Posted tagged ‘Kamikochi’

Myojin Pond (明神池)

October 2, 2012

Myojin is another incredibly popular but enjoyable walk in Kamikochi valley. You’ll have wonderful mirror reflections in a pair of idyllic ponds sitting in a tranquil forest.

The hike: From the bus terminal, turn left (past the restrooms) until you reach the river, where you’ll turn right. Walk past Kappabashi bridge (the long suspension bridge that everyon and their child line up to have their picture taken beside). Don’t cross the bridge, but stay on this side of the river. The path will cross a small concrete bridge before entering Onashidaira (小梨平) campsite. Follow the broad path (it’s actually a forest road) through the campsite and the neighboring forest. The trail will climb gradually for a couple of kilometers until arriving at Myojin (明神) junction. There’s a mountain hut here where you can stay. You’ll see a sign pointed towards the left that says 明神池0.6km. Turn left here and cross the suspension bridge across the river. After crossing, turn left and follow the river for a short distance, where you’ll see a sign pointing to the right that reads “Pond Myoujinike”. Turn right here, follow the gravel path, and pass under the wooden shrine gate. You’ll see an old mountain hut on your left called Kamonji-goya. It’s a really popular place for lunch and it’s also a hut that Walter Weston stayed in when he made his historic visits to Kamikochi. Just past the hut you’ll see a small shrine and the entrance to Myojin Pond. Unfortunately, there’s a 300 yen entrance fee to enter the pond. If the clouds are in you can give it a miss, but you should definitely spend some time looking around if the skies are clear, as the reflections are stunning. The best time to visit is in the early morning when the lighting on Mt. Myojin is best. After visiting, retrace your steps back to the river and turn right, following the signs to Kappabashi. The path is wonderful on this side of the river, with wooden walkways and a lot more up-and-downs than the campground side of the river. At one point the path will meet up with a paved forest road, but you’ll soon dip back down in the forest. Your next landmark will be the turnoff for Dakesawa (岳沢), another place well worth visiting if you’ve got the time. It’s a steep 2-hour hike to reach the mountain hut up there, which sits near the edge of the tree line and has incredible views of Kamikochi valley. Anyway, ignore this turnoff and enjoy the wonderful color of the stream feeding into a majestic pond. Follow the wooden walkway for about a minute and you’ll reach a lookout area over the pond. This is an excellent place to hone those photography skills. Afternoon light is best here, and as it’s not too far from Kappabashi bridge, you can always come back here to visit later in the day if you’d like. Stay on the main trail and you’ll reach Kappabashi in about 20 minutes or so, depending on your speed. Just before reaching the bridge you’ll come across a large hotel, and the views of Mt. Hotaka from the river’s edge here are better than the views from the bridge itself, and much less crowded. If the weather is good there’ll probably be a few people doing some oil paintings from here. After reaching Kappabashi bridge, you can continue walking downstream and do the Taisho-ike hike (breaking up this walk by stopping for the minestrone lunch at Kamikochi Alpen Hotel during weekdays only). Another alternative is to head to Kamikochi Onsen hotel for a hot spring bath (open between 12:30 and 3pm).

When to go: This hike can be done anytime from late April to mid-November, when the road to Kamikochi is open. Avoid the weekends if you don’t want to share the trail with half of Tokyo. Also, this walk is best done in the morning, when the Mt. Myojin reflections are most striking.

Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take a train on the Matsumoto Denki Railway bound for Shin-shimashima (新島々) and get off at the last stop. The train leaves from the JR tracks, so enter the ticket gates and follow the signs. From Shin-shimashima you can transfer to a direct bus bound for Kamikochi. Click here for the schedule. You can also take a direct overnight bus from Osaka or Tokyo, as well as a bus from Takayama, but you’ll need to transfer at Hirayu Onsen. Private cars are not allowed in Kamikochi, so if coming by car then park at Sawando and transfer to a shuttle bus from there.

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change negligible)

Distance: 6.5km (2 to 3 hours)

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Taisho-ike (大正池)

September 10, 2012

Taisho pond is the most popular walk in Kamikochi and rightfully so. The mirror-like reflections of Mt. Yake and the Japan Alps are incredible in good weather. You may also have a chance of spotting a black bear in the unspoiled forests surrounding the lake.

