Mt. Tanigawa (谷川岳)
Mt. Tanigawa is a rocky peak sitting complacently on the border of Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. Notorious for its nasty weather and head deep snow, the mountain affords wonderful panoramic views and an abundance of plant life.
The hike: From Doai station, head out the front door and turn right on the paved road. Walk uphill about 20 minutes and you’ll come to the Mt. Tanigawa gondola. Take the gondola if you’d like to save 600m of vertical climbing. Otherwise, take the gravel service road that runs to the left of the gondola. This road will take you all the way to the top of the gondola, and it should take around an hour or so. The trail actually branches off this road about halfway up, but you can ignore the actual trail and follow the road toward the left to get to the ski resort. It’s much better to go directly to the ski resort so you can fill up on water in the rest house, as there’s no other water source on the hike. The trail runs in front of the rest house, and then away from the ski lifts toward the rocky peaks of Mt. Tanigawa. It should take about 45 minutes to reach the emergency hut at Kuma-ana sawa (熊穴沢避難小屋). From the hut, turn right and start the real climb toward the summit. There are a few areas with chains to help you on the narrow ridge line, but all in all it’s not too treacherous. You’ll reach the hut just below the summit in about 90 minutes. If the weather is good then the views will be stunning. If not, then take extra care on the knife-edge traverse over to the high point. The summit has 2 twin peaks. The first one you’ll come to is called Tomanomimi (トマノ耳), while the higher peak is called Okinomimi (オキノ耳). After scaling the two peaks, you could continue traversing along the ridge or go back the same way you came. There are also 2 other alternative ways off the mountain. The first one is to take the trail leading away from the hut. This trail is very rocky, with lots of chains and ladders, which probably makes for a safer ascent than descent. The other alternative is to retrace your steps back to the Kuma-ana hut, and take a right. This trail will eventually dump you out at Minakami station (水上駅). I ended up flying back down to the base of the gondola to escape an incoming rainstorm. Grab a map and explore the vast network of trails that this legendary peak has to offer.
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got an ice axe and crampons. Be especially careful of avalanches in the middle of winter, and be prepared for tons of snow until at least the rainy season.
Access: From Echigo-yuzawa station (越後湯沢駅), take a local JR train bound for Minakami (水上) and get off at Doai station (土合駅).
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1213m)