Mt. Tsurugi (剣岳)

Mt. Tsurugi fights a fierce battle with Mt. Yari as the most sought-after peak in the Kita Alps. The adrenalin-inducing, nearly vertical climb to the summit is not for the faint-of-heart or inexperienced, as each year people fall to their deaths.

The hike: Most people approach this hike from Murodo and Tsurugi-sawa, but I’m introducing this alternative route from the back side of the mountain. The hike is actually much easier (except for the huge elevation gain) and far less crowded. From the banbajima parking lot, head through the beautiful grass campground (fill up on water) to the start of the hike. There are a couple of shrines here, so pray for a safe journey. The trail instantly starts climbing up the steep Hayatsuki mountain ridge (早月尾根), but flattens out significantly after about 15 minutes. You’ll see a pair of benches on your right, and this is the last place to comfortably rest before the hut. The path is well-trodden but wonderfully maintained, with hundreds of sandbags used to help prevent erosion. Continue for about 1/2 km through a spectacular virgin forest with gargantuan trees. It really is a sensational section of hiking – straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie! You’ll soon reach a humongous tree with a circumference of at least 10 meters, and this is where the tough slog begins. All in all it’s not all that steep – it’s just that you’ve got a long, long way to go until the top. There are small metal signposts at every 200m vertical elevation gain, which make for good places for breaks. There’s no water on the trail at all, so make sure you’ve brought plenty from the campground below. Just after the 1800m mark you’ll find yourself on the top of an unnamed peak with a small concrete marker. Make sure to look behind you, back down to the small parking lot and hut at banbajima! The trail drops and flattens out a bit before reaching two small ponds. If you look up and a little to your left, then you can actually see the hut, but you’ve still got a few hundred vertical meters and about 1km of hiking in order to reach it. All in all, it should take you about 4 or 5 hours from the trailhead to reach the hut. There’re plenty of places to camp, or you can check into the hut. If it’s early and the weather is good, then you can consider making the 3-hour, 800 vertical meter sprint for the summit, but it’s better to save it for the following day. The hut costs 6000 yen for a futon only, or 8000 with one meal. There’s no free drinking water, and you’re only choice is to buty bottled water from the hut staff. A 2-liter bottle costs a whopping 800 yen, but hey – it’s the same price as a can of beer at the hut and about the average price of a cocktail in the city nowadays. The next day, try to wake up early and get some hiking under your belt before the sun rises. The trail is easy to follow if you’ve got a torch. Make sure you keep your fluid intake up to avoid dehydration and altitude sickness. Keep climbing up towards the summit, breaking out of the tree line in about an hour from the hut. From 2600m all the way to the top it’s a bit of a rock scramble, but you’ll do fine if the weather is good. The views are incredible. The summit towers directly in front of you, with the insanely jagged Hatsumine ridge line jutting off to the left. Mt. Shirouma is directly behind that. On the other side, Mt. Dainichi and Murodo will come into view, with Mt. Yakushi, Kurobegoro, and Mt. Kasa beyond. Hakusan is also visible to the right of the aforementioned peaks. Soon you’ll reach the 2800m marker, the final marker before the summit. This is where things get a little challenging. Directly in front of you is an area called the “Kani no hasami” (the crab’s scissors), a section of zigzagging chains built into the rocks. It’s actually not that bad to maneuver through, as the switchbacks make it relatively easy. There are plenty of footholds and the rocks are easy to grab onto. There are absolutely no ladders or any vertical climbing whatsoever. Soon enough you’ll reach the Tsurugi ridgeline, which connects with the main trail coming from Tsurugi-sawa. This is where the crowds will increase 10-fold, as this peak has quite a following. Turn left and follow the paint marks for about 10 minutes to the summit. If you’re lucky and the cloud isn’t in, you’ll be rewarded with hands-down the best panoramic view of the Kita Alps – I should know because I’ve climbed them all. Take your pick and you can see it – Mt. Yari, Shirouma, Goryu, Kashimayari, Kasa, Norikura, Oku-hotaka, Kuro. And that’s just the Kita Alps! Mt. Fuji, Yatsu-ga-take, the Chuo and Minami Alps all lie beyond, perfectly visible on a clear day. Anyway, you can either retrace your steps all the way back down to banbajima, or consider traversing down to Tsurugi-sawa and out to Murodo. Or do the opposite – ascend via Tsurugi-sawa and descend to banbajima. Hitching from banbajima is incredibly easy, as lots of daytrippers come to enjoy the scenery without climbing the peaks.

When to go: This hike can be done from early July to early October, when most of the snow is gone. It’s possible to go a little earlier or later in the season if you’ve got an ice axe, crampons, and ropes (plus the experience to use them). Do not attempt this hike in rainy weather, as the rocks are incredibly slippery and poor visibility could result in a wrong turn.

Access: From Toyama station (富山), take a train on the Dentetsu-Toyama railway bound for Unazuki Hot Spring (宇奈月温泉) and get off at Kami-ichi (上市) station. A limited express train takes only 15 minutes and costs only 100 yen more than the local train. From Kami-ichi station, take a taxi bound for Banbajima (馬場島). The taxi will set you back around 7000 yen, but there are plenty of taxis waiting for you at the station for the 40 minute journey.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2200m).

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11 Comments on “Mt. Tsurugi (剣岳)”

  1. Many thanks for this – I haven’t climbed Tsurugi from the northern side and this is the first account of Hayatsuki-one that I’ve ever seen in English. Most informative: the forest sounds impressive….

  2. Rob Says:

    Hello. It’s been great looking at your site and getting information and ideas on hikes. I am planning to do the Tate-Yama to Kamikochi hike with my girlfriend and was wondering if you could help with a few questions we have.