The hike: From the bus terminal, turn left (past the restrooms) until you reach the river, where you’ll make another left. Follow the river for about 15 minutes until reaching a paved road. Cross over the road and follow the sign that says “Nature Trail” (自然研究路入口). The path will enter the forest before reaching a junction. You can take either course since they both meet up after 10 minutes or so. My advice would be to take the right fork that follows the Azusa River (梓川コース) and on the return take the forest path (林間コース). The forest path is your best chance of catching a black bear in the wild, so keep your eyes peeled, especially in the early morning or late evening. Anyway, after the paths converge you’ll reach another junction with a sign pointing towards Tashiro-ike (田代池). Take this side trail for 100 meters or so and you’ll reach the tranquil shores of the small, scenic lake. There are no reflections in this lake, but the yellow fields are serene. Retrace your steps back to the junction and turn left, following the signs towards Taisho pond. After crossing a wooden bridge you’ll reach a broad area with a lot of rocks. You can scramble down to the lake shore here if you like, or continue on the path to the base of the hotel, where the reflections are much better (and the crowds will regrettably be much larger). There’s a restroom on the other side of the hotel, as well as a bus stop if you want to take the lazy way back to Kamikochi. After admiring the views, retrace your steps all the way back to where you crossed the paved road, but instead of continuing straight towards the bus terminal, turn left and cross over Tashiro bridge (田代橋) and Hotaka bridge (穂高橋). Turn right on the path that follows the river (on the river bank opposite the bus terminal). This path will take you past the Walter Weston monument before passing by a couple of hotels. Look for the sign for Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル), where you’ll find a free foot bath. For 800 yen, you can also enter the hot spring baths here (highly recommended), but be careful of the time. The bath is only open between 7 and 9am, and 12:30 to 3pm. If you’ve missed the morning window then you can grab some lunch and come back for the afternoon session. The cheapest and tastiest lunch is at Kamikochi Alpen  Hotel (上高地アルペンホテル), which has a great minestrone lunch for only 500 yen (weekdays only). For an additional 100 yen you can have hot coffee as well. If there’s still time in the day and you still have the energy, you can also do the Myojin Pond hike, but remember that the reflections for Myojin are best in the early morning light and you’ll have to pay 300 yen to enter the shoreline.

When to go: This hike can be done anytime from late April to mid-November, when the road to Kamikochi is open. Avoid the weekends if you don’t want to share the trail with half of Tokyo. Also, this walk is best done in the morning, when the Mt. Yake reflections are most striking.

Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take a train on the Matsumoto Denki Railway bound for Shin-shimashima (新島々) and get off at the last stop. The train leaves from the JR tracks, so enter the ticket gates and follow the signs. From Shin-shimashima you can transfer to a direct bus bound for Kamikochi. Click here for the schedule. You can also take a direct overnight bus from Osaka or Tokyo, as well as a bus from Takayama, but you’ll need to transfer at Hirayu Onsen. Private cars are not allowed in Kamikochi, so if coming by car then park at Sawando and transfer to a shuttle bus from there.

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change negligible)

Distance: 8km (2 to 3 hours)

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Mt. Oku-hotaka (奥穂高岳)

July 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. Oku-hotaka is the 3rd highest peak in Japan and one of the most exhilarating climbs in the Kita Alps. The views are phenomenal on the rare occasions when the cloud isn’t in.

