Posted tagged ‘Japan volcanoes’

Mt. Nasu (那須岳)

February 25, 2008

Mt. Nasu is an active volcano located on the border of Tochigi and Fukushima Prefectures. Popular with families and school trips, the mountain features picturesque scenery and a hut with its own hot spring!

Mt Nasu

The hike: From the parking lot you can either shell out your hard-earned money to take the gondola up to the top, or use the very easy, well-maintained path. I knew you’d opt for hiking! Hike up the paved road for a few minutes, and the trail will branch off to the left. The trail is easy to follow, and when I went I passed an entire elementary school class of 80 kids along the way! The trail really is more like a road for the initial climb. After about 40 minutes or so, you’ll hit the ridge line, and an emergency hut will be conveniently awaiting you. The hut is there in case Nasu decides to blow its nose on your journey, and staying in the hut is officially prohibited (you’re better off going to the hot spring hut anyway.) When you get to the hut, hang a left toward Mt. Chausu (茶臼岳). There are plenty of paint marks, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost, and after about 20 minutes the trail will meet up with the one from the gondola. This trail can become extremely crowded during weekends, so take a quick walk around the crater rim before descending back to the emergency hut. Once you’re back here, instead of going back down the mountain, head away from all of the crowds toward Mt. Asahi (朝日岳). It’s quite rocky in this section, so be careful of ice if you’re here in the winter. You should be sitting on top of Mt. Asahi in about 40 minutes or so, with an incredible view overlooking the crater of Mt. Chausu. Mt. Asahi is just a short spur from the main trail, so once on top head back down to the main trail. From this point, head yet further away from Mt. Chausu and the crowds. Your target is the official high point of the mountain, called Mt. Sanbonyari (三本槍岳). It should take about an hour or so from Mt. Asahi to reach the high point. Along the way, you’ll first find a trail branching off to the left, and then another one toward the right. Ignore both of these. As long as you follow the signposts to Sanbonyari then you’ll be ok. About halfway there, you’ll pass through a beautiful marsh area with some small lakes. Once you make it to the high point, break out your lunch an enjoy the scenery. Only the most hardcore hikers make it to this point, and it’ll be a pleasant change from the chaos at Mt. Chausu. From the high point, you have to retrace your footsteps all the way back to the parking lot! So much for a loop trail. However, if you’d like to check out the hot spring hut, then hang a right just before coming back to Mt. Asahi. I’ve never actually done this trail, but my friend insists the detour is worth it. Unfortunately , you’ll have to stay in the hut in order to use the hot spring. Check out this web site (in Japanese) for more info.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be prepared for a bit of snow in the winter. The hot spring hut is open from April to December.

Access: From Ueno station in Tokyo, take either a Shinkansen bound for Koriyama or a local train and get off at Kuroiso station (黒磯駅). The local train takes almost 3 hours, but costs less than 3000 yen. If you take the Shinkansen, you’ll need to get off at Nasushiobara (那須塩原駅) and change to a local train to Kuroiso. From Kuroiso, take a bus bound for Nasudake-sanroku (那須岳山麓) and get off there. The bus takes about an hour. Click here for the schedule.

Map: Click here, and here

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change 537m)

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Mt. Asama (浅間山)

February 24, 2008

Mt. Asama is an active volcano that last erupted in the fall of 2004. Although the summit is officially closed to hikers, the poisonous gases have subsided enough to allow access to Mt. Maekake (前掛山), a short distance from the crater rim.

The summit of Mt. Maekake

The hike: From the bus stop, head up the hill a little toward Asama-sansou (浅間山荘), a spacious hut with a nice hot spring bath (good for after the hike). Walk past the hut on the forest road, and you’ll come to a giant signpost with a map of Asama. This map will tell you the current volcanic activity of Asama, and how far you can officially go. Initially the trail follows the forest road and you’ll come to your first shrine torii called (一ノ鳥居) after about an hour or so. The trail splits here, and you have 2 options. You can go right and check out a waterfall called Fudoutaki (不動滝), or continue going straight. Both paths meet up a little later in the hike, so take one on the ascent and the other on the way down. I took the waterfall course on the decent, so I’ll describe the other trail here. The trail winds its way through a forest with low lying bamboo grass. The beautiful volcanic rock formations of the surrounding peaks will soon come into view. Continue climbing up and you’ll soon reach another torii (二ノ鳥居). The waterfall trail pops out just before this point. Keep heading up toward the valley between the rocky peaks and you’ll come to a rather interesting place called Kamoshika-daira (カモシカ平), home to numerous kamoshika (Japanese mountain goats). This is probably your best chance in Japan to spot these elusive creatures, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any. Eventually you’ll come to a beautiful mountain hut called Kazankan (火山館). There’s a water source here and the owner lives here all year round. There are some picnic tables out front, so relax here and enjoy the serenity. It should take about 2 hours or so from the bus stop to this hut. After regaining your energy, head up the trail to the right of the hut and you’ll soon enter a vast plateau. The hiking here is really easy, but the big climb is what awaits you. A trail will branch to the left toward Mt. Korofu (黒斑山) and another one toward J-Band, but ignore them both and continue straight. The huge conical edifice of Asama will soon come into view. It looks deceptively close and short, but in fact the tough slog is seemingly never-ending. The trail is easy to follow if the snow isn’t too deep. After about 90 minutes of uphill climbing, you’ll come to two emergency huts that were badly damaged in the 2004 eruption. They look a bit like bombed out shacks, with twisted metal framework and partially collapsed roofs. The true summit lies directly in front of you, marked with “Do Not Enter” signs. If you’d like to reach the top of the active crater, then good luck. Breathing poisonous gases wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list, so I opted for the much safer peak of Mt. Maekake (前掛山). Walk toward the emergency hut remains, and start climbing the ridge on the right. It’s slow going in the snow, and try not to get blown off the mountain if it’s windy. The summit of Maekake should be reached in about 20 minutes or so. The views are incredible and you can watch the steam rising from Asama from here. Congratulate yourself and pray that Asama doesn’t belch while you’re standing here. Fly down off the mountain the same way you came, or take a detour through J-Band and Kurofu if you’ve got the energy. Remember that a nice bath is awaiting you at the parking lot!

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got an ice axe and crampons. Asama usually doesn’t get as much snow as the surrounding peaks, melting around the middle of March or so. I did this hike on Christmas day in stunning weather.

Access: From Tokyo station, take the Nagano shinkansen to Karuizawa station, and change to the private Shinano line. Take a train toward Ueda (上田) and get off at Komoro station (小諸駅). From there, take a bus to Asama-sansou (浅間山荘). If you stay at Asama-sansou then they’ll pick you up at Komoro station (with a reservation in advance).

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 1114m)