Mt. Kita/Mt. Aino

I think they changed the map number, I downloaded map 41 to get Kita/Aino, but it looks like it’s now map 42, and map 41 is for Kiso-Komagatake, Utsugi, and Ena. So I have 2 different map number 41s, but you should get maps 41 and 42.

Kita is description number 80, Aino is description number 81

I did this hike in September of 2017. This was my first trip to the Minami (Southern) Alps. I started off on a Friday afternoon and drove about 2 hours to a free parking lot just past Ashiyasu. There is one more free parking lot just west of this one, which is the farthest that private cars are allowed to go. I was planning on sleeping in my car at the parking lot and I parked at the larger one for 3 reasons. First, it had a public bath/onsen, second, it had clean restroom facilities, and third, it is the starting point for the bus that takes you to Hirogawara, which is an information center (maybe also a hut) just across the river from the start of the trail head for Mt. Kita.

There are actually 2 methods of getting to Hirogawara, you could take the bus, which was 1130 yen each way. Or you could take a shuttle, that probably costs more, but I couldn’t figure out how to get spot on one of these so I just took the bus.

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I slept rather cozy for the 1st part of the night, but starting around 2 or 3 am, cars started trickling in to the parking lot, shining headlights through my windows. Then the shuttles lined up, circling the parking lot, opening sliding doors, slamming doors shut, talking loudly, etc, I gave up trying to sleep around 4 am and just made myself some breakfast and coffee.

It was raining in the morning. So I stayed inside my car until the 1st bus was scheduled to run, which was around 6:30 am. At the time, I was a newbie at this, so I didn’t realize that the Japanese folks start lining up for the bus a couple of hours before they are scheduled to run. So when I bought my ticket and got to the bus stop around 6 am, there were already 100 or so people with their brightly colored hiking gear and backpacks waiting in line ahead of me.

I think I got on the 3rd or 4th bus out, but it was really cramped and we had to leave our backpacks on our laps. The road to Hirogawara is really curvy. The windows on the bus were up because of the rain, and it was getting hot and humid, not to mention the lack of mouthwash used here. I got bus sick. Didn’t throw up, but came close. When I got off the bus around 7 am, I had to sit down and take in the fresh air for a few minutes.

The Hirogawara information center is really busy in the morning. I didn’t hang around for too long because from the descriptions of Mt Kita this could be a challenging hike. I started off at around 7:30 am with rain gear due to light rain, but because of the humidity and the body heat worked up through hiking a steep incline, I took it off real fast and just wore fast-drying clothes (such as under armor) the rest of the way up.

Since I’m a fast hiker, I found myself alone before too long. Passing maybe 1 other hiker every 30 minutes or so (other hikers rarely pass me unless I stop to make coffee or something). Map time from Hirogawara to Mt. Kita is about 6 hours and 25 minutes, but it didn’t take me nearly that long. I was on the peak by 10:30 am, which was only about 2.5 hours, and I even stopped at Shiraneoike hut for 15 minutes or so to make coffee.

The top was shrouded in clouds. I couldn’t see anything. There were a couple other hikers up there at the time, but I think they must have been staying at the Kita dake kata no koya (which I think translates to hut on the shoulder of Mt. Kita. Koya is another way of saying goya or small hut) or maybe the Kitadake Sanou, which is on the other side of the peak.

Anyway, I was planning on staying at the Kitadake Sansou, then hiking over to Mt. Aino, but since I made such good time getting to Kitadake, I checked into the Kitadake Sansou, dropped off my pack, and headed over to Aino with just a plastic water bottle, a jacket, and my phone. In hindsight, I should’ve bought one of those snickers bars for 150 yen that they were selling at the hut because I got hungry later and didn’t have anything with me.

The weather had improved for the hike over to Mt. Aino. Still some lingering clouds coming up over the ridge blown by the updrafts from the valley below, but enough sunlight and clearings that I could get a sense of the scale of this area. Not quite clear enough to see all the way over to Mt. Fuji though.

I only saw 1 or 2 hikers on the way to Mt. Aino. One was passing through to try and get to Mt. Shiomi. With the time that I was making, if I hadn’t already dropped off my bags at the Kitadake Sansou, I may have also tried to do that since Mt. Shiomi is also one of the Hyakumeizan, and kind of an out of the way one at that. But I didn’t think of it at the time because when I was planning, I saw that the map time was so long that I wouldn’t be able to make it there.

Kitadake Sansou is an OK hut. Not quite as nice as some of the ones I stayed at in the Kita Alps. I brought a couple cans of New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPAs up with me in my pack that I cooled off by placing a can inside a wet hiking sock and leaving it for about 15-20 minutes in a breezy location (which is a skill that I picked up while sitting in the back of an uncovered military transport truck going back and forth from Kuwait to Najaf for 8 hours in the hot sun of the Iraqi desert back in my days as a US Navy Seabee). I sat at an outdoor table watching the campers fumble around with trying to set up their tents in the wind, and watching the surrounding peaks pop in and out of view with with the passing clouds until it got dark.

I had a conversation with a man that was sleeping on the futon next to me. He was there with one of his tomodachi (friend) who was suffering from altitude sickness. He didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Japanese, but I opened the conversation by showing him the date on one of the hiking magazines that they have at the hut, which was something like in the 1970s. The hiking gear that they used back then was so archaic compared to what we have now. We got along mostly through using Google translate. It was a choppy conversation at best, but in the morning he saved me a seat next to him at the breakfast table so that he could show me how to eat Japanese ashagohan (breakfast). I already knew because I’ve been eating it frequently for the last 15 years I’ve been married to my wife, but he was older than me so I let him feel good about teaching a young (not really that young, just look like it) gaijin a thing or two about Japanese culture.

The next morning, I did my best to sleep through the headlamps, sounds of zippers, and footsteps, but it was nearly impossible and I was up around 4 am making coffee for myself. After breakfast, I quickly packed up and hit the trail. The weather still looked cloudy, I had a choice to either take the return route bypassing Mt. Kita, or to go back the way I came and hit the peak again. I figured that since I made such good time up, I would be back down within 1 to 1.5 hours anyway so I went back up to the peak in hopes to see some sort of a view.

When I got there, I was skunked again. It was cloudy and very windy, so I used the shelter of a large boulder and made coffee. Just sitting there waiting for my water to boil, I saw a clearing. Then as the rays of sunlight broke through the clouds,  Mt. Fuji appeared way off in the distance. I saw it before others on the peak did so for a couple of seconds, that view belonged to me and me alone. The mountains can be cruel sometimes. You hike up steep terrain, countless vertical feet. Sometimes there’s lightning, rain, wind, clouds, and snow. But just like regular day-to-day life, life in the mountains is not always perfect. But if you’re willing to accept that, the mountains will make peace with you eventually. Appreciate nature, not only in fair weather, but also in poor weather. We will all be at peace with nature eventually.

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From Kitadake, Japan’s 2nd tallest mountain peak. Also, I do not know who that other person in the photo is, she just wanted to take a picture with me.
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