Mt. Daisen (大山）
Mt. Daisen, the highest peak in the Chugoku region, is a Fuji-esque volcanic edifice located southeast of Yonago city in Tottori Prefecture. The peak gets a ton of snow in the winter, and the wildflowers bring the crowds in the summer.
The hike: Directly beside the bus stop is the tourist information center. Drop in and pick up a free map and ask about trail conditions. After leaving the bus parking lot, walk out to the main street and turn left up the stone-paved street running directly through the center of town. Turn right on the first street past the Post Office. You’ll see two souvenir shops here, both of which sell basic snacks for the hike. Just past the shops you’ll find a huge Montbell store on your left. You can grab some freeze-dried rice packs and other gear here, but the selection isn’t great. Directly past the Montbell store, the street meets a larger road. Cross the bridge, ignoring the parking lot on your left. Go around the bend in the road and you’ll find the trailhead on the left side of the road, leading up a set of stone steps. This path will intersect the main route in about 100 meters. When you see the signpost, turn left and start the massive climb up a wide set of stone steps. At the top of the steps, you’ll see a shrine building on your right, which is a good place to pray for a safe voyage. After saying a prayer, return back to the trail and keep climbing up. The stone steps will give way to wooden ones, and after about 10 minutes you’ll reach the first stagepoint (大山一合目). The path is divided into 10 stages, and these will be marked all the way to the summit. Also, there’s a wooden marker at each 100 meters of vertical elevation gained, so it’s easy to track your progress. There’s only one trail to the top, so expect huge crowds if you’ve come during the peak holiday season. It should take about an hour or so to reach the first emergency hut at the 6th stage (六合目). Just before reaching this hut, a trail will branch off to the left towards Mototani (元谷), but just ignore it for the time being and keep going up. The hut is concrete and very basic, with room for 1 or 2 hikers to sleep. From the hut, you’ve got another 45 minutes of steep climbing until reaching the ridgeline just above the 8th stagepoint (大山八合目). Here you’ll find a junction, but turn left to start the long section of walking on wooden planks. You’ve only got about 15 more minutes to the summit of Mt. Misen (弥山), the official high point of Mt. Daisen. If the weather is clear then you’ll have a nice view of the knife-edge ridge leading to the true high point called Ken-ga-mine (剣ケ峰). There’s also a large emergency hut with toilets here, but the lack of water makes it an uncomfortable place to stay unless you happen to carry an extra 2 or 3 liters of water. Anyway, after admiring the views, take the trail that wraps around the summit behind the emergency hut for a nice loop back to the main trail. You can see a lot of wildflowers in the summer, and the stroll is quite peaceful when not shared with hundreds of other people. When you reach the junction at the end of the loop, turn left and start heading back down the mountain, past the 8th stagepoint. Just past the 6th stagepoint emergency hut, turn right on the Mototani (元谷) junction you passed earlier on the way up, which descends to a nice valley. After a half an hour of descending, you’ll reach the bottom of the valley and can see an emergency hut directly in front of you. While there is plenty of water in the valley, the lack of toilets at this hut make it quite uncomfortable to stay in, and should be a strong hint that you should boil any water from the neighboring stream. If you’re not staying for the night, the head down towards the left and cross the huge riverbed with all the concrete dams. Pretty unsightly I know, but what else can you do. After crossing the river, you’ll hit a forest road and see a small signpost reading Daisenji (大山寺). Turn left here and follow the trail for about 20 minutes until it spits you out at Okamiyama shrine (大神山神社). Take the stone steps leading down from the shine which connect to a stone lantern-lined path. This path will take you all the way back into town. If you have time, you really should check out Daisenji. There’s a small trail coming off the stone path right where you see the wooden “日本の一番長い石道” signpost. Walk to the main building and pay your 400 yen to the monk there. All in all it should take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours to complete the hike, so make sure you start early (or stay in the wonderful temple lodging named Sanraku-so).
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got the right equipment. In fact, winter is the only time of year where you can actually climb to the high point. The ridge line is very rugged and should only be attempted by those with the right equipment and experience. Click here to get an idea of what you’ll be up against. Otherwise, the snow will melt sometime in mid-May, and anyone can climb to the ‘legal’ high point of Misen.
Access: From Yonago station (米子駅), take a Nihon Kotsu (日本交通) bus bound for Daisenji (大山寺) and get off at the last stop. The first bus departs at 7:10am, arriving at the trailhead at 7:53am. Click here for the web site that has the bus schedule. When you open this page, click on 観光道路経由大山線 to download the .pdf file. The bus leaves from bus stop #4.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 939m)