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Kamikochi - the Japanese Alps

Written on: Friday November 13th, 2009

A journal entry from: Japan

Kamikochi is one of the best-known spots in the Japanese Alps, so when I headed there for a hiking trip during the newly-created (yes!) Silver Week holidays, I was expecting it to be crowded. The town was typical (and nice) as a mountain tourist spot, and quite small actually. I spent the night in town. Before dinner I decided to go for a stroll, which was a good idea since, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have seen the troupe of monkeys out by the river. Monkeys! First time I've seen wild monkeys. They were slowly making their way down the river through town, and were gone downriver out of sight within an hour.

The next day I started up the mountain. The objective was Yarigatake, nicknamed "the Matterhorn of the Japanese Alps". The weather was beautiful the first day. I got part of the way up the mountain and stayed in a hut there. The huts here are obligated to take everyone who comes. In the high season, this means that things get very crowded. My first night, I shared a 1m x 2m futon with a nice middle-aged Japanese woman, in a small room with 12 other women. I'm not sure, but I think some of the people who got spots on the hallway floor were a bit luckier in a way – their futons were smaller, but they only had one per person.    

The next morning I set off for the peak. It was another beautiful day. There was another hut right at the top, just next to the scramble for the tipy-top of the peak, which looked like a pyramid and was very fun to climb. But slow, since there were a lot of people and you had to wait your turn to get up the ladders and chains.

But the beautiful weather didn't hold. By the time I reached the next hut great fluffy clouds had rolled in, and it was foggy up there. In the morning the fog hadn't cleared and it was about to rain. And, worse, there was meant to be a strong wind on the col up ahead of me, making it potentially dangerous. It might have still been alright, but I didn't want to risk it when I was by myself and unfamiliar with the territory. I had talked with a few people on the way who considered the col a bit dangerous, and the hut had warnings advising against trying it in bad weather. So, I took the easy route down and started heading back to Kamikochi.  

Back in town, with the bad weather, lots of people had decided to pack it in early. The line-up for the buses out of town was staggering. Literally hundreds of people. Fortunately, most of them were headed out of the mountains in the direction of Kyoto, while I was headed in the direction of Tokyo, which meant that I only had to wait half an hour for a bus to the nearest town with a train station. I'm so glad I didn't have to join the long queue.