Posted tagged ‘Tohoku hikes (東北)’

Mt. Hayachine (早池峰山)

March 16, 2008

Mt. Hayachine is a deceptive-looking peak situated almost due east of Morioka city. The wildflowers are beautiful and access is difficult, attracting climbers looking to escape the crowds of nearby Mt. Iwate.

Mt. Hayachine

The hike: From the bus stop at Hiratsuto, walk a short distance back toward the direction you just came from (toward Morioka) and you’ll find a small road and bridge crossing the river on the left-hand side. Take this road and follow it for about 45 minutes or so. At first the road is paved but it gradually turns into a forest road following a beautiful stream. You’ll find several road junctions, but as long as you follow the signs to Hayachine trailhead (早池峰登山口) you’ll be fine. Fill up your water bottles along the way, as there’s no reliable water on the mountain. After about an hour of hiking, the road will split, so go toward the right and you’ll find the trailhead after about 1km or so. Enter the forest and climb. This trail is well-marked but very rarely used, so you should have the entire mountain to yourself. The trail initially runs parallel to the forest road, crossing it once before heading along the spine of the mountain. In about an hour or so, you’ll reach the 6th stage (六合目) and a trail junction. The trail to Kadoma (門馬) leads off to the right. This is an alternative approach up the mountain, shorter than the way you came. It was closed to hikers when I climbed, so I’m not sure of the current status. Anyway, the trail steepens significantly from here, as the forest gradually thins out. The trail becomes rocky, and you’ll find a water source at the 9th stage (九合目). This water source is usually dry in the summer and is unreliable. After about 20 more minutes of climbing, you’ll reach a junction and will probably see your first hikers of the day. Turn right and hike 10 minutes to the top. There’s a free emergency hut and shrine on the summit. The views are amazing out to Mt. Iwate and even over to Mt. Chokai on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was a big, white foggy mess when I climbed. It should have taken you about 5 hours to reach the peak from the bus stop, and if you continue on the same trail you’ll reach another trailhead and parking lot in about an hour. This is the path that most hikers take to the top, and makes for a good traverse. Make some friends on the summit and ask them to give you a lift back to civilization. Alternatively, if you’re a sucker for punishment, then you can descend all the way back down the way you came, which is what I did. Call me foolish, but I was on a tight schedule and needed to get back to Morioka so I could make my train to climb Mt. Chokai the following day. If you’d like to climb 10 of the Hyakumeizan in Tohoku in 10 days without a car, then ask me how to do it.

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to November. A winter hike is a serious undertaking and access is next to impossible without a snowmobile or some cross-country skis.

Access: From Morioka station (盛岡駅), take a JR train on the Yamada line (山田線) bound for Miyako station (宮古駅) and get off at Hiratsuto station (平津戸駅). There are only 1 or 2 trains per day, and there’s a bus that runs the same route as the train, so it’s much better to take the bus. Ask the information counter outside of Morioka station for more details. There’s a much shorter approach up Hayachine via Kawarabou (河原坊) but you really need your own transport to get there. Rumor has it there’s a bus from Shin-hanamaki station (新花巻駅) but I climbed Hayachine after coming off of Mt. Iwate, so it was much more convenient to just jump on a bus at Morioka station.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1000m)

Mt. Azuma (吾妻山)

March 6, 2008

Mt. Azuma is a magnificent volcano , with its own baby version of Mt. Fuji and plenty of wildflowers. Although Nishi-Azuma is the official high point for Hyakumeizan climbers, a full traverse from east to west is the best way to appreciate the beauty of the place.

Mt. Azuma

The hike: From the huge parking lot, you’ve got 2 options. You can either climb Mt. Fuji’s baby brother Azuma-kofuji (吾妻小富士) or head for Mt. Issaikyo (一切経山). The ascent and circling of the crater rim of baby Fuji should take about an hour or so. The trail up to Mt. Issaikyo is well tracked and easy to follow. Just find the trail between the visitor’s center and the rest house (or follow the crowds). Oh, and pick up a free map at the visitor’s center before venturing out. There are a vast network of trails, so if you’re just doing a day hike in this area and not a full traverse, you’ve got tons of great options. It should take about an hour of moderate climbing to reach the high point of Issaikyo. Along the way, the views toward baby Fuji are splendid, but make sure you frame your photos to cover up the huge parking lot. Upon reaching the top, you’ll notice a beautifully colored emerald volcanic lake on the other side. This lake is called Goshikinuma (五色沼) and it should take about 20 minutes of steep descending to reach the shoreline. If the top of Issaikyo is crowded, then consider traversing down here for a quieter respite. Continue past the lake and climb up towards the other side. The trail will split, but go left for a short climb to the top of Mt. Iegata (家形山). From there you’ll basically follow the ridgeline all the way to Nishi-Azuma (西吾妻山). The first hour or so to Mt. Eboshi (烏帽子山) is fairly easy-going, but then you’ll have a steep drop and a short climb to the top of Mt. Shougen (昭元山). After this peak, it’s a series of never-ending rolling hills. You can go for miles and miles, and that’s just what you’ll need to do to reach the western part of Azuma. There’s an escape route, however, a short distance from Shougen. A trail will join the main trail on the left. This is your last chance to get back to Jododaira, and it would make for an interesting 2-day loop. Higashidaiten (東大巓), a rock formation, is the next landmark you’ll come to . A short distance later, a trail will branch off to the right, taking you to a nice emergency hut called Meigetsusou (明月荘). This hut is free and has plenty of water, but you need your own food and sleeping bag. Consider staying here if you’re tired, the weather is bad, or it’s getting late. Before making the decision, bear in mind that you’ve got 3-1/2 to 4 hours of gentle hiking until reaching Nishi-Azuma. I did the entire traverse in one day, but I got an early start and the weather was stunning. Anyway, as I said before, the trail is really easy and it passes some beautiful marshland with wonderful views out to neighboring Mt. Bandai. You’ll reach Nakadaiten (中大巓), where the crowds will become noticeably larger. This is due to the nearby ski lift, operating all year round and bringing lazy tourists to this mountain. After leaving Nakadaiten, the trail drops via wooden stairs to a flat point and water source. This is your last chance to get water, so if you’re staying at the emergency hut at Nishi-Azuma then fill up generously. It’ll take about an hour of climbing before reaching the true high point of the Azuma range. You’ll be quite disappointed, because there’s absolutely no view from the top! Never fear, because after a short descent you’ll come to a wonderful unmanned mountain hut where you can stay all year round. If you’ve got time, then hike out to Nishidaiten (西大巓) because this is where the true views are. Mt. Bandai will be directly in front of you, and on a clear day you’ll also see Mt. Iide and Mt. Asahi. Retrace your steps back to the hut, and take the trail leading away toward Wakamedaira (若女平). You should reach this flat spot after an hour of steep descending. This trail is one of the main trails used in winter climbing of the mountain, so look for the trail markers high in the trees. If the trail is wet, you’ll be slipping and sliding all over the rocky course. The trail keeps going down, down, down, until popping out on a paved road near the ski lift. Follow the road downhill to Shirabu Hot Spring (白布温泉). Enjoy a well-deserved soak in town and check the schedule for the bus to Yonezawa station (米沢駅).

