Mt. Tekari (光岳)
Mt. Tekari is the southernmost of the alpine peaks in the Minami Alps mountain range and is one of the best examples of the “rising tree line” phenomenon plaguing a lot of mountains worldwide.
The hike: There’s a toilet and small shelter at the parking lot, but not much else. Walk down the road about 100 meters and you’ll see the trailhead on your left. A short distance from the parking lot, you’ll see a stream running down the hillside and crossing the forest road. This is the only water source before reaching the hut, so fill up accordingly for the 1700m ascent. The path crosses a tall suspension bridge over the river before climbing steeply up into the forest. There are ropes secured into the hillside to help you traverse through the narrow sections. As you climb higher and higher the views will start to open up on your left. In mid-summer it’s difficult to see, but if the leaves have fallen then you’ll have an outstanding view across the valley to Mt. Hijiri. Keep slogging along for about 90 minutes, following the pink tape on the trees and you’ll reach your first real place for a rest. It’s signposted as men-daira (面平) and it’s one of the most beautifully forested areas in Japan. There are dozens upon dozens of giant cedar trees, which are reminiscent of the scenery of northern California. That, coupled with the moss, make for a pleasant spot to contemplate life. There are even a few flat places to pitch your tent, but the lack of water might pose problems for campers. Continue climbing through the giant trees, and eventually the summit of Mt. Tekari will come into view on your right. It should take about 2 hours or so to reach the summit of Mt. Irou (易老岳), which is on the main ridge line of the Minami Alps. Congratulate yourself – the toughest part of the hike behind you. Turn right and descend down to a flat area with incredible views to your right. This is supposedly the only place with cell phone reception on the mountain, and it sits on top of a massive landslide that occurred long ago. From here, there’s a fair amount of up and down for the next 30 minutes or so. This is followed by a long climb up a rocky gully, which becomes a river in a rain storm. Near the top of the gully, you’ll reach a water source at an area called Seikou-daira (静高平). Fill up your bottles here, as there’s no water at the hut. Continue climbing up the trail and about 10 minutes later you’ll reach the junction for Mt. Izaru (イザルヶ岳), which is 50 meters lower than Mt. Tekari, yet is above the tree line. There’s no view from the top of Mt. Tekari, which has been attributed to rising global temperatures. You can either head up to Izaru or head directly for Tekari. The trail flattens out and there are lots of wooden planks to help limit erosion. The hut will soon come into view, as well as Mt. Fuji off to your left. Tekari hut is in really good shape, and run by a lovely couple. There’s room for about 5 or 6 tents directly behind the hut. Drop your pack off here for the 15-minute climb to the summit. Although there’s no view from the top, if you continue 10 meters past the high point you’ll find a rock formation with outstanding views to the south. This makes for a much more pleasant rest area than the narrow, forested summit. From the peak, retrace your steps back to the hut and either check-in for the night or prepare yourself for the long, long slog back to the trailhead. Another option would be to traverse over to Mt. Hijiri, which will take at least another day to reach. Click here for a good blog (in Japanese) with lots of great photos. Click here for the hut web site.
When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to late October, depending on the season. It’s also possible to go earlier than mid-July, but the hut is not open and there’ll still be a lot of snow. The hike is 23km return, so make sure you get an early start for the 9 hour hike (or break it up into 2 days by staying/camping at the hut).
Access: There’s no public transportation to the trailhead, so a car is necessary unless you want to fork over an arm and a leg for a taxi. Regardless, from Toyohashi (豊橋) station take the JR Iida Line and get off at Hiraoka (平岡) station. The limited express train takes about an hour and 10 minutes. From there, hop in a taxi and tell the driver to take you to Iroudo (易老渡). The taxi ride takes about 90 minutes and costs a whopping 17,000 yen!
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1700m).