Destination Mt Hakuba

September 13th, 2017 by
Category: Information
Hakuba

The top of Shirouma Dake

There is lots to explore in Hakuba. The stand out spot when you are in the valley is obviously the tallest peak of Shirouma Dake or to translate that, Mt. Hakuba or again White Horse mountain. I had climbed it previously from the Daisekkei ice field but this time we were taking an alternative route via Tsugaike and staying the night in the lodge. Studying the weather and assessing all the models we decided upon the weekend of the 3/4 September 2017. It looked to be a sunny and relatively low wind weekend. True to Hakuba’s form of micro climate we found ourselves locked into some low cloud however there were plenty of times it cleared enough to get the camera out.

Hakuba

The gondola and ropeway will take you half way up to 1900 meters

We started off at the Tsugaike gondola and then a 300 meter walk to the ropeway. That takes us up to the starting point. (turn right just before the Park Entrance Hut). It is a pleasant start through high sassa grass forests up to the swampy flats of Tengu para. The next part of the climb up to Norikura Dake involves a bit of bouldering. You’ll likely see some snow up here with a small 50 meter traverse which may be icy. They do have a rope to assist you. At the top of Norikura you will have a chance to see some raicho birds. You may see there head pop up occasionally. It is difficult at this time of year to get a good photo but you may be lucky.  From here it is a bit of rock hopping down to Hakuba Oike (pond). As we strolled into the basin we were able to get a great view of the pond before we were socked in with a think cloud. There is a lodge at the pond for a toilet break and a bite to eat. We brought our own food so we sat down outside and had some lunch here. It took us close to 3 hours to get to this point.

Hakuba

The Tengu para swampy marshland

Hakuba

Still some snow on Norikura Dake

Hakuba

A bit of bouldering to get you through this section

 

Hakuba

Hakuba pond with the hut in the background

The next stage of the trip is on a stony trail traversing along the side of the mountains with ridges and saddles. At this stage we were still hidden in the clouds. It was beautiful in it’s own respect however I could imagine how spectacular the scenery would have been on a clear day. The terrain doesn’t change much from here except for a few steeper sections as we made our way along the peaks that I laud from the village daily. The biggest threat would probably be the wind through the saddles which I could imagine being quite fierce on its day.  As we climbed higher we eventually punched through the cloud to an absolutely stunning vista. It was worth the wait and the cloud below us has now become a bonus. This stage is about 3-4 hours to the top peak of Shirouma sitting at 2932 meters above sea level

Hakuba

Rocky fields along the way

Hakuba

You can see where the inspiration for the traditional Japanese garden has come from

Hakuba hikes

Getting on top of the clouds. It was so nice to feel the sun.

Hakuba

Watch your step. It gets steep in sections

 

Hakuba

Getting closer to the peak

Hakuba

We made it. Top of the peak with a sea of cloud

Continuing on just down about 15 minutes from the peak is the lodge. This place sleeps 800+ people but on a busy weekend during peak season they will never turn any one away so be prepared for minimal space. We chose a quiet weekend just out of peak so we were able to get a private room. Nothing fancy here other than a warm futon for the night which after a big hike is all you need (maybe a pillow and a pair of ear plugs too if you are a light sleeper). The restaurant is beautifully built and offers amazing sunset views out of the cold. Sitting up so high in the mountains in a nice comfortable restaurant and being able to order a beer and some warm food makes this a dream hiking destination. The lodge offers a basic dinner and breakfast  deal with accommodation as an extra or you can purchase dinner separately at the restaurant which is what we did.

Hakuba

A beautiful sunset too from high in the mountains

Hakuba

Sitting back on the top of the mountains with beer and edamame. Life is good.

After a big hike and a few beers and a feed it was time to catch some zzzzs. We were woken up abruptly for the first breakfast call at around 5 o’clock. Seems people are really keen to get moving early. A perfect clear morning gives us the views we were dreaming of.

Hakuba

The view from my bedroom window in the morning. That’s a great way to get you moving.

Hakuba

Looking back up to the peak in the morning

There are a couple of different routes from this point with more lodges along the way if you want to stay more nights. We have chose to make our way down and back to Hakuba via the Daisekkei ice field down to Sarukura. Before you leave be sure to hire some crampons for the ice down lower (700 yen) The hike is a steep decline and walking poles are recommended. Lots of twists and turns and every step takes concentration. Don’t forget to stop and look back at the magnificent rugged mountain scenery. Even though it is all down hill, it is a bit of a challenge. As we were making our way down on a perfect clear morning we could see below a thick cloud charge up the valley and just stop right over the ice. It was another natural change that just added to the trip.  It will take a bit over hour to reach the icefield. The trail carers assess the icefield regularly to make sure the routes are safe however you will see one of the major threats is being hit by rocks that have been naturally released and sent down the steep mountain sides. There are numerous boulders scattered around so stay aware. You will hear the smaller rockfalls too as you make your way down. It is not really a marked trail here for most of the way however you can basically pick where everyone else has been walking. They may put some coloured markings down or a rope in some areas to show where to go. Once you are off the ice there is a little bit of scrambling but mostly steps down to the next hut where you can relax and buy a drink. The next 45+ minutes is an easy hike back to the Sarukura hut where you can hand in your crampons and get a snack. They have buses running from here to the village at some times during the year. Either that or arrange a pick up with your hotel or you can ask them to call you a taxi.

