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Climbing Mt Kita and Mt Aino (Minami Alps) in Early October

At the beginning of October 2018 I decided to climb Mt Kita (Kitadake/北岳) in the Southern Alps (Minami Alps/南アルプス) in Japan. Mt Kita is the 2nd highest moutain in Japan after Mt Fuji (富士山) at 3193m with a prominence of 2239m. Thus, it is famous for being the “highest viewing point of Mt Fuji (富士山)”.

I took the last train from Shinjuku, Tokyo (新宿) to Kofu (甲府市), the capital of Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県). From Kofu station (甲府駅), a mountain climbing bus leaves at 04:25am (2050jpy one way) towards the trail head to MtKita (北岳). I looked for a place to sleep for a little while and ended up going to a karaoke box next to the station, which was good enough. There is a coin locker at Kofu station which doesn’t get locked down, so I stored a couple of things there, which I wouldn’t need for the climb. Fittingly, there was a 24h music challenge going on at the station, where a group played music for 24h straight.

However, many people were just sleeping in the station, or actually right in-front of the bus stop…! To be first in line?

In the morning, the number of people grew significantly, but we were told that at least 3/enough busses will come so not to worry. Which turned out to be true!

The bus ride to the base of Mt Kita takes two hours on a winding mountain road. It takes you up from 250m to 1530m.

At 6:30am we arrived at the trail head. There is a hut with toilets/information material at the bus stop. The hut is close to a river at 1530m. Right across the river is another small hut (where one might be able to stay in?), and a camp ground. It was really, really crowded that day…

The day before, a Taifun struck Japan so today the skies were clear with strong winds. The bridge was rocking back and forth in the wind…

The trail follows a river very closely, first through a forest..

And at ~2000m it turns into bushes. There were lots of people on the trail, some carried an incredible amount of stuff up the mountain, while others went really light weight. The summit of MtKita (北岳) is on the top right of the picture in the clouds.

The trail becomes increasingly steeper although is still easy to follow. The view was amazing though, especially with the autumn colours sprinkled in…

The wind was still strong but as the trail is somewhat protected from it by the mountains, that could only be guessed from the pace the clouds were moving at.

From ~2700m on there is no more trial but a series of ladders & steps instead. Nothing difficult but if you’re behind a large group of people I could image it’d take some time to get up…

There is great rest place right before you reach the ridge…

Slightly afterwards, I reached the ridge. The weather was great with an amazing view, and Mt Fuji (富士山) in the backgroud (click the image to enlarge it)!

I litteraly had to turn around every couple of meters to take a picture…

Then, there’s a fork where you can either head towards the summit of Mt Kita (北岳) directly or go towards the Mt Kita Hut (or Villa as they call it, 北岳山荘). If you also want to summit Mt Aino (間ノ岳), I’d suggest going to Mt Aino first, thus to head towards the hut at the intersection. With my limited time, I made the mistake of conitnuing further towards the summit here.

I came to the next junction, where the actual summit ridge starts. Once I arrived there you could see down the other side of Mt Kita and it was very exposed. Due to the Taifun the day before, the wind was extremely strong…! It was only 10:30am so, I now decided that I actually might have enough time to also climb Mt Aino too and then come back for Mt Kita. After some pondering I decided on a turn-around time to definitely make it to Mt Kita’s summit and still be able to catch my bus at 16:40 towards Kofu.

The weather changed extremely quickly due to the wind, revealing a stunning panorama of Mt Aino and Kitadake Villa. From the junction it’s about 3.6km to the summit of Mt Aino.

The hut also has a camping ground with agreat view of Mt Fuji (富士山). Should you come here, I’d recommend camping instead of staying at the hut, as the Japanese-mountain-hut expereience is not that joyful, especially considering the high price.

View back towards Mt Kita and the hut in the foreground.

On the way to Mt Aino, I traversed multiple small peaks, one of those was Mt Nakashirane (中白根山) at 3055m.

The trail then continuous on relatively steadily along the ridge leading up to Mt Aino. It’s not very exposed but be careful not to trip…

I finally reached the summit of Mt Aino at 11:35am, about one hour after I left the Mt Kita/Hut junction. Although it was a bit rushed…

I had a quick Onigiri before heading back the same way towards the summit of Mt Kita.

