photos and text by Alastair Bourne
Washigamine (eagle mountain) and Yashima (eight island) marsh offer a short but scenic hike through a national park straddling Suwa and Shimo-Suwa in the center of Nagano Prefecture.
The hike: With panoramic 360-degree views, little-known Washigamine probably deserves similar recognition to its more famous neighbors, Kirigamine and Kurumayama. Unusual for a place with such spectacular views, the trail to the summit is an easy ascent that should present no difficulties to moderately-experienced climbers or hikers. To start the hike, go through the tunnel under the road at the far end of the car park at Yashima marsh. Instead of heading straight to the marsh take a sharp left with the deer fence and the road immediately to your left. Head up the rocky slope through the trees and after about five minutes you will come to a flat area with a signpost pointing up towards Washigamine (鷲ヶ峰). Follow the sign, remembering to close the gate of the deer fence as you head up the well-marked path. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the view as you ascend. On a clear day you won’t have to climb far before taking in fantastic views of Mt. Tateshina, the Yatsugatake range and Mt. Fuji. Within minutes the tourists, car park and Venus Line road seem far behind you. Continue heading up the steady slope, taking care not to slip on the gravel and loose rocks until arriving at a plateau after about 25 minutes. Here the well-marked trail bears to the right. Walk along the ridge line for a couple of minutes and take a short rest at the first peak to enjoy the magnificent views of Yatsugatake. The trail then heads to the left, with steep grassy slopes on both sides. Follow the path for another 10 minutes to the summit of Washigamine. In summer, the route can be obstructed by thick vegetation, but there is only one way to go and no danger of getting lost. From the Washigamine summit you can once again enjoy the view of the mountains described earlier as well as spectacular vistas of Utsukushigahara, the South Alps, Yarigatake and the North Alps, Lake Suwa and parts of the Matsumoto valley. From here, intrepid explorers can continue onto Wada pass (和田峠). However, with the best of the views behind you, a circuit of Yashima marsh is perhaps a better option. Return along the same path until you reach the flat area with the signposted junction. Here, you should head straight down the slope instead of returning to the car park. After about 100 meters you will find yourself on the path that encircles the marsh, which contains a number of stunningly beautiful mirror-like ponds. The center of the marsh is out of bounds, but you can enjoy the views from the boardwalk and path that encircle the area. You can spend 45 minutes following the path around until you return to the car park, or head off towards Kirigamine or Kurumayama on one of the many well signposted paths that crisscross the area. Flora fans can enjoy the small alpine flowers throughout the area, while fauna fans may be lucky enough to catch sight of a fox or deer or unlucky enough to come across a bear in some of the areas off the beaten track.
When to go: The area is theoretically accessible all year round as the winter gates for the Venus Line are located just after Yashima car park. However, I don’t recommend going in winter when the area is covered in deep snow and you run the risk of starting an avalanche on the steep, treeless slopes of Washigamine. In June, the yellow nikkokisuge (day lilly) plant blooms across the area, which is filled with cars and buses carrying crowds yielding big, expensive-looking cameras. Car parks fill up from early in the morning, and all but the most determined botanists are unlikely to want to put up with the crowds or traffic. If you’re relying on the bus, then aim to go in July or August.
Access: It takes about 40 minutes by one of the infrequent buses from Kami-Suwa (上諏訪) station on the JR Chuo line to Yashima car park (八島湿原). The bus only runs from July 13 to August 25th (weekends only for the most part) and will set you back 1200 yen one-way. Click here for the bus schedule. Outside of these dates, you’ll need to take a bus that runs between Kamisuwa and Chino stations and get off at Kirigamine Interchange (霧ヶ峰インターチェンジ). From there, you’ll have to walk for about an hour, or you can try your luck hitching. Click here for that bus schedule
Map: Click here
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200 meters)
Distance: It’s a 4-km round trip from Yashima to the summit of Washigamine. The circuit around Yashima marsh is another 2-3 km. The entire hike should take no more than three hours at even the most gentle of paces.