Mt. Kiso-komagatake (木曽駒ヶ岳）
Clocking in just a few meters under 3000, Mt. Kiso-komagatake is the highest peak in the Central Alps mountain range. The panoramic views are outstanding, and there’s no shortage of accommodation on top.
The hike: From the top of the gondola, follow the trail leading off toward the right. You’ll already be above the tree line, so just follow the paint marks up through the rock formations. After about a half an hour of climbing, you’ll reach the ridgeline and a 3-way junction with a mountain hut in front. This is the Hoken-sanso (宝剣山荘), a great place to get a coffee if the cloud is in. Climb up past another hut to the top of Naka-dake (中岳) and then down the other side to a saddle and a blue-roof hut. From there, it’s a short climb to the summit of Komagatake, where the views are incredible. If you’ve got time, then consider staying in one of the huts to catch the sunrise/sunset. Anyway, retrace your steps to Hokensanso, and either take the trail back down to the gondola, or traverse up and over Mt. Hoken (宝剣岳). This trail is marked as an “expert” course, but it’s no more difficult than some of the climbs around Kamikochi. There are plenty of chains, ladders, and paint marks to help you get to the top. Traverse up and over this rocky peak and down the other side, where you’ll find a trail coming in the left. This is the way back down to the gondola. Alternatively, you could keep going straight and make it to Mt. Usugi in about 5 hours or so.
When to go: This hike can be done any time of year, thanks in part to the gondola that runs all year round. Bring crampons and an ice axe in the winter and be careful of white out conditions. The gondola gets extremely crowded when the leaves have changed colors in the autumn, so be prepared for a long wait. Click here to access the gondola website in English.
Access: From Okaya station (岡谷駅) in Nagano Pref. take the JR Iida line (JR飯田線) and get off at Komagane Station (駒ヶ根駅). The local train takes about an hour. From there, take a bus bound for Shirabi-daira (しらび平) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule. If you don’t fancy waiting in line for the gondola or would like a more strenuous climb, then get off on stop before at Kitagosho-tozanguchi (北御所登山口). From there, you can climb to the summit in about 6 hours or so. Be careful if approaching this hike from Nagoya, because the JR Iida line from Toyohashi station takes over 5-1/2 hours to get to Komagane! It’s much faster to take the JR Chuo line and change at Shiojiri.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 if using the gondola (elevation change ~300m)