Posted tagged ‘Aomori’

Anmon Falls (暗門の滝)

July 11, 2014

Anmon falls is part of Shirakami Sanchi, a World Heritage beech forest located in western Aomori Prefecture. The 3-tiered waterfall is well worth a visit if you’re looking for a quick half-day escape from the crowds in nearby Hirosaki city.

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The hike: From the bus stop, the trailhead is a bit tricky to find. Walk out to the main road and turn left, crossing the metal bridge that spans the river. Just after crossing, you’ll see signs pointing the way to 暗門の滝歩道 (Anmon no taki hodou) Turn right and follow the asphalt past a toilet and a concrete dam to the start of the trail. There’s a water source here, so fill up your water for the walk. You’ll see a trail leading into the forest directly to the left of the water source. Ignore this trail, as you’ll use it to complete your hike. Follow the concrete trail along the river instead, which will lead directly to the waterfalls. The initial part of the path climbs past a concrete dam, but don’t fret: the rest of the way, though on a concrete trail most of the time, follows a natural river. The route is incredibly easy to follow but can be incredibly slippery in wet weather, so use extra caution in the areas with metal staircases and wooden planks. The trail has been washed out in several places, so boardwalks have been installed, which make the area look like one big construction zone in parts. After a couple of minutes, you’ll cross the river a couple of times and see a junction with a trail leading off to the left. Ignore this trail for the time being and head to the right, following the sign reading 暗門の滝へ. The path alternates between the left and right banks of the river, with some areas that can become real traffic jams if hiking on the weekend. Follow the 順路 signs as much as you can, as they can help alleviate some of the tight spots. After about 40 minutes or so, you’ll reach the first of the 3 waterfalls. When you reach the junction, turn left and descend to the base of the falls (the sign says 第3の滝はこちら). The first fall makes a great place to take your first break and soak up the scenery. Once satisfied, retrace your steps and continue climbing towards the remaining two waterfalls. The path actually climbs up to the left and over the first fall before ascending to the second fall, which should take about 10 minutes or so. Just before reaching the second fall you’ll see a trail branching off on the left that climbs to a small shrine. The shrine itself isn’t much to look at but it might be worth a visit to pray to the mountain kami for good weather. Between the second and first falls you’ll pass through a tunnel burrowed into the rock before reaching the final fall and the end of the trail. After sufficient photography time, retrace your steps all the way back to that first junction. At the junction, instead of turning left to cross the river, head straight on the trail marked 散策道へ. The trail climbs into a wonderful virgin beech forest, which, unfortunately, has been victim to people scrawling graffiti in the bark of some of the trees. Regardless, it’s still a nice place for a stroll and a great way to end the hike. The route is very well-marked and about halfway on you’ll see a junction on your right that follows a small stream. Take this trail as it meanders through the forest. Eventually it’ll meet back up with the main trail. When it does, take a right and continue towards the start of the trail. A short while later, you’ll see another trail branching off to the right. This loop is shorter and somewhat diminished by the cedar trees planted along the route! You can take this trail if you’d like, or simply ignore it and continue on the trail back to the parking lot. At the parking lot you’ll find a restaurant, as well as a hot spring bath. Both make a great place to kill some time if you find yourself with extra time before the next bus.

When to go: This hike can be done between early July and early November, when the buses to the trailhead are running. If you have your own transport, then you can consider going a little earlier in the season. Just confirm that the road is open before you go, as the road is closed in the winter.

Access: From bus stop #6 at Hirosaki (弘前) station, take a bus bound for Tsugaru touge (津軽峠) and get off at Aqua Green Village Anmon (アクアグリーンビレッジANMON) bus stop. The buses only run from July 1 to November 4, and there are only two buses per day for the 70 minute journey to the trailhead. Click here for the bus schedule. The tourist information centers at both Aomori and Hirosaki stations have a flyer with the bus schedule and a simple map. Pick it up before getting on the bus, as it has the return bus times as well.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200m)

Total round-trip distance: 8km (2 to 3 hours)

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Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流)

October 23, 2013

Oirase stream is one of the most popular places in Japan to view autumn foliage. The flat 14km walk along the entire gorge is filled with soothing rapids and a couple of majestic waterfalls. The only downside is the paved road, which runs the entire length of the walk.

