Mt. Hakkoda (八甲田山）
Mt. Hakkoda is one of the premiere ski resorts in the Tohoku region, with meters upon meters of fresh powder and an endless army of ‘ice monsters’. The rest of the year it’s a hikers dream, with wonderful fertile volcanic cones, spectacular marshlands, and breathtaking panoramic views.
The hike: From the bus stop, take the trail at the end of the parking lot (closer to the toilets) towards Sennin-tai (仙人岱). The path initally climbs through a dense forest, and then opens up and turns into a wonderful volcanic valley, with lots of colorful rock formations and pungent sulfur fumes. It should take about 45 minutes to reach the top of the volcanic plateau, where the trail will flatten out significantly. At Sennin-tai, you’ll find an emergency hut and water source, so fill up your bottles. Take the trail to the left towards Odake (大岳). There may still be some remaining snow in this area and lots of wildflowers. You should reach the top of Odake in about an hour, and the views are wonderful. Mt. Iwaki will be staring at you across the valley, and on a clear day you’ll see Aomori city to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the northeast. Continue on the same trail down to a saddle and emergency hut. From here, you can either climb up to Mt. Akakura (赤倉岳) or turn left to descend back to Sukayu Onsen. I was keen for a bath, so I skipped Akakura and flew down to the hot spring. The path to Sukayu is well-marked, with lots of wooden planks to protect the wild flowers. The marshlands definitely warrant a leisurely stroll, so take your time and enjoy the serenity.
When to go: This hike can be done from Golden Week to early November. A winter ascent is also possible whenever avalanche danger is low and the weather is favorable. In the winter of 2007, 2 people were killed and a dozen injured in an avalanche on Mt. Hakkoda, so please don’t climb without a beacon and proper avalanche training.
Access: From Aomori station (青森駅), take a JR bus bound for Lake Towada (十和田湖) and get off at Sukayu Hot Spring (酸ケ湯温泉). The bus takes around an hour and costs 1300 yen. Click here for the bus schedule.
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~694m).