Mt. Shirouma (白馬岳）
Mt. Shirouma is the highest peak in the Hakuba section of the Kita Alps and on the top of most Japanese hikers ‘to climb’ list. It also happens to be one of the few peaks in Japan with year-round snow fields.
The hike: From the bus stop, the trail starts between the large mountain hut and the toilet. If you don’t have crampons then you can usually buy simple 2-pointers from the hut which should be sufficient (unless climbing early in the season). The trail initially follows a gravel forest road, passing by a gargantuan concrete waterfall – easily the tallest artificial fall in Japan. The road eventually turns into a hiking trail proper, and you’ll reach a pair of huts and campground, just below the start of the Daisekkei (great snow field). Take a break and inquire at the hut about current snow conditions/avalanche risk. The Daisekkei is not to be taken lightly, as a landslide in July 2008 killed two people and rockfalls are very common. Bring a helmet just in case if you’ve got one. Put on your crampons before stepping out into the snowfield and please wear some eye protection if the sun is out. You’ll be hiking in the snow for most of the way, so just follow the crowds/footprints. Overall it’s not too bad of a slog, and you should reach the ridge line in anywhere from 2-1/2 to 4 hours, depending on conditions. There’s a huge hut staring at you at the junction, as well as a modest campground. Turn right and pass another hut, and you’ll be on the summit of Mt. Shirouma in another 10 minutes or so. The views are outstanding if the weather is good (consider yourself very lucky if it is – Hakuba is notorious for cloudy weather in the Alpine backcountry). From the summit, you’ve got 4 options. You can either retrace your steps all the way back to Sarukura, or continue on the same ridge line over to Mt. Yukigura (雪倉岳) or down to Mt. Norikura (乗鞍岳). Alternatively, you can head down the back side of the mountain towards Keyaki-daira (欅平). This trail is not used very much, so I can’t attest for the condition. A better option might be to stay on top overnight, catch the sunrise, and then hike along the ridge over to Mt. Yari (鎗ヶ岳) and down to Yari Hot Spring (鎗温泉). Take a left at the first junction on the other side of Mt. Yari, and you’ll arrive at the hot spring in another hour. This trail actually ends up back at Sarukura, making a great 3-day loop hike.
When to go: This hike can be done from early June to early October, when the buses to Sarukura are running. You could also go earlier if you’ve got crampons and an ice axe. Avalanches are common in the Daisekkei until the end of May, so be careful if hiking in the spring. Click here if you don’t believe me.
Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take the JR Ooito line to Hakuba (白馬) station. From there, take a bus bound for Sarukura (猿倉) and get off at the final stop. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also overnight Alpico Group buses from Shinjuku station in Tokyo directly to Hakuba
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1702m)