Posted tagged ‘Hyakumeizan’

Mt. Buna-ga-take (武奈ヶ岳)

May 23, 2010

photo and text by James McCrostie

The hike described here is an alternative, longer way to climb the Buna-ga-take hike listed in the Lonely Planet hiking guide. This hike begins from Shiga station (志賀駅) near the shores of Lake Biwa and requires one night’s camp in the mountains.

The hike:

DAY ONE: (5-6 hours) Exit Shiga station by turning right to walk back along the tracks in the direction the train came into the station. When you come to the third road that crosses the tracks turn right, cross the tracks, and head up the hill towards Kinoshita Shrine (樹下神社). Turn right when you reach the shrine’s torii gate and follow the hiking course signs. After crossing highway 161 via a pedestrian tunnel you’ll come to a sign-posted path called Kitadaka-michi (キタダカ道) which heads up into the mountains. It takes about 40 minutes from the station to this start of the hiking trail proper. After crossing a small concrete bridge, the trail makes a slow and steady climb up, going around a pair of dams. There are plenty of switchbacks and after about two and a half hours you’ll reach a junction leading to Kido-touge (木戸峠) or to Biwako Alps lodge (びわ湖アルプス山荘) and Biwako valley ski area (びわ湖バレイ). Head towards Kido-touge and after about 20 minutes the trail reaches another junction. This time head towards the 1,051 meter Hira-dake (比良岳) and after about 20-30 minutes there is a stream marked on maps and with a small wooden sign as a water source but it should probably be filtered, boiled or treated before drinking. The rubbish pits around this stream raise the philosophical question when do discarded cans and bottles stop being garbage and start being historical artefacts? Depending on your answer, you might consider bringing an extra garbage bag with you on this hike to pack out some of the rubbish. After reaching Hira-dake continue on the trail to Karatoyama (烏谷山) then Arakawa-touge (荒川峠). Twenty minutes after Arakawa-touge the trail reaches Minami-hira-touge (南比良峠) where you should take the trail down to Kanakuso-touge (金糞峠). From Kanakuso-touge, ignore the trail leading to Kitahira-touge (北比良峠) and follow the trail down towards Yakumo-ga-hara (八雲ヶ原) and Naka-touge (中峠). From Kanakuso-touge you can hear the sound of rushing water and the trail soon begins to follow a stream. Beside this stream, where the trail splits towards Yakumo-ga-hara or Naka-touge, there is an unofficial campsite with several flat areas to pitch a tent. This is also the last good place to get water so make sure you fill all your canteens. There’s no reliable source of good water on day two so you’ll need two days worth. The lack of proper toilet facilities around this unofficial campsite also means you should filter, boil or otherwise treat the water.

DAY TWO:(9+ hours) Following the trail towards Yakumo-ga-hara you’ll crisscross the same stream several times, reaching Yakumo-ga-hara and the now abandoned Hira ski hill after about 40 minutes. Take some time to explore the Yakumo marsh; depending on the time of year you may spot flora such as white egret orchids or fauna including fire-bellied newts or forest green tree frogs. During rainy season these frogs lay large egg sacks in tree branches above ponds. After hatching, the tadpoles fall into the water below. Keep to the boardwalk to avoid damaging the delicate ecosystem and ponder how anyone got permission to build a ski resort essentially on top of it. From Yakumo-ga-hara, it’s nearly an hour and a half to the peak of Buna-ga-take. Initially, it’s a steep climb up to the top of an abandoned ski run, then the trail heads back into the forest. After 30-40 minutes in the forest you’ll pass through a section of the trail littered with old bottles and cans and, not long after, reach the 1,214 meter peak of Buna-ga-take. From the peak, take the Kita-ryou route (北稜) towards Hosokawagoe (細川越) and Tsurube-dake (釣瓶岳) and continue on to Ikuwata-touge-kita-mine (イクワタ峠北峰) which should take about an hour and a half. However, after descending from the top of Buna-ga-take and shortly after passing a rock cairn, avoid taking an unofficial trail that leads off to the left. There is no sign-post marking the start of this unofficial trail and it isn’t marked on the maps but it leads straight down the mountain, reaching highway 367 after 2-3 hours. Itユs poorly marked with red and silver or red-faded-to-pink tape tied to branches and isn’t nearly as well maintained as the main trail. From Ikuwata-touge, avoid the trail going down to Hotorayama (ホトラ山) and take the trail to Sugawa-touge (須川峠), which you should reach after about two hours. A little more than an hour walking will then bring you to the top of the 901-meter Jyatani-ga-mine (蛇谷ヶ峰). If the clouds cooperate you can enjoy views of Lake Biwa and Mount Ibuki. Keep to the trail leading down to Kutsuki-onsen-tenku (くつき温泉てんくう), which takes about an hour and forty minutes from the top of Jyatani-ga-mine. From Kutsuki-onsen-tenku there’s a shuttle bus leading to the Kutsuki-gakko-mae bus stop (朽木学校前) where buses run twice a day to Demachiyanagi bus stop in Kyoto (leaving at 9:30 and 17:00 and taking about 90 min.) and nine times a day to Adogawa station (安曇川) on the JR Kosei line (about 30 min.). Click here for the latest bus schedules and more information about the hot spring

