Interested in hiking this trail? Download it here!
August, 5 th Yarisawa Campround Kamikochi
Northern Alps. It is holiday time in Japan. The second longest holiday period of the year. During Obon, people in Japan traditionally go back to their hometowns in honor to the ancestors. My company doesn’t follow the given schedule and we could take three days off anytime during summer. Like last year, I combined those with the weekend and a public holiday before Obon to have a six days streak off before the whole country would start travelling. Last year I climbed Mt. Fuji and this year I decided to go for a hike as well. A dream since I came to Japan: Northern Japanese Alps. So, Tuesday night, I took the night bus from Osaka to Kamikochi. The ride was painful and I hardly couldn’t sleep. At least it was way better than my ride to Mt. Fuji, which was horribly. This time I got a single seat with curtains. To my great relief there was only a hand full of people in the bus. At 4 am I couldn’t sleep anymore and watched the sunrise and the growing mountains. At 5:20 am the bus arrived at Kamikochi. Fresh cold air hit my face and excitement flooded my body. I took my time for a breakfast and rearranged my stuff and at 6 am I entered the trail. It was colder than expected, but the blue sky predicted a warm sunny day. Immediately, I was amazed by the trail and all tiredness was gone. The trail followed the clear Azusagawa river with its incredible shiny turquoise pools through a magical forest surrounded by the high peaks of the Northern Alps. It was a peaceful atmosphere, the birds started singing while I continously followed the river. The temperature was perfect. The air was still fresh lacking all the nasty hot and humidity of the big city I just escaped from. Still the excitement flooded my body and I couldn’t believe that I am really here. The trail was in an excellent condition, almost every 3-5 km provided with mountain lodges, campsites and toilets. I really love Japan for its convenience. Even though it is a very popular trail, it wasn’t crowded at all. At the first hut I took my coffee break and was a surprised how quickly I hiked. I splitted today’s lap to reduce the stress and wouldn’t need to climb a lot of altitude, but at least hike for around 15 km. My backpack, containing all my camping gear, water and food for hungry six days, was heavy. Too heavy. It is always the hardest part to estimate the proper amount of food needed. It happened to me several times, like in Sweden and even on the Fuji, that I hadn’t have enough food and being hungry on a trail is the worst. The good thing is, it’ll get lighter every day. The trail kept its panoramic landscape while still following Azugawa river. Around 10 am I finished more than half of today’s hike and felt tiredness raising in my body. I stopped at the last hut. The sun was shining and the impressive mountains were surrounding me. It was still too early for lunch, so I took a very long refreshing nap in the shadow. I woke up of the sound of pots and cutlery around me. Lunchtime. Perfect. Fully recharged I continued hiking. The trail got wilder, but still following the river through the forest. Up and down. I started sweating. It was already late for Japanese hikers (schedule: wake up at 5 am, arrive at the hut at 3 pm, dinner at 5 pm, sleep at 8 pm), so I was alone on the trail. Only me in this fantastic nature. After two hours of constantly gaining altitude I was happy to finally arrive at Yarisawa hut, the place I would stay tonight. I booked the campsite, which was unfortunately 1 km further. The Camino thought me the last kilometer is always the worst, no matter how much you walked. True. This last kilometer was painful and totally exhausted I arrived at the campsite. The campsite was simple: A small side place with a toilet and running water. Being surrounded by the mountain ridges like in an arena. I pitched my tent and washed my stuff, ready and hungry for dinner. Unfortunately my lighter stopped working. No more warm meals. Luckily my neighbor had a spare one and gave it to me. Warm meals and coffee were saved. I spent the rest of the day chatting with my neighbours, enjoying the panoramic view and basically doing nothing. The day took more energy than I thought and I was happy when the sun setted and I could crawl into my warm sleeping bag. Just being in my tent creates happiness. Always. But here even more. The darkness was broken by the growl of a thunderstorm and lightnings. I closed my eyes and fell asleep immediately.
