Posted tagged ‘Kita Alps hikes (北アルプス)’

Mt. Tsurugi (剣岳)

September 16, 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. Tsurugi fights a fierce battle with Mt. Yari as the most sought-after peak in the Kita Alps. The adrenalin-inducing, nearly vertical climb to the summit is not for the faint-of-heart or inexperienced, as each year people fall to their deaths.

The hike: Most people approach this hike from Murodo and Tsurugi-sawa, but I’m introducing this alternative route from the back side of the mountain. The hike is actually much easier (except for the huge elevation gain) and far less crowded. From the banbajima parking lot, head through the beautiful grass campground (fill up on water) to the start of the hike. There are a couple of shrines here, so pray for a safe journey. The trail instantly starts climbing up the steep Hayatsuki mountain ridge (早月尾根), but flattens out significantly after about 15 minutes. You’ll see a pair of benches on your right, and this is the last place to comfortably rest before the hut. The path is well-trodden but wonderfully maintained, with hundreds of sandbags used to help prevent erosion. Continue for about 1/2 km through a spectacular virgin forest with gargantuan trees. It really is a sensational section of hiking – straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie! You’ll soon reach a humongous tree with a circumference of at least 10 meters, and this is where the tough slog begins. All in all it’s not all that steep – it’s just that you’ve got a long, long way to go until the top. There are small metal signposts at every 200m vertical elevation gain, which make for good places for breaks. There’s no water on the trail at all, so make sure you’ve brought plenty from the campground below. Just after the 1800m mark you’ll find yourself on the top of an unnamed peak with a small concrete marker. Make sure to look behind you, back down to the small parking lot and hut at banbajima! The trail drops and flattens out a bit before reaching two small ponds. If you look up and a little to your left, then you can actually see the hut, but you’ve still got a few hundred vertical meters and about 1km of hiking in order to reach it. All in all, it should take you about 4 or 5 hours from the trailhead to reach the hut. There’re plenty of places to camp, or you can check into the hut. If it’s early and the weather is good, then you can consider making the 3-hour, 800 vertical meter sprint for the summit, but it’s better to save it for the following day. The hut costs 6000 yen for a futon only, or 8000 with one meal. There’s no free drinking water, and you’re only choice is to buty bottled water from the hut staff. A 2-liter bottle costs a whopping 800 yen, but hey – it’s the same price as a can of beer at the hut and about the average price of a cocktail in the city nowadays. The next day, try to wake up early and get some hiking under your belt before the sun rises. The trail is easy to follow if you’ve got a torch. Make sure you keep your fluid intake up to avoid dehydration and altitude sickness. Keep climbing up towards the summit, breaking out of the tree line in about an hour from the hut. From 2600m all the way to the top it’s a bit of a rock scramble, but you’ll do fine if the weather is good. The views are incredible. The summit towers directly in front of you, with the insanely jagged Hatsumine ridge line jutting off to the left. Mt. Shirouma is directly behind that. On the other side, Mt. Dainichi and Murodo will come into view, with Mt. Yakushi, Kurobegoro, and Mt. Kasa beyond. Hakusan is also visible to the right of the aforementioned peaks. Soon you’ll reach the 2800m marker, the final marker before the summit. This is where things get a little challenging. Directly in front of you is an area called the “Kani no hasami” (the crab’s scissors), a section of zigzagging chains built into the rocks. It’s actually not that bad to maneuver through, as the switchbacks make it relatively easy. There are plenty of footholds and the rocks are easy to grab onto. There are absolutely no ladders or any vertical climbing whatsoever. Soon enough you’ll reach the Tsurugi ridgeline, which connects with the main trail coming from Tsurugi-sawa. This is where the crowds will increase 10-fold, as this peak has quite a following. Turn left and follow the paint marks for about 10 minutes to the summit. If you’re lucky and the cloud isn’t in, you’ll be rewarded with hands-down the best panoramic view of the Kita Alps – I should know because I’ve climbed them all. Take your pick and you can see it – Mt. Yari, Shirouma, Goryu, Kashimayari, Kasa, Norikura, Oku-hotaka, Kuro. And that’s just the Kita Alps! Mt. Fuji, Yatsu-ga-take, the Chuo and Minami Alps all lie beyond, perfectly visible on a clear day. Anyway, you can either retrace your steps all the way back down to banbajima, or consider traversing down to Tsurugi-sawa and out to Murodo. Or do the opposite – ascend via Tsurugi-sawa and descend to banbajima. Hitching from banbajima is incredibly easy, as lots of daytrippers come to enjoy the scenery without climbing the peaks.

When to go: This hike can be done from early July to early October, when most of the snow is gone. It’s possible to go a little earlier or later in the season if you’ve got an ice axe, crampons, and ropes (plus the experience to use them). Do not attempt this hike in rainy weather, as the rocks are incredibly slippery and poor visibility could result in a wrong turn.

