Outside of Mt Fuji, I didn’t associate Japan with hiking. Once we started planning our inaugural BURTSandBORTZ adventure to follow the Springboks around Japan for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, however, we learnt that mountains make up two thirds of the country and quickly realised how much hiking there was to do. One area that really caught our attention was the Japanese Alps. The Japanese Alps is in fact made up of three large mountain ranges – the Hida Mountains (Northern Alps), Kiso Mountains (Central Alps) and Akaishi Mountains (Southern Alps), and following a wonderfully foodie stop-over in Takayama, which included taking a cooking course, we would be enjoying a few days exploring the Northern Alps in the Chubusangaku National Park.
No private cars are allowed in the National Park so we parked at Hirayu Onsen and caught the shuttle bus to the Kamikochi Visitors Centre. We picked up a map, refilled water bottles and were soon off for 4 days of hiking. We were greeted with a stunning view across the river as we crossed the Kappabashi bridge and set off through the forest. Jagged peaks, some rocky and others forest-covered, rose high above the thick forest and the river was beautifully clear. It was a gorgeous day – sunny and blue skies – and we were nicely sheltered by the forest.
It was flat and easy walking along a well maintained trail following the Azusa river through the lush and dense forest, with various peaks popping into view throughout the day. We passed two lovely wooden huts before arriving at our accommodation for the night – Yarisawwa Lodge. The Lodge had fantastic facilities; including a tour favourite onsen, an area for playing cards and a drying room, and the meals were delicious!
Like most accommodation throughout Japan there are strict rules on shoes – it’s shoes off at the door and no shoes on the wooden floors with slippers provided for the hut and separate pairs provided for the toilets.
After a few games of cards and a couple of beers, it was lights out at 8.30 and an early start with breakfast served sharply at 5am! It was a beautifully clear morning and the sun hadn’t yet popped over the mountain as we set off just after six.
Initially it was a gentle incline through the valley before we started climbing steeply with the sharp summit of Mt Yarigatake, the highest peak in the Alps at 3,180m, dominating the clear skyline. The valley was a mix of colours- green, brown and orange, and framed by a beautiful blue sky.
After a welcome snack at the Yarigatake Sessho Hut, we climbed up onto the ridge, purchased our helmets and made our way to the base of Mt Yarigatake. From here it was a crazy scramble up steep ladders, using chains in places and hands in others, to clamber over rocks and make our way to the peak, from which we had unbelievably clear 360 views with peaks, and huts, in every direction. I hadn’t appreciated how many huts there are (42 it turns out) so you could walk for as long as your budget and/or legs allowed.
It was a steep decline back to the hut and after a much needed soak in the onsen, we sat down for a delicious dinner. As usual, it was miso soup to start followed by a piece of salmon and lots of rice with tea to wash it down. After dinner we played a few games of cards and enjoyed a few beers before it was lights out. It had been a fantastic day’s hiking and everyone slept well.
Breakfast was again served with sunrise after which we retraced our steps to Yakoo Sanso before climbing steeply through dense forest. The trail was again well maintained and was very lush as we climbed up onto the ridge where we were greeted by dense conifer bushes and beautiful autumnal colours. Our destination was Mt Chogotake and we enjoyed the 360 views from the summit while having our lunch. It was a short hop to the hut and as it was still early, a few of us headed off to climb another nearby peak while others decided they rather fancied an afternoon nap. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening playing cards and watching rugby.
We were up before the sun to watch it rise over a very distant Mt Fuji and after breakfast, we began the long descent through the forest to Tokusawa Lodge. The landscape was a riot of colour and very beautiful.
A few of us enjoyed a coffee and an ice cream before continuing and from the lodge it was flat and easy going as we headed back to the Visitors Centre. We hopped on the shuttle bus and once back at our car, we headed for Matsumoto where a much needed shower, a few cold beers and a stunning 400 year old castle awaited!
- Day 1: Kamikochi Visitors Centre to Yarisawwa Lodge (1,820 m) – 14km, 4h20
- Day 2: 5,6 km, 2h30 to Yarigatake Sesshou Hut, 40 mins to Yarigatake Hut (3,080m) and base of the peak. 2 hours back down to Yarisawwa Lodge
- Day 3: 4 km, 1 hr to Yakoo-sanso, 5 km, 2h45 to Chogotake Hut (2,667m)
- Day 4: 6.2km, 2h30 hours to Tokusawa (1,555m). 6.4 km, 1h15 back to the Visitor’s Centre
We had rented cars and parked at Hirayu Onsen. From here we caught the shuttle bus to the Kamikochi Visitors Centre.
Without your own transport, you could make your way to Matsumoto (2.5 hours from Tokyo) and then catch a train to Shin-shimashima and then the shuttle bus to the Kamikochi Visitors Centre.
Alternatively, you could head to Takayama and then hop on the local bus to Hirayu Onsen and then the shuttle bus to the Kamikochi Visitors Centre.
It was tricky to book the accommodation as there is no central website and you need to email and/or call. The huts weren’t busy as we were hiking out of season but speaking to those who were working at the huts, they do get incredibly busy in peak season and you do need to book. A few do have campsites, which would be significantly cheaper.
You can choose to cook your own food and only pay for accommodation or you can buy the hut’s Dinner & Breakfast Option – it’s definitely not cheap but the food was plentiful and delicious.
The huts also sell snacks and there are taps to refill water bottles.
Costs (£1=¥130 on 23 May 2020)
- Shuttle bus to visitors centre – ¥2,090 return, 30 minutes
- Accommodation, dinner and breakfast- ¥9,000 to ¥10,300/person
* Finally, a big thank you to everyone who shared their pictures.