Yake: Map number 38, hiked September 15, 2018
Ontake: Map number 40, hiked September 16, 2018
Shiomi: Map number 41, hiked September 17-18, 2018
The “official” plan was that I would hike Yake, Norikura, Ontake, Ena, and Shiomi over a 4 day period. In hindsight, maybe that plan was a little too ambitious.
I drove up to the Yake trailhead on 9/14, and slept in my car, location (36.2042075, 137.5987333). Yake can be accessed also from the Shin Hotaka area, but the drive and trail time is longer.
It was raining all night and into the morning, turning the trail into a cascading river. The trail is short from my starting point. It took me about 2 hours to reach the top but the actual peak of Yake is closed (due to Volcanic activity?). It’s true that by the time you leave the tree line, the smell of sulfur gets stronger as you go up, but for those limit-pushers out there, it’s not hard to figure out how to make your way over to the high point. There isn’t an official trail, but enough people have went there through the years that the route can easily be found. You’ll know you’re there when you find the derelict sign post marking the peak.
The next peak that was planned for the afternoon was Norikura. Norikura is only accessible by bus, which you can take from several locations. I was planning on catching the bus at Hirayuonsen, which was only 20-30 minutes away from the Yake trailhead.
After the Yake hike, I was cold, my clothes were soaked, boots soaked through, and there was almost no chance of getting a view at the top of Norikura. When I got to Hirayuonsen, my wife was able to locate a tattoo friendly onsen, and I decided to skip Norikura in favor of a more relaxing afternoon. The tattoo friendly onsen is called “Hirayunomori” and is very nice and highly recommended for the tattoo-impaired among us.
Afterward, I headed to Ontake trailhead, which was a good 1-2 hr drive from Hirayuonsen, planning to hike the next morning. Ontake is a highly active volcano that erupted in 2014, killing many hikers in the area. Apparently, most of the trail is now open, so I decided to give it a try. There are several places to access Ontake, I chose a free parking lot with clean bathrooms above the Ontake ropeway (35.8948439, 137.5211142).
A quick 30 minute hike from the parking lot will take you to the spot where the ropeway would drop you off, then the trail continues up towards the Ontake crater. There’s several abandoned huts that I think act only as emergency huts, and one working hut about 2/3 of the way to the top.
There’s a few Shinto Shrines along the way including a more elaborate one with a few Torii’s near the top. Beyond this point, I had 3 options 1) head back down 2) hike around the peak on the open trails or 3) disregard the clearly written “keep out” signs and make the 15-20 minute walk to the peak.
I guess it could be considered “un-American” to follow random signs, so I did the only thing an American could do and headed for the top anyway. I should note that it was slightly foggy, very windy, deserted, and there was a slight tinge of sulfur in the air. Combined with the disturbing history of this mountain, I was slightly spooked. Actually, I was more concerned that a Japanese security guard was hiding around a corner to give me the internationally recognized arms crossed in the air “dame” signal than a volcanic eruption.
But nobody was there. And actually the trail was very well groomed, marked, and easy to follow. Except for the new but incomplete construction of the concrete emergency volcano shelters, everything was rather pristine. According to my gps, I was standing at the high point (3067 meters) but I couldn’t find the official marker. They probably took it down to deter other sign-disregarding hikers such as myself. Anyway, here’s the proof.
Part of the way to the trailhead is unmapped by Google, and there isn’t any cell phone service. The road looks like it gets frequent small landslides, and there are a couple areas where a stream overtops the road. The parking lot is at (35.4425595, 137.6305922).
I walked along a paved road for about 20 minutes before I could pick up the actual trail. The only problem was that there used to be a pedestrian bridge, but it appears to have been washed out a long time ago. The river was quite swift and deep. I probably could’ve waded across, but then my boots would be waterlogged for the rest of the day. Combined with the fact that I felt drained, I decided to skip it and rest at the hotel in Iida, which was only about 30 minutes away by car.
The next day, I was well rested and headed for Shiomi’s trailhead, which was about 1.5 hrs from the hotel (35.5560998, 138.1000620). The parking lot is larger than I expected, but I was lucky to find at least 1 parking spot. I got there at 8:30, but most people usually start much earlier, so I recommend to get there as early a possible so you can get a spot.
From the parking, the map shows a 50 minute walk along a paved road to the start of the trail and 2:50 to the Sanpuku-tōge hut (35.5553020, 138.1420261). Take the trail northward toward Mt. Hotani and the Shiomi hut. In good whether, this ridge is actually very pleasant and easy to hike. From here, map time is about 3.5 hrs to Shiomi hut, and 5 hrs to the Shiomi summit. After checking into the Shiomi hut, I was standing on the peak by 2pm, about 5 hrs from parking lot to peak.
It’s rather steep and slippery from scree from the Shiomi hut to the peak, but it’s not particularly difficult. Just watch your step and there’s no problem.
From what I understand, the Shiomi hut was recently rebuilt. The hut staff was very nice, food was good. They even had someone who could speak English very well, also working on his PhD thesis in his downtime.
The downside is the bathroom thing, particularly #2’s. Upon check in, they issue a poo bag, complete with pictures of the correct way to use. Additional poo bags cost ¥200. I’ve committed “faux pas” with the squatter toilets in the past, and was traumatized by the situation. Needless to say, I didn’t use the bag, but if you’re adventurous in that area, go right ahead.
I didn’t sleep much that night (unrelated to the poo bag thing). They only give you a very thin foam mat, placed on top of hardwood floors, a weird tatami pillow thing, and a sleeping bag that didn’t close and was too small for me. I also happened to be next to the loudest snorer in Japan. Interestingly, this guy was asleep when I checked into the hut at 1:30 pm, woke up for 30 minutes at dinner, and snored the rest of the night. At least he was well rested.
I had great weather both days, and the walk down was a piece of cake. Especially because this was the last hike, and now I get to go home and spend some time with my family. These trips remind me that things gain and lose importance in cycles. When I started the trip, the Hyakumeizan peaks were at the top of the list. Towards the end, being with my family was what I needed most. But really, I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my family.