Mt. Oku-hotaka (奥穂高岳）
Mt. Oku-hotaka is the 3rd highest peak in Japan and one of the most exhilarating climbs in the Kita Alps. The views are phenomenal on the rare occasions when the cloud isn’t in.
The hike: From the Kamikochi bus terminal, follow the paved path and signs towards the famous Kabba-bashi bridge. Cross over the bridge and head past all of the hotels. The path is well-marked, with plenty of wooden planks to keep people from trampling the flora. You’ll reach a trail junction in about 10 minutes, so head left for the long climb up dakesawa (岳沢). The path follows the beautiful gully for about 2-1/2 hours before reaching Dakesawa Hut (岳沢ヒュッテ). This hut was badly damaged in an avalanche in 2006 and is closed, but snacks and drinks are sold to hikers during the main hiking season (July to October). There are no plans to re-open this hut again. After leaving the hut, the path curves towards the right and gets quite steep, with lots and lots of switchbacks. It’s really tough going if you’ve got a heavy pack, so take your time and stay hydrated with lots of fluids. There are several places with chains and ladders along the way, so take extra care during wet weather. It should take about 3 hours or so to reach the trail junction just below the peak of Mae-hotaka. Drop your pack for the short climb to the summit. The views from Mae-hotaka are make the tough hike worth it, as you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the entire ridge line, all the way out to Mt. Yari. The summit of Oku-hotaka will also be staring right at you. Drop back down to the junction and follow the signs to Oku-hotaka. It should take about 90 minutes or so of relatively easy hiking (well, at least easier than what you’ve been through) to reach the top. Smile and congratulate yourself for scaling one of the toughest peaks in the Alps. Don’t break open that beer just yet though, as the most dangerous part awaits. There’s a trail branching off to the left towards Nishi-hotaka, but you’ll want to go right, following the paint marks to Hotaka-dake hut (穂高岳山荘). It’s a relatively short distance, but full of chains and ladders. The final descent is vertigo-inducing, as you’ve got a long set of ladders to climb down just above the hut roof. Once you reach the hut you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and either find a place to pitch your tent or check into the hut. Be warned that the campground is very small and exposed. If you don’t have a tent built to withstand gale force winds then consider staying inside in comfort. The next day climb up past the hut to the top of Mt. Karasawa (涸沢岳), where the views all the way out to Mt. Fuji are stunning in nice weather. The ridge line between here and Kita-hotaka is very dangerous, with vertical drops . If you weren’t comfortable with the previous descent from Oku-hotaka to Hotaka-dake hut then do not attempt this route, as a fair number of people fall to their deaths every year. Retrace your steps to the hut and turn left to descend down into the Karasawa col. It should take about 90 minutes to reach Karasawa hut (唐沢小屋), where there’s a massive campground with room for hundreds of tents. This is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Japan, and rightfully so, as the views up towards the rocky Hotaka ridge line in the autumn are breathtakingly beautiful. From Karasawa, turn left at the next 2 junctions and follow the signs to Yokoo-sansou (横尾山荘). Most people reach the hut in about 2 hours and the path is wonderful, following a beautiful river tributary before crossing a bridge to the junction. Once you arrive at Yokoo hut, you can either turn left for the long climb to Mt. Yari, or head right towards Kamikochi. Either way, you’ve got a 13km hike awaiting you.
When to go: This hike can be done from early May to early November. The earlier you go, the more snow there will be, so bring an ice axe, ropes, and full crampons if climbing before the rainy season or anytime in late fall. A winter hike is also possible, but only for those with ice climbing experience.
Access: From either Takayama (高山) or Matusmoto (松本) stations, take a bus bound for Kamikochi (上高地). Click here for the Alpico Group bus schedule. There are also direct night buses from Tokyo and Osaka, depending on the season. Check your nearest travel agency for details.
Live web cam: Click here.
Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1685m).