kannon is the highest point. Admire the incredible view of Mt. Fuji directly in front of you, and the panorama of the Minami Alps directly behind. Continue for another hour or so (again, ignore the trail coming off the right) until reaching Jizou, where a choice has to be made. You could go right and exit the mountain in about 4-1/2 to 5 hours, or you could take a left and follow the ridge toward Mt. Kai Koma-ga-dake, which makes for a good traverse. If you head this way, then there’s an escape route off to the left in about an hour or so. This place is called Hakuhoutouge (白鳳峠). Going left here will take you to Hirogawara in about 3 hours or so. There are plenty of buses from Hirogawara back to Kofu.

When to go: If you’re relying on public transport, then do this hike between late April and November. If you’ve got your own car, then you can attempt this hike in the winter (with the proper equipment of course). Mt. Houou doesn’t get as much snow as neighboring Kita-dake, so it should be approachable in March depending on the amount of snowfall. Double check to make sure the road Yashajintouge is open before you drive all the way there.

Access: From Kofu station, take a bus bound for Hirogawara (the trailhead for the Kita-dake hike), but instead of going all the way there, get off at Yashajintouge (夜叉神峠). I think the first bus from Kofu is 9:30am but don’t quote me on that. If you’ve taken a night bus from Osaka or Tokyo, then double check the bus schedule when arriving at Kofu. Click here for bus information in Japanese. If you descend to Hirogawara, then double check the bus schedule, because the buses are limited in number outside of the peak July/August hiking season (the road is closed to regular cars, so it’s impossible to hitchhike).

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1450m)