Map number 38 (also includes Kasagatake, Kuorbegorodake, Washibadake, Suisho, Yakedake, Hotakadake, and Yarigatake)
I’ve never been to the Kita Alps before this, and I went with 2 colleagues. 1 colleague I’ve hiked with before in the Yatsugatake area, his name is Joe, the other I’ve never hiked with. So the plan was to start at Shinhotaka, climb up and stay overnight at Kasagatake, walk the ridge over to Kurobegorodake and stay overnight, then on the final day hit Washibadake and Suisho.
We started from Sagamihara very early, around 4:30 am. Its about a 4 hour drive to Shinhotaka, and we got there at about 8:30 am, but couldn’t figure out where to park, so we burnt another 45 minutes finding the free parking lot, which was a dirt area by the river. We started the hike from the car at around 9 am.
I guess you have 2 options according to the map, but one of the options has a longer map time than the other so it made sense just to choose the route that had the shortest map time. The first hour or so is easy because you are following forest roads. Just before the ascent starts, there is a pipe coming out of rock with flowing water. This is your last chance to fill up before the Kasa hut.
From here, map time is about 7 hours 30 minutes to Kasagatake hut. I have to admit, this ascent was challenging for me. It took me about 4 hours to reach the ridge line, and I swear about half way up I was starting to feel the same symptoms of altitude sickness that I felt on Fuji. But it wasn’t altitude sickness, just me trying to explain why I was so tired. By now it was just Joe and I because the other person sped ahead of us and we didn’t see him until we reached the ridge. When we finally got to the ridge, he was waiting there with one of the hut employees who spoke a little English. It was actually just a coincidence because the hut was still a good 30 min away. He had just returned from a week long hike around the Kita Alps. The 4 of us walked about 45 minutes along the ridge line to the Kasagatake hut.
**Disclaimer**My wife is Japanese.**End Disclaimer** She called the hut ahead of our arrival because she was worried that there wouldn’t be any room left for us when we got there. She told them that we would be there around 3 pm. Well we didn’t get there until about 5 pm and the hut manager’s called my wife and told them that I was missing. I found that out when I got to the hut as I had just opened my can of Ballast Point Watermelon Dorado and I said “Oh SH*T, when are the rescue helicopters getting here?” You see, we used to live in Albuquerque New Mexico, and there’s a search & rescue story there that I’ll have to tell you about sometime (I also used to volunteer for the Skagit County Search & Rescue Team when I lived in Mount Vernon, WA)
Amazingly, I had cell phone reception at the hut. I have been to less-remote places without cell pone reception. I called my wife to tell her that we got there OK, and everything was going as planned. Me and my colleague hiked the extra 30 minutes or so up to the top of Kasagatake while the hut cooked yuugohan (dinner) for us. I have to say, this was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. All that work, over 6000 vertical feet of climbing really paid off. The sun had just set over the horizon, the air was cool and refreshing. The clouds shrouded the valley, but you could see the presumptuous peaks of Hotaka, Yari, and hundreds of others in the Kita Alps. You could even see the lights from some of the huts at Yari and Hotaka on the ridge line. It was striking and inspiring.
This hut was a nicer one. I only know that in hindsight because at the time I didn’t have anything to compare it with. This was the first hut I’d stayed in. After staying in a few in the Chuo and Minami Alps, Kasa hut and the one at Kurobegoro were noticeably better. It has bathrooms accessible from indoors. It had a wood burning fire place. And the English speaking worker (the one that waited for us at the ridgeline) had some very interesting stories about his adventures. They even gave the 3 of us our own private room because they were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to sleep in the dorm-style area like the rest of the Japanese hikers.
When you stay at a hut, you can pay the minimum, which includes a warm place to sleep, with a futon, blankets, and a pillow. From there you have the option to pay for dinner and asagohan (breakfast). We got both and it was about 10,000 yen total (~$100).
