|Japan||Kamikochi||2001.09.24 - 09.27|
The mountains around Kamikochi are some of the prettiest hiking terrain in Japan. While living in Tokyo between 1991-1994, we hiked in Kamikochi twice. Returning this autumn, we chose a block of weekdays when trails and huts would be less crowded. Our destination was Yarigatake, Japan's 5th highest peak (3180 meters / 10,433 feet).
A night bus leaves from a parking garage about 300 meters from Shinjuku train station in Tokyo at 23:00 and reaches Kamikochi at 06:00. The one-way fare is ¥6000 per person. The restaurant at the Kamikochi bus stop was already serving breakfast when we arrived. We filled our water bottles at an outdoor freshwater tap, ate breakfast, and started on the trail at 07:00. Frost covered the chilly morning trail, but the temperature warmed by 09:00. Huts and lodges serving food are spaced every 90 minutes of hiking time. Porting your own food is unnecessary but saves money. After 3 hours of hiking along the Azusa River, we reached Yoko-o Lodge.
|Signs like this one at Yoko-o lodge point hikers in the right direction, but the signs are in Japanese. It's best to carry a Japanese map (ask for a free one at any mountain lodge reception) and compare the characters.||
Being too early for lunch, we found a restful place and took an hour nap. When we rose at 11:00, the number of hikers picnicking around us had multiplied. Hiking is popular among the elderly Japanese but not with the youth. We were surrounded by fit retired people older than our parents. After lunch, another 1½ hour walk took us to Yarisawa Lodge where we stayed the night (see the Japan-Lodging Guide for details).
Up at 05:00 and fed at 05:30, we were on the ascending trail bound for Yarigatake at 06:15. At this early hour, we were nearly the last people to depart the lodge. A continual upward climb led us to Yarigatake summit by 10:30. Clouds obscured the 360° view but the scenery was satisfying nonetheless. After lunch at the Yaridake-sanso Hut adjacent to the peak, we descended the opposite mountain side for Shin-hodaka-onsen, a hot springs town with a bus stop. From summit to Shin-hodaka-onsen, the elevation drops more than 2000 meters and takes about 6 hours at a fast pace. Thinking about relaxing in a natural hot spring gave us the energy to continue onward without rest.
Accommodation in Shin-hodaka-onsen wanted ¥12,000 per person. For the 2 of us, that's equivalent to a one-week house rental in France or 65 nights in Luxor, Egypt. Masami called several places on a pay phone and found a better alternative 15 minutes bus ride away. We stayed at Minshuku Takarasugi with an outdoor hot springs bath (See the Japan-Lodging Guide for details). What a perfect way to end a long day of hiking.
||Masami begins hiking from the Kamikochi bus stop. The chilly morning air and frost keep us alert at 07:00.|
||On the morning of day 2 we reach the top of the Hodaka Mountain Ridge. The colors of the vegetation and rocks are beautiful. Had we been 2 weeks later, we would have been rewarded with an abundance of fall colors.|
||Above the tree line, Wes and Masami pose in front of Yarigatake summit. The trail is clearly marked with painted circles through this rocky terrain.|
||Masami ascends Yarigatake summit. Although the climb is steep, chains and ladders anchored to the rock provide secure grips and footing. Rock climbing gear is unnecessary.|
||Wes soaks in the rotemburo (outdoor hot springs bath) at Minshuku Takarasugi after a long day of hiking.|
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