|This year we decided to have two shorter holidays, avoiding the Obon rush. We were considering the southern end of the Minami Alps again (where we have one hyakumeizan still to climb, Tekaridake) but this area is just too awkward to reach, and not very exciting if the pictures I googled are to be believed. So after consulting my stack of maps, and train/bus timetables, we decided to head off to the Chuo Alps instead. This modest ridge is rather overshadowed by its more famous neighbours the Kita and Minami Alps, but seemed very suitable for a 3-4 day walk taking in two hyakumeizan (Kisokomagatake and Utsugidake).|
the map it looked like the approach from the north-east would be most
natural (and popular) but in fact because of the
way the transport and accomodation options worked out, we
went via Kisofukushima to the west and booked a night in the Hilltop Guest House.
After an unusually leisurely start we were there by mid-afternoon. This area seems to consist of an abandoned ski resort, with a handful of hotels still struggling to survive. It was certainly deserted on a Thursday early in the season, but the guest house was very comfortable with really good food. (The guest house seems to be full through much of August and September, so I guess this area is popular with walkers too.)
|Next day they kindly gave us an early breakfast (proper Western style: cold spaghetti with pesto, salad, weiner sausages and salsa, and - phew - scrambled egg) so we got a prompt start up the valley.|
|It was a pleasant but unexciting climb through the forest, with occasional views. The path was very very quiet - I think we saw one group of 4 people all day. Half-way up we came across this remarkable emergency hut. These are usually rather basic shacks, but this one had big solar panels and also a wind turbine to power its toilets. We were a little light on food so stopped for lunch in the first manned hut on the ridge (Hounokubosansou). There followed the slowest ever bowl of udon, and then we wandered up to the summit of Komagatake before returning to the nearest hut to stay for the night.|
|By now it was a bit cloudy. So we just took some quick snaps before turning back.
The hut was ok, but the food was a bit basic - a rather thin curry-rice. At least they let me have 3 helpings, thanks to my patented lean-and-hungry look.
The next morning's breakfast was slightly better. It is rare to see spontaneous expressions of emotion from the Japanese, but the person sitting next to us couldn't resist a smile when he realised that the egg sitting suspiciously in a separate container was actually hard-boiled, and warm to boot! You'd think the staff in the other huts might have realised by now that raw eggs aren't really very nice at any time of day, and especially not at 5am.
|It was a bright morning, but still with enough cloud to stop things from getting too hot. The views were a bit better than the previous day. We had to go over the summit of Komagatake again, from which the day's ridge stretched out in from of us.|
the east side of the mountain, there is a "ropeway" (cable car) that
goes up to a hotel at about 2600m and there are no fewer than 5
mountain huts around the summit, so this area is rather busy. Going
south from the conglomeration of huts, the first bit of the ridge
(either side off Houkendake) is marked as "dangerous" on the maps, but
I think this is just to discourage the day-trippers. It had a couple of
moderately interesting bits but nothing that really qualified as
This is the peak of Houkendake, about 30 minutes along the way. The crowds were markedly thinner here!
And with the morning cloud having lifted, the views were opening up. It turned into a very pleasant stroll above the treeline, although due to the remaining cloud we didn't get the promised views of the neighbouring Minami let alone more distant Kita Alps.
were hoping that there wouldn't be too many people heading this way, as
there are only two small huts at the other end of the ridge. In fact
the previous night, the hut staff had seemed rather anxious that we
didn't have a reservation for this night. We have never booked before
(it's certainly advisable for large groups) so were slightly nervous
about what we had let ourselves in for.
Sure enough, there was much tutting and sucking of teeth when we turned up at the Kisotonosansou without a reservation. "Two to a futon" we were warned. Well, we were a little surprised (although Saturday night, it was not high season) but we've done that before and anyway there wasn't much else to be done. The next hut was a couple of hours away over the next mountain, and even though we did actually have plenty of time to walk on to it there seemed no guarantee that it would be any better.
|This hut has a
lovely spring nearby, so at least we were able to have a good wash
before settling down for the night. Sure enough it did fill up
with several groups arriving from all sides. It seems to be a popular
flower-watching area, which is understandable enough as the area was in full bloom.
Disappointingly, the hut owner didn't let us spread out the futons before dinner to lie down on. I suppose he wanted to arrange things "properly" but this made it a bit uncomfortable to rest in the afternoon. He was also a bit odd in other ways, insisting on showing me how to use the Japanese-style toilet - he didn't actually demonstrate in person, you understand, but still it seemed like he had never seen a foreigner in his life.
Dinner was awful. Oden. Seriously, a bowl of oden and some rice. I've never had such a disappointing dinner in a hut. The night would have been uncomfortable enough anyway, but jules decided to throw up - twice - which hardly helped. The second time she didn't get out of the hut in time and did it down the stairs, but thankfully it was basically nothing more than water (so she says - I pretended to be asleep and hid under the futon). So we were not really in much of a state to enjoy the sunrise, viewed out of the hut window on the right.
wasn't feeling much better in the morning and didn't each much for
At least we were going home today - but there was still a mountain to
climb and long descent before we would reach civilisation.
It was cloudy and cool on the top of Utsugidake, and after a short descent we came to the other hut. It looked deserted but then a woman came out to say hello (she actually guessed we were the gaijin that had apparently phoned to book for the night) and we scrounged two cups of coffee off her. She was happy to chat with us in simple Japanese, and we found out to our disappointment that this hut (capacity 40) had only had 12 people the previous night! However, on the way down the mountain, we then saw signs warning that it no longer served meals or indeed sold any food at all (according to their web page, it may be a licensing issue). So on balance we were relieved we had not come up here the previous evening! This might also explain why the other hut was quite so full.
|The sun came out on the long descent and we did get some good views. The Minami Alps are clearly visible to the right, with the Kita Alps much fainter away just left of centre (they were better to the naked eye).|
was a massive descent - a touch under 2000m from the summit of
Utsugidake to the town we were aiming for at the bottom. Jules was
still struggling even to drink fluids and started to suffer quite badly
in the increasing heat in the heat, until we got to a spring and
dunked our sun-hats in it.
|Some lichen that looks a bit like the Spanish Moss I saw in Florida.
We eventually got to the town at the bottom of the path, where I had previously spotted the Komakusa no yuu Onsen on the map. This proved to be a very relaxing end to the trip.
The rain started seriously as we were waiting for the bus to Komagane station. It poured down so hard that the trains were delayed and we ended up 2h late getting home. But we had comfortable seats in the Super Azusa train so it didn't really matter.
Below is the map of our route, with our overnight stops marked in blue.
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