Mt. Yakedake is an active volcano separating Kamikochi from Shin-Hotaka Hot Spring. The summit is still smoldering and is marked by a small, majestic crater lake.
Nakanoyu approach: From the parking lot on the road behind Nakanoyu hotel, enter the dense forest and climb up, up, and up some more. The hike is quite steep, and after about an hour or so you’ll come to a trail junction. The trail on the right leads down to Nakanoyu Hot Spring (which is closed as of the summer of 2012). The trail flattens out for a short time while the views start to open up. You can see the top of Mt. Yake directly in front of you, though it will still take some time and effort to reach it. Continue plodding along toward the summit. The trail will become rockier and rockier, but you’ll reach the crater rim in about 90 minutes, depending on your speed. When you reach the summit area, the trail will curve to the right and then take a sharp left toward the high point. You’ll have to climb up quite a few rocks to get to the top, but the trail is marked with paint marks and arrows. Don’t get too close to the rocks spewing poisonous gases, no matter how tempting they look. The top is flat and has room for about a dozen people. If the weather is good, then you’ll see the peaks of the Kita Alps completely surrounding you, as well as Mt. Norikura and Ondake to the south. Continue back the way you came or consider hiking down into Kamikochi (described below). Another option would be to stay on the ridge line and climb Mt. Nishi-Hotaka, although you’ll need to stay in one of the huts along the way and the trail is not used much.
Kamikochi approach: If you’re doing this as a day hike and not staying in Kamikochi, then you might find it faster to get off at Taisho-ike bus stop, since it’s closer to the trailhead. Otherwise, at the bus terminal head left to the river bank and take the trail going left, away from Kappabashi bridge (though it’s ok to cross the bridge and walk on the other side of the river if you prefer). The path will follow the bank of the river until reaching a road. Turn right on the paved road, crossing two bridges (Tashirobashi 田代橋 and Hotakabashi 穂高橋). Once you cross the river stay on the road for about 20 meters until it meets up with another paved road. You’ll see a trail with a wooden gate right in front of you. This is the trail up to Nishihotaka, so don’t take this trail. Instead, turn left and head away from Kamikochi on the paved road and you’ll see the trailhead for Mt. Yake on your right after about 10 minutes. Turn right here and enter the dense forest. The first part of the hike is quite flat as you traverse your way over to the main gully. The trail will start to become steeper the longer you climb, so pace yourself and drink plenty of fluids. After about 45 minutes of hiking you’ll reach an area that has some log steps and short steel ladders to help you up the exposed tree roots. Beyond this there is one area that involves a traverse on a steel bridge with steep drops on your left. After this the trail opens up a bit and traverses along the base of some rock cliffs. You may be wondering how to navigate this section, but if you look ahead you’ll see an aluminum ladder rising vertically up the rock faces. This is the most dangerous part of the hike, and if you’re scared of heights then do not attempt this section and turn back. Otherwise, take a deep breath, grab onto the ladder, and hoist yourself up. This area can be a bit of a bottleneck on the weekends during the popular hiking months, especially when you’ve got large groups trying to ascend/descend at the same time. At the top of the ladder you’ll navigate past a rock area using chains and the trail will reach an open meadow with a lot of wildflowers and views of Mt. Yake in front of you. Take the switchbacks up to the ridge, where you’ll find Mt. Yake hut. The hut is open from the beginning of June until the end of the October and costs 7100 yen with 2 meals. There is no water source here (the hut will gladly sell you either bottled water or rain water gathered from the roof). It’s much better to bring enough water from Kamikochi so you won’t have to buy overpriced drinks. The hut also sells instant noodles for 500 yen (they’ll provide the noodles and hot water, and you can sit inside the hut to enjoy it if the weather is really bad). Anyway, from the hut the trail turns left and climbs up to a lookout point after 10 minutes. Here you’ll find some steam vents rising through the rocks. They’re natural heaters and you can sit and enjoy the hot volcanic steam rising from deep within the earth. Take a break here, as the real hike is about to begin. If the weather is clear then you’ll see Mt. Yake rising directly in front of you. Drop down to the saddle and start the long, tough climb towards the top. If the cloud is in then take great care, as it’s easy to veer off the trail. The best thing to do is to follow other people and stick carefully to the paint marks on the rocks. It should take around an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the summit. From here, you can either descend via the Nakanoyu route (though you’d need your own transport or try your luck hitching). It’s better to retrace your steps back the way you came. It should take anywhere between 4 to 6 hours to complete the hike. If you’ve got extra time then stop by Kamikochi Onsen hotel for a hot bath (though the bath closes at 3pm so keep an eye on the time).
When to go: This hike can be safely done from late April to mid November. A winter ascent is not impossible with the proper equipment. Click here for a group who climbed in January 2004.
Access: There are 2 main approaches to the summit, so take your pick of trails. Remember that private cars are not allowed into Kamikochi, but the other trailheads are accessible by car. You can get to Kamikochi by bus from either Takayama (高山) or Matsumoto (松本) stations, but need to first take a train to Shin-shimashima station if coming from Matsumoto. In addition, there are direct overnight buses from Tokyo and Osaka to Kamikochi. Check the Alpico Group website (in Japanese) for more information.
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~900m)