When to go: The most picturesque, though busiest, time is during the autumn when the leaves have changed colour, usually from late October to early November. Only hikers with winter hiking experience and gear should even think about climbing Buna-ga-take in the winter.

Access: From Kyoto (京都) station, take a local (普通) JR Kosei line (湖西線) train bound for Ohmi-Imazu (近江今津) or Tsuruga (敦賀). Get off at Shiga Station, 36 minutes from Kyoto Station.

Map: Hira-Yama-Kei (比良山系) No. 45 in the Yama to Kogen Chizu (山と高原地図) series should definitely be carried by those attempting this hike. It has several alternative approaches and ways off the mountain in case of emergency.

Level of difficulty: 3.5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1000m). Being gradual, the climb to the top itself isn’t too strenuous. However, the second day is fairly long and made more difficult by the lack of water sources. While mountain huts are labelled on maps, most (if not all) are locked and/or abandoned so a tent and cooking gear are required for this hike.

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Interview with Craig Mclachlan

May 10, 2009

Here is a recent interview I did with Lonely Planet author Craig Mclachlan for Kansai Scene magazine.

Craig

Mt. Fuji (富士山)

April 27, 2009

Interested in climbing Japan’s tallest mountain?  Our guidebook will show you everything you need to know for a successful climb.

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Mt. Kurobegoro (黒部五郎岳)

April 21, 2009

This blog post was written back in 2009. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Kurobegoro is on the main Kamikochi-Tateyama trekking route, and one of the most unspoilt peaks in the Kita Alps. The huge col below the summit traps snow until late in the year, providing numerous photo ops when the weather is cooperating.

