Posted tagged ‘Niigata hikes (新潟県)’

Mt. Hira-ga-take (平ヶ岳)

September 8, 2008

Mt. Hira-ga-take translates as “flat peak”, but don’t let the name fool you. With a round-trip distance of 22km, it happens to be one of the toughest day hikes around. The majestic alpine lakes and abundant wildflowers make the long slog worth it, though.

The hike: There’s a toilet and small grassy area next to the road that looks good for camping (except for the fact that it’s right next to the road!). Hike up the gravel forest road for about 20 minutes, where you’ll find the trailhead on your right, at the dead end of the road. This would also make for a nice (and more peaceful) campsite. Just before reaching the end of the road you’ll cross over a mountain stream. There used to be a wooden bridge here, but it’s recently been washed away, so you’ll have to wade through the water to cross the road. It’s not very deep and you can just about jump across unless it’s been raining and the river is swollen. Anyhow, the trail enters a cedar forest and quickly starts its relentless vertical ascent. The path follows a rather steep, rocky, and exposed ridgeline for the first 3km or so. This is not a place you want to be in a lightning storm, as there’s no place to hide. The climb is tough, on loose sandstone-like rocks, with a lot of old pine trees holding the ridgeline in place. After 2 hours and 800 vertical meters, you’ll reach the top of the first peak, called Mt. Shimodaikura (下台倉山). Take a break here and congratulate yourself – the toughest part is done! From here all the way to the summit, it’s a never-ending series of ups and downs – long, but not too tough. The views will start to open up, and you’ll have your first views of the summit, a mere 7km away! Mt. Hiuchi will be on your left, with Oku-shirane rising up just to the right of Hiuchi. In about 45 minutes or so, you’ll reach the top of Mt. Daikura (台倉山), a small peak marked by a small rectangular concrete stone. Shortly after descending, you’ll find daikura-shimizu (台倉清水), the first water source. The water is a short hike from the rest area, and just looks like a small stream. If I were you I’d bring a water filter just in case. There are a few flat areas that look nice for camping, but make sure you pack out your poop as there are no toilets in the area. Continue trudging along the ridge, until reaching another water source called shirahama-shimizu (白浜清水). This water definitely looks suspicious – a stagnant pool of water that rises out of the ground. There are plenty of wooden planks in the area, reminiscent of the paths in Oze. These planks become slicker than ice when wet, so be prepared for a precarious sliding session if your shoes don’t have good traction. After passing the water source, the path will leave the forest for the last big climb of the hike, towards Ike-no-dake (池ノ岳). This is the first peak of Hira-ga-take, and there’s a ver scenic mid-sized pond on the summit. This is probably where you’ll run into your first hikers of the day, especially if the lazy ones have taken the alternative route up! I ran into over 150 people on a sunny Sunday in August, which was disheartening as only 6 other people took the long approach described here. From this lake to the summit, the trail drops to a saddle and then up a short climb to the high point. The trail is currently (August 2008) undergoing some huge maintenance, as all of the wooden planks are being replaced and wooden steps are being built in order to protect the peak from erosion. Judging by the rapidly increasing popularity of the alternative approach, it’s not a bad investment of resources. The summit plateau is stunning, with plenty of alpine lakes, wildflowers, and awe-inspiring views. After a quick break on the summit, return to the saddle and take a left at the junction, towards the water source. You’ll find a wooden plank next to the stream, which some people use to camp on. Officially, there’s no camping allowed as there are no toilets on the mountain, so please please don’t take a crap on the ground and contaminate the water supply if overnighting here. I seriously wonder about the future quality of this water source with such a huge boom in popularity. Anyway, continue climbing past the water source and you’ll reach another junction. Turn right to head back to the the lake at Ike-no-dake or turn left for the short hike to Tamago-ishi (玉子石), a large rock formation that’s ridiculously popular with Japanese hikers. It’s makes for a scenic photo, but don’t bother going if the cloud is in. Retrace your steps to the pond at Ike-no-dake and prepare yourself for the long descent back to where you started at Taka-no-su (鷹ノ巣).

Alternative route: This route is becoming much more popular, especially with elderly hikers who don’t have the stamina to do the long 22-km hike. Basically, if you stay at Oku-tadami Sanso (奥只見山荘) at Ginzan-daira hot spring (See Echigo-koma hike for Ginzan-daira info) then they’ll give you a ride both to and from the trailhead. The trailhead is at the end of a long forest road that’s closed to regular traffic. From here, it’s only a 2-1/2 hike to the summit! Click here for more information on availability and price information.

