realised it was time to visit the Minami Alps again for our summer
walking holiday, but were rather surprised to find that our last end-to-end
there had been as long ago as 7 years (though we had been back to the
area more recently). Due to the nature of the ridge and sparsity of
mountain huts, there are nowhere near as many route choices as in the
Kita Alps, so although we tried to add some variety, we ended up
basically doing the same walk again, very similar to the Lonely Planet
guide. It was better then I remembered, though, partly due to us having a week of
absolutely fabulous weather and relatively few people considering the time of year.
We were planning to go just after finishing off a bit of work for a deadline at the end of July, but thanks to jules' excellent time management, we actually took off a week early, heading off early on Sunday (29th July) after a day of preparation (which in practice meant cooking loaves of sourdough banana bread, which made excellent mountain food and lasted pretty well over several days travelling).
trip to Hirogawara was therefore pretty quiet, as far more people were
leaving than arriving at that time. Three buses left from Kofu station,
but there was only about one bus-worth of passengers. The guide was
rather embarrassed as she followed the script to explain how difficult
it would be to get a seat on the buses for the return trip later that
day, as of course none of the walkers were actually planning to do
that. Instead, we headed up to the Shirane Oike hut,
which was under reconstruction when we were last there, but now fully
rebuilt and rather smart and comfortable. It was quite full, but not
over-stuffed, so we had 8 in our room and a full futon each.
We also had some nice cold draft beer and a good view of the hills opposite (Houou sanzan, I think)
Next morning, up the grass slide, it seemed that we were a bit too early for the best of the flowers. This year has seemed rather cool and late, and it was not yet August. In fact throughout the trip there were plenty of flowers, just slightly different ones to what we are used to seeing. Here on the right are some flowering haimatsu with the peak of Kai-komagatake in the background, and below something absolutely swarming with hoverflies.
The weather was fine and we were soon on the final ascent to Kita Dake. There were a few bits of fluffy cloud clinging to the ridges, but for the first time in our three visits, it was clear and sunny on the summit!
We got down to the Kita dake hut in good time, and considered stopping there - partly for a change of scenery, and partly as a precautionary rest of jules' dodgy Achilles tendons, which had been giving trouble.
However we decided to continue over Ainodake where the cloud finally did close in. The descent off the summit was the first and last time we wore our Goretexes in the entire trip.
The Kuma-no-daira Goya seems to be under new management (we guessed that perhaps the son of the previous owner had taken over) and was much improved. The food, so disappointing last time, was now rather good. And we dodged large noisy groups like the one that had spoilt our stay last time. So we were happy about our decision.
Next day we planned to cut our walk a bit short (compared to our previous walk) and stay at the Shiomi-dake hut, just off the summit of the mountain of the same name. We didn't remember this hut at all, which we had obviously passed in a rush last time, and I hadn't thought to check it out before leaving. Along the way, it was interesting to see how much of the path had changed, due to the ongoing collapse of the ridge. One or two bits were really quite hairy, with soft loose convex slopes steepening to near-vertical drops.
We wandered along the ridge at a fairly relaxed pace, enjoying the wonderful views and the steep climb up Shiomi-dake in the baking hot sun, and got to the hut about 12:30.
At which point, we remembered! This was the very small and primitive emergency hut where we had previously managed to buy instant ramen and a tin of peaches for lunch. They were not very enthusiastic about accommodating us - it seemed like it was already basically booked full and food would be rudimentary. Later on, I saw it was marked on a newer map than the one I had been using, that the Shiomi-dake hut was designated as "reservations essential", so their relatively unwelcoming attitude was not so surprising. They were prepared to accomodate us, just not really equipped to do so in much style.
So after a little humming and hawing - and some coffee, biscuits, and two bottles of Aquarius - we decided to push on after all. We could see the next hut clearly, and the nominal 3h route there only actually took about 2h at a good pace. When we got there, we found the Sanpuku-touge hut was very comfortable and just as quiet as it had been the last time.
Incidentally, having re-read the Lonely Planet guide, I now realise why I have repeately mis-read the name of this hut as Sanpuku-mine, as that is what they call it in that book! The kanji for touge (峠 pass or col) and mine (峰 peak) are quite similar but touge rather appropriately has the up and down kanji on the right hand side.
Sanpuku-touge is a pretty comfortable hut, and I didn't complain when the staff muttered between themselves about whether the big gaijin could share with the Japanese. Sometimes being foreign has its advantages...we ended up in exactly the same private corner we had been put in before, with several spare futon to heap into a comfortable nest.
time we had taken a rainy rest day at this point, but the weather was
still ridiculously good so we didn't really have much excuse.
By this time, the flower meadows which had seemed a bit green earlier in the walk were pretty well in full bloom, with amazing butterflies (this huge one identified as a Chestnut Tiger)
had also spotted a "beware of the hornets" sign right at the start of
the path from Hirogawara on the first day, and found ourselves
regularly buzzed by huge yellow stripey things through the week.