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The hike: Please note that the trail from Utsubo towards the first big junction is upkept and is becoming less and less popular. If you’ve got your own transport, then it’s better to start at Hietsu Tunnel (飛越トンネル), which is just up the road from Utsubo. Anyway, walk on the forest road that continues past the bus stop to its terminus. It’s about 5km or so, and it should take about an hour. Once you reach the end, the trail will branch off towards the left, climbing a somewhat steep spur before flattening out into some marshlands. There’s a water source here, and the mizubasho (skunk cabbage) bloom from early to mid June. Stay on the trail for another 30 minutes or so, and you’ll reach a trail junction, and considerably more foot traffic. This is where the path meets up with the main trail coming from Hietsu tunnel, so turn right and follow the signs to Mt. Teraji (寺地山), which should take another hour or so to reach. Again, the trail is well trodden and easy to follow. The views will start to open up the higher you climb: Mt. Yakushi towers to your left and Mt. Kasa keeps a watchful eye on your right, while Mt. Kurobegoro rises directly in front of you. Continue climbing up for another hour or so, and you’ll find a trail junction on your right, which leads down to Kitanomata Emergency Hut (北ノ俣非難小屋), your home for the night. The triangular hut is small but well kept, with plenty of water flowing out front. If you’ve gotten an early start, then you can consider climbing up and over Mt. Kurobegoro, but keep in mind that you’ve got 4-1/2 to 5 hours of tough hiking before reaching the next hut, so plan accordingly. The next morning, retrace your steps back to the junction, turning right towards Mt. Kitanomata (北ノ俣岳). Soon you’ll rise above the tree line, and if the cloud isn’t in you can see your destination. After an hour or so, you’ll reach a large trail junction, where you’ll finally be on the main ridgeline of the Kita Alps. Turn left if you want to go to Tateyama, or right if Kamikochi is your destination. If you just want to do a quick up-and-back of Mt. Kurobegoro, then leave your pack at the junction. At any rate, it’s a steady 2 hour climb through stunning alpine terrain. Keep your eyes out for ptarmigan and take in the scenery if the weather is good. Unfortunately, when I did this hike in the pouring rain and I couldn’t see a thing. so you bet I’ll be back here to get revenge. Carry on climbing slowly and steadily, and before long you’ll be sitting on top of the target peak. The trail splits in two on the summit, but you can take either fork, since they both meet up again at the bottom. If there’s still a lot of snow, then the left fork is probably a better option. Descend through the spectacular col, and after 90 minutes or so, you’ll arrive at Kurobegoro hut and campground. Set up camp here, or continue along the ridge to Sugoroku if it’s still early in the day. Alternatively. you can turn left at the next trail junction and head north towards Mt. Washiba or Kumo-no-daira. Take your time and enjoy exploring one of the best sections of the Japan Alps.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to early October, when most of the snow is gone. If you’ve got crampons and winter hiking experience, then you can go earlier in the season. Click here for an unbelievable account of a Japanese guy who skied 35km up and over the peak and down to Shin-hotaka hot spring during Golden Week!

Access: Access is really difficult without a car, but it can be done with a little time and patience. From the bus terminal next to Takayama (高山) station, take a bus bound for Nouhi-basu Kamioka Eigyousho (濃飛バス営業所) and get off at that stop. From there, change to the Yama-no-mura bus (山之村バス) bound for Wasafu (和佐府) and get off at Utsubobashi (打保橋). There are only 2 buses a day to Wasafu (only 1 during the winter season), so make sure you time your approach accordingly. If you take the 9:40am bus from Takayama, then the transfer is timed, so you can arrive at the Utsubo trailhead at 12:16pm. Click here to download the bus schedule from Takayama to Kamioka and here to download the schedule for the Yama-no-mura bus.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1800m)

Mt. Warusawa (悪沢岳)

March 22, 2009

This blog post was written back in 2009. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Warusawa is the 6th tallest peak in Japan and the gateway to the southern portion of the Minami Alps. Its remote location and huge elevation gain make it a must-climb for burgeoning alpinists. The peak is also goes by the name of Mt. Arakawa (荒川岳) so don’t be confused – they are the same mountain.

