Hiked September 1-3
Map number 38 (Kita Alps, southern section)
Me and Joe took a couple days off from work to do this one. We drove to the trailhead early and got started at around 9am. There are many areas to park at Shin Hotaka, but another option is to start from the Kamikochi side, which requires a bus. It’s also easier to make a loop hike from the Shin Hotaka side.
The plan was to head up toward Sugokoro hut and stay there the first night. Then head over to Suisho and Washiba and stay at Mitsumata hut the second night, then go to the Daikiretto ridge via the Nishikama Ridge and summit Yari and Hotaka. Depending on the time, we would stay at Hotaka hut before heading back down to the parking lot.
It started to rain about an hour into the hike. It was raining hard, and turned the trail into a river. When we reached Kagamidaira hut, we had a bowl of ramen and tried to wait out the storm but it kept getting worse. We ended up staying at Kagamidaira for the night, which is about 2-3 hours away from Sugokoro hut.
Kagamidaira is a large hut, electric outlets to charge your phone, nice drying room for your wet clothes, running and potable water, plus the sleeping area even has privacy curtains. Oh, and the toilets are “sitters” not “squatters.”
The next day, it was still raining, but not as hard as the day before. We got to Sugokoro around 9 am. From Sugokoro you have many route options. You could go to Mt. Kasa, over to the Nishikata Ridge, or toward Suisho and Washiba. Last year, we came through Sugokoro and headed to Kurebegoro.
The trail to Mitsumata was mostly downhill. It stopped raining, but the trail was still like a running river, making hiking very difficult. We hopped from rock to rock for a few hours until Mitsumata, where the trail splits. We decided to take the lower (easier and slightly faster) route, bypassing Washiba, and ending up at Suisho. We would do Washiba and Suisho the next day.
Suisho hut was very small, but there were only 4 or 5 other guests. They had all you can eat chicken curry for dinner. Joe and I just sat next to the heater the rest of the evening while our clothes dried out in the drying room (basically a room with a kerosene heater), which worked marginally well for drying our clothes, but not the boots. Watch out on the second floor sleeping area because anyone over 5’5″ can’t stand straight up – which is especially important if you have to use the restroom at night.
The weather the next day was improving. Cloudy in the morning, but not raining, and a few spots of blue in the sky. Suisho is about an hour from the hut, but you have to return back to the hut to get to Washiba. Washiba was about 1.5 hours from the hut back toward Mitsumata, and about 2 hours from there we got back to Sugokoro.
The trail on Nishikama Ridge is nice because you can get all the way over to the Daikiretto ridgeline without loosing much elevation. The trail is easy to follow and no difficult sections (except for the climb up to the Yari hut, which is not technical, just steep). We arrived at the Yari hut by around 3pm which is better than the map time estimate, checked in, and decided to summit Yari that evening before dinner because we were doing a very difficult hike in the morning.
Yari hut is very large, tourists come here from the Kamikochi side. The bedding area is kind of old and dirty. Not my favorite hut, but it suited our needs none the less. In the morning, we started the daikiretto hike.
For the first 2 – 3 hours, the hike isn’t bad, rolling terrain, some steep areas. After that there’s a section down a steep rocky slope with ladders, that also isn’t too bad, but then you cross a level ridgeline and the real difficult/dangerous part begins. For the next 4 hours, you’ll be going through a very dangerous, highly exposed route. The only reason hikers can get through here instead of trained climbers with gear is because there are already chains and rock anchors positioned. You absolutely have to be confident and strong to get through this area safely. There is no rushing, you have to make sure you have a hand or foot hold – in many areas there’s no margin for error.
We reached the Hotaka hut around noon, took a short break, dropped off our packs, and headed up another slightly precarious cliff to the summit of Hotaka. The summit was cloudy so we didn’t have a great view, and there were a few others up there too. We decided that we would make it a late night and skip staying at Hotaka hut that night in favor of sleeping in our own beds (blame Yari hut for that). The path went down a rock fall for about 3 hours, then followed a river/gorge for another 3 hours before spitting us out back at Shin Hotaka.
We got to Shin Hotaka around 6pm, so unfortunately the onsen (which I know allows tattoos) was closed. Just before we got to the car, we scared a black bear out of a tree, I took a sink-shower at the bathroom in the parking lot, and we started back on the 4 hour drive to Tokyo.