August, 6 th Yarigadake Campsite
Ascent. I was woken up by the sun shining on my tent. When I crawled out of it, almost all other hikers were already gone and the first early birds passed by. It was a wonderful day. Unlike the others I wasn’t in a hurry, so I slowly enjoyed my breakfast in this beautiful scenery. After packing I was excited what the day would bring and hopped on the trail heading to Yarigadake summit. The trail lead through a beautiful valley and sun got stronger and warmer. I wondered that I wasn’t sweating yet. While looking back I could see the campsite got farer and farer. The trail continued along the river, but the stream got smaller with every step. It was the perfect temperature, I never enjoyed an ascent so much, but still there was a lot to climb. I talked to a couple of climbers and when we made a break at a junction, they offered me a second breakfast of pancakes and fruits. The trail got steeper and rocky and the view into the valley became more and more amazing. Soon I could feel the temperature dropping while sun became more powerful. A soft cool breeze made this climb a wonderful experience. This was the way to spent the Japanese summer. Around lunchtime I suddenly got a first view of Yarigadake and its mountain hut. Excitement flooded me and I still couldn’t believe that I finally climbed in the Japanese Alps. Around 1500 m I arrived at a plateau with a little cave used as a shelter. It was perfect for taking a break and my stomach was also craving for lunch. While eating the instant ramen noodle I realised how hungry I was. I needed to eat two packs and some cereal bars to be satisfied. With a full tummy I continued climbing the very last 1500 m and I totally underestimated it. This part was way steeper and my backpack was still overloaded. My back started aching and every single step was painful. Each 100 m there was a mark and I just climbed from one to the other. I shortly stopped several times and my head started aching as well. I think these were some symptoms of altitude sickness and I already experienced them while climbing Mt. Fuji last year. But this year it was still much better than last one. I counted the last steps to summit and finally I set my feet on the plateau with the mountain hut next to impressive Yarigadake summit. The view was incredible amazing and while looking into the valley I couldn’t believe that I walked all this by myself. There was a campsite on top of Yarigadake and even though I had a reservation for the mountain hut I decided to sleep in my tent for several reasons: it would be an unique experience to sleep in my beloved tent at 3000 m, I could go to bed and wake up on my own rhytm (Japanese are incredible early birds rather owls), social distancing and I would also save a lot of money. The campsite was run by the mountain hut and for a small fee one could use the toilet and got an assigned place to pitch the tent. There were several tents already pitched and my space was next to the edge. The campsite was on top of the mountain ridge and the wind was blowing stronger than expected. I had difficulties to pitch my tent. Pegs weren’t working properly in the rocky ground and even with some help it took me almost an hour to pitch my tent. It didn’t feel good and I already regretted my decision to cancel the bed in the hut. At least all the other people were also camping and it seemed to be fine. I put several chunks of rocks covered in my clothes and all my stuff into the tent, but I couldn’t get away with my worries. Climbing the very summit of Yarigadake required a 20 min steep climb along chains and ladders. Without the luggage I quickly approached the summit and it was breathtaking. I had a 360° view of the fantastic Japanese Alps. Since it was rather late, there was just one other guy enjoying the summit with me. I sat on top for quite a while, not believing my eyes. It was so beautiful. Then, out of a sudden clouds raised from the north and within minutes it got cold and grey. I climbed down to the hut, dinner was already calling me. I haven’t meet any foreigners even though this mountain is extremely popular until I met my tent neighbour: Tibour. After a short chat we decided to like each other and went for dinner at some picnic tables next to the hut. It was very nice to have accompany and talks in English are usually different than those in Japanese. With the sunset the temperature dropped a lot and my warm sleeping back was calling me. When I crawled into my tent, the sky was clear and the stars were shining bright. The almost full moon enlightening the campsite with its colorful tents fitted on top of the mountain. But this scenery wasn’t as calm as it seemed. The wind was blowing constantly strong. Worried what the night would bring I slipped deep into my sleeping bag, zipped the hood, so that only the tip of my nose was exposed. I talked to myself that it would be ok since there are at least 15 tents of the same kind, it should be alright. I started an audiobook and covered my eyes to escape the worries. It didn’t work. Several times, I slightly drifted away into sleep, but always woke up by the heavy shakes the blowing wind caused. The entrance sheet was pressed harsh against the inner cabin and the frame was shaking. My tent was the same category as the others, but the place