Many trails in Japan are always marked with signs where you can/should go, such as arrows…

And signs where you should not go, as there is a steep drop behind. Looks a bit deceiving to non-Japanese people sometimes I think. In Europe trails are sometimes marked in red colour and crosses are not uncommon as trail markers. In Japan though, a cross means “NO” while a circle would mean “YES”.

Shortly after, the camp ground has already significantly filled up, and Mt Fuji (富士山) almost vanished.

Down on the other side, fall colours were readily coming through already!

The climb all the way up to Mt Kita (北岳) took a little longer than anticipated. Mostly, because on the upper parts there are sections which are one-way only and secured by metal rails/ropes.

Finally arrived at the top at 13:30 and met a nice Japanese guy, who is also from Sendai there.

I got going almost immediately after having a bite to eat to catch the bus 3h later. The view back towards the Hut / Mt Aino was stunning!

The view up the buttress of Mt Kita (北岳), which can also be free climbed.

Hurtling down the mountain I soon arrived back in the forest. I met only 2 people on my way down – most people stay overnight in the hut or camp.

It was very serene coming down, albeit I was terribly tired.

25.9km later and 2300m of cumulative elevation gain I finally reached the bus stop 15min before the bus departed. It was a great trip all around – I’m happy to provide more details/the GPX track for it. The Japanese government maps can be found here. If I were to do it again, I would definitely stay one night on the camp ground though, if only to see the sunrise next to Mt Fuji while waking up!

Traversing Mt Iwate in November (Yakehashiri to Matsukawa Onsen)

After having looked into climbing Mt Iwate previously, I kind of spontaneously decided Thursday that it’s going to happen on Friday (2nd November 2018), after having seen the stellar weather forecast.

I left Sendai station (仙台駅) at 19:19towards Morioka station (盛岡駅), the capital of Iwate-ken (岩手県). There I bought some last food (onigiri of course) and a cup at Daiso before boarding the bus A52 at 20:47 towards Obuke station (大更駅). The plan was to arrive at Obuke, hang around and then walk towards the Yakehashiri Trail Head (焼け走り登山口), map

However, as I was looking at Google maps while on the bus, I decided on a whim to get off at a stop which was a lot closer to the trail head, called Sankorin (参考林). It was basically in the middle of nowhere but there was a FamilyMart close by, where I could spend time until leaving for Mt Iwate.

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Yaridaira over Mt Okumaru to Shinhotaka Onsen: Hiking the Kita Alps part 3

This post is the 3rd out of 3 about traversing the Japanese Northern Alps (北アルプス). Henceforth, I will describe the trek from Yaridaira (槍平小屋) over Mt Okumaru (奥丸山) to Shinhotaka Onsen (新穂高温泉). For part 1 from Kamikochi (上高地) to Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) klick here, for part 2 from Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) to Yaridaira Hut (槍平小屋) klick here.

Starting off at Yaridaira Camping Ground (槍平キャンプ場), the sunrise was kind of a letdown because by the time the sun came up, it had already been bright daylight for at least 1.5 hours. Nevertheless, after some coffe it was time to pack up and go. The tent was decidedly wet because the camp ground is located right next to a river.

The plan was to hike up to Mt Okumaru which is on the chain of mountains right opposite (west) of Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) – Hotakadake (穂高岳). Then, walk along the ridge to get one last good view of Mt Hotaka and then descend into the western valley where Wasabi Hut (ワサビ平小屋) is located. From there, walk the road down all the way to Shinhotaka Onsen (新穂高温泉) from where a bus would take us back to our car at the parking lot.

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Yarigatake to Yaridaira – Hiking the Kita Alps Part 2

This post is the 2nd out of 3 about traversing the Japanese Northern Alps (北アルプス). Henceforth, I will describe the trek from Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) to Yaridaira (槍平小屋). For part 1 from Kamikochi (上高地) to Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) klick here.

We started off at the camping ground on Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳), so of course we had to get up early to see the sunrise from the top of the mountain. As the caming ground is around 100m below the actual summit, we had to get up a bit earlier than sunset. The night was a little bit rough as it was very windy so the tent was really loud. Also as it was a tunnel type tent it could only be pitched in one direction due to the small camping space, which ment that the wind pressed into the sides of the tent. Hint: bring earplugs if sleeping is difficult for you when it’s loud!

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Kamikochi to Yarigatake – Hiking in the Kita Alps Part 1

This post is part one of three (two, three) on a four day trip across the Kita Alps in Japan from Kamikochi (上高地) to Shinhotaka Onsen (穂高温泉). We did the trip in September of 2017. The main objective was to climb Mt Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) with the possibility of doing the Yari-Hotaka traverse, should the conditions permit. We packed food for four days, however as there were several huts on the way if needed be that could’ve been streched to a longer period of time.

