Japan Alps – current conditions

April 2014: The Japan Alps are still buried in deep snow drifts, and with the warming temperatures and melt-freeze cycles, avalanches are quite common in the higher elevations. Keep an eye on the snow pack and conditions if heading out, and remember to bring your winter climbing gear and avalanche equipment. Those without proper experience should wait until June before heading to the Alps, as Golden Week is still too early to safely climb with ice axes and crampons.

Hakuba - April 3, 2014

Hakuba – April 3, 2014

 

Damian from Steep Deep Japan has agreed to provide us with periodic updates from Hakuba about the current snow conditions in the alpine back country. Damian is a full-time resident of Hakuba village and runs guided ski/snowboard tours during the winter season, as well as summer trekking tours in the Japan Alps. He spends nearly every day in the mountains and knows the Hakuba section of the Japan Alps better than anyone. Thanks Damian for your valuable assistance!

Web cams are also a good thing to check during pre-trip planning, so I’ve compiled all of the Japan Alps cameras below for ease of access.

Mt. Shirouma (from Hakuba village)

Mt. Goryu (from Goryu ski resort)

Mt. Yari (from the hut just below the summit)

Tateyama (from Murodo)

Chuo Alps (from the hotel below Mt. Hoken)

Mt. Senjo (Minami Alps)

Mt. Kai-komagatake (Minami Alps)

13 Comments on “Japan Alps – current conditions”

  1. damian Says:

    Hi Wes, unlike last winter we had a lot of snow in Hakuba this season – the normal amount. We also had some big rain events to high altitude. This produced a lot of very large avalanches in February, which combined with an unusually cold spring has given Hakuba a very solid, deep and remarkably persistent snow cover in the gullies and ravines of lower altitude. For example, one week ago Daisekkei looked like mid winter whilst other (less frequented) areas have up to 300cm of very hard avalanche debris completely covering streams and waterways that typically require wet feet at this time of year. This makes the going easy for snow hiking, however as those thick snow bridges melt we are left with 200-300cm high vertical walls on each side of some streams. They are quite an effort to cross though generally not on the beaten path. Take care on these sagging snow bridges as the day warms.

    The road to Sarukura (Daisekkei) was cleared 2 weeks ago but the gate will not open until the end of April. At the risk of being wrong, I predict that Daisekkei’s lower reaches will be in great condition this spring, unlike last season where the neve had melted back to one of the lower steep section at the bend, leaving a broken mess. This year we may be able to easily stroll onto the neve from Hakuba Jiri Goya area without the hazard of broken ice. Time will tell.

    The higher alpine still gets snow and has been regularly well below freezing and should be approached in the same manner as you recommended above for the remainder of the Northern Alps. Lots of frozen solid spring snow every morning that requires an ice axe, crampons and a careful step.

    Nearby Hakuba, the road via Otari Onsen opened two days ago all the way to the trail head/campsite at the foot of Amekazare Dake. The rest room is open and running water is available.

    Of course the Renge Onsen hut has been open since late March and will by very busy this Golden Week. Best avoided at that time, but fantastic resource otherwise, accessible only with travel over snow.

    As of writing (28th) Sakura bloom has yet to arrive in Hakuba, it is trying, but it has just been too cold. Though the backcountry skiing has been exceptionally good.

    I am yet to see any serious rockfall, which has surprised me. A lot of the steeper narrow gullies appear to remain quite clean for the time of year (again, great skiing!). However rain has arrived today and sooner or later a lot of snow and rock that has remained stubbornly in place will start to come down, often into areas popular with hikers. At this time of year the upper reaches of Daisekkei can be a shooting gallery of pebbles and stones, sometimes starting only 20 minutes after the rock on Shakushi Dake warms in the very early morning sun. This usually coincides with the last steep section of the climb from 2150m where people typically rest for food and to pt on their crampons as the pitch increases. I recommend that you stop to lunch and put on crampons well before then to reduce idle time in the target area. Those hiking to camp at Yari Onsen (well before the hut opens) should be particularly concerned about rockfall into the onsen and surrounding camp area.

    cheers
    damian

  2. damian Says:

    Hi Wes, I have little detail but have seen a local email report of rock fall injuries in Hakuba’s Daisekkei over the last few days. There is still snow patches about the peaks and opportunity for stones to be released by thaw.

    I will also post this in the Shirouma section of the site.

  3. damian Says:

    Hi again Wes, a few months later…

    There is snow snow at all yet, but it will come this week (about 15 days later than last year)

    I went up Daisekkei in Hakuba to take a look at the conditions before the first snowfall. The lower section, or the snout (if it were a glacier) is a lot further down valley than this time last year thanks to the heavy snowfall and large avalanche cycles of last winter season. Note that the snout of the Daisekkei neve field does not extend in the same manner as a glacier (down hill glide from the accumulation zone). Rather, all the neve in that area is simply snow from the previous season).