Access: From Toyama station (富山), take a train on the Dentetsu-Toyama railway bound for Unazuki Hot Spring (宇奈月温泉) and get off at Kami-ichi (上市) station. A limited express train takes only 15 minutes and costs only 100 yen more than the local train. From Kami-ichi station, take a taxi bound for Banbajima (馬場島). The taxi will set you back around 7000 yen, but there are plenty of taxis waiting for you at the station for the 40 minute journey.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~2200m).

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Mt. Washiba (鷲羽岳)

July 27, 2008

Mt. Washiba, or ‘eagle feather’ mountain, is a glorious alpine peak lying on the Nagano-Toyama border in the Kita Alps. The granite peak is famous for its mysterious volcanic crater lake, situated just below the summit.

The hike: From the bus stop at Shin-hotaka, cross the bridge and follow the paved road toward the right. It’ll climb past the Hotel New Hotaka (ホテルニューホタカ) before turning into a dirt forest road. The road is really easy hiking, following a river. Follow the road for about 90 minutes, being careful not to take the trailhead to Mt. Kasa. You’ll pass by a campground and hut at Wasabi-daira (わさび平) before finding the trailhead another 20 minutes up the road. The trail starts climbing up a cirque, and after about 2-1/2 hours will reach a junction called the Kagami-daira bunki (鏡平分岐). Take the trail to the left if you’d like to climb directly up to the ridgeline towards Mt. Yumiori (弓折岳). Both trails eventually meet up on the Yumiori summit, so it might be better to stay to the right, so you can see the phenomenal reflections of Mt. Yari in the mirror lake at Kagami-daira. Kagami-daira hut (鏡平小屋) is open from July 10th to October 15th and has no campground. Click here for the website. Most people stay here for the night, but if you’ve brought a tent or it’s still relatively early in the day, you can continue on to Sugoroku (双六), which is another 2 hours away. Continue climbing on the same trail and you’ll reach Mt. Yumiori. From here to Sugoroku it’s a relatively easy ridge walk with wonderful views. Sugoroku hut (双六小屋) is run by the same people as Kagami-daira and offers exactly the same prices, but has the added advantage of a large campground. Use this as your base for exploring the surrounding peaks. The next day, follow the trail in front of the hut towards Mt. Sugoroku (双六岳). You’ve actually got 2 options. You can either climb up to the peak and stay on the ridge line to the summit of Mt. Mitsumata-renge (三俣蓮華岳) or you can opt for the easier shortcut trail that bypasses all of the peaks. Just take a right at the first trail junction you see after leaving the hut. Both trails meet up at the same place, so take your pick and head towards Mitsumata hut (三俣山荘). You’ll find another campground at this hut, as well as a water source. The hut sits at the foot of Mt. Washiba (鷲羽岳), and you’ll see it towering directly in front of you. It should take about an hour or so to reach the summit, where you’ll pass by a spur trail leading down to the volcanic crater lake. On a clear day, you can see all of the Kita Alps, including the peaks of Hakuba and Tateyama, as well as Mt. Yari, Hotaka, Kasa, Yake, Norikura, and out to Ondake. From here, you can either continue on the same ridge line over to Mt. Suisho (水晶岳), which is also one of the 100 famous mountains, or retrace your steps back to Sugoroku. The options for multi-day traverses are endless, and if you’ve made the effort to climb all the way up here, you might as well stay on the ridge line for a few days.

When to go: This hike can be done from late May to early November. Just like the neighboring peaks of the Kita Alps, Mt. Washiba is considered an expert climb in the winter, and challenging even during Golden Week because of all the remaining snow.

Access: From Takayama (高山駅) station, take a bus bound for Shin-Hotaka Hot Spring (新穂高温泉) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also buses from Matsumoto station (松本駅) in Nagano, and there may even be direct night buses from Tokyo.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1900m)

Mt. Oku-dainichi (奥大日岳)

July 16, 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. Dainichi is a fantastic alternative for those who don’t have the experience or skills for climbing the ‘tough’ peaks of the Kita Alps. In fact, it could possibly be the perfect peak for absolute beginners, as there are no chains or ladders or vertigo-inducing cliff faces.

