Mt. Kiso-Komagatake/Mt. Utsugi

Map number 41 (also includes Mt. Ena)

Kiso-Komagatake is description number 74, and Utsugi is number 75

I did this hike with my son in October of 2017. We drove up on a Friday afternoon, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive to the Suganodai bus center parking lot. Although there are alternate routes up, since I was with my 8 year old son, the plan was to take the bus to the tram station, take the tram up, go to Mt. Kiso-Komagatake, then hike over to Utsugi and stay at the Kisodono Sansou. The next morning we would hike to the peak of Utsugi, then back down to the Suganodai parking lot for a nice 2 day loop hike.

We woke up early the next morning to headlights and the sound of car doors. Traffic starting trickling in at around 3 or 4 am. The bus ticket counter didn’t open until 5 am so we got dressed, packed up, had breakfast, and waited in the line to get the bus ticket. There were only about 30 people ahead of us when we got in line, but because I was a newbie at this, I didn’t realize that there were actually 2 lines. One for buying the bus ticket, and one for waiting in line for the bus.

While waiting in the bus line, we sat our packs down and all of the gear pressed against the camelbak reservoir in my pack and leaked water out of the drink tube because I didn’t close it tightly. The water drained downhill toward folks waiting in line ahead of us. The Japanese gentleman in front of us notice before I had and told me that it was leaking. I said “arrigato gozaimasu” and that was the only conversation with him while in the bus ticket line.

If I recall correctly, you buy the bus ticket and the tram ticket together. For the one-way ticket, it was 1,950 yen for me and 1,050 for my son. By the time I got our bus tickets, the bus line wrapped around the entire parking lot. There must have been 500 people waiting in the bus line, yet there were only about 20 people in the bus ticket line. People either put their packs in the bus line or had people holding their spot for them while they buy tickets.

I thought that there was no way we would be able to make both peaks today if we had to go to the back of this line. Luckily, the man standing in front of us at the bus ticket line saw my son and I heading toward the back of the line, grabbed my arm and pulled me in the line with him. What a nice gesture. He knew that I was pissed that I got there so early, yet I’d be one of the last in line for the bus. So what started as me being disgusted at the Japanese system, turned into admiration for the generosity of the Japanese people.

We got to the the top of the tram station later than I estimated, probably around 9:30 am, and followed the long line of hikers headed toward Kiso-Komagatake. There is no shortage of huts here, no shortage of people either. We got to Kiso-Komagatake by 10:30 am, had some ramen and coffee, then headed out to cross the ridge to Utsugi.

From here, there are 2 routes. One route takes you back down the way you came, then loops around back up to connect to the ridge line trail. If you downloaded the map, you’ll see that the other route is a dotted line, which indicates a more difficult trail. I’ve taken the dotted line on other hikes and they usually aren’t particularly difficult. I figured that me and my son shouldn’t have too much difficulty on this trail if we took it slow.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend this route for kids. As an adult you should have no problem because you’re taller, stronger, and able to recognize areas of higher risk and exposure. I helped my son along, shielding him from locations where there was exposure, not taking my eyes off of him, but trusting him with his own abilities. I didn’t let him know how scared I was for him, but he is brave. His ability to get through the tough sections without even considering backing out inspired me. We got to a steep rock face with chains, and I told him we could turn back or take an overland route around, but he wouldn’t let me. He said “dad, I can do it,” and that was all the convincing I needed. I helped him up and when we got to the top, there were other people shocked that such a young boy made it up there. I couldn’t have been more proud of my son.

When we got past this area, the rest of the day was ridge walking. From Google Maps, the trail looks easy, and for the most part it was, but keep in mind that it isn’t flat. The terrain is rolling the whole way, with some steep sections. There is no water either, so make sure you have enough before heading out.

We spent the day between 8,000 and 9,000 feet. We used to live in Albuquerque, NM which is at about 5,000 feet, and hiked the Sandia Mountains, which are around 10,000 feet. But we’ve spent the last couple years living in Tokyo, which is at sea level. I didn’t have any problems, but as dusk came I could tell my son was starting to feel the effects of the altitude.

When we finally got to Kisodono Sansou at around 5 pm, he was spent. The hut operator was friendly, and made room for us at the hut even though it was full. I told him that I didn’t need dinner because I was just going to cook something that I had for the two of us, but he gave us a bowl of rice mixed with meat and vegetables. It was good, but my son hardly ate anything. I took him up to his futon and he slept the rest of the night while I attempted to make conversation with the other guests. One guy I met was telling me that he was a hiking guide and has completed 88 of the Hyakumeizan peaks.

The next morning, we woke up around 4 am. It was cold and the wind was strong outside, but the sunrise view of the surrounding peaks was hard to pass up. We ate the traditional Japanese style breakfast with the other guests, but my son didn’t eat much again. He went back to sleep on one of the benches while the other hikers headed out. The nice hut operator gave me a cup of coffee while I was letting my son get a little more sleep. About an hour later, he felt well enough that we could go. I knew that the only way he would get better is if we dropped in altitude, but we were in a saddle, and had to hike up another 1000 feet to Utsugi before heading back down the return route.

The ascent was steep, cold, and windy. We had plenty of warm gear, but with my son’s altitude sickness, it was slow going. By the time we got to the ridge just ahead of Utsugi’s peak, the rocky outcrops were enough to block most of the wind and the sun came out warming us. We didn’t spend too much time at the summit because I knew we needed to lose elevation quickly. The rest of the hike was downhill and took us about 3.5 hours to get to the parking lot. About half way down, my son was feeling much better, and even had more energy than me. We got back down to the parking lot at around noon, and headed over to the nearby Komakusa hot spring, which was only about 500 yen per person, they allowed tattoos, and had indoor and outdoor baths.

This hike had a full range of peaks and troughs. From the people that we met, the lessons learned, and the inspiration gained from your watching your kid grow up right in front of you. I reflect that perhaps it’s the events that occur and the people that you meet coincidentally to a goal that make the journey in itself a more noble cause. That’s life isn’t it? You don’t live with the goal to die. You live to experience what life gives you.

On our way out, my son wanted McDonalds, and without any doubt, he deserved it. Then we headed back, fighting the particularly bad Utan (U-turn) rush.

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