    The snout is quite broken and has numerous cracks and crevasses. Once a cover of snow arrives I recommend remaining off the base neve until approx 1800m. This is roughly where the summer trail would leave the climbers left scree bank and enter the neve field. From then on it appears quite solid with one very long crevasse at about 2000m on the climbers left. It is very deep and wide enough for a person to fall in. There may well be other cracks and crevasses on the climbers right of the neve field as well. Once some snow arrives (in a few days) it is well advised to remain in the middle of Daisekkei and not to follow the ice field all the say down to the end. With a map, try too follow the summer path on and off the neve.

    Interestingly, it seems that the torrent beneath Daisekki became blocked and from about 2200m it overflowed onto the neve surface. This had left a thick layer of muddy silt running down the middle from the rains in September.

    Autumn colours are well down into the valley now, at about 1200m. Due to the hot summer there are far fewer acorns for the bears to eat and sightings this season are more than double than last year as they come into the lower valley looking for more food. Bears are seen every day very close to town and in areas popular for shorts strolls.

  4. wes Says:

    This is from Damian at Steep Deep Japan (early November 2011)

    Hi Wes, I went for my first stroll up Daisekkei today in quite some time (since late spring). No snow at all of course. However at 2020m there is a gapping hole where the ice has collapsed on the climbers left and a wide deep crevasse that spans almost the entire width to the climbers right.

    On the far climbers right there is a passable section of ice. However as you ascend you can not see the crevasse cutting the ice in two until you are at the edge, meaning one must back-track down hill and to the side to get past. You need to traverse downhill to the left. At this stage it is getting a little steeper and the traverse will take you above another crevasse so if you slip as you traverse to the left (as you descend), you will end up in trouble. Now you are sandwiched between two crevasses on steeper ice whilst traversing to find a route – not ideal, so the best bet it to stick far climbers right from perhaps 1950m or so to avoid the whole yet unseen debacle higher up. It is now impossible to walk directly up the middle of Daisekkei. It is quite dramatic! The crevasse must have opened towards the end of the popular hiking season as the red grit that is used to marked the path on the ice is clearly broken and continues on the other side of the crevasse. Something of a U-turn has been marked on the ice with the red grit.

    All huts are shut now and the area is deserted of people. The aki colours are spectacular at around 1000m and below.

    cheers
    damian

    • Jules Says:

      Hi Wes, Damian
      I’m in Tokyo, am heading out Dec 10 to jizougatake, maybe traverse that ridge and Chk out Kitadake early Sunday morning. Are you able to tell me which camera/live cam websites to Chk? We will be traveling light with Microspikes, not crampons… Is this too light. Would the snow/ice at present (above 2000m) require heavier gear?

      • wes Says:

        Jules,

        Sorry for the late reply. I haven’t used Microspikes myself, so I’m not sure how they compare in relation to regular crampons. If they help with traction on ice, then they should be sufficient.

        Do you have an ice-axe? I think it would be wise to carry one just in case. If you slip and start sliding off the peak then self-arresting with a pick just might save your life.

        Right now there isn’t a huge snowpack on the peaks of the Minami Alps. The snow cover will be deep in the valleys however, but once you hit the ridge you should be fine.

        Mt. Jizo isn’t too difficult of a peak in the winter. Use this as a test, however. If you don’t feel comfortable in the ridge of this mountain, then do not attempt Kita-dake, as it’s 10 times more difficult and much steeper and rockier.

        As far as live cams go, check out the one here. This will show you the ridge line of Kita-dake, Ainodake, and Notori-dake. There’s a ton of snow up there now

        http://www.minamialps-net.jp/

        This one will show you Mt. Senjo, which is on the other side of Kita-dake. Not so much snow here, as you can see

        http://www.city.ina.nagano.jp/view.rbz?of=1&ik=0&pnp=14&cd=1868

        Let me know if you have any other questions. Keep an eye on the weather this week. While it’s warm now, the temps are supposed to plummet later in the week, which will definitely bring snow to the higher peaks

  5. Legendidiot Says:

    I’m planning a hiking trip to japan alps on mid-march this year, have yet to decide which part of the alps, hopefully one with the best scenery at the peak.
    What gear should I bring during that time of the year?
    Will be landing in Tokyo, with the JR pass will I able to reach the starting point of the hike?
    Is tent or sleeping bag needed?
    Would also like to observe an avalanche, is that possible and where will it be best to try my luck on that event?