When to go: This hike can be done from June 1st to November 3rd, when route 352 is open to vehicular traffic. Expect a lot of snow if hiking before mid-July.

Access: There are approaches from both Fukushima and Niigata Prefectures. The fastest approach is probably from the Niigata side. From the east exit of Urasa (浦佐) station, take a bus bound for Oku-tadami (奥只見) dam and get off at the last stop. There are 2 buses a day from June 1st to November 3rd. The first bus leaves at 7:55am and arrives at the dam at 9:10am. The second bus leaves Urasa at 1:40pm and arrives at 3pm. Click here for the bus schedule. From the dam, take a boat bound for Ozeguchi (尾瀬口). The boat leaves at 9:25am and 3:20pm. From Ozeguchi, there’s a bus that’ll take you all the way to Numayama-toge (沼山峠), the main access point to Oze-numa. The bus will pass by the trailhead, so get off at Hira-ga-take Tozan-guchi (平ヶ岳登山口). The bus is by reservation only, so call 025-792-7300 to make a booking. If you don’t have a booking you may still be able to ride the bus, but sometimes it doesn’t run if no one has called ahead, so be careful. If you want to try hitching from Ginzan-daira (銀山平), then stand on Route 352 and ask the driver to let you off at Taka-no-su (鷹の巣).

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1301m). (2 out of 5 if using the alternative route)

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. 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. Tanigawa (谷川岳)

April 9, 2008

Mt. Tanigawa is a rocky peak sitting complacently on the border of Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. Notorious for its nasty weather and head deep snow, the mountain affords wonderful panoramic views and an abundance of plant life.

The hike: From Doai station, head out the front door and turn right on the paved road. Walk uphill about 20 minutes and you’ll come to the Mt. Tanigawa gondola. Take the gondola if you’d like to save 600m of vertical climbing. Otherwise, take the gravel service road that runs to the left of the gondola. This road will take you all the way to the top of the gondola, and it should take around an hour or so. The trail actually branches off this road about halfway up, but you can ignore the actual trail and follow the road toward the left to get to the ski resort. It’s much better to go directly to the ski resort so you can fill up on water in the rest house, as there’s no other water source on the hike. The trail runs in front of the rest house, and then away from the ski lifts toward the rocky peaks of Mt. Tanigawa. It should take about 45 minutes to reach the emergency hut at Kuma-ana sawa (熊穴沢避難小屋). From the hut, turn right and start the real climb toward the summit. There are a few areas with chains to help you on the narrow ridge line, but all in all it’s not too treacherous. You’ll reach the hut just below the summit in about 90 minutes. If the weather is good then the views will be stunning. If not, then take extra care on the knife-edge traverse over to the high point. The summit has 2 twin peaks. The first one you’ll come to is called Tomanomimi (トマノ耳), while the higher peak is called Okinomimi (オキノ耳). After scaling the two peaks, you could continue traversing along the ridge or go back the same way you came. There are also 2 other alternative ways off the mountain. The first one is to take the trail leading away from the hut. This trail is very rocky, with lots of chains and ladders, which probably makes for a safer ascent than descent. The other alternative is to retrace your steps back to the Kuma-ana hut, and take a right. This trail will eventually dump you out at Minakami station (水上駅). I ended up flying back down to the base of the gondola to escape an incoming rainstorm. Grab a map and explore the vast network of trails that this legendary peak has to offer.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got an ice axe and crampons. Be especially careful of avalanches in the middle of winter, and be prepared for tons of snow until at least the rainy season.

Access: From Echigo-yuzawa station (越後湯沢駅), take a local JR train bound for Minakami (水上) and get off at Doai station (土合駅).

Live web cam: Click here

Map: Click here. In addition, you can find a couple of beautifully illustrated free maps here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and download the .pdf files.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1213m)

Mt. Hiuchi (火打山)

March 26, 2008

Mt. Hiuchi is a stunningly beautiful conical peak surrounded by lush greenery and scenic alpine marshlands. The wildflowers in summer bring the crowds and the fall foliage is splendid.