assigned to me was more exposed to the wind. I was literally laying on the edge. I deeply regretted to cancelled the hut, this experience wasn’t worth that my gear would be destroyed. The wind blowed stronger from hour to hour and I lay awake inside. Around 3 am both side of the tent walls were pressed against my body. The frame was shaken. I felt drops of water touching my face and had no idea where they were coming from. Suddenly the tent almost fell over even though I layed inside with all my stuff and four big chunks of rocks. Panic. My tent was pitched directly at the edge. From now on this was dangerous. Outside, everything was foggy, I barely could see one step ahead. I had to leave. Even though I would spent the night in the bathroom, at least I would be save. I squeezed all my stuff into my backpack, grabbed my sleeping bag and brought it inside the bathroom. The smell in there was disgusting. It couldn’t stay there. I went back to get my tent. How should I unpitch it in this storm without getting blown away or disrupted by the sharp rocks around me? No idea. But there was no choice. I removed the cabin from the inside and put the rocks on it. Then quickly removed the outer sheet, the wind grabbed it immediately, but it was still bound to the piece of wood. I squeezed it together, put a stone on it and removed the frame. It went better than expected. I brought all my stuff over to the mountain hut and entered. It was dark and silent. I decided to lay my mattress into the little breakfast area to not avoid the early hikers. Back in my sleeping bag I slightly relaxed. I was save. But what would the stuff say when they find me in the morning? On the other hand this was kind of an emergency. My body just started to relax, when I heared footsteps. 3:20 am and the first hikers were starting into this terrible storm. The next ones followed and at 4 am somebody switched on the light. There was only the dream of sleep left. The stuff also got up and found me. They didn’t say anything, but I could see they weren’t happy. They charged me half of the price for a regular night on top to the fee for campsite and kicked me out at 4:30 am.
August, 7 th Minamidake Goya hut
Along the ridge. I was totally done. It was still dark and stormy and I had no idea what to do. Around 6 am I checked if Tibour was still there and he just woke up. His night was just slightly better than mine. I prepared my breakfast in the little shelter in front of the hut when he joined me. Almost everybody left the hut. Tibour was going back to Kamikochi and I still wasn’t sure. Around 3 km along the ridge was the next hut, Minimidake Goya. In the english version of the official website it was said it was is closed, but usually one can‘t trust the English version. I asked the stuff, it was open and they did a reservation for me. I wasn’t ready to go back to Osaka even though I had a lot of respect of hiking the 3 km on the ridge in this condition. I did my decision. So, at 7 am Tibour started to Kamkochi while I was approaching the ridge. For sure I was the last one on the trail in this window of time and I kind of regretted my decision. I only had around 5 m of sight, the wind was blowing strong and the rain soaked my clothes while the cold entered my body. I tried to realistically estimate the danger I was going to be in. Well, unfortunately danger is a matter of definition. For many people this would be highly danger, while for others it is rather inconvenience. It is about your skill and experience. Rock climbing is dangerous, but my experience and skills allows me to actively create the environment as much safety as possible and let me judge about the situation realisticly. With my physical fitness, hiking and climbing experience I have a good basic, but I absolutely lacking any experience in alpine regions. I‘m not a mountaineerer and with the newspaper headlines about overestimated hikers trapped in the alps in mind I continued walking with a feeling of inconvinience. I decided to go quickly, but highly focused. Quickly I could make the first kilometer. Up and down, always on loose flaky rocks I had to climb. I left the first peak, Obamadake behind, and Nakadake was a steep climb as well. Suddenly I saw a big red backpack. It was like a lighthouse. Somebody must be on the trail as well. My heart skipped a bit. I went around a corner and the backpack was gone. The hiker must go in the same direction. I sped up and soon I hit the hiker. It was an elderly men with a huge backpack. He was also surprised to see me. The top of Mt. Naka required some climbing of steel ladders and iron chains. Challenging in this condition! On top of Mt. Naka we exchanged some words and I asked him if we can walk together. He was a little bit surprised about the request, but he was agreed. He was about to go the Daikiretto gap in this condition! I followed him. Being not alone immensively helped. He was like my lighthouse and I just followed him. The ridge was made of flaky loose rocks and step by step I came closer to my destination. Some parts were technically advanced, but my backpack had the ideal weight so far and I luckily have a good skill of balance. It must be an amazing hike if the weather allows to enjoy your surroundigs. I only enjoyed the fact that we were extremely quickly and I was way