Posted tagged ‘Mt. Tsurugi’

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. Tsurugi (剣山)

April 26, 2008

Mt. Tsurugi, not to be confused with Mt. Tsurugi in the Kita Alps, is the 2nd tallest mountain in Western Japan, and one of only 2 Hyakumeizan on Shikoku island. The top is very overdeveloped and slightly disappointing, so if you’re not climbing the Hyakumeizan, then I’d recommend heading for Mt. Miune, which is on the same ridge line but a little further to the west.

The hike: From the bus stop, head up the road a little until you find the trailhead (登山口) next to the shrine. The path pretty much parallels the lift, and at one point will go directly under it through a small tunnel. It’s only a 300m vertical climb to the top of the lift, so why anyone would waste their money on such an idiotic contraption is beyond me. At the top of the lift, you’ll find a 3-way junction and campground. You can either take the trail on the left directly to the summit, or take the middle trail which will also get you there via Otsurugi shrine (大剣神社). There is a natural mineral spring here that supposedly has ‘great tasting’ water. The summit is a short walk behind the shrine. The top is very disappointing, with a weather tower, hut, and lots of concrete and gravel. If you want to have lunch somewhere a little more ‘authentic’, then I would recommend heading down towards Jirogyu-toge (ジロウギュウ峠) and up to Mt. Jirogyu (ジロウギュウ). The views are much more breathtaking here, and it’s completely undeveloped. From here you can either retrace your steps back to Mi-no-koshi, or do a full traverse of the entire mountain range over to Miune (三嶺). I also recommend doing the full traverse if you’ve got the time, energy, and necessary supplies (although I did it in reverse – starting at Miune and ending at Tsurugi).

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got your own transport. Winter is probably the best time, since the lift won’t be running and all of the huts will be closed (and the peak deserted). Click here to see the winter scenery.

Access: From Tokushima station, (徳島駅), take a JR limited express train and get off at Sadamitsu station (貞光駅). The train takes about 45 minutes and costs 2300 yen. A local train takes 70 minutes but only costs 1060 yen. From Sadamitsu, take a special microbus bound for Mi-no-koshi (見の越). The buses only run from July 19th to August 24th, so outside of this date there are no bus services to Mt. Tsurugi. Click here for the bus schedule. I must admit that I haven’t taken the bus and hitchhiked all the way from Tokushima station (and back).

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change 535m). If you take the gondola then it’s a 0 out of 5.