Mt. Hiuchi

The hike: From the bus stop, follow the parked cars to the trailhead, which is marked by a small shelter. The first hour of the hike is relatively flat, following a river. You’ll reach a bridge crossing the “black gully” (黒沢), where the real hike begins. The entire trail is divided into 9 different stages, which you can find signposts conveniently marking the divisions. You’ll gain close to 300 meters of altitude in next to no time, thanks to the “12 turns” (十二曲り). From the top of these switchbacks, it’s another 90 minutes of steep climbing to reach Fujimidaira (富士見平). The trail splits in two at this point. You could take the trail on the right to go to Mt. Myoko, but continue on the left fork for another 45 minutes to reach Kouyaike Hut (高谷池ヒュッテ), an amazing place to stay and contemplate life. Click here for the hut web site. From the hut, it should take about 90 minutes or so to reach the summit of Mt. Hiuchi. You’ll climb through some wonderful marshlands before hitting the steep ridgeline. I’m told the views are outstanding, but it was pouring rain when I went. Click here to see some wonderful pictures of someone who climbed on a perfect day! After taking lots of photos on the summit, either head back the same way you came, or traverse over to Mt. Myoko.

When to go: This hike can be done between late April and mid-November. The peak is popular with skiers during Golden Week, and the snow usually stays around until early August! The road to the trailhead is closed in the winter, but you could try traversing via Mt. Myoko if the weather is good and you’ve got the proper equipment and training.

Access: From Nagano station (長野駅), take a local train on the JR Shinetsu Line (JR信越線) and get off at Myoko-kogen station (妙高高原駅). From there, take a bus to Sasagamine (笹ケ峰). The bus takes about 50 minutes and it not very frequent. You could take a taxi to the trailhead from the station for about 5500 yen.

Live web cam: Click here

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

Mt. Naeba (苗場山)

March 17, 2008

Mt. Naeba is well known as a stellar ski resort and home of the annual Fuji Rock festival (but nowhere close to Mt. Fuji!). The summit features beautiful wildflowers and glorious views of Mt. Tanigawa, the Northern Alps, & the endless flow of peaks of Gunma prefecture to the east.

Mt. Naeba

The hike: From the parking lot at Wada hut, take the trail that cuts across the ski resort in front of you. Fill up your water bottles in front of the hut before setting off. The path parallels the ski slopes for the first hour or so, on a well-marked path that becomes a river during a heavy rain storm! As you climb up towards the ridge, you’ll pass through 3 different “grassy areas”, labeled ‘lower’, ‘middle’, and ‘upper’. These will be signposted at 下ノ芝, 中ノ芝, and 上ノ芝 respectively. There are an awful lot of wooden planks built into the path to keep hikers from trampling wildflowers. These become treacherously slippery when wet, so take extra care during rainy weather. Once you hit the ridge, a trail will come in from the right. This is an alternate approach, but the way to the summit is left, so keep trudging along for about 10 minutes until coming to another junction. This path on the left leads to the top of the Dragon Gondola, but ignore it and head to the top of Mt. Kagura (神楽ケ峰). Tons of skiers traverse up this far to find clean powder runs in winter.  From here, there’s a rocky traverse over to the true peak of Mt. Naeba. You’ll find a water source just before the trail drops to a saddle. Fill up your bottles here and take a break. It should take about an hour to reach the summit of Mt. Naeba. The initial part is quite steep, but once your on top it’s an easy stroll through beautiful marshlands to the high point. There are 2 huts on top, so take your pick if staying the night. Please note that camping is NOT allowed on the summit! Head back down the way you came, or consider descending down to Akayu (赤湯) for a nice soak in a hot spring bath.

When to go: Mt. Naeba gets the greatest amount of snowfall in Japan, as the ski resort usually stays open until late May! That being said, if it’s a crystal clear day with good weather and low avalanche danger, then you can try this one in the winter by starting from the highest lift at Kagura Mitsumata ski resort. Just remember that you’ll be hiking on top of 3+ meters of snow! Otherwise, aim to go between May and early November.

Access: There are 7 different approaches to Mt. Naeba, neither of which are very convenient without a car. If you’re coming by bus, then the handiest approach is to take the trail leading from Akayu (赤湯). Take a bus from Echigo-yuzawa station (越後湯沢駅) toward Mt. Naeba Prince Hotel and get off at Motohashi (本橋). If you choose this approach it’ll take over 8 hours of tough hiking to reach the summit.  Click here for the bus schedule. Another approach would be to take the Dragon Gondola from the Prince Hotel and start your hike from the top of the gondola. If you do this, then it can be done as a day trip (but you have to pay for the gondola!) Alternatively, you could do as I did and take a very expensive taxi from Echigo-yuzawa station to the top of the Kagura gondola at Wada hut (和田小屋). The taxi will fleece you out of 9000 yen or so.  I’ll describe the hike from here, since it’s the shortest and most popular way up the mountain.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1000m)

Mt. Makihata (巻機山)

February 19, 2008

Mt. Makihata is a majestic, remote mountain located on the border of Niigata and Gunma Prefectures. The views are outstanding and it’s home to one of the cleanest emergency huts in all of Japan.