Hakuba

A perfect morning to begin the hike down

 

Hakuba

Pick your way carefully. Natures stairs

 

Hakuba

The start of the icefied just below.

 

Hakuba

and then just like that the cloud rolled up the valley

A couple of highlights for me. I hiked with my 7 year old daughter. This was an amazing bonding experience that I will always remember. I knew she was capable physically however there is the mental aspect of a long climb. She passed with flying colours. This is not a climb for every kid. Once you get up past the lake it is just as difficult to go back as it is to go forward and that would be hard to explain to a child who is in melt down. Keep them going with plenty of positive reinforcement but ensure to do some smaller hikes prior to tackling something like this (and take plenty of snacks :) .  The other thing for me was producing my first Brocken Spectre which is a rainbow halo created from the sun behind you and reflecting your shadow on the clouds below.  It gives a stunning effect and something I have always wanted to see.

Hakuba

Brocken Spectre. That’s my shadow with a rainbow.

What to take.

Good hiking boots,  food, snacks, water, raincoat, extra warm clothes, gloves, walking poles, sunscreen, cash (no card facilities), camera, first aid kit,  crampons (can be hired), pillow, torch, phone,  plastic bags for rubbish, sunglasses

Tips

Temperatures can get down to zero even in the summer time so be prepared.  Leave early and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.

The hiking in the Japanese alps is as good as anywhere in the world. Come and explore this beautiful part of Japan on your next visit. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at tony@whitehorse-hakuba.com

Climbing Mt. Tsubakuro

September 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

The final stretch of trail to the peak of Mt. Tsubakuro is incredibly picturesque.

Mt. Tsubakuro (2,763m) is a very popular destination in the Northern Japanese Alps due to its unique appearance and beautiful alpine flora. Its well-maintained trails, convenient rest areas and lodges, and beautiful scenery make it a must-hike spot in Nagano.

The trailhead begins from Nakabusa Onsen at an altitude of 1,462m. The trail continues through the forest for a majority of the climb before breaking through the tree line for the last hour or so. Rest areas are spaced evenly throughout the hike, with four bench areas in the woods followed by the Kassen-goya hut and the Enzanso mountain lodge above the tree line. From the lodge, the peak is approximately 40 minutes.

The trailhead starts from Nakabusa Onsen at 1,462m.

Roundtrip, the hike takes about 9.5 hours (6 hours up, 3.5 hours down), with an altitude difference of 1,300m. Most people stay at the night at the Enzanso lodge, but it is possible to hike in a single day with the proper level of fitness.

In the distance you can make out the conical shape of Mt. Fuji and the Yatsugatake mountains to its right.

This hike’s amazing views begin around the fourth bench. From here, you can see the Yatsugatake mountain range and Mt. Fuji standing proudly in the distance. From higher still, you can see the Hakuba mountains and Mt. Tsurugi as well. Once you reach Enzanso, the landscape opens up and you can enjoy panoramic views of the Northern Alps as well as Mt. Tsubakuro’s magnificent features.

Most striking is the peak’s vivid collage of grey, green and white. The ridgeline is covered in granite outcroppings, verdant shrubbery and swaths of bleached gravel. Viewed closer, the rocks take on unique and recognizable shapes. Along the trail you can find a lounging gorilla, a breaching dolphin, and a pair of glasses pointed at Mt. Yari. At your feet, small, pink komakusa flowers.

Mt. Tsubakuro’s famous dolphin rock, breaching in front of Mt. Yari.

And from the top of Mt. Tsubakuro, one can see the most beautiful view of all: the tan ridgeline of Omote-Ginza zigzagging along towards the rest of the Northern Alps. On the right day, the clouds lap the gravelly slopes of the mountains, curling and twisting like the great waves off Kanagawa, and the distant Enzanso lodge appears to float in the sky.

The Omote-Ginza ridge is breathtaking on a clear day

Mt. Tsubakuro’s scenery is breathtaking and is a must-hike peak for any climbing enthusiast. Its safe trails, convenient rest areas, and fully-stocked mountain lodge make it a great climb for families as well. Enjoy unparalleled views atop the Roof of Japan!

