Mt. Kasa (笠ヶ岳）
Mt. Kasa is a glorious ‘bamboo-shaped’ peak towering over nearby Shin-hotaka Hot Spring. It’s arguably the toughest day hike in the Kita Alps.
The hike: From the bus stop at Shin-hotaka, cross the bridge and follow the paved road toward the right. It’ll climb past the Hotel New Hotaka (ホテルニューホタカ) before turning into a dirt forest road. The road is really easy hiking, following a river. After hiking about a hour on the road, you’ll see the trailhead on the left-hand side. There’s a water source here, so fill up your bottles and take a long break before starting. This trail is called Kasa Shindou (笠新道) but is better known by its Japanese nickname “Shindo Kasa”. (Shindoi is a Japanese word meaning “tired”). The trail becomes steep almost instantly, and there is an endless array of switchbacks. If the weather is good, then the peaks of Hotaka and Yari will come into view shortly. You’ve got a 4-hour hike before coming to the first real place to take a break. It’s called Shakushidaira (杓子平), which translates as “bamboo ladle plateau”. The views toward Mt. Kasa are exhilarating but depressing, since you’ve still got a long way to go! I thought I’d made it to the top after so much difficult climbing, but realized the climb was just beginning! Anyway, eat some snacks and psyche yourself up and you should be ok. From this plateau, it should take a little over an hour to reach the ridge line of Mt. Kasa, coming in just below the peak of Mt. Nukedo (抜戸岳). When you reach the trail junction on the ridge, turn left to get to the summit. There’s a lot of up & down between here and your destination, but it should take around a hour or so to reach the hut below the peak. There’s a campground and water source here. Consider staying if you’re not confident about making it back before dark. You can either go back the same way you came, or traverse over the peak down to a different park of Shin-hotaka Hot Spring (which should take about 5 hours to reach). I did this hike in September and started at the break of dawn. Not only did I climb Mt. Kasa, but I traversed all the way over to Mt. Sugoroku and stayed there. A 14-hour marathon of a hike, but it set up a leisurely 2nd day scaling Mt. Washiba and Mt. Kuro.
When to go: This hike can be done from late May to early November. Just like the neighboring peaks of the Kita Alps, Mt. Kasa is considered an expert climb in the winter, and tough even during Golden Week because of all the remaining snow.
Access: From Takayama (高山駅) station, take a bus bound for Shin-Hotaka Hot Spring (新穂高温泉) and get off at the last stop. The first bus is at 7am, arriving at the hot spring around 8:30am. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also buses from Matsumoto station (松本駅) in Nagano, and there may even be direct night buses from Tokyo.
Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1900m)