Nubiki sawa

The hike: From the bus stop, hike up the small forest road directly in front of you. It winds its way toward the trailhead, passing a couple of huts along the way. It’s about 1km to the start so it should take you about a half hour or so. There’s a big parking lot at the trailhead, as well as a toilet and water source. After reaching the trailhead proper, hike about 2 or 3 minutes and you’ll come to an important junction. You have 2 choices. 1) Take the conservative route on the right or 2) Go left and take the ‘adventure course’. The hike described here is a loop, so you can make the decision based on your experience (and the weather). For the adventurous (and expereinced), take the left course. At first it’s easy going through some vegetable gardens and then you come to your first (of many) stream crossings. Basically, the trail follows a beautiful sawa (沢- mountain stream) all the way to the top. There are paint marks and arrows on all the rocks, and you’ll have to cross the stream about a half a dozen times before reaching another junction in about a half hour or so. Stay to the right, as the left trail isn’t well used. Both meet up again after about an hour or so. After crossing the stream yet again and climbing up some waterfalls, you’ll come to yet another junction. Basically, the stream splits in two, and you have the choice of going left or right. My advice is to go right, because I originally chose the left option but had to retreat because the course basically ran straight through the middle of the river! The right hand stream, otherwise known as the nukubi course (ヌクビ沢), is better marked and you won’t get as soaked crossing the stream. This section of the hike has a year round snow field, so you’ll spend most of your time sludging through the snow. Be careful of where you step because you’re basically walking on top of a river. You definitely don’t want to break through the snow! Anyway, depending on when you go will depend on how much snow there is. The trail climbs up and up, seemingly never-ending. After about 2-1/2 hours, you’ll reach the end of the stream (this is your last chance to get water, so fill up). The trail then climbs rather steeply, with lots of zig zags and some loose rock, but you’ll pop out on the ridge line in about 20 mintues or so. Once you hit the ridge, you can go left to reach the summit of Mt. Waremeki (割引岳). The views are wonderful, so take a well deserved snack break. Now, it’s time to reach the true summit of Mt. Makihata. Go back the way you came to the trail junction, but instead of descending the way you climbed up, continue straight ahead, passing scores of wonderful mountain flowers along the way. The signpost on the summit of Makihata can be reached in about 20 minutes or so. There are a couple of benches here, but the true summit is another 5 minutes away, on a completely unmarked set of rocks. Enjoy your lunch, and if the weather is good, you’ll have an excellent panorama of Mt. Tanigawa, Hotaka, Shibutsu, and even out to the peaks of Nikko. From the signpost, head down the only trail you haven’t taken yet, and you’ll reach an amazing mountain hut in about 20 minutes. There’s also a water source nearby. This hut is free, completely unmanned, and has one of the best toilets in all of Japan! After you do your business, sit on the adjacent exercise bike and start pedaling to flush the toilet! Anyway, if you want to stay here, then bring a sleeping bag and food. Otherwise, you’ve got a 3-1/2 to 4 hour knee knocking descent awaiting you. The trail back to civilization initially climbs steeply to Mt. Maemakihata (前巻機), and then briefly follows the ridge before shooting straight down the mountain. There are hundreds of wooden steps built into the mountainside and soon you’ll enter the forest. Keep climbing down, down, down until you eventually end up where you started. Oh, I must mention that it’s impossible to do this hike in reverse, because the nukubi course is designated for climbing only. Trying to descend on this trail will probably result in loss or life or serious injury. Also, if it’s been raining a lot and the rivers are swollen, DO NOT take the nukubi course. The river crossings are treacherous when the water level is normal!

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to November, but expect a lot of snow until at least the start of the rainy season. The fall colors are breathtaking.

Access: From Tokyo, take the Niigata Shinkansen and get off at Echigo-Yuzawa station. Transfer to a local train in the direction of Niigata (any train is ok, as long as it doesn’t go to Minakami). Go 2 or 3 stops and get off at Muikamachi. (六日町). From there, take a bus bound for Shimizu (清水) and get off at the last stop. The bus takes about 45 minutes and isn’t so frequent, so if you’re doing this as a day hike then consider taking a taxi to the trailhead. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change: 1377m).