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The hike: Most people start and finish this hike at Sawara-jima, knocking off both Mt. Warusawa and Mt. Akaishi in the process. Allow 3 days to complete this tough but scenic route. From the bus stop at Sawara-jima, continue hiking north along the paved forest road for about 10 minutes until reaching a large, green, steel bridge. The trailhead is on the left, just before you cross the bridge. The path is relatively flat for the first few minutes or so, until crossing a large suspension bridge over the river. The bridge is really narrow and not for those with acrophobia. After crossing the river, the trail winds its way through a scenic forest for about an hour and a half or so, before meeting up with a gravel forest road. Cross this road and head up a metal staircase built into the hillside, marked with a 千枚小屋 signpost. This is where the true climb begins, as you’ll start climbing making some significant gains in altitude on a well-worn trail through a beautiful virgin forest. Unfortunately, you’ll cross the forest road again after about 45 minutes and will actually be running parallel to the road for most of the way (though it is out of sight). Keep climbing steadily another hour or so and you’ll reach a flat area called Shimizu-daira (清水平), which has a water source. Fill up on water here, as you’ve still got a few hours of hiking left before reaching your home for the night. There’s only one way to go, which is up, up and then up again. About a half hour after leaving the water source, you’ll pass through another marshland, where the views will start to open up. If the weather is clear then you can see both Mt. Akaishi and Mt. Warusawa rising high across the vast valley to your left. You’ll be about 2100m above sea level, but you’ve still got another 500m or so before reaching the hut. Your next landmark will be a small pond on your right, and you’ll soon cross over a set of cables running overhead, which are used to haul supplies to the nearby mountain hut. Continue hiking through the primeval silver fir forest and eventually you’ll arrive at Senmai hut (千枚小屋) and campsite. The hut is open from mid-July to mid-October and costs 8000 yen with 2 meals or 5000 yen without. Camping runs 600 yen per person. Additionally, the 2nd floor of the hut is open out of season and won’t cost you a thing (but you’ll need your own sleeping gear and food). According to the map, it should take about 7 hours for the 10km, 1500m vertical ascent from Sawara-jima to the hut, but you can do it in less time if you’re fit and traveling light. The next day continue on the same trail to the top of Mt. Senmai (千枚岳). Soon after leaving the hut, you’ll pop out of the tree line, and will be there the rest of the day. The trail will become quite rocky, and the views are nothing short of spectacular. From this vantage point, you’ve got an unobstructed view of the entire Minami Alps, which is rare since the towering peaks usually conceal the larger ones behind. Anyway, stay on the ride line for about 45 minutes, and you’ll reach your first 3000m peak of the day, called Mt. Maru (丸山). A short up-and-down traverse later, and you’ll be sitting on top of Mt. Warusawa, the target peak. From here, you can retrace your steps back to Sawara-jima, but I really recommend staying on the ridge line a few more days. Get ready for a huge drop down to a saddle on the other side of Warusawa and a strenuous climb up to Nakadake (中岳), where you’ll find an emergency hut. There are a lot of ptarmigan in the saddle between the two peaks – I was luck enough to see a family with recently hatched chicks. The emergency hut at Nakadake is another possible place to stay, but be warned that it’ll cost you a jaw-dropping 4500 yen to stay in a place with no water or food! This hut is shut tight in the off season, and camping is prohibited in the vicinity. The astronomical costs are due to a monopoly by the Tokai Forest corporation, which owns every single hut on the route. Just behind the hut, you’ll find the summit of Mae-dake (前岳), where you’ll have to make a decision. Turn left to descend to Arakawa hut (荒川小屋) and the gargantuan climb up to Mt. Akaishi. Turn right if you’d like to head towards Mt. Shiomi, which will take another 2 days to reach. Click here for some great photos of the entire Warusawa/Akaishi loop.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to the end of August, when the bus to Hatanagi dam is running. If you’ve got your own transport then you can attempt much earlier or later in the season. A winter ascent may able be possible with the right equipment and experience.

Access: From Shizuoka station (静岡駅), take a bus bound for Hatanagi-daiichi Dam (畑薙第一ダム) and get off at the dam. Change to a shuttle bus bound for Sawara-jima Lodge (椹島ロッジ). Please note that the bus to Hatanagi-daiichi has been discontinued as of May 31st, 2008, and has been replaced by a seasonal bus running only from July 19th to August 31st. Click here for the bus schedule for the bus from Shizuoka to the dam and here for the shuttle bus schedule from the dam to the lodge.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2000m)

Mt. Tomuraushi (トムラウシ)

March 9, 2009

Home of the endangered Japanese pika, Mt. Tomuraushi is a wonderful rocky peak located at roughly the halfway point on the Daisetsuzan trekking route. The scenery and views will certainly make you believe you’ve left Japan.