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The hike: From Yakeyama bus stop, walk out to the main road and walk away from the post office and gas station towards the gorge. Walk past Oirase Keiryu hotel and you’ll see a big signpost for 奥入瀬湧水館. The trail starts just to the left of this signpost. Your first target on the long walk will be Ishigedo (石ヶ戸), about 4.6km away on a well-marked path. The trail soon reaches a paved road, where you should turn right and walk towards  Deai-bashi. Before crossing the metal bridge over the river, you’ll see the path dive back into the forest on your left. About 2km in, you’ll reach a small hut that houses a public toilet. Use the facilities now, because the next toilet isn’t until Ishigedo. The path alternates between the beautiful forest and the ugly paved road. This is one hike where you really need to worry about being hit by a car or tour bus! At the 4km mark you’ll reach a paved road. Cross the road and duck back into the forest, following the wonderful rapids of the swiftly moving stream. Eventually you’ll reach Ishigedo, which is marked by a toilet hut and small restaurant. It should take about 90 minutes from Yakeyama to this point. This is where the majority of people start the hike, so be prepared for a large increase in numbers of tourists. If you’re short of time then you can consider starting from here and skipping the section from Yakeyama, but the first part is a nice warm-up and you’ll appreciate the lack of people. The next signposted landmark is Kumoi falls, which should take about 45 minutes or so to reach. The trail passes through some areas of photogenic swift-moving rapids before passing by some rock formations known as Makadoiwa (馬門岩). There’s a bus stop here if you’re feeling lazy or the legs are starting to give out. Soon after passing by the rocks, you’ll cross over the stream on the concrete bridge and follow the right bank of the river for a while. (up to this time you will have been on the left bank the entire time)  You’ll pass through another area of rapids (signposted as 飛金の流れ) before reaching a small waterfall marked 千筋の滝, which is little more than a trickle. Soon you’ll cross over the road and be back on the left bank of the stream, arriving at Kumoi falls after about 100 meters. Take the path on the left that crosses the main road and leads up to the falls. It’s definitely worth the short side trip, as this is the biggest waterfall in the entire gorge. After sufficient photos snapped, retrace your steps back to the main trail and turn left, where you’ll soon reach another waterfall named 白布の滝. This is a nice waterfall on the other side of the river on your right that drops straight off a cliff. After passing through another area of rapids, you’ll see your first signposts indicating the distance to Tamadare falls. After passing by the bus stop for Kumoi no nagare, you’ll reach a public toilet at Tamadare falls. The waterfall itself is on the opposite side of the road and is nothing more than an unimpressive trickle, so don’t waste your time climbing up to the main road to see it. Stay on the main path and you’ll pass by another trickle of a waterfall (白絹の滝) before reaching Shiraito no taki (白糸の滝), which is very impressive but unfortunately on the other side of the river. Soon after you’ll reach Furou falls (不老の滝), which is also nice but kind of difficult to see through the trees on the right bank of the stream. After passing by more rapids, you’ll reach another unimpressive trickle of a fall called 姉妹の滝, before crossing over the river on a wooden bridge. A few minutes after crossing, you’ll see a signpost for 九段の滝, which is accessible via a spur trail on your right. This waterfall is really nice since you can get relatively close to it. Retreat back to the main route and turn right.  After crossing over the river again, you’ll reach the largest and most popular waterfall in the entire park (Choshi falls).

The waterfall is actually reminiscent of a concrete fall, but I’ve been told that it is completely natural. Climb the stairs just to the left of the fall and continue walking upstream. The next part of the route is closed, which means you’ll have to walk on the main road for a little while. On the right side of the road, you’ll see a signpost for 五両の滝, accessible via a small trail that dives into the forest on your right. After checking out the fall, retrace your steps and continue on the main road for a short time until reaching the continuation of the trail on your right. From here to the end you’ll stay in the forest, where you’ll soon pass by a concrete dam! This is used for hydroelectric power and flood control, and the water just behind the dam is incredibly clear and beautiful. From here it’s a straight shot to the main road, where you should turn right and cross over the concrete bridge and arrive at the bus station and ferry terminal of Nenokuchi (子の口). There’s a restaurant here that serves tasty food on the 2nd floor, with a souvenir shop below. You can either catch a bus out to Aomori, Hachinohe, or to Lake Towada. A more scenic option for those heading to the lake is to take the sightseeing boat, which takes 50 minutes (1400 yen) to reach Yasumiya, the main tourist village of the lake. The boat is great because you can see scenery that you would otherwise miss.

When to go:  As this is an extremely popular walk, aim to go on weekdays between early June and late September. Oirase is one of the most popular places in Japan for autumn leaves, so avoid the peak season in October at all costs (unless you want to share the the trail with hundreds of other people). Winter is also an option if you’ve got snowshoes.

Access: From either Aomori or Hachinohe stations, take a JR bus bound for Lake Towada and get off at Yakeyama (焼山) bus stop. The bus from Hachinohe takes about an hour and a half. Another option would be to base yourself at Lake Towada (staying at Lake Towada Backpackers) and take a bus from Lake Towada (40 minutes, 1210 yen).  Click here for the bus schedule

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change ~100m)

Distance: 14km ( 4 to 5 hours)

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Mt. Shirakami (白神岳)

October 22, 2011

Situated on the edge of a UNESCO World Heritage forest, Mt. Shirakami offers a glimpse into the ecosystem of yesteryear, with ancient beech trees, untamed wildlife, and jaw-dropping oceanic views.

