Kita Alps

Friday August 4, 2000

Kita Alps

Difficulty 4 Number of Days 3 Nagano



by Paul Reay, pictures below
by Leshek Zbroniec
All back safely from Kamikochi,
but never again will I wish Laure a Happy Birthday on the summit
of Okuhotaka-dake! Quite literally, seconds later, we (Neil, Les
and myself) were in the middle of a thunderstorm on top of Japan's
third highest mountain. As Neil pointed out, my fear of lightning
is greater than my fear of going downhill! The following day we
timed it much better, closing the door of the hut behind us as
the heavens opened.
Now, you may be getting the impression
that we had an unlucky weekend weatherwise. Not so! Other than
thunderstorms in the afternoon, the weather was more than good
to us. We had spectacular views during the climb on the first
day, and, in particular, on the second day, we did the tricky
bit between Karasawa-dake and Minami-dake in perfect conditions.
Well! Unless, of course, you don't want to see the drop. That
part of the ridge lives up to its reputation for sure. We did
that section in five hours, and it was five hours of unrelenting
would rather be elsewhere. Les wanted nothing more than to be
at home with his wife, and a litre of beer.
There is a famous section in the
col when you have to move along a narrow ledge, holding onto a
chain with a shear drop beneath you, but it's actually technically
quite easy and relatively safe. What immediately follows, however,
is horrible! Down a little bit, round the corner, across, then
up. You feel like a fly, shear drops all around you, with only
a metal spike to put your foot on at one point. It comes as no
surprise to me to learn that many a tired walker, carrying large
rucsacs, fall to their deaths here.
Equally as dangerous as slipping,
are falling rocks (or people!) from above. Earlier, we had a frightening
moment coming down from Kitahotaka-dake. Someone above us dislodged
rocks, one hitting Les's rucsac, and I was rather concerned about
a particularly large one heading towards where I thought Neil
was. Similarly, we heard another such story of suitcase-sized
rocks from two walkers with whom we met up again the following
You breathe a deep sigh of relief
when you get to Minami-dake. When we arrived, as if by magic,
we were suddenly enveloped in mist, and the three of us were soon
off again along the now very pleasant ridge to Yari-ga-take to
try and beat the inevitable thunderstorm, in our usual formation
of that mountain goat Neil in front, then myself and then Les
behind. Sadly, no one was walking from Nakabusa this year to meet
us at Yari. I found it very hard to get to sleep that night. Everytime
I closed my eyes, all I could see were steep rocks!
One thing surprised us about that
second day! From the last two trips, I got the impression that
it's a long strenuous day along that ridge, but not so. For mere
mortals, it's certainly draining emotionally, but not so much
physically. It still remains a 5 *' walk, however, and won't be downgraded to 4 1/2*' as Neil suggests.
The skies cleared again after
the thunderstorm on the second day, but, with a few beers inside
us, we decided to leave the final 100 metres or so not so trivial
climb up Yari until the following morning, and got great views
once again. Well worth the wait in the queue to get there!
It was more than a nice sense
of relief and personal achievement for me walking back to the
hut after coming down from Yari. I had just climbed Japan's four
highest mountains, and finally walked along the Hotaka-Yari ridge
after organising it for the Club for the past two years, in three
consecutive weekends. It more than makes up for all those nights
in the gym to exercise my dodgey knees.
The descent from Yari on the final
day was nowhere near as bad as I remembered from last year, not
being even as half as bad as the descent from Kita-dake two weeks
previously. For those with bad knees, I wouldn't be so concerned
about it.
So, Kamikochi over for another
year, and you certainly won't be seeing me do THAT ridge again!
Many thanks to my fellow walkers Neil and Les for such enjoyable
and pleasant company. Not quite the numbers I expected this year,
but a more than worthwhile tour! The mountain scenery is wonderful
in the Kamikochi area, and what is equally quite a sight, is the
young and old which it attracts. During the course of this weekend,
we saw all ages, from the very young to the retired, climbing
quite dangerous mountains. Both worrying and inspiring at the
same time!

The club was contacted for advice
by a person coming to Japan for a conference. He wanted to go
to Kamikochi, and he wrote this about his experience:
We were in Kamikochi for three
days staying at the Gosenjaku Lodge. The staff were extremely
good to us, the only problem being that they were utterly convinced
that it was impossible for Europeans to climb Japanese mountains
and tried to dissuade us from doing anything that left the valley
floor. Nevertheless, despite their concern for our safety, we
managed to go up Maehotakae Dake (in absolutely sweltering heat)
and on our way back down as we stopped off for a beer at the hut,
received a thunderous ovation from the Japanese climbers assembled
Other highlights of the Kamikochi
trip were encountering a troupe of monkeys in the forest and visiting
After the Tokyo business part
we went to Nikko for the weekend, staying in the delightful Hotori-An
hotel and having dinner in a fantastic little restaurant (just
below the bridge on the left-hand side going up if you ever visit:
has English and French endorsements in the window). The temples
were crowded but we had a good walk up at Lake Yunoko and Yudaki
Falls and the following day in the Kirifuri Highlands and on Mount
Once again, thanks for your all
your help: the Northern Alps maps were absolutely essential.