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The hike: First of all, I would like to thank Julian for this hike description, as I climbed this peak while doing the full Asahi-dake to Tokachi-dake traverse. From the bus stop, head to the end of the road and the trailhead. After about 5 minutes of hiking, you’ll cross a forest road, where you’ll find the lovely Higashi Daisetsu hut, which looks like a great place to stay. Click here for the website in Japanese. Continue hiking on the trail for about 90 minutes or so, until reaching a trail junction marked 温泉コース分岐 (Onsen kousu bunki). This is where foot traffic will increase signficantly, as the trail to the right leads down to a parking lot. Most people with cars just drive up here rather than hiking from the hot spring, so if you’ve got your own wheels you might consider doing the same (especially if doing this hike as a day trip, which I don’t recommend). Turn left at the junction for a moderate climb up a well-worn path. If it’s raining then the path will become a nasty mixture of water and mud, so bring gaiters if you’ve got them. After about 45 minutes or so, you’ll reach an unmarked junction, which is where the old path joins the new. The old path is closed, so stay towards the left and climb through an area of thick bamboo grass. This grass is trimmed during the summer hiking season, but may not be maintained out of season, so exercise caution. The next hour or so is relatively gentle until dropping steeply to a the ‘Robin’ stream (こまどり沢). Be sure to boil and filter any water from the stream, because it could be contaminated with the echinococcus parasite. Cross the stream and stay on the right bank (following the paint marks on the rocks if the weather is bad). If hiking before August then you’ll have to cross a rather large snowfield before reaching 前トム平 (Mae-tomu-dai), a great place for a break. The trail will start to become quite rocky now, passing through areas of wildflowers before reaching a small pond at トムラウシ公園 (Tomuraushi-koen). Be sure to follow the paint marks, since it’s easy to get lost if the cloud is in. The scenery is spectacular, and you’ll reach a junction in about an hour or so. To the left there is a small campsite with a water source (again, be sure to boil) but no toilet. Turn right for the steep, 20-minute climb to the summit. It should have taken anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to reach the summit, so be sure to bring plenty of supplies and consider breaking this up into a 2-day hike. You can either retrace your steps to the campsite, or consider traversing over to Hisago-numa hut (ヒサゴ沼小屋), which will take another 2 or 3 hours of ridge hiking. Alternatively, you could consider heading all the way back to Tomuraushi Onsen, but that’d be over 30km of hiking in one day! Click here for some nice photos of the route.

When to go: This hike can only been done in the summer, when the bus to the trailhead is running. If you’ve got your own transport, however, you can go a little earlier or later in the season. Alternatively, the peak is on the main Daisetsuzan trekking route, and can be approached from the north via Chuubetsu-dake. Be prepared for a lot of snow if attempting before July.

Access: From Obihiro (帯広) station, take a local train on the JR Nemuro line and get off at Shintoku (新得) station. You can also take a limited express train, but it’ll cost twice the amount. From Shintoku, take a bus bound for Tomuraushi Onsen (トムラウシ温泉) and get off at the final stop. As of 2011, the bus is by reservation only and runs between July 16th and August 14th. Click here for the schedule.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1176m)

Mt. Shirouma (白馬岳)

February 17, 2009

This blog post was written back in 2009. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

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.

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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)

Mt. Ainodake (間ノ岳)

January 27, 2009

This blog post was written back in 2009. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Ainodake is the center peak of the Shirane-sanzan trio of summits in the Minami Alps, and is best climbed in combination with adjacent Kitadake, Japan’s 2nd tallest mountain.

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The hike: Follow the description outlined in the Kitadake hike, but instead of turning left at the first junction after reaching the top of Kitadake, continue descending on the rocky ridgeline to Kitadake-sansou (北岳山荘). The hut, located at 2,900m above sea level, is open from the middle of June to early November, and has room for 150 people. There’s also a large, exposed campground just behind the hut. Click here for the website. From the hut, it’s another 90 minutes or so of traversing above 3000m to the summit of Ainodake, the 4th highest peak in Japan. The views of Mt. Fuji are just as stunning as they were from Kitadake, as long as the weather is good. If not, then you’re in “no-man’s land” as far as sheltered comfort goes. You’ve got 3 options from the summit. You can either take the right fork and continue along the ridge to the top of Mitsumine-dake (三峰岳) before dropping to the hut and campground at Kuma-no-daira (熊の平), or take the left fork to the summit of Mt. Noutori (農鳥岳), the 3rd and final peak of Shirane-sanzan. Allow around an hour or so to reach Noutori hut (農鳥小屋), which offers similar accomodation to the other huts in the vicinity. Click here for the website. The final option is to retrace your steps back to Kitadake-sansou, following the trail on the right to the Happonba col (八本歯ノコル). It’s an extremely narrow and tight squeeze on a trail reinforced with wooden stairs and ladders. Click here to get an idea of what you’re in store for. At the top of the col, hang a left for the roughly 3 hour ascent back to Hirogawara.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to early November. The road to Hirogawara is closed in the winter, so it’ll be pretty difficult to get here unless you snowshoe or ski a long way to the trailhead! You could go a little earlier if you’ve got an ice axe and crampons.

