ALPS is not only in Europe but in Japan

Hi there! Happy new year 2023‼ I hope this year will be fabulous and glamorous for you!
First of all, it is my 50th episode which I uploaded! Wow-!!
When I started my blog in English, I planned to upload 100 episodes for a few years, but I gradually realized that writing a story in a limited time in a 2nd language is tougher than I expected… In addition, finding interesting topics was also challenging due to stopping my voluntary guide activities and having fewer travel opportunities because of COVID-19. I was thinking about how long I should keep going, but anyway, great thanks to readers who visit here!!

My memorable episode is about trekking nature in late September in Japan. The landscapes in the mountains are marvelous!  One of my hobbies is trekking mountains between 500m to 2,000m high. I often went to the middle-high mountains around the Kanto area (a suburban area of Tokyo) with my friends before COVID-19. I refrained from going out so often for a few years, but people have gradually come to go out more often while we are learning how to take care of our infections. Therefore, I also re-started my outdoor activities. Now, it has completely been winter, but autumn is the best among the 4 seasons to enjoy nature and outdoor activities for me. The cooler climate is nice for you, and in particular, the autumn leaves in Japan are irreplaceable and wonderful. (As for autumn leaves, please visit the past episode here.)

Why is it called “Japanese Alps”?

Before talking about my journey,  I am going to explain a bit about the mountains in our country. As you know, Japan is a small country which covers 70% of the land with green and mountains. Especially well-known high mountains above 2,000m are gathered in Nagano and Gifu Prefecture, which are located in the middle of mainland of Japan. These high mountain areas including neighboring prefectures are called the “Japanese Alps”. You may wonder why there are called “Alps” even here is not in Europe. According to historical materials, Mr. William Gowland, a British mining engineer who had investigated Hida mountains in the northern part of Gifu, named it there as “Japanese Alps”  derived from the European “Alps” in the late 19th century. (FYI, a British missionary, Walter Weston is also famous for spreading mountaineering as a leisure among Japanese people and the name of the Japanese Alps to the world. There is his monument in Kamikochi, my favorite and one of the popular mountain resorts in Nagano.) The Japanese Alps consist of 3 mountain ranges, the Northern, Central, and Southern ranges. My destination this time is the Kagami-Daira mountain hut which is located located in between the high mountains at 2,300m above sea level at the almost border between Nagano and Gifu prefecture in the northern Alps.

This is a map of the Japanese Alps. the Kagami-Daira mountain hut is located in the southern part of the Northern Alps between the border of Nagano and Gifu prefectures.
(The map is borrowed from the Alpico Group website.)

This time, I joined the trekking tour with my friend and our party was 6 people altogether including the professional guide. As we had to meet up at the trailhead in Shin-Hotaka Onsen near Takayama in Gifu in the early morning, my friend and I stayed at the nearby inn from the day before. (By the way, Shin-Hotaka Onsen is not an easy place to come from Tokyo and it takes about at least 5-6 hours by express bus, and I took almost 8 hours from my house due to the heavy rain and traffic jams at that time.)  Our group is all women except the guide and consists of beginners who have just started to mountaineer in a few years. I sometimes climbed for recent 10 years, but it was almost like a beginner in the sense that I have lost fitness due to a lack of exercise.

In the beginning, we worried about the weather because the typhoon was just coming nearby and it was raining lightly. Rain makes us harder to walk and climb even though we were wearing functional rain gear. In fact, the weather was not a big concern because it gradually became fine after the typhoon had passed through, but the problem for us was severe way up the mountain!! Actually, we needed to climb over 1,000m high on foot. The tour was announced as “Trekking”, but we found out that it was definitely mountaineering for non-beginners! (It was cloudy and foggy in the morning so we could not see the top of the mountain and imagine how high we needed to climb! OMG…)

It is said that the trail is very well prepared and easy to walk on compared with others, however, it was covered by rocks and steep uphill continued all way long. I was still energetic at the first rest area, however, I was completely out of breath and my legs were having a hard time moving forward on the way. Finally, I could not climb together with my backpack, so the guide carried my pack with his own one. How ashamed I was!! My package might be too heavy to carry by myself and had lots of unnecessary items together. I fully realized how important the weight saving of my backpack as much as possible is! The lighter, the better! Especially, in case you are a novice trekker!