The next morning we started off on the ridgeline, which part of it was the same section we hiked to get to the hut from the previous day. We past by the sugoroku sansou (large hut) making our way over to Kurobegoro. Kurobegorogoya (small hut), sits in a saddle, which means that you lose elevation. I think it was close to 1000 ft, at least. When we got to the hut around 3 pm it was starting to rain. One colleague decided to stay at the hut, while me and Joe hiked the rest of the way up to Kurobegoro.
This portion of the hike is deceiving. From the map it seems like a short side trip from the hut, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. Partly because I was tired from a full day of ridge line hiking (which isn’t flat, its rolling, and sometimes steep terrain), and partly because of the rain, and I was hungry but didn’t want to stop in the rain and dig through my pack to heat something up, and partly because we couldn’t see our destination because of the clouds. We hiked this trail for about an hour and came across a really steep section. By then I was tired and it was raining and I suggested that maybe we should just turn back. Joe wasn’t really that interested in the Hyakumeizan. He just wanted to do a few hikes with me. But Joe knew that I was interested, so he said “F**K you, you drug me up this mountain this far, we aren’t turning back here!” That was all the motivation I needed.
When we got to the top, it was cloudy. It was raining. There was no view. But we could see the marker that said this was the top. Joe had rain gear, but it was Frogg Toggs, and was a little small for his build. Joe was wearing shorts underneath. The crotch of the pants split a long time ago, so they looked more like chaps without jeans underneath [insert visual image]. It may help your visual image to know that he is from the south, has an unmistakable southern accent, and knows what a frogmore stew is.
After a brief rest at the top, we started our way back to the hut. It rained the whole way, but at least it was still daylight, and if you’ve never had a conversation on a mundane hike with a southerner before, you don’t know what you’re missing. When we got back to the hut, we were wet and tired and hungry. Our 3rd companion was in the hut, wearing pj’s and slippers sitting next to the wood burning stove drinking a “one cup” of sake, and having a conversation with a pretty partial English-speaking female hiking guide about an incoming Typhoon that is supposed to hit the Kita Alps area sometime late tomorrow.
The next day it was cloudy, but it wasn’t raining. We geared up and headed out about 7 am (which is actually a late start if you’ve ever stayed in a mountain hut in Japan before). Side note: the first risers get up at around 3:30 am, and use headlamps to dig through their packs. The lights usually turn on around 4 am. Breakfast might be 5 or 5:30 am.
Since the hut was at a low point in the saddle of the ridge, we started the hike by hiking up, toward the way we came. When we reached a junction point, there were 2 options.
1- take the trail towards Washiba and Suisho. If we take this trail, we would have to make it to the Washiba hut before the typhoon hits, and we would have to stay in the hut until it passes.
2- take the trail back towards sugoroku sansou. From there take the trail toward Kagmi-daira, and head back down the mountain to Shinhotaka and the car.
We stood there at that junction for 10 minutes. Pondering. For me, my goal was to “get” Washiba and Suisho. I knew that just by studying the map, Washiba and Suisho are sort of out-of-the-way hikes, and if I didn’t do them now I’d have to return and hike up 5-6000 feet again. Unfortunately, they didn’t share the same goal as me and the the reasoning was that it was going to be raining, no view, and we might be in a potentially dangerous situation with the typhoon quickly approaching.
Damn common sense. We headed back to the car. It rained the whole time. My rain gear failed (which I’ll discuss on another page). My “waterproof” boots failed. My “waterproof” gloves failed. I bumped my head on a low tree branch that made me want to pick a fight with the first thing that I saw, which was the tree, and it won.
When we got back to the car at around 3 pm, we changed our wet clothes and went over to the Nakazakisanso Okuhida Hot Spring. Now, here it gets tricky because I have tattoos. I checked to see if it was ok by saying “Irezumi wa ii desu ka?” He replied “ii desu” meaning it was ok. It only cost 300 yen to clean off the disgrace of not reaching the full potential of the trip.
I guess sometimes the mountains win. Sometimes I win. Here I won a couple, the mountains won a couple. Not to say I won’t be back, because I will be. And I may not win that time either. But the hot spring was nice.