Access to Tsubakuro

Nakabusa Onsen can be reached by bus or taxi from JR Hotaka Station on the Oito line. From the Station, the ride to Nakabusa is approximately 60 minutes long. One-way bus fare is 1,700 yen, and one-way taxi fare 7,500 yen. You can see the bus schedule in Japanese here.

For drivers, there are three parking lots in the vicinity of the trailhead as well, and they have a total capacity of 120 cars. Because they fill up very quickly, you may want to park at the Miyashiro parking lot (next to the Yama-no-Takahei hotel and hot spring) and take a taxi from there instead (approximately 5,000 yen).

Accommodation and Hot Springs

Nakabusa Onsen

Nakabusa’s hot springs are rich sources of minerals and bubble out from the ground at a scalding 90&degC. The waters are natural cooled without the addition of water and pumped into the baths at a comfortable temperature. Guests can spend the night in the hotel and make use of a variety of hot spring baths. Day-users can enjoy separate indoor and outdoor baths for 700 yen. Open from late April to late November

Half Board: 9,500 to 21,000 Yen
Day-use hot spring hours: 9:30 to 16:00
Day-use entrance fee: 700 Yen


Enzanso Lodge

The Enzanso mountain lodge is one of the oldest lodges in the Northern Japanese Alps, originally built in 1921. It has since been renovated and can hold a capacity of 650 climbers with space for 30 tents. They have free bathrooms, plentiful benches, and food and drink for guests and passersby. Reservations can be made online here or via telephone. Open from late April to late November

Half board: 10,000 Yen
Room only: 6,400 Yen
Tent space: 1,000 Yen


Yama-no-Takahei

The Yama-no-Takahei hotel and hot spring is located about halfway between Hotaka Station and the Tsubakuro trailhead. The day-use hot spring is open late, so people making their way down the mountain in the early evening can still take a dip. The hot spring water here comes from the same mineral spring as Nakabusa.

Drivers may also want to park their car at the Miyashiro parking lot next to Yama-no-Takahei and take a taxi to the trailhead, as parking spaces near the trailhead fill up quickly.

Half board: 10,000 to 15,000 Yen
Day-use hot spring hours: 10:00-21:00
Day-use entrance fee: 500 Yen


More Hikes in Nagano!

If you’d like to learn about more hikes in Nagano, check out some of the links below.

48 Hours in Nagano City

August 18th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

In 1998, Nagano City hosted the Winter Olympic Games and introduced the world to the Japanese Alps, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, and glorious Japanese powder (or, “japow”). But that isn’t all that the area has to offer. With beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the heart of Japan’s mountains, Nagano City is a hub of spiritual sites and natural splendor.

Take a model 2-day trip around Nagano City and enjoy another side of Japan!

National Treasure Zenkoji

The main hall of Zenkoji Temple


After arriving in Nagano, walk (or ride the colorful Gururingo bus) from the station to Zenkoji, following the wooden lanterns along Chuo-dori street. Eventually you’ll reach Motozen-machi with its cobbled streets and beautiful temple lodges. After passing through the Niomon and Sannomon gates, you’ll see Zenkoji—one of the largest wooden temples in Japan with over 1400 years of history.
Read the rest of this entry »

Canyoning in Hakuba

August 8th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities
Sliding down a canyon in Hakuba

About to drop into some seriously refreshing fun

There’s no better way to cool off during summer than taking a nice, long dip. Swimming, kayaking, rafting, and SUP are all popular ways to enjoy the water, but recently, canyoning has come into its own as a thrilling and refreshing summertime activity.

What is canyoning, you ask? Think of it as a series of natural water slides, zip-lines, and cannonball jumps. It’s a water park for adults, but with crystal clear streams, verdant forests and exciting vertical drops.

The Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba offers several canyoning tours, so my friends and I signed up for a day of adventure.

A Full Day of Canyoning in Hakuba

Cannonball dive into the river

About to make a splash!

We arrived at Evergreen’s base center, Roots Café, just before 9 a.m. to sign in for our tour. From there, we met our guides for the day, Mitsu and Luke. They passed out our gear and showed us how to put on our wetsuits. It was my first time wearing one and oh boy was it snug. Next, we jumped into a pair of vans and headed up a winding gravel road towards our starting point.

Start of the canyoning tour

Walking through a shallow bed of rocks before reaching the first waterfall

The river was a 15 minute hike from where we were dropped off, giving us a chance to warm up and sweat a bit before jumping into the water. Aside from a few climbing pitons and ropes there were no other signs of civilization. We waded into the river and opened up our wetsuits to let in “refreshingly” cold water. Mitsu and Luke then taught us a few important hand signals for our adventure, and off we went!