The hike: From the bus terminal at Murodo, follow the winding, paved path towards Mikuri Lake (みくりが池) and Raicho-daira (雷鳥平). It should take about a half an hour to descend down to the campsite and huts. Fill up on water here, as there’s no water source for the rest of the hike. From Raicho-daira, cross the river and turn left at the junction, following the paint marks and wooden planks towards Mt. Oku-dainichi (奥大日岳). In fine weather it’s pretty easy to see where you’re going, but it can be a little tricky if there’s a snow field or if it’s foggy. The climb is pretty gentle and you should be on the main ridge line in about 40 minutes or so. Turn left at the junction for the start of the climb up to Mt. Dainichi. There are a number of different peaks that you’ll climb up and over before reaching the summit, but the trail is well marked and easy to follow. Keep your eyes peeled for ptarmigan, as there are quite a few on this mountain. In good weather you’ll have outstanding views of both Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Tsurugi, the sea of Japan and Toyama city, as well as Hakusan off in the distance. It should take about 2 hours to reach the summit of Oku-dainichi, the highest peak in the Dainichi range. If you’re only doing a day hike, then you can rest here and retrace your steps back to Raicho-daira. However, a more interesting alternative is to keep traversing on the ridge, over to Mt. Dainichi. It should take another 2 hours of gentle up and down hiking to reach the peak, where you’ll find Dainichi hut (大日小屋). This hut is known as the “lamp and guitar” hut, and it’s open from July 1st to the middle of October. It’ll cost 8400 yen with 2 meals, or 5500 yen for a room only. Click here for the web site. The next day, you can simply continue along the ridge line and drop 1600 vertical meters down to Shoumyou Waterfall (称名滝), a huge waterfall that rivals any found in Yosemite National Park. There’s a bus back to Tateyama station (立山駅) from the waterfall, which means you’ll completely avoid the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route on your way back. Click here for the bus schedule.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid July to late November, when most of the snow will be gone. It’s possible to go earlier if you’ve got crampons, but for beginners it’s better to wait until August when the most of the snow fields will be melted.

Access: From Dentetsu Toyama station (電鉄富山駅) take a local train bound for Tateyama (立山) and get off at the last stop. From there, change to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, taking a cable car and then bus to Murodo (室堂). Click here for English information, including a detailed timetable.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~400m).

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. Tateyama (立山)

June 14, 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. Tateyama is the highest peak in Toyama Prefecture, and one of the 3 sacred mountains of Japan (after Mt. Fuji and Hakusan). Its easy access via the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route ensures a healthy swath of tourists for most of the year.

The hike: From the bus terminal at Murodo, follow the paved path and signposts (and crowds) to Ichi-no-koshi Hut (一ノ越山荘), which sits on a saddle between the summit of Tateyama and Mt. Ryuou (龍王岳). It’s only a 200m vertical climb to the saddle, and it should take an hour or so. From here, turn left and start the real climb to the summit. The path is well-marked and there are lots of rocks to scramble over. It should take an hour or so to reach the rest house just below the summit of Oyama (雄山). There’s a spur trail leading to the shrine on the summit, but you’ve got to pay 500 yen to enter. After offering some coinage to the mountain deities, continue on the trail to the left of the shrine torii, following the rocky ridge line. You’ll reach the high point, Onanji (大汝山), in about 20 minutes. The views over the cliff edges down to Kurobe lake are unbelievable. If the weather is good then you’ll have a clear view over to Mt. Tsurugi, as well as the peaks of Hakuba across the valley. Either retrace your steps back to Murodo, or continue on the same trail, turning left at the next junction for an alternative loop trail back to the bus terminal via Raicho-daira (雷鳥平). Don’t forget to have a soak at Mikuri-ga-ike Hot Spring (みくりが池温泉). Click here for the website in Japanese.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid April to late November, when the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is open. Expect lots of snow if hiking before April and after mid-October. Click here to see the beautiful scenery during Golden Week. A winter hike is also possible if you’re prepared for meters of snow and a long, tough climb.

Access: From Dentetsu Toyama station (電鉄富山駅) take a local train bound for Tateyama (立山) and get off at the last stop. From there, change to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, taking a cable car and then bus to Murodo (室堂). Click here for English information, including a detailed timetable.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change 615m).

Mt. Goryu(五竜岳)

May 24, 2008

Mt. Goryu is a peak many have stared at from Goryu/Hakuba 47 ski resorts, but few have thought about climbing out of season. A venture beyond the slopes, however, will reveal a magical alpine world filled with flowers, alpine lakes, rocky peaks, and stunning views.

