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Okuhodaka, Kamikochi - July 1988

 

Getting up at 2-30 a.m., I had a quick breakfast and left Tokyo at 3 a.m. to drive to Shinshimajima, near Matsumoto. Driving so early in the morning was a real pleasure with so little traffic about, and I arrived at Shinshimajima at 5-25 a.m., having taken the Expressway from Okaya to Matsumoto. I was soon on the 5-35 a.m. bus leaving Shinshimajima and arrived at the bus terminal at Kamikochi around 6-45 a.m.

 

 

Kamikochi bus terminal, in the days before millions of tourists descended on Kamikochi each year

Crossing the famous Kappabashi bridge and taking the trail on the left hand side of the Azusa River I soon came to the entrance to the path leaidng to Dakesawa.

The early part of the trail is pretty, with large rocks and broken trees, but it soon passes into open ground and the real climbing begins. It was at this stage, the climb up to Dakesawa, that I began to wonder what I was doing being out so early walking on my own in the Japan Alps! It is much harder motivating oneself when alone, and the temptation to go for the easy life is much greater!

View looking back down in to the Kamikochi Valley

The way ahead

Signpost at Dakesawa Hut, 2,200m. Maehodaka, 3,090m signposted to the right, and 3 hours.
Kamikochi signposted at 2 hours to the left. Nishihodaka and Okuhodaka signposted to the left via Tengu Col.

Dakesawa Hut

Having reached Dakesawa, however, and having rested up, I felt ready for the next part of the walk, the steep climb up to Maehodaka. This is a long, long climb, quite steep in places and necessitating the use of iron ladders fixed to the rockface in certain places to get up the steep bits.

 





Having organised the trip quickly I was rather light on supplies. In fact, for the weekend I had brought two packs of cup noodles and coffee granules! I was pleased to have my first coffee brew near Maehodaka. Soon after leaving this spot and traversing a narrow rock path I became aware of another foreigner gaining on me quickly. He soon caught me up and introduced himself as Roger Davis, an Australian working with Citibank. Roger was walking with a Texan, Jim Thompson, and had been about half an hour behind me on the same trail. He was intrigued when each time he met Japanese climbers they asked him if he was with the other "gaijin" up ahead, so Roger put in a spurt to catch up with me. This turned out to be most fortunate from my point of view, as Roger and Jim were good company and were carrying more food than I have ever seen on the mountain!

In light rain we carried on to Hodaka Lodge, approaching the lodge down a steep rock face on iron ladders, and then across a shale slope. Rather tricky and easy to go sliding down the shale with a drop to a path at the back of the lodge.



Okuhodaka, 3,190m




The descent from the peak to the lodge viewed from the lodge. You can see the iron ladders if you look closely.

The lodge was very well equipped. We had a small tatami room to ourselves and the evening meal of chicken was one of the best meals I have had up in the mountains, especially when supplemented by Roger and Jim's food stash! The lodge had TV, video and even a CD player with hundreds of CDs. In the evening they even showed a cine film of mountains after the dinner had been finished and cleared away.
The next day we were up early but the weather was not so good. It was raining, windy and there was a great deal of mist swirling about. Roger was keen to take the trail to Kitahodaka, but we were advised that this would take about 3 hours and we simply did not have enough time. Nevetheless we did the first part of the trail to have a look see. Returning to the lodge we started the descent to Karasawa, which is a popular camping ground in the summer. There was still some snow and a few people skiing.

Leaving Karasawa we headed for Yokoo, and then back to Kamikochi via Tokusawa. Taking a taxi out of the valley we dropped into the ryokan where Roger and Jim had spent Friday night, and made use of their ofuro to soak our weary bones. This was really relaxing and it was nice to drive back to Tokyo feeling clean and refreshed.