Access: From Kofu station (甲府駅), take a bus bound for Hirogawara (広河原). Click here for the bus schedule in Japanese.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1670m)

Mt. Meakan (雌阿寒岳)

January 14, 2009

Mt. Meakan is an active volcano located around 20km southwest of Lake Akan in Central Hokkaido. Its current status as an active volcano offers a unique opportunity to stare into the mouth of a hissing volcanic crater.

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The hike: From the bus stop, backtrack down the main road for about 100m and you’ll see the hiking trail on your right. The trail starts off in a forested area, where you’ll clamber over exposed tree roots on the heavily traveled path. After about 40 minutes or so, the views will start to open up, and you’ll see the huge, smoldering peak directly in front of you. It looks very close, and indeed it is, but it’ll still take the better part of an hour to reach the crater rim. The vegetation thins out the higher you go, and the summit is not the place you want to be in a thunderstorm, so use common sense if the weather is bad. Once you reach the crater rim, turn left for the short climb to the high point. Marked by a rectangular stone pedestal, the summit offers wonderful views down to Lake Akan, as well as a bird’s eye view of the stinky, hissing, hell-like crater directly below. The conical peak of Akan-fuji towers just to the left of the crater, and on a clear day the peaks of the Hidaka mountains can be seen way off in the distance. From the summit, continue along the rim of the crater towards Onetto (オンネトー). The trail will quickly drop to a saddle at the foot of Akan-fuji. Climb the conical peak if you’ve still got energy and if it’s still relatively early in the day. Otherwise,keep descending on the path towards lake Onetto. You’ll soon enter a forest which becomes quite dense as you approach the lake. Just before reaching the end of the trail, you’ll find a flat, swampy area that looks like a stomping ground for bears, so make sure you have your bear bell with you. The trail ends at a gravel road. Turn right to reach the campground. You could turn left if you want to do the side trip to Yu-no-taki (湯の滝), a hot spring waterfall, but be warned – the free open-air bath has been dismantled in the name of environmental protection, so if you’re expecting a hot bath then you’ll be sorely disappointed. I wouldn’t recommend this side trip as the waterfall isn’t really that big and isn’t gushing out hot water either! Anyway, the campground charges for camping space and the water must be boiled before drinking, so make sure you’ve brought plenty of water with you from Akan-kohan. Walk through the campground and follow the trail that goes around the lake. Lake Onetto is phenomenally beautiful – the emerald green colors put the beaches of Okinawa to shame! About halfway around the lake you’ll find a trail junction on your left. This is the trail back to Meakan-onsen and it’s also an area with a fair number of bears. A late afternoon stroll through here without your bear bell is definitely an accident waiting to happen. It should take about 30 minutes or so to complete the loop back to the hot spring. There are two places to stay at Nonaka-Onsen. The youth hostel is looking a little worse for wear, and was completely booked when I visited, so I opted for the adjacent Kokumin-shukusha, which charges 7000 yen for 2 meals and has one of the best baths in all of Hokkaido. Click here for the website.

Special Note: As of August 2011, the trail to Me-akan is open. If any further volcanic activity becomes apparent, I will update this status. There’s still a lot of steam billowing out of a side vent near Akan-Fuji, so take care if the winds are blowing from across the crater.

When to go: This hike can be done from Golden Week to early October, when most of the snow is gone. The road to the trailhead is open all winter, so those with the right experience, equipment, and their own transport could also attempt this in the winter, but I would be very cautious on days with poor visibility and high winds. The road between Meakan hot spring and Onneto is popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Access: Please note that the bus from Akan-kohan to the trailhead has been abolished. The only way to get to the trailhead is by car, taxi, or hitching.  From Kushiro (釧路) station, take a bus for Akan-kohan (阿寒湖畔) and get off at the last stop, which is a large bus terminal. Click here for the bus schedule. You can also take a bus from Mashu Station, but there are only 2 buses a day and they only run from July to October. Click here for that schedule.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 789m).