Stay in the mountain lodge to enjoy the extraordinary life

Mt.Yarigatake is the 5th tallest at 3,180m high and one of the most popular mountains in Japan.
It is said that it’s appearance of a spear striking the sky gave it the name Mt.Yarigatake

Anyway, we finally reached our destination, the Kagam-Daira mountain lodge 2 hours behind course time. According to the tour plan, we were supposed to be there around 1:00 pm, actually, it was over 3:00 pm. It was a bit cloudy when we reached there, but the weather changed to cloudless and sunny by the evening. The tour members visited the Kagami Pond (Kagami-ike) near the lodge to see the landscapes and to take pictures. We could clearly see the sharp summit of Yarigatake from there and I was extremely impressed by the spectacular mountain views, which were for only those who have climbed the mountain on their own feet. Although I thought about giving up and turning back on the way, It was worth the effort to come for me! After coming back to the lodge, we were also enjoying chatting over some alcohol, coffee, and sweets among the tour members outside of the lodge until dinner time. Many people stayed there because it was the 2nd day of 3 successive national holidays.

After dinner, the dining room changed to the common room for chatting among visitors until the light out time at 20:30. After dinner, we visited Kagami-pond again to see the sky. Of course outside the lodge had no light and deep darkness, tons of stars including the milky way were shining in the sky. It is a pity that I could not show you those photos, and I strongly recommend you to visit there and see with your eyes. We also enjoyed chatting about our mountaineering careers, favorite gear, and which mountain we want to visit the next time until the light out time. FYI, the lodge does not have showers, so you need to bring body wipe sheets together. Some lodges have bathing facilities such as hot springs, but it is quite rare. Usually, mountain lodges don’t have any showers. By the way, the lodge is famous for serving shaving ice with wide variations of flavors. I could not eat shaving ice because it was too cold outside, but there were some people enjoying it. Especially in the summer season, many people order to heal their fatigue and cool their bodies. As I put a YouTube movie of the introduction of the lodge, please check it out if you are interested in it!

The next morning was also good weather. We got up at 4:30 am and climbed up to the Yumiori-Nokkoshi, the forking point between Yumiori-dake and Sugoroku-dake as a morning hike after having early breakfast. We left the lodge before sunrise, and the sun was coming on the way to the forking point. It was very chilly when we started to climb, but the temperature rose higher soon after sunrise. The power of sunlight is so great!! The views at the forking point were also spectacular and we could also see the lodge below far away.

After coming back to the lodge and taking a rest for a while outside of the bench, we finally went down to the foot of the mountain over 1,000m again. We needed to keep going down the continuous trail covered by rocks and steep slopes. I thought from my past experience that the descent would be easier than climbing, but it made my back and knees more painful as the steep slope continued for a long way. To make matters worse, I was very tired from yesterday and out of energy, my moving speed was extremely slow and the way of walking seemed like a robot with a dead battery. Our course time for the return trip was also behind 2 hours, so that I missed catching my express bus to go back to Tokyo which I pre-booked…Sigh.

As a later episode, I had to look for other ways to go back to Tokyo, but it was so tough to find it because it was the last day of national holidays and almost all express buses and trains were fully-booked!! I was lucky to barely find a seat on the last train to Tokyo from Matsumoto Station, but it was almost midnight when I reached my home. Moreover, I suffered from terrible muscle aches on both legs for another 5 days and even up and down the stairs gave me severe pains!

Even with that, this mountain hike was a fabulous experience and I had a great fun time with the tour members. It also motivates me to list up the higher mountains in Japanese Alps where I want to challenge this year. Needless to say, it was a little shocking for me to reveal my poor phycical strength, so that I started to have Yoga and Pitatis training at home for the next trekking. If you like outdoor activities, why not try to visit the Japanese Alps? If you have the chance to stay in a mountain lodge here, you will enjoy a different kind of mountaineering than in the European Alps!


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