Mt. Ontake (御嶽)
Special note: On September 27, 2014, Mt. Ontake erupted unexpectedly, causing fatalities and covering the mountain with ash. The peak will be closed to hikers until further notice.
Clocking in at over 3000, Mt. Ontake is the nation’s tallest active volcano and 8th tallest mountain. Popular with Shinto pilgrims, the peaks offers outstanding panoramic views, pungent volcanic steam vents, and picturesque turquoise lakes.
The hike: From the bus stop at Tanohara, hike through the Shrine torii down into a flat meadow. If the weather is clear then you’ll see the massive volcano towering just above you. The path starts climbing on the other side of the meadow. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, and you’ll pass by countless shrines and statues on your way to the summit. It should take an hour or so to reach the first emergency hut at the 6th stagepoint (六合目) Keep climbing higher and higher, and after another 90 minutes or so, you should reach a rather big shrine and hut on the summit ridge line. You’ll see the smoldering steam vents just in front of you, as well as the summit shrine. You’ve got another half an hour of climbing before reaching the summit, so keep going. The narrow summit is quite over-developed, with 2 different mountain huts and a shrine. In fact, the very top is covered in concrete! Go back the way you came, or consider descending to the small turquoise lake on the other side of the summit. This area is called Ni-no-ike (二ノ池), and you’ll find a couple of huts here, which are only open from July to September. The ‘new’ hut has a hot spring bath you can use! Click here for the web site. From here, you can descend to the gondola in about 2 hours or so. Just follow the signs to Ontake Ropeway (御岳ロープウェイ).
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got the right equipment and experience. Otherwise, aim to go during the summer when the huts are open. I climbed in early June and there was still a fair amount of snow on top and the huts were completely closed. Click here to see the scenery in early May.
Access: From Kiso-Fukushima station (木曽福島駅), take a bus bound for Tanohara (田ノ原) and get off at the last stop. There are only 3 buses a day, so plan accordingly. Click here to see the bus schedule. Alternatively, you can take the Ontake Ropeway, which will whisk you up to 2100m in just a few minutes. Take a Ontake Ropeway (御岳ロープウェイ) bound bus and get off at the gondola. Again, there are only 3 buses a day, so click here to find out the schedule. Please note that the bus only runs every day between July 18th and August 30th and weekends only in early July, September, and October.
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 937m)