Mt. Hijiri (聖岳)

December 1, 2008

This blog post was written back in 2008. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Hijiri, situated on the border of Nagano and Shizuoka Prefectures, is the southernmost 3000m peak in Japan and home to one of the best panoramic vistas around.

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The hike: Although there are several approaches to the peak, I will describe one of the more popular routes via Tayori-ga-shima (便ヶ島). Fill up your water bottles at the picnic area across the road from the mountain hut near the toilets. There’s no water from here until reaching the hut at Hijiri-daira, so take plenty with you. The trail passes over a short hill before reaching a tunnel, where the trail flattens out for a 4km hike on an old boxcar route (the tracks have been pulled up). This area is absolutely stunning when the autumn leaves have changed color. After about an hour of hiking, you’ll reach the end of the road and find a metal box suspended on a pulley system over the river. This interesting contraption has been built to assist hikers in crossing the river, as it’s nearly impossible to cross without wading through frigid water. Use the ropes to pull the carriage towards you, and hop in. It works much better if you’ve got someone else with you to help with all of the pulling. After crossing the river, the trail makes its way through a series of steep switchbacks until reaching an abandoned mountain hut. This would make a really good place to film a horror movie, so I don’t recommend staying in this place unless you’d like to have some nightmares. Continue climbing past the hut, through a small cedar forest and a never-ending series of switchbacks. There are some steep places, but plenty of ropes tied into the hillside to keep you from falling. After about an hour you’ll see a small clearing to your left, which has fantastic views down to the valley below. The path keeps climbing up and up, through a wonder virgin forest filled with beautiful flora. One thing you’ll notice, however, is that a large percentage of the older trees have fallen, which leads me to believe that a massive typhoon must’ve come through here a few decades ago. Because of the dense foliage, you won’t have much of a view of the peaks until just below the main trail junction, so keep a nice steady pace and your fluid intake up. It should take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours to reach aforementioned junction, which sits on the main Minami Alps traverse route. Take your pack off and enjoy the outstanding scenery. From here, you can either turn left for the 3 hour slog to the summit, or save it for the following morning. I would base your decision on the weather and on your physical condition. If you’re going to the hut, then turn right and head downhill past the fences built to keep the deer from trampling the wildflowers. You’ll reach a junction in about 20 minutes, so turn left and follow the wooden planks to the hut. Check into the hut or pitch your tent in anywhere out front. During the ‘off season’, you can stay in the adjacent emergency hut for free. Just bring a warm sleeping bag and plenty of food. The next day, retrace your steps back up to the junction you came from the previous day. From here, the trail climbs up through a wonderful forest towards the summit of Ko-hijiri (小聖岳). You’ll pop out of the tree line just below the summit of this 2600m peak, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Mt Hijiri, Mt. Kamikouchi, Mt. Usagi, and Mt. Fuji. From here, you’ve got a fairly straightforward, switchback laden climb to the summit of Hijiri. It looks close but it’ll take around an hour to reach the top. Take a break and congratulate yourself for climbing the southernmost 3000m peak in Japan! On a clear day you’ll have views of the Chuo and Kita Alps, as well as most of the Minami Alps, Mt. Ena, the peaks of Chichibu-Kai-Tama National Park, Mt. Fuji and Mt. Tanzawa. After a well-deserved break, you can either retrace your steps all the way back to Tayori-ga-shima, or continue on the main trekking route towards Mt. Akaishi.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to early November, when most of the snow is gone. If you’ve got the right equipment and experience, then you can also do this in the winter, since the hut at Hijiri-daira is converted into an emergency hut from September to June.

Access: This is one hike where you’ll need your own car, unless you come from Sawara-jima or Kita-dake. Alternatively, you could take a taxi from Hiraoka (平岡) station on the JR Iida Line, but it’ll cost you close to 20,000 yen! If you’re rich and want to shell out the money, then tell the taxi driver you want to go to Tayori-ga-shima (便ヶ島) and Hijiri-tozanguchi (聖登山口).

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2100m).