Sunday, January 6, 2013

New year at the mountains in Japanese South Alps

My husband and I have been climbing snowy mountains ever since we moved to a remote city of the middle of Japan island, Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture about 2 years ago.

This is what I saw from the top of Kannon peak

Yamanashi is not as remote as Americans or Australians image... remote in a way of Japanese thinking, meaning there is no subways, no underground city, no skyscrapers.  It's an ordinary small town you'd see anywhere in Japan, rather boring, but actually Kofu is located only 2 hours train ride from Tokyo, the world class big city, needless to say.

The life in Kofu is a lot different from a life in a big city like Osaka where we lived and married.
The life is more centered around family life, I suppose. If we have a child, I would rather like to live in a small town like Kofe than a big city like Osaka. But for adults, and as a wife with a special skilled job, cities offer a lot more excitements and opportunities. Unfortunately, this town has almost zero to offer for me... no translation job no IT writer job, but I have found my new activities, mountaineering.  Kofu is perhaps the best town in Japan if you love mountains.  The town offers wonderful mountains and easy access all year around. The funny thing is that residents are very unaware of this gift.

Japan does owns a lot of mountains! Actually the Japan island itself are just the rise of mountains in a way.  We human are only living between the clearance the river and creeks had created... holding on to its edge.   For the mountain lovers, the most popular mountain areas in Japan are;
 1) North Alps
 2) South Alps
 3) Center Alps
 4) Mt.Fuji
 5) Yatsugatake Mountains

All of these areas are within a short access from Kofu where we are meant to live. So I have started climbing mountains. It was 2010.

Since I had fell in love with the snowy mountains when Moto and I had gone to Nishi Hodaka(a mountain in North Alps) in November, just when Winter was just around the corner.  The mountain was sugar covered by the slight snow and was sooo beautiful!  This made us head to the mountain. The photo tells everything.

So we started to chaise the snow. We started just a snow hiking and getting higher and higher.
The selection of where we go was done very carefully. I did not meant to risk our lives.

To climb a snow mountain you must be very well-prepared, and must be willing to learn a lot. You would also need hi-tech gears and expensive wears.

Preparation makes the most of the success of the climbing. You must gather as much information on the route as possible so you don't encounter accidents with no preparation at all, for example, if the route is known for the strong winds, you are expected to bring heavy groves and goggle.
"I did not know" can not be an excuse in the snowy mountains. Lazy people can die in the mountain.

Also the weather is very important for a comfortable experience but you can do anything about it, unless you move the date and come back another day. You would just prepare for the worst case.

So little by little, starting from beginner routes, Moto and I had built experience on the snow mountains.

In 2010, on 31st of December, we were just a beginner and came to Yasyajin-touge for hiking,  looking at a group of people with a hired guide, feeling somewhat awkward...(just like Buntarou Kato, the most famous climber among the mountain lovers!)
They were the party climbing up Yakushi peak in South alps, dressed with expensive cloth.
It seemed such a professional area for us then. It felt like they were looking us down, looking at our equipment....

In 2012, on the same 31 st of December, Moto and I were at the same place we saw them.

But let me tell you! We had climbed not just Yakushi peak, we've gone to Kannon Peak, an hour and a half walking distance ahead.

For your info, this trail is called Hou-ou Sanzan (Hou-ou 3 peaks) popularly. Those three peaks are; Yakushi peak(2780m), Kannon peak(2840m), and Jizou peak(2764m). The route has two mountain huts which are open only on a few days in new year holiday; one is Minami omuro hut, about 5 hour walking distance and the other is Yakushi dake Hut, another 1.5 hour walking distance away.  So total 6.5 hours you must be able to walk through in the snowy path, but mostly this trail is covered by the thick woods.  As you get closer to the top of the mountain you'd be walking on the ridges and without trees, the exposure to the strong wind is inevitable.

The most beautiful part of the snow mountain trekking is from Sunabarai peak to Kannon peak, above the forest limits.

The gears we brought this time.
 Hard shell for winter, tops and bottoms
 winter cloth with warm woolly underwear
 heavy winter boots with a pair of 12 nails crampons
 a good pair of thick socks and gaiters
 mountain ax and trekking poles
 knit hut and heavy winter grove and a few pairs of spare
 Barabbas and goggles
 sleeping bag for winter and Gore-Tex sleeping bag cover
 a shelter (zelt)

I carried a sleeping bag and a shelter since I was not sure how long we take to get down from the mountains. In winter, a day is shorter so the worst case is getting dark before we reach to our car where the trail started...

This is how we walked.

 7:00 am at the trail entrance (parking lot)
 12:00 noon at Minami omuro hut
 an hour rest
 14:40 at Yakushi dake hut

 6:00 breakfast
 6:50 at Yakushi peak
 8:10 at Kannon peak
 9:00 at the hut
 9:40 starting off
 10:20 at Minami omuro hut
 13:30 at the trail entrance

It took shorter to get down than I expected.  Please see these wonderful photos.
I met a young man from Taiwan at Minami omuro hut.

I think this trail is long but very safe, even in Winter, there is no dangerous fall spots at all.  Day 1 was windy and snowy as you can see the movie, so I dare to say anybody can come but if you choose a sunny day, unless you are very weak and poorly dressed, anybody can enjoy nice fresh walk in the woods and a short trip to the peaks looking down the world arest under your feet.

I strongly recommend for anybody visit Japan and love to experience Japanese snow mountains

Now enjoy the photos!

Mt Fuji from Yakushi peak

The distance is 14km x 2.  The chart is only showing half a way. Sorry! but as you see it's very relaxed trail.

Looking at Jizou peak from Kannon peak

Looking down Yatsugatake mountains in the thick cloud

me heading south

from Kannon peak Mt.Fuji

from Kannon peak facing North

Jizou peak is 1.5 hours away from Kannon peak

this is Day 1 to goto Sunaharai peak

For more photos Goto here. and Click for the slide show.

For the log of the trip, Goto here.

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