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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org