The hike: From the Kamikochi bus terminal, follow the paved path and signs towards the famous Kabba-bashi bridge. Cross over the bridge and head past all of the hotels. The path is well-marked, with plenty of wooden planks to keep people from trampling the flora. You’ll reach a trail junction in about 10 minutes, so head left for the long climb up dakesawa (岳沢). The path follows the beautiful gully for about 2-1/2 hours before reaching Dakesawa Hut (岳沢ヒュッテ). This hut was badly damaged in an avalanche in 2006 and is closed, but snacks and drinks are sold to hikers during the main hiking season (July to October). There are no plans to re-open this hut again. After leaving the hut, the path curves towards the right and gets quite steep, with lots and lots of switchbacks. It’s really tough going if you’ve got a heavy pack, so take your time and stay hydrated with lots of fluids. There are several places with chains and ladders along the way, so take extra care during wet weather. It should take about 3 hours or so to reach the trail junction just below the peak of Mae-hotaka. Drop your pack for the short climb to the summit. The views from Mae-hotaka are make the tough hike worth it, as you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the entire ridge line, all the way out to Mt. Yari. The summit of Oku-hotaka will also be staring right at you. Drop back down to the junction and follow the signs to Oku-hotaka. It should take about 90 minutes or so of relatively easy hiking (well, at least easier than what you’ve been through) to reach the top. Smile and congratulate yourself for scaling one of the toughest peaks in the Alps. Don’t break open that beer just yet though, as the most dangerous part awaits. There’s a trail branching off to the left towards Nishi-hotaka, but you’ll want to go right, following the paint marks to Hotaka-dake hut (穂高岳山荘). It’s a relatively short distance, but full of chains and ladders. The final descent is vertigo-inducing, as you’ve got a long set of ladders to climb down just above the hut roof. Once you reach the hut you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and either find a place to pitch your tent or check into the hut. Be warned that the campground is very small and exposed. If you don’t have a tent built to withstand gale force winds then consider staying inside in comfort. The next day climb up past the hut to the top of Mt. Karasawa (涸沢岳), where the views all the way out to Mt. Fuji are stunning in nice weather. The ridge line between here and Kita-hotaka is very dangerous, with vertical drops . If you weren’t comfortable with the previous descent from Oku-hotaka to Hotaka-dake hut then do not attempt this route, as a fair number of people fall to their deaths every year. Retrace your steps to the hut and turn left to descend down into the Karasawa col. It should take about 90 minutes to reach Karasawa hut (唐沢小屋), where there’s a massive campground with room for hundreds of tents. This is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Japan, and rightfully so, as the views up towards the rocky Hotaka ridge line in the autumn are breathtakingly beautiful. From Karasawa, turn left at the next 2 junctions and follow the signs to Yokoo-sansou (横尾山荘). Most people reach the hut in about 2 hours and the path is wonderful, following a beautiful river tributary before crossing a bridge to the junction. Once you arrive at Yokoo hut, you can either turn left for the long climb to Mt. Yari, or head right towards Kamikochi. Either way, you’ve got a 13km hike awaiting you.

When to go: This hike can be done from early May to early November. The earlier you go, the more snow there will be, so bring an ice axe, ropes, and full crampons if climbing before the rainy season or anytime in late fall. A winter hike is also possible, but only for those with ice climbing experience.

Access: From either Takayama (高山) or Matusmoto (松本) stations, take a bus bound for Kamikochi (上高地). Click here for the Alpico Group bus schedule. There are also direct night buses from Tokyo and Osaka, depending on the season. Check your nearest travel agency for details.

Live web cam: Click here.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1685m).

Mt. Yake (焼岳)

March 12, 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. Yakedake is an active volcano separating Kamikochi from Shin-Hotaka Hot Spring. The summit is still smoldering and is marked by a small, majestic crater lake.

Mt. Yake

The hike:

Nakanoyu approach: From the parking lot on the road behind Nakanoyu hotel, enter the dense forest and climb up, up, and up some more. The hike is quite steep, and after about an hour or so you’ll come to a trail junction. The trail on the right leads down to Nakanoyu Hot Spring (which is closed as of the summer of 2012). The trail flattens out for a short time while the views start to open up. You can see the top of Mt. Yake directly in front of you, though it will still take some time and effort to reach it. Continue plodding along toward the summit. The trail will become rockier and rockier, but you’ll reach the crater rim in about 90 minutes, depending on your speed. When you reach the summit area, the trail will curve to the right and then take a sharp left toward the high point. You’ll have to climb up quite a few rocks to get to the top, but the trail is marked with paint marks and arrows. Don’t get too close to the rocks spewing poisonous gases, no matter how tempting they look. The top is flat and has room for about a dozen people. If the weather is good, then you’ll see the peaks of the Kita Alps completely surrounding you, as well as Mt. Norikura and Ondake to the south. Continue back the way you came or consider hiking down into Kamikochi (described below). Another option would be to stay on the ridge line and climb Mt. Nishi-Hotaka, although you’ll need to stay in one of the huts along the way and the trail is not used much.