The plan was initially to arrive around midday in Hirayu Onsen (平湯温泉) by car, prepare our backpacks, park the car, and then take the public bus (Nohi Bus) into the Kamikochi National Park (上高地国立公園). That is because you’re not allowed to drive your own car into the National Park. However, after several delays we arrived significantly later than planned at Hirayu Onsen (平湯温泉) and were a little bit stressed out packing our backpacks. We barely caught the last bus which left at 4:50 p.m. from the Akandana Parking Lot (あかんだな駐車場) where we left our car. Immediately, we realised that we forgot some important items, namely our hiking poles and the tripod for the camera. Some non-essential but nice to have items were also still in the car, so on a whim we decided to exit the bus at the next stop down in the city centre of Hirayu Onsen (平湯温泉). Unfortunately, the car park is quite a bit away from the city centre so we had to walk all the way back up on the road which took around 20 minutes. After arriving, we once again packed our backpacks up and called a taxi to drive us into Kamikochi (上高地). While we had a to pay an extra late-evening fee, the taxi was not that expensive at all compared to the bus fare (7000 JPY for two people). As we wanted to leave towards Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳) early the next morning, taking the taxi was the only viable option. Important to note is (what we didn’t know until the taxi driver told us), that the gates to the Kamikochi National Park (上高地国立公園) close every day at 7 p.m., after which even taxis can’t get in any more.

Kappabashi in Kamikochi

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Hiking the Yakushima Traverse: Ohokabu to Yodogawa – Part 2

This post is part two of two about hiking the Yakushima traverse in Japan, for part one go here.

After waking up to a little bit of sun peeking through the trees, we had breakfast and started to pack up. The tent was wet from the inside due to condensation and there was no way it was going to dry out in the humid climate, especially with the forest blocking out the direct sunlight. At least it wasn’t raining. At around 7:45am the first day hikers arrived at the Ohokabu (大株歩道入口) coming up from the Arakawa Trial Head (荒川登山口) and said hello while we had a coffee. The day was going to be long so we finished everything up quickly and left at 8:15.

After 30mins we arrived at the famous Wilson Stump (ウィルソン株), which is Cedar tree stump so large that you can go inside!

Special about the Wilson Stump is the shape of the cavity in the stump, it is shaped like a rather perfect heart and thus very popular in Japan! Apparently, most Japanese people have seen the stump’s shape at some point on TV.

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Hiking the Yakushima Traverse: Miyanoura Port to Ookabu – Part 1

This two part series will give an overview over hiking the Yakushima traverse in late summer (beginning of September) in 2017. Part 2 can be found here. Yakushima itself is an island in southern Japan (south of Kyushu) and a part of the Kagoshima prefecture. So consider this to be an excourse from Hokkaido ;)! There are no more active volcanos on Yakushima but still plenty of (amazing, seaside) onsen around.

Planning the tour

The Yakushima traverse hike is the grandfather of the hiking routes on the island but multiple variations of the route are possible. We decided on the route starting at Shiratani Unsuikyo, passing Jomon Sugi, climbing Mt. Miyanoura and finishing at Yodogawa. Furthermore, we aimed at bringing the least amount of gear possible with us to keep our pack weight low. However, as it was the first attempt we kind of failed and brought too much of all types of items (food, clothes, misc stuff that “might” be needed). We landed at the northern Miyanoura Port (宮之浦港) at 13:50 by high speed ferry from Kagoshima (depature 12:00), which was a little bit late in hindsight. A note on Kagoshima port: you can leave your car at one of the public parking lots near the ferry terminal for a fee.

Then we took the bus at 14:00 from the port directly to the northern trail head Shiratani Unsuikyo (白谷雲水峡) which took around 45mins. The trail head is at an altitude of 600m and lots of day tourists were coming back from a hike around the massive Cedar trees close to the trail head, such as the Yayoi Sugi. At the entrance, you have to pay 2000JPY per person if you indent to sleep within the National Park (same for Hut and Tent) and fill out a hiking iternary, in case of emergency. Strangely enough, after asking I was told that we don’t need to fill out a similar sheet upon completion of the hike. At that point we hadn’t decided yet if we were going to stay at the Shiratani Hut (白谷小屋) or walk further so we left both options on the sheet.

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