The first zip-line along the canyon

There were a number of cliffs and waterfalls to descend that day, and depending on the height, we slid, jumped or zip-lined down them. The flow of water had carved out many impressive and comfortable slides in this valley, and there were a number of deep pools that were perfect for cannonballing into (or doing backflips if you were Luke).

Floating lazily in the water

Taking a break in one of the many clear pools along the ravine.

Despite the 36°C weather in the city, our shady canyon felt like paradise. We leisurely floated in clear pools of water while waiting for everyone to finish, and enjoyed splashing about and taking showers under the falls. All in all, it was a perfect mix of excitement and relaxation for hot summer’s day in Nagano.

Additional Information

The Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba offers canyoning tours from May through October. You can learn more about them on their English website.

If you liked this post, then you may want to take a look at some of the following:

Namaste, Iiyama!

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

One bright, hot summer morning was the perfect time to escape to the cool of Iiyama’s Nabekura Highlands for some outdoor yoga in a beautiful beech tree (buna) forest.

Wide open vistas of green rice paddies

Taking advantage of the very convenient shuttle bus from Iiyama Station, our little group was in high spirits. It’s a pretty route, through wide open valleys of rice fields with old “samurai hat” houses and their immaculate kitchen gardens. The bus arrives at the Mori no Ie visitor centre in plenty of time to get changed into your yoga things, and get some water. After picking up our yoga mats, which were provided, we followed our instructor down a well-kept forest trail. Birds were singing, butterflies flittered around and we even surprised a little grass snake, sunning himself on the trail. Well, perhaps it was us who were more surprised!
Read the rest of this entry »

Start your Adventure at the Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Actitity Center

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

The Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Actitity Center, located on the ground floor of Iiyama Station, is the perfect place to start your adventures. They have maps, information on all sorts of places and activities, and all the gear you could need to explore the area.

They rent hiking boots, helmets and just about everything in between. Rain gear and camping equipment is also available so you don’t need to lug all that stuff on the plane and around Tokyo before you check out the mountains.
Read the rest of this entry »

Iiyama’s Rest Stop for Food and Culture: Michi no Eki Hananoeki Chikumagawa

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

The Michi no Eki road stop is located right off the 117 highway, about halfway between Iiyama station and Nozawa Onsen. It’s really only practical to get to if you are cycling or driving. But if you are passing through, you should really check it out. Michi no Eki are kind of a new part of Japanese culture. They are a rest stop (24 hour free toilets, whoo!) and provide tourist information, but they are really so much more. All of the local culture and specialties are on display, and many things are available for purchase. So if you are limited for time, you don’t really need to go digging around a whole city to see what the place is like, just stop by the local Michi no Eki and you will have a really good idea.
Read the rest of this entry »

Japanese Summer Festivals and Fireworks in Nagano

July 21st, 2017 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

An archer in the Nyakuichi Oji Festival in Omachi City.

The vibrant, lively atmosphere of summer festivals is one of the most memorable parts of Japan. The streets are filled with the bright colors of yatai stalls, yukata robes, and paper lanterns, and the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks. Musicians play traditional flute and drum songs as performers entertain festival-goers with dances and theater.

As summer approaches its peak, Nagano gears up for exciting festivals of its own. Enjoy traditional Japanese summer festivals along with events that are unique to Nagano.
Read the rest of this entry »

Summer in Nagano: SUP on a Mountain Lake

July 20th, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

Iiyama’s heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake is hidden in a valley on mystical Kosuge Mountain.  Not fed by any rivers or streams, the pristine lake is filled only with snow melt run-off and natural springs.

Romantic heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake

Recently my daughter and I had the opportunity to appreciate the lake doing SUP.

Stand-Up Paddling, a combination of surfboarding and canoeing, is a relatively new sport but it is gaining in popularity and is scheduled to make it’s Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.  Despite it being our first time, thanks to some skillful coaching by Powerdrive R117‘s charismatic owner, Gyaruman, we got the hang of SUP surprisingly quickly.  Soon we were skimming across Hokuryu Lake and enjoying the mountain scenery.  As we got more comfortable with the paddling, we tried a few rounds of SUP Sumo.  Losing was actually rewarding as it meant falling into the lake for a refreshingly cool splash.

Nagano is blessed with many scenic mountain lakes, and SUP is a perfect way to appreciate their natural beauty.  Friendly outfitters make it easy to enjoy even for beginners.  Besides Gyaruman and Powerdrive R117 at Hokuryu Lake in Iiyama, other popular alternatives include Evergreen Outdoor Center / Hakuba’s Lake Aoki and Sunday Planning / Nojiri Lake in northern Nagano.

Polynesian demigod? No, charming Gyaruman the SUP pro.