Kamikochi approach: If you’re doing this as a day hike and not staying in Kamikochi, then you might find it faster to get off at Taisho-ike bus stop, since it’s closer to the trailhead. Otherwise, at the bus terminal head left to the river bank and take the trail going left, away from Kappabashi bridge (though it’s ok to cross the bridge and walk on the other side of the river if you prefer). The path will follow the bank of the river until reaching a road. Turn right on the paved road, crossing two bridges (Tashirobashi 田代橋 and Hotakabashi 穂高橋). Once you cross the river stay on the road for about 20 meters until it meets up with another paved road. You’ll see a trail with a wooden gate right in front of you. This is the trail up to Nishihotaka, so don’t take this trail. Instead, turn left and head away from Kamikochi on the paved road and you’ll see the trailhead for Mt. Yake on your right after about 10 minutes. Turn right here and enter the dense forest. The first part of the hike is quite flat as you traverse your way over to the main gully. The trail will start to become steeper the longer you climb, so pace yourself and drink plenty of fluids. After about 45 minutes of hiking you’ll reach an area that has some log steps and short steel ladders to help you up the exposed tree roots. Beyond this there is one area that involves a traverse on a steel bridge with steep drops on your left. After this the trail opens up a bit and traverses along the base of some rock cliffs. You may be wondering how to navigate this section, but if you look ahead you’ll see an aluminum ladder rising vertically up the rock faces. This is the most dangerous part of the hike, and if you’re scared of heights then do not attempt this section and turn back. Otherwise, take a deep breath, grab onto the ladder, and hoist yourself up. This area can be a bit of a bottleneck on the weekends during the popular hiking months, especially when you’ve got large groups trying to ascend/descend at the same time. At the top of the ladder you’ll navigate past a rock area using chains and the trail will reach an open meadow with a lot of wildflowers and views of Mt. Yake in front of you. Take the switchbacks up to the ridge, where you’ll find Mt. Yake hut. The hut is open from the beginning of June until the end of the October and costs 7100 yen with 2 meals. There is no water source here (the hut will gladly sell you either bottled water or rain water gathered from the roof). It’s much better to bring enough water from Kamikochi so you won’t have to buy overpriced drinks. The hut also sells instant noodles for 500 yen (they’ll provide the noodles and hot water, and you can sit inside the hut to enjoy it if the weather is really bad). Anyway, from the hut the trail turns left and climbs up to a lookout point after 10 minutes. Here you’ll find some steam vents rising through the rocks. They’re natural heaters and you can sit and enjoy the hot volcanic steam rising from deep within the earth. Take a break here, as the real hike is about to begin. If the weather is clear then you’ll see Mt. Yake rising directly in front of you. Drop down to the saddle and start the long, tough climb towards the top. If the cloud is in then take great care, as it’s easy to veer off the trail. The best thing to do is to follow other people and stick carefully to the paint marks on the rocks. It should take around an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the summit. From here, you can either descend via the Nakanoyu route (though you’d need your own transport or try your luck hitching). It’s better to retrace your steps back the way you came. It should take anywhere between 4 to 6 hours to complete the hike. If you’ve got extra time then stop by Kamikochi Onsen hotel for a hot bath (though the bath closes at 3pm so keep an eye on the time).

When to go: This hike can be safely done from late April to mid November. A winter ascent is not impossible with the proper equipment. Click here for a group who climbed in January 2004.

Access: There are 2 main approaches to the summit, so take your pick of trails. Remember that private cars are not allowed into Kamikochi, but the other trailheads are accessible by car. You can get to Kamikochi by bus from either Takayama (高山) or Matsumoto (松本) stations, but need to first take a train to Shin-shimashima station if coming from Matsumoto. In addition, there are direct overnight buses from Tokyo and Osaka to Kamikochi. Check the Alpico Group website (in Japanese) for more information.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~900m)

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