faster than I would have been alone. Meanwhile water was everywhere and dry underwear became a dream. Keeping pace was sporty and I kinda enjoyed it. I kinda felt strong to be able to keep up the pace with this skilled hiker. But just before Minamidake peak my energy dropped and the cold captured my full body. If I wouldn’t been sure that the hut was just minutes away, I could have a taste how this kind of situation could turn easily into an emergency. At Minamidake peak I took the one and only picture of the whole hike and minutes later we arrived at the hut. The complete hike took almost two hours, but I was totally done. Water dripped everywhere. I had to get out of this wet clothes, but unfortunately I was wearing my only set of pants, jumper and jackets. Shit. It was way too early to check in. I just desperately wanted to crawl into a bed, no matter if it surroundings are cleaned or not. I didn’t make the stuff happy again when I asked for a blanket and told them I had nothing to change. They had a dry room, but would start the engine at 4 pm. The hut was non heated as well. I slipped into my sleeping shirt and used my mini towel as a skirt and crawled into my still dry sleeping bag. They must have felt pity for me, I was still shivering and the cold was deep, so they started the engine and even invited me to stay in the dry room. I spent almost two hours in the tiny room with the smell of the Diesel engine or how I would call it: touch of paradise. Around 11 am I could check in and laying in my sleeping bag on a futon with an extra blanket was heaven. I warmed up until lunchtime. My clothes were dry and even tough the weather didn’t change, the world did for me. I heated up some super spicy ramen which even heated me from inside. The rest of the day I basically did nothing and I don’t mind to say how much I enjoyed it. In the hut were only staying around six people this night and the place was calm and peaceful. I chatted a while with my roommates, an elderly couple and decided about the options for the next days. At 5 pm dinner was served and I was amazed to eat something else than instant ramen. I ate two big bowls of rice and surprised the hut manager again. Since the weather forecast is still bad for the next days, I will head back home, which will be quite a challenge and I am afraid of the rain and cold. But right now my warm, dry and cozy futon is awaiting me and the blowing wind deliveres the coziest background to my favourite audiobook.
August, 7 th Kamikochi
Descent. I was warm, dry and cozy buried beneath my sleeping bag and a thick blanket, while the storm and rain still hit against the windows. It was dark. I woke up by the crackle of plastic bags. I turned around and curled up. It was around 5 am in the morning and there was already life in the hut. I felt like thrown back on the Camino with the only difference that people there start not even that early. The last day of rest was good for my body and soul. I felt relaxed, cozy and recharged. After a while I realised I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. There is always an inner feeling of excitement on the trail which leads me out of bed. I had not much stuff to pack and when I entered the common room, most of the people were still having breakfast. This time the common room was warm and cozy while the sky slightly broke from black to grey. Rain still splashed against the windows. I lighted my stove and started preparing breakfast. Recently I found my optimal breakfast on the trail: warm oats with rasins and a handful of nuts. Light, cheap and containing a lot of energy for any kind of adventures. And coffee. The other people were leaving one by one and again I was the last one. On the Camino it happened as well almost all the time. It seems to be my very destiny. My tent was still soaked and climbing down would take way longer than the short traverse yesterday. I asked the stuff to do a reservation for a mountain hut in the valley. Online they said they were fully booked, but the reservation worked anyway. Knowing that no matter what happened, in the end I would be warm and dry, I faced myself into the storm. This time I was just wearing one set of clothes to avoid waiting half naked again. The sight was as bad as yesterday, but slightly less rain. First I had to climb up Minamidake again. My pants got soaked immediately and the wet cloth sticked cold to my upper legs. I felt stiff. Today’s trail was a sidetrail without any difficulty given on the official map. Normally I wouldn’t have taken it, but my roommates ensured that the way exists and it would be fine. They were also taking the very same back to Kamikochi. Just after passing Minamidake peak I arrived at the junction. The trail led over a ridge deep and steep into the valley. I just saw around 5 m. Maybe better. The trail was difficult, slippery, rocky and steep. I had a lot of respect and just realized that this way was a shortcut and for sure it must be steeper than the main trail via Yarigadake. Anyway, the trail to Yarigadake also contained some exposed parts and wasn’t easy at all. I just had to be careful and brave. I was totally alone. In this situations I can feel how my body gets focused and every movement gets preciced. My body develops a certain strenght in those moments I only have experiencend