The hike: From Kamishiro station, walk out the front door and turn right on route 148 in front of you. Walk about 100m and turn right at the next stop light. This street will take you all the way to Escal Plaza, the start of the hike. You’ll pass by Hakuba Alps guesthouse, as well as countless other pensions and hotels. It should take about 20 minutes of road walking before reaching the ski resort. There is a gondola that will whisk you up to the top of the ski resort in only 7 minutes. The problem with the gondola is the start time. The first one isn’t until 8:15am on most days (and it doesn’t even run between May 15th and June 28th!). Click here for info. Anyway, it’s darn near impossible to do this as a day trip unless you camp in the ski resort. I recommend camping at the bottom of the Dai 2 & 4 (アルプス第2) ski lifts. Set up your tent on the wooden platform under the lifts and enjoy the awesome night view of Hakuba village. You can follow the forest road that cuts through the ski resort. The next day, just continue following the lifts up to the high point of the resort. From there, follow the signs towards Mt. Kotoomi (小遠見山), which should take about an hour to reach. The panoramic views of Mt. Kashimayari, Mt. Goryu, and Mt. Shirouma are fantastic. From here, the signpost says it’ll take 6 hours to reach the summit, but you can do it in less time if you’re fit. Follow the ridge line for several hours. If the weather is good then you can see exactly where you need to go. There’s a lot of up & down, and be careful of crevices if there’s any remaining snow. Just before you reach Mt. Nishitoomi (西遠見山), you’ll find a small lake with a beautiful reflection of Mt. Goryu. The path between NIshitoomi and Mt. Shiro (白岳) is steep, exposed, and covered in snow most of the year. During the month of May, you can easily bypass Mt. Shiro and go directly to the hut by traversing through the deep snow, but be careful of snow slides. Once you reach the top of Mt. Shiro, you’ll meet up with the main Shirouma-Oomachi trekking route. Turn left and descend steeply to Goryu hut (五竜山荘). You can buy water here and stay the night if you’d like. Take a break, because the biggest climb awaits you. The map says to allow one hour to reach the summit, but if there’s remaining snow it can take twice the time. You’ll basically be rock climbing most of the way, but it’s not too bad compared to some other peaks out there. The views from the summit are incredible, and you’ll see all the way out to Mt. Fuji on a clear day. You can continue trekking over to Mt. Kashimayari, or head back to the hut. If you’ve got a few days, then you can head the other direction over to Mt. Karamatsu towards Mt. Shirouma. If you’re a sucker for punishment like I was, then you can head back down the mountain the same day. I descended from the hut to the ski resort in less than 2 hours, thanks to the massive amounts of snow remaining.

When to go: This hike can be done from Golden Week to mid-October, when Goryu hut is open (五竜山荘). There will be a lot of snow if you go before July, so bring crampons and an ice axe and do not attempt in bad weather. A winter ascent is also possible, but be careful of avalanches in the col below Mt. Shiro (白岳)

Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take a local train bound for Shinano-omachi (信濃大町). From there, change to another local train bound for Minami-otari (南小谷). The trains are not very frequent, so take care when planning. Another option would be to take a Limited Express train to Hakuba (白馬), and either backtrack on a local train or take a taxi to the ski resort.

Live web cam: Click here

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

Mt. Yakushi (薬師岳)

May 13, 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. Yakushi is situated roughly halfway between Kamikochi and Tateyama on the main trekking route. Its remote location and access makes it nearly impossible to do as a day trip, but the splendid scenery is well worth the effort it takes to get there.

The hike: From the bus stop, take the trail that leads to Tarobei-goya (太郎平小屋). You’ve got a 1000m elevation gain before reaching the hut, so take your time and bring plenty of water, because there’s no place to fill up between here and the hut! The first 2 hours are pretty steep, but the trail is well-marked and easy to follow. The views will start to open up once you hit the spine of the mountain, and you’ll be staring down at lake Arimine (有峰湖) in no time. The map says to allow 5 hours to reach the hut, but if you’re in good shape and carrying a light pack then you can do it in about 3 or so. Once you finally reach the ridge line, you’ve got 2 options. Turn right for about 100m to check into Tarobei hut, or turn left and descend toward the mountain pass, where you’ll find Yakushitoge (薬師峠) campground. There’s a water source at both the campground and hut, so take your pick depending on your budget (500 yen to camp vs. 8500 yen to stay in the hut!). During the climbing season of July and August, there’s also a medical facility in the hut, which is good for those on the long Kamikochi-Tateyama trek. The next day, wake up early and try to catch the sunrise somewhere along the trail. It’ll take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours to reach the summit of Mt. Yakushi, where you’ll have outstanding views toward both Tateyama and Mt. Yari. Unfortunately it was completely foggy and I had no view when I went, but I’ve vowed to get revenge on this monster of a peak. From the summit, you can either retrace your steps all the way back to Oritate, or continue on towards Tateyama, which should take another 2 to 3 days to reach. You could also consider trekking south to Mt. Yari, which will also take another 2 to 3 days.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid-July to early October if you’re relying on the bus, or from Golden Week to early November if you’ve got your own transport. Be prepared for a ton of snow if you’re going before the rainy season. Click here to see the scenery in mid-June!

Access: From Toyama (富山) station, take a bus bound for Oritate (折立) and get off at the last stop. The bus runs every day from July 13th to the end of August, and then on weekends only during September and early October. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1576m).