It was my third day out in the South Alps, and I was convinced I was an “ame-onna” (rain woman) as I had been in my rain gear for two days straight, and there was no sign of it letting up. That morning I was once again putting on the gear when the sun came out. I wasn't sure whether to be happy or not. But as I stripped off my rain jacket, the heavens poured down on me again... forget it; I cursed and kept on walking without protection, letting the rain soak me.
The ascent up Kita-dake was tougher than I remembered, as I had been up Japan’s high mountain a couple times in the past, but always with sunshine. Steep but interesting. I had fun walking up the frozen valley which split up the trail. Kita-dake, the second tallest mountain in Japan (3,192 meters), is beautiful in the summer, known for its vast array of flora.
It’s usually packed with hikers and flower-mad photographers and tourists. Not this time, though. Bad weather and eroded bus roads allowed me to hike in solitude. In between gusts I saw amazing flowers with the most interesting shapes and colors. I took a break and stared in fascination. I said aloud more than once laughing, "How does this happen? How is this entire mountain decorated with such amazing perfection?”
Just before the summit of Kita-dake, I spotted a furry creature peering over a rock. Hmm, I wasn't sure what I was seeing, whether I was hallucinating or just tired. But again, I saw a gray-brown furry head pop up, and then two, and then three. (And then a red ass!) A family of monkeys was hanging out on Kita-dake trying to hide from me. I went closer but they fled, and a few rocks came tumbling my way. Okay, I get the message and continued along my way.
That night I ran into some fellow hikers also amazed at the wildlife on Kita-dake. "In Austria nothing grows higher than 2,000 meters and, at 3,000 meters, forget it. Rocks, low growing shrubs, moss and lichen…no interesting colors. Since we've been here, rain every day—the weather is awful—but hey, the flowers, how amazing. You never get this at home." The next morning as I suited up in my worn-out raingear and walked into the flowered path, I had to agree with them.
The first day is really tough, so I would start early and hike the first six hours, then stay in the hut on Kita-dake Buttress. This hut is only an hour from the summit so, in the morning, wake up early, enjoy the summit and have a relaxing descent as you should arrive back to the trailhead in less than four hours. If you have a few days to spare, once you arrive at the summit, keep on going south through to Aino-dake (another hyakumeizan mountain). Budget about ¥8,000 per hut stay (includes two meals).
Difficulty Level: 4 out of 5
Location: On the border of Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures.
Peak: 3,192 meters
Duration: Two-day hike
When to go: July-October
How to get there: From Shinjuku take JR to Kofu, and then take a bus to Hirokawara trailhead (広河原).
Shinjuku Station → (2 hrs. 22 mins. ¥2,210) Kofu → (2 hrs. ¥1,950) Hirokawara Trailhead.
Things to bring
Raingear, flashlight, map, camera, sunscreen, water, camera, gloves, sunglasses, warm hat, food supplies, sleeping bag, cash for hut stay and supplies.
Kita-dake Sanso Lodge: 090-529-4947
Kita-dake Hut: (0552)-88-2421
Yamanashi Transportation Office: (0552) 23-0821
Kofu Station Taxi Service: (0552) 22-5151
Things not to miss:
Between the months of June and August is the perfect opportunity to view flowers blooming at their brightest, so definitely bring your camera. Don’t miss a dip in the onsen to relieve those muscles on the way back to Kofu City.
South Alps Onsen Lodge: (0552) 88-2010.
Recommended Hiking Schedule
Day 1: 6 hours (hut-stay at buttress).
Day 2: 1 hour to summit, 4-hour decent.