Posted tagged ‘Mt. Tsurugi’

Mt. Tsurugi (剱岳)

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

Last updated: November 16, 2021

Mt. Tsurugi (san), not to be confused with Mt. Tsurugi (dake) in the Kita Alps, is the 2nd tallest mountain in Western Japan, and well worth a visit if you find yourself in Tokushima Prefecture. Apart from the chair lift and a couple of buildings/antenna on the summit, the peak is wonderful, with a splendid sub-alpine forest and plenty of breathtaking views.

The hike: From the chair lift entrance, hike downhill for about 50 meters on Route 438 (don’t go through the tunnel) past a couple of restaurants to find a shrine gate on your right with a signpost for Tsurugi Tozanguchi (剣山登山口). Climb the concrete stairs under the shrine gate (and don’t forget to check out the temple just to the left in the grassy park for its collection of Buddhist statues). At the top of the stairs turn right and walk past the shrine buildings to find a shimenawa rope strung between two cedar trees and a wooden signpost reading Tsurugisan Sanchō 4000 m (剣山山頂へ 4,000m). Just before the signpost fill up your water bottles at the stainless steel sink and walk under the rope and past the Fudō Myō-ō statue and small shrine sanctuary on your left. Walk past a concrete water reservoir with rubber water pipes strung about and climb the crest of the hill to a larger shrine building on your left. Through a gap in the trees you can see Mt Tsurugi if you walk up to the building itself. Continue climbing on a gentle slope to reach a corrugated metal tunnel running directly under the chairlift. Pass through the tunnel and follow the well-worn path as it switchbacks and runs mostly parallel to the lift. You may want to bring some headphones to drown out the loudspeaker announcements emanating from the adjacent chair lift. The route doubles as a nature walk, with plenty of trees signposted in katakana, so amuse yourself by learning some Japanese tree names if you’d like. After 10 minutes you’ll see signpost indicating Nishijima Eki 400m (西島駅 400m), or 400 horizontal meters to the top of the chair lift. Continue climbing for a couple of hundred meters through a narrow section of trail to reach a rock formation with a corrugated metal building housing a buddhist sanctuary. Feel free to climb up on the side trail to view the statues, or simply ignore and continue on the main trail to your left and ascend around the rock to reach a junction above. Ignore this and keep to the main trail, which soon breaks out of the trees to reveal the first vistas of the summit plateau in front of you and the pyramidal peak of Jirōgyū to the right. There are a couple of flattened clearings among the bamboo grass which double as campsites. If camping here then bring plenty of water to sustain you and be warned that the toilets at the chair lift station have seen better days. Stick to the main path to ascend past the campsites to reach the a big junction near the top of the chairlift. There is a huge signboard with a detailed map of the summit area. Take a photo as it will prove handy as there are many different paths to choose from. There are two different options. Those short of time should turn left and take the trail just next to the chair lift, which will take you to the summit in about 40 minutes. Otherwise, follow my recommended loop below:

This is the beginning of the loop hike. You’ll climb via the shrine Torii path and finish on the trail just below. Pass through the wooden Torii gate marked in yellow paint as 四国つるぎ山. Climb a short distance and ignore the path on your left (which leads to a longer loop trail for Shugendō practitioners) and keep to the main track. After passing through a second wooden Torii gate, the route passes through a lush forest with intermittent vistas to your right. Keep an eye out for wildflowers lining the path including purple monkshood flowers in late August. The trail traverses along the side of the mountain before reaching Otsurugi shrine (大剣神社) at the base of its namesake rock formation. This ‘spearlike’ crag was used in ancient times by Shugendō monks, who chanted mantras under this rock formation. A trail left leads to Katanakake-no-matsu (刀掛の松), a large pine tree that sits along the main path converging from the chair lift. The path to the right passes right by the shrine before reaching a water source that is among the 100 best water sources in Japan. Unless you’re thirsty, ignore this path and stick to the main route, which starts switchbacking through a forest of Erman’s birch (dakekanba) that is usually found growing in the subalpine forests of Japan’s higher mountains. The trail turns east and traverses around the back side of the mountain towards the summit. You’ll soon see the blue roof of one of the mountain huts above you and just before reaching the mountain hut a path converges from the left. After reaching the buildings, admire the views towards the northeast, including views of Daisen on days with good visibility. Take the narrow trail between the mountain hut and shrine office to reach the summit plateau, which is lined with wooden walkways to help protect the vegetation. Gone are the days of the concrete paths and the restoration work has helped the greenery return to what was once a neglected mountain top. A wooden walkway leads left to a platform and ridge trail to Ni-no-mori and alternative loop around the mountain. The platform is a great place to take a break as the true summit area is narrow and cramped. After admiring the views return to to the junction. You can take either wooden walkway as both converge on the summit. The building just to the left is an eco toilet facility and a welcome replacement over the foul-smelling concrete restroom that used to sit on the summit. Take the right fork and climb the final few steps to the summit. The walkway splits right at the summit, with the triangulation point sitting between, wrapped in a shimenawa rope. After posing for summit photos, continue on the path to the south along the main ridge. You’ll see an attractive-looking peak jutting out just in front of you – that is Jirōgyū, your second target peak of the day. Drop down through the bamboo grass along the well-traveled path to descend to a junction. Ignore the first junction you reach (this will be your descent path after climbing Jirōgyū so you can drop off extra stuff here if you have a heavy pack). Continue on the undulating track to reach the bottom of the pass and start of the steep climb to the summit. Ignore the track to the right that bypasses the summit (unless you need water, as there’s a source on that track) and keep to the main ridge. It’s a 20-minute climb to the top depending on your speed, where there are spectacular views back towards Tsurugi and further afield to Miune and the rest of the main traverse route of the mountain range to the west. After enjoying the views retrace your steps back to the second junction and take the track to your left marked in Japanese for Mi-no-koshi (見の越へ 2770). The path is a lovely, relatively flat track that skirts under the side of Tsurugi before joining the main trail at the top of the chair lift. Lined by wildflowers and hemmed by hardwoods, the track is easily the most beautiful on the peak and pleasant way to round out your hike. Ignore all of the trails splitting off to the right – they all lead back to the summit of Tsurugi. Instead, continue straight, past an unmarked water source and wooden rest shelter to reach the top of the chair lift in about 50 minutes. From there, simply turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got your own transport. Winter is probably the best time for experienced mountaineers, since the lift won’t be running and the mountain hut will be closed. Click here to see the winter scenery. Otherwise, aim to go between April and November. Be warned that the peak is extremely popular during the autumn season, so schedule your visit on a quieter weekday if possible.

Access: Public transport access is limited, so a car is essential for enjoying this hike at your own pace. The trailhead starts at Mi-no-koshi (見の越) at the junction Routes 438 and 439 at the entrance to Iya Valley. Hitchhiking from Sadamitsu Station (貞光駅) certainly is possible if you walk over to Route 438 and ask the driver to take you to Tsurugisan. Otherwise, there is seasonal microbus service from both Sadamitsu and Anabuki stations on the JR Tokushima line. Click here to download the most recently updated PDF file. Here is English information about the bus from Sadamitsu station,

Map: Click here and scroll down to part 3 (主な配布場所). There you will find two pdf file downloads. Click on 広域登山道マップ(英語版).pdf to download the English version of the map.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 535m). If you take the chair lift then you’ll save 200 meters of vertical elevation gain and will be hiking with a lighter wallet.

Total Round-trip Distance: 9km (4-1/2 to 7 hours)