Japanese hornets being the biggest and most dangerous in the world,
they are not to be dismissed too lightly. However, these ones didn't
really seem aggressive, just looping round and between us a few times,
apparently checking us out and escorting us off their territories. They
were certainly not as big and bright as the hornets we get locally in
Kamakura, though it took us a few days before we got our first really
clear view of one of them when it landed nearby. So we wondered whether
there might be some sort of smaller variety of mountain hornet.
When we got home, jules did some web-surfing and found that there is such a thing as a hornet mimic hover-fly, so it seems that this must have been something along those lines.
|This days' route entailed a rather long walk over the lower west peak of
Arakawadake, and conveniently by the time we got there the higher
summit to the east was cloudy again, so we felt no compulsion for the
detour right to the peak.
We did meet a ptarmigan family, the mother of which had an unhurried dust bath right in front of us in the middle of the path.
|I was a bit apprehensive about the forthcoming night at the Arakawagoya
as last time, things had suddenly got very busy as we reached this
point, which forms part of a rather popular shorter loop walk out of
However, that previous occasion had been the Saturday of the Obon holiday period, and this time we arrived on a Wednesday a little out of high season, so I needn't have worried. The Arakawagoya was much more quiet than it had been the previous time, and the staff even took pity on my length and allowed us to have the 2nd floor entirely to ourselves, which made things more comfortable.
At this point, we also pulled out our secret weapons - a pair of Thermarest NeoAir mattresses, which weigh very little and pack to almost nothing. Although rather expensive, they were well worth carrying to the huts at the southern end of the ridge which don't seem to have heard of futons. The food seemed better than we remembered - still the famous eat-all-you-can curry rice, but you could taste the fresh spices and there were various other side-dishes too. It probably helped us enjoy our stay at the hut being merely tired and not completely exhausted as we had been on the previous visit.
We wanted to revisit the Hyakkenbora yama-no-ie to enjoy its location and food, so again had a leisurely day over Akaishi-dake. Looking back from close to the summit, we could see much of our previous walk...
|This time, the woman at the emergency hut on the summit
offered us a free orange and brief performance on mouth-organ to go
with our coffee!
We loitered as long as possible over the walk, arriving at the hut shortly after lunchtime (though lunch is a very movable feast when breakfast is 4:30am every day). The hut was reasonably quiet, we were a little unlucky to be lined up in serial order and thus sharing our cubby-hole with two others, while several other areas were empty. However, it was still spacious enough compared to the last time.
|We had enough time and
energy to wander around outside the hut. They were still doing the
amazing tonkatsu set dinner - and even soda bread, which we enjoyed two
portions of - and we were well set up for the next day's walk.
were a day ahead of our previous schedule and in no urgent hurry to
return, we decided to have another night in the mountains rather than
rushing right down to Sawarajima as per last time. So our target was
the Hijiridaira lodge, with a ridge and one hyakumeizan to surmount. We
decided to make the most of the amazing weather and had another fairly
leisurely day, stopping to laze about and watch the butterflies on the
The rest of the ridge south to Tekari-dake looked pretty nice on a warm sunny day, and we thought it might make a nice extension to the walk, but we had already done a week and were ready for home. Maybe we will find a way of doing it some time.
|Even though the hut was quiet, we were only allocated rather a small
space (thinner than our thermarests) which didn't bode well for what
was by now a Friday night. At this point we enquired about the bus to
Shizuoka for our return. I hadn't bothered checking in any detail
before setting out, as we had no firm plan. Ooops. The bus isn't
running this year (2012) due to a landslide. However, one of the staff
sat down with us with various timetables for alternative routes, and we
worked out what seemed to be a plausible solution involving three buses
and an onsen.
I was still a bit apprehensive while walking out to the road the next morning (though perhaps part of this was due to the rickety bridges). However, when we got to the trailhead, almost immediately someone offered us a lift down the road along with another couple who had been just ahead.
We didn't know what was going on at the time, but on checking later this seems to be a park and ride scheme for a car park down the road (the upper bit is not open to the public). So this took us to one of the best onsens we have ever visited, which was renovated (obviously at great expense) only a few years ago.
|It was still just before their official 10am opening time when we
arrived, but the staff were very welcoming and even helped us out with
the bus timetable (which, being a weekend, was actually a little
different to what we had been told in the hut). After a leisurely bath,
we had a few hours to kill in the canteen (roast venison! chicken wings
with gyouza stuffing! potato salad, fresh grilled fish and agedashi
tofu!) and resting room.
The bus from there turned out to be a little 9-seater, which took us a rather convoluted route, presumably to detour round the landslide. Hate to think how they will cope in high season, but this was the trip out on Saturday. Eventually we connected up with the bigger bus for the final hour to Shizuoka station from where we had an uneventful trip home.
Overall, we had a more relaxing time of it this time round. We took the walking at a more relaxed pace, but still got to the huts in plenty of time. And we even took a day less over the trip thanks to not having a rest day. Timing the trip from from Sunday to Saturday (and missing the Obon period) mean that we avoided the crowds and had fairly comfortable nights in the huts. The weather was better this time too. But we'll check the buses before we set out next time!
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