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, when the road to Jododaira is open. If you’re going to climb Nishi-Azuma only, then you can climb in the winter by using the ski lifts at Tendengai Kogen Ski Resort (天元台高原スキー場).

Access: From Fukushima station (福島駅), take a bus from the western side of the station to Jododaira (浄土平). The bus takes 90 minutes, costs 1560 yen, and runs on weekends only from late April to early November. Click here to see the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~400m)

Mt. Iwate (岩手山)

February 21, 2008

Mt. Iwate is a conically shaped active volcano, towering over Morioka city and offers one of the best panoramic views in the entire Tohoku area.

the view from Mt. Iwate

The hike: This is a long, long hike (about 21km round trip) so it’s imperative that you get an early start. Luckily there’s a incredible park near the trailhead at Kenmin no mori (県民の森). Officially camping is prohibited in the lush park but it’s much more inviting than the nearby campground, so just put up your tent behind the bushes or set up/break down at night. Anyway, the trailhead is NOT behind the park, so do not follow the dirt forest road toward Mt. Iwate or you’ll lose precious time like I did. Instead, walk down the hill a little to the right of the park (if facing the mountain) and walk up a paved road that leads to the trailhead. You should find it on your right-hand side after about 15 minutes or so. The maps in town are so confusing, so be careful. Anyway, this trail is called the nanataki course (七滝コース), and you’ll find the waterfall of the same name in about an hour. Now, this trail was officially closed to hikers in the summer of 2006 due to volcanic activity, but the trail is very clearly marked, so it looks like a lot of people ignore the signs and climb. After about 1-1/2 to 2 hours of hiking through the forest, the vegetation will start to thin out and you will find the first signs of volcanic activity. The ground will start to turn a lime green and you’ll notice a small, hot stream flowing down the mountain. Unfortunately the stream is too small to bath in, but you can soak your feet if you like. Follow this stream toward the right side and you’ll soon encounter steam vents puffing out volcanic gases. Make sure you stay on the trail and beware of loose rocks. Climbing is not much of a problem, but if you come back down this way be very careful on the decent. Anyway, as you climb higher, you’ll reach a junction where this trail meets the Matsukawa trail. You have two options. You can go right to take a ridge trail, or head left and follow a beautiful river. Take the left course and work your way toward the Mt. Iwate crater. The vegetation can be quite thick here, and if there’s any morning dew then you’ll get completely soaked from head to toe. After about 90 minutes of slogging, you’ll come to an emergency hut and a set of benches. This is at the base of the crater. Take a break and prepare yourself for the final ascent. If you’re running short of water then head down the trail away from the crater and there’s a second hut and water source there. The final climb is tough. You’ve just spent the last 4 or 5 hours climbing about 1400 vertical meters, and now the final 100m or so is on loose scree. For every step you take, you’ll lose about 2 or 3. Don’t give up yet though, because once you make it to the crater rim things become much easier. The high point is to your left, but consider walking all the way around the rim if the weather is good. The crater itself has stopped hissing and steaming, but the rock formations and gradation are wonderful. Take plenty of pictures and if you’re lucky, take in the panorama. On a clear day you can see Mt. Hayachine, Mt. Chokai, Gassan, Mt. Hachimantai, and Mt. Akita Koma ga Take. If you’re feeling exhausted, then you have two free emergency huts to choose from, as well as two alternate ways off the mountain. I went back exactly the way I came, because I left my huge backpack at the trailhead and carried only a small bum bag, water, and a camera on the hike.

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, but the earlier you go, the more snow you’ll encounter. Because of the distance involved, summer is probably the best season because you’ll be blessed with plenty of daylight hours.

Access: There are only 2 trails accessible by public transport. If you’ve got a car, then you can consider approaching from the other, more popular side of the mountain. I hitchhiked from neighboring Mt. Hachimantai and ended up at Hachimantai Onsen (八幡平温泉郷). The Matsukawa trail from Matsukawa Onsen also looks promising. Both hot springs are accessible by bus from Morioka station. The most popular trail is called the Yakebashiri (焼走り) trail, reachable by taxi from Oobuke (大更) station near Morioka. Click here for the bus schedule to Matsukawa Onsen.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change: ~1500m)