during rock climbing so far. But for sure a part of my mind just hoped for a quick end of this difficult trail. One good thing was that since I left the main ridge, I was in the shadow of wind which made a big difference. Also, the rain had stopped. Suddenly metal chains appeared to secure highly exposed parts. My wet hands were gliding along the chains like a magnet. Every single step was well placed. I had to climb down metal ladders in the rocks. Climbing them while holding hiking sticks is more difficult than it seems to be. My eyes were hunting for white marks showing the way. It happend twice that I almost missed the way. The trail made of big loose chunks of rocks, which were slippery and easy to get stuck inn with a leg in its cracks. Balancing along those chunky rocks was tireding and exhausting. I could feel my energy level dropping. But I also could feel the increasing temperature. After almost two hours I hoped to have completed the worst and took a short break on a plateau. Unfortunately, the fields of big chunky rocks continued. At some point vegetation changed and it got much greener. I felt released. The trail became more like a proper trail and I was happy. Suddenly a field of snow appeared in the fog. In the first second I was amazed, until I realised the last sign of the trail ending in front of it. I had to cross it! Fear overcame me and panic raised. Snow fields could hold dangers and I won’t be able to see any signs nor the end. What should I do? I was too far to go back. I wished another hiker, either direction would appear, while perfectly knowing that wouldn’t happen. I was alone. Suddenly, a silhouette appeared on the snow field. The outlines became sharper and a woman showed up. I was deeply reliefed. She told me the end is pretty close and I would be able to find the way. How lucky I was. She appeared in the very right moment. What a coincidence! After a short chat I crossed the snow field and arrived at the other end’s trail safely. I passed Tengu pond, a popular spot in autumn since it will perfectly mirroring Yarigadake. Today, it just mirrored fog and the grey sky. Soon, I arrived a big slope and realised I was on the trail I saw during ascent and wondered where it would go. The worst was over. The trail hit the main trail to Yarigadake and suddely I was among many other climbers again. Most of them ascending. With only light weight on my back and just having escaped a very difficult trail, the descent of the main trail seemed to be very easy and I was super quickly. I passed the campsite I stayed the first night and the idea of taking the bus back to Osaka the very same day raised into my mind. It was just 10 am and the last one would leave at 3:40 pm. Even though the trail was becoming more and more easier it was still 15 km to go. I started pacing down the trail, passed Yarisawa lodge without a stop and kept going. I was surprised how I managed to hold the pace. I have to admit it was challenging, but I could feel satisfaction in challenging myself that way. I arrived at Yukoo sanso, the hut I had the reservation, around 11 am and decided to cancel. It was warm, dry and early. If I decided not taking the bus today, I still would be able to camp conveniently at the Kamikochi Campsite. 10 km to go and I paced up again. At Tokusawa I took a short lunch break. I was tired and exhausted and the muscles in my upper legs started to burn. But I did my decision. My comfy bed and a shower were calling me. The sky was still grey and there was no specific reason to stay and killing time. After the break the trail became very crowded with day tourists. It wasn’t fun anymore and I was very happy about my decision to came before the holiday period started. The last three kilometres were pure pain. This was my very limit. I passed the campsite at Kamikochi and got shocked. It was a big area, but there wasn’t a single place of ground without a tent and crowds of people were walking around. No way to stay here! I had some spare time at the bus station and prepared my lazy body for the bus ride. Finally sitting in bus felt like paradise and seven hours later I arrived back in the hot and humid city, but deeply happy.
Initially, the reason for chosing this trail was the desire to hike the so called “Daikiretto gap”. A 3 km long gap in the mountain ridge containing steep climbs and a knife edge passage. It is the most difficult hiking trail without addional gear required in Japan. It is thrilling and deadly. Although, after a lot of preparation, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to hike it until the end. Experience reports in the internet and official guidelines gave very diverted impressions: from it is deadly dangerous and one shouldn’t do it to it is technically very difficult, but doable. The question of doing it and taking the risk or not challenged my mind. Danger is not definied and very personal. Objectively I am in a very good condition and my background as a rock climber would be immensively helpful. On the other hand I am also a coward and even though I am doing a lot of supposed to be rather dangerous stuff, I really try to create my environment always to be as safely as possible. In the end, the decision wasn’t taken by myself. The weather didn’t allow and I could skip the question. But I probably come back.