The hike: If you’ve come by train, you’ve got an awful lot of walking just before reaching the trailhead, so make sure you start early unless staying in the emergency hut on the summit. Go out the exit of the unmanned station and walk to the main road (route 101). Turn right and walk along the road for about a half a kilometer until you see a road on your left. There’s a sign here pointing towards Shirakami-dake trailhead. The road skirts past an unmanned rest house on your right before passing by Shirakami-Sanso, an alternative place to stay if you’re short on daylight. Continue climbing past the hut on the forest road, and after about 30 minutes you’ll reach the parking lot and toilet block. There’s also an unmanned hut just adjacent to the toilets. If you’re just going up for the day, then it’s a good place to stash the gear. Take the path just to the left of this hut and soon you’ll reach a paved forest road. Turn left and stroll for about 10 minutes until reaching the real trailhead. From here, the path shoots into the forest, meandering a bit before starting the long climb towards the main ridge. There’s been a bit of cedar tree planting, but the farther you push, the more native the flora becomes. After all, you’re sitting on the edge of a World Heritage forest. Your first big landmark comes after 1.5km in the form of a trail junction. Here you’ll find a rather large signboard (案内図) declaring the path towards the right for experienced hikers only. I recommend staying towards the left here and returning from the summit via this “expert” route, which is known as the futamata course in Japanese (二股コース).  From this junction, the trail becomes predominately steeper, with long switchbacks and wooden stairs in places. You’ll find signposts placed regularly throughout the entire route, which you can use as a judge for your timing and pace. It’ll take around an hour or so from the junction to the ridge, where you’ll see an unmarked trail towards your left. Apparently this leads to the summit of Mt. Mate (蟶山), but you can ignore this since you’ll be getting panoramic views soon enough. Turn right and start the up-and-down climbing on the main spine of the long mountain. It’s pretty steady going until you reach the signpost that reads “白神岳山頂へ1.5km”. As soon as you see this sign, take a long break and stuff your face with peanuts, as things are about to become pretty tough. It’s an uninterrupted 800 meter climb to the summit ridge. Take it one step and a time and don’t forget to look behind you for views of the Sea of Japan far far below. The alpine flowers in this section are stunning, and before you know it you’ll reach the junction drenched in sweat. Congratulate yourself, as the hard climb is pretty much over. You’ll see a trail branching off to the left towards Juniko (十二湖), but disregard this approach and turn right for the short 15-minute climb to the summit. The Juniko course is long and tough, but could be an alternative way of getting off the peak if you’re staying on the summit. The path is rarely used, so you’ll need to be extremely careful of black bear encounters, as a man was attacked there in 2010. From this junction to the peak it really is a pleasant stroll, with panoramic views towards Mt. Iwaki on your left. You’ll soon reach an emergency hut and toilet, which would make for a great place to stay if not for the lack of water. If you’re overnighting here, bring plenty of water from the valley below. Once on the top, take a well-deserved break and admire the stellar views. You’ve got 2 choices from the top. You can either retrace your steps all the way back on the trail you came up, or opt for the Futama course. I did the loop, and boy is it not for the faint of heart. To start, it’s a sheet drop off the side of the peak, with about 1km of continuous rope. Whoever built this trail must’ve been completely insane or just incredibly lazy not to bother with putting in switchbacks. Your knees will surely take a beating on this no-nonsense route. Bring gloves to prevent rope chafing on the impromptu rappel. Once the ropes end, it becomes a much more manageable descent until you reach the river below. You’ve got 2 river crossings, so proceed with caution if the river is swollen. Both are marked with tape, and once you get past those the path turns into a long traverse over several smaller ridges before arriving back at the junction you saw near the start of your climb. All in all it should take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to complete the entire hike.

When to go: This hike can be done from June to October, when most of the snow is gone. A winter hike is pretty much impossible with the insane snow depth and huge avalanche risk. Bear sightings are a real possibility on this hike, as the area has the highest concentration of black bears on Honshu.

Access: From Hirosaki (弘前) station, take a train on the JR Gono Line and get off at Shirakamidaketozanguchi (白神岳登山口). You’ll need to change trains at either Fukaura or Higashi-Noshiro, depending on which train you take.  A faster approach might be to take a Resort Shirakami express train and change to a local train at Juniko (十二湖) station, or perhaps try approaching from Akita city in the south.  A better option might be to stay the night at either Moriyama Sou (森山荘) near Juniko station or at Shirakami Sansou near the trailhead.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1225m)

Distance: 19km (6 to 8 hours)

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