    • wes Says:

      Mid-March in the Japan Alps is a full-on affair, so I hope you have the proper gear and experience to undertake a mid-winter trek.

      First off you’ll need avalanche training and gear (beacon, shovel, etc), which also means that you should not travel alone so someone can help dig you out if you trigger an avalanche.

      Second, you’ll need all the necessary climbing gear: 12-point crampons, an ice axe, ropes, snowshoes to help plod through chest high snow.

      This year is a La Nina year, which means snowfall is particularly heavy, especially in the Northern Alps. All mountain huts are completely buried, but some of them open their attics as an emergency hut if you can find the entrance and buildings themselves. Don’t expect any people or gear. You’d need sleeping bags, tents, food. You can melt snow for water.

      With a JR pass, you can use the shinkansen to get to Nagano, where you can change to a bus to get to Hakuba, one of the main skiing centers in the Alps.

      Avalanches are very common during March, but unfortunately I don’t have any leads about where to witness them. Your best chance is to be on the ridges observing them from above than in the gullies experiencing them firsthand. The ski resorts in Hakuba offer splendid views of the alpine peaks on the rare occasion when the weather is clear.

      I’ll be happy to answer more questions, but it’s difficult to make specific recommendations without knowing your experience level.

      Wes

  6. Laura Heathfield Says:

    Hi, my husband and I would love to do some hiking in the Japanese Alps. We plan to arrive in Kamikochi on the 22nd October. Can you recommend any 3-4 day hikes we can do at this time? We’re experienced summer hikers but not used to winter conditions and don’t plan to bring crampons. We’d really like to do a 3-4 day hike and stay over in mountain huts. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks so much, Laura

  7. matt Says:

    Hi Wes,

    I am planning a hike from Murodo to Kamikochi around the 1st of October. We will be camping and carrying all our gear. I’ve got Shobunsha Yama-to-Kogen map 36 and 37, and as I recall they have water icons, but I’m trying to verify if these are water sources we can filter and drink. I would much rather do that than buy water from the huts. So what’s the situation for H20 in this area? Also any other tips you have for this area at that time of year would be appreciated! Cheers!

    • wes Says:

      Matt,

      Thanks for checking out the site. I hope it’s been helpful.

      It’s been over a decade since I did the traverse, so I can’t remember exactly which places I paid for water and which places I got it for free. I know you definitely have to pay for water at both Mt. Yari and Sugoroku hut. I remember there being a stream at Yakushi-toge, but can’t remember what I did for water at Goshiki or Sugo-norikoshi. I believe that you have to buy water at Kurobegoro hut. One thing you might try is to ask at the tourist information center at Murodo when you arrive (or ask at the tourist information center at Toyama station). If they don’t have the information they should be able to call someone for you to find it out.

      Good luck with the planning of the trip. Early October can be an incredibly cold time of year, and some of the more remote huts will either be closed for the winter or about to close. You may run into snow depending on the weather. Usually this snow melts quickly, but you might want to have an escape plan just in case.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have other questions.

      Wes

      • matt Says:

        Wes,

        Thanks for responding so quickly! We’re going to bring along our filter, and just buy wherever we need to. What types of temps should we expect? I was guesstimating it might drop below freezing maybe to low 20F’s at night as a worst case scenario. We did Kumotori in April, and the temp dropped to 29F. We were a little cold, but are much better prepared this time. Should we be prepared for temps below 20F? Thanks for running this blog, there is so much useful information on here!

  8. poppie Says:

    Hi, Could you please give me some information and opinions on weather conditions in the alps in April and May for my cycling trip next year. I’m not intending to do any/much hiking but would be riding through on my bicycle and camping sometimes in my tent. I understand from other cyclists that its often possible for cyclists to go through roads that are closed to other vehicles, so i figure unless the road is actually covered with a pile of snow, i could go through. Can you tell me is there much precipation at this time year? Rain or snow? Are some areas drier or warmer than others but still pretty at this time of year? I haven’t so much experience in snow country but i have travelled a lot by bicycle and done much wild camping. My itinerary so far is roughly like this: Gifu in early april, riding up to shirakowago-, ainokuro and on to Kanazawa. Maybe or maybe not do the Noto peninsula (its an option if its too cold or other difficulties in the alps), then ride back up to Takayama, and over to Matsuomoto. If time permits on to Nagano and even better on to NIkko but i haven’t yet figured out if i have time for all of this or if i can handle the temperatures. Presumably there are people about and i can have a hot bath from time to time. Depending on how steep and long the ascents are, i would expect to do about 50km riding per day. I’m female. I still don’t have a decent map to look at so if you know any beautiful roads i should i try and others to avoid because they are not so pretty, that would be great too.


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