    Firstly neither of us are experienced mountaineers. We have no climbing experience, my girlfriend has once been above 3000m, and I have never been. We are however used to hill walking and hiking in Britain. We have the Lonely Planet ‘Hiking in Japan’ guide book, and it says that no specialist skills or equipment are needed for this hike. Would you agree? We are planning to hike at the end of Septeber, as we have heard the snow comes later, in October. We could however hike in mid September if you think conditions would make it difficult later on.

    We have heard that the Daikiretto is quite difficult and were wondering if we would need a harness etc, or greater experience. Also at this time of the year should we be ok without crampons? Can the Daikiretto be easily avoided by an alternate route if it would be too difficult?

    Thanks very much for your useful web site, and your help.

    Kind regards, Rob.

    • wesu Says:


      Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been in the mountains the last couple of weeks. Your comment has to go through moderation before it can appear on the site, so that’s why it sat in on-line purgatory for some time. It’s the only way to keep spam off the site.

      Anyway, to answer your questions:

      1) Are you planning to start in Kamikochi or at Tateyama? If you’re not sure about the altitudes, then I recommend starting in Tateyama as a “test”. The trailhead at Murodo is 2400m above sea level. Altitude sickness can set in as low as 2500m, so it’ll be a good test to see how you’re body copes with the lack of air. Also, there are a fair amount of chains/ladders on the hike up to Tsurugi-dake. If you don’t feel comfortable on those, then I would say do NOT attempt the daikiretto.

      2) Yes, the Daikiretto is easily avoidable via the cirque below Mt. Yari, but it means a long descent into the valley. Personally, I think Mt. Oku-hotaka could be skipped in favor of climbing Mt. Yari. The ridge line between Oku-hotaka and Yari is steep and rugged. Scores of people fall to their deaths every year. You don’t need ropes or harnesses because there are steel ladders/chains embedded into the rocks. Still, I would not attempt this route if the cloud is in.

      3) Snow can fall in the Kita Alps as early as the beginning of September, so if you can I would aim to do the hike in mid-September when the weather is usually more stable (unless a typhoon happens to pass through).

      4) Are you planning on camping the entire time, or staying in mountain huts? Most of the huts close by the end of September, so keep that in mind when you plan your trek.

      The traverse is spectacular in good weather. During the summer, the cloud usually rolls in by 9am and stays for the entire day/evening. Conditions are usually more stable, with cooler air in the valleys, so the cloud doesn’t roll in until the afternoon.

      Let me know what other kinds of questions you have. The best thing to do would be to look at some pictures of the route on other blogs on-line. If you’d like I can direct you to some Japanese blogs so you can get an idea of what to expect.

      Best of luck with your preparations.


      • Rob Says:

        Hello Wes,

        Thanks for your helpful reply. It is not that we do not feel comfortable on chains and ladders, it is just that we have never done something like that before, we are certainly excited about having a go.

        We have heard that many people fall to their deaths, so were wondering if some ‘via ferrata’ kit would be of use when traversing the Daikeretto or the ridge between Oku-hotaka and Yari, just to make sure that we can’t fall. Or would you say this is unessasary if we are careful, and mindful of the weather conditions?

        We are planning to camp and also use the huts, and we are now thinking that we will go in mid September, to give the greatest chance of getting good weather.

        Thanks again for your help, and do not worry about the slow reply, as mine is also.



  3. Sarah Says:

    Hello. Thanks as always for another great hike. I would really like to approach this climb from the back as you suggest, namely to avoid the Alpine Route fee to Murodo. Another English blog I follow approached from Murodo and climbed Tateyama and Tsurugi on the same weekend. If I climbed Tsurugi first, are there any huts in between Tsurugi and Tateyama, or would it be better to allow 3 days if I wanted to return through Banbajima? Thanks!

    • wes Says:


      There are a lot of huts in Tateyama, and two just below Tsurugi on the Tateyama saide (Tsurugi sawa). If you do an up-and-back from Banbajima then you can do it in two days. If you want to climb over to Tateyama then I’d allow for 3, but be warned that it’s an awfully long way from Banbajima to Tateyama and a lot of up and down between Tsurugi and Tateyama. If you did Tateyama I’m sure you’d be very tempted to descend one hour to the bus terminal at Murodo and take the Alpine Route you were trying to avoid. Another alternative way out of Tsurugi is to descend to Tsurugisawa and then continue down the valley to Unazuki Onsen, where you can take a train to Tateyama. Be warned though that there’s still a lot of snow in that secluded valley.

      I hope that helps


      • Thank you, I just returned from the two day hike from Banbajima as I drove, and wanted to return to the car park. Missed out on the good views, but happy to have had such great guidance.

  4. Gregory Says:

    Hi – thanks for the great blog post. How can you get to the banbajima trailhead? Do you need your own private transport?

    I’m planning a trekking trip in Japan and wanted to traverse from Murodo to Kamikochi, but starting from banbajimo over Tsurugi would extend the hike and make it even better :)

    Any suggestions?

    • wes Says:


      Yes, you will need your own transport. You can take a taxi from Kamiichi station (just a few stops from Toyama station on the Toyama main line. Hitching may also be possible

      • Gregory Says:

        Would you say the trail from Banbajima to the first campground is easy to follow in the dark with a headlight? It seems I will not be able to reach the trailhead before 2-3pm, which would mean hiking the last part in the dark. I’m fine with night hiking in general, just asking to check there aren’t any tricky sections before the campground. Thanks for the great website btw :)

      • wes Says:

        It’s a well-maintained trail, so it shouldn’t pose too many problems in the dark. I’d probably wait until morning to pay for camping, however, as the hut caretaker probably won’t want to be woken in the middle of the night when you arrive

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