Ontake - August 1988
Mount Ontake , also referred to as Mount Kiso Ontake , is the second highest volcano in Japan after Mount Fuji and stands at 3,067 m (10,062 ft). Mt. Ontake is located around 100 km northeast of Nagoya, and around 200 km west of Tokyo, at the borders of Kiso and Otaki, Nagano Prefecture, and Gero, Gifu Prefecture. The volcano has five crater lakes, with Ni no Ike at 2,905 m being the highest mountain lake in Japan. Ontake is a major sacred mountain, and following older shamanistic practices, actors and artists have gone to the mountain to put themselves into trances in order to get divine inspiration for their creative activities. Ontake was thought to be inactive until October 1979, when it underwent a series of explosive phreatic eruptions , ejecting 200,000 tons of ash in total. There were minor non-explosive) phreatic eruptions in 1991 and 2007. On Saturday, September 27, 2014, at around 11:53 a.m. the volcano erupted with a VEI of 3 or 4. There were no significant earthquakes that might have warned authorities in the lead up to the phreatic eruption—caused by ground water flashing to steam in a hydrothermal explosion. The Mount Ontake volcano eruption was an extremely rare phenomenon which made it difficult to take precautionary measures. At least 40 people were injured, and another 32 were believed to be missing. The Japan Self-Defense Forces began carrying out helicopter searches for missing people after the eruption. On October 7, the total confirmed death count stood at 54. (Wikipedia)
Location: West of Kisofukushima, Nagano
Transportation to Start Point: 4.5 hours
Walk Duration: 7 hours
Determined to climb Ontake in a day and be back in Tokyo in the
evening, Phil Rowcliffe and I set off by car along the Chuo Expressway
at 4-15 a.m. Not having been to Ontake before we elected to take
the Chuo Expressway as far as Ina, the second interchange past Okaya/Lake
Suwa, and then take Route 361 to link in with Route 19 just before
Kisofukushima. Exiting at Ina we turned right on to the 361, swinging
off to the left some 2 miles or so along the road. From here the
361 climbs rapidly through an incredible number of hair pin bends
with spectacular views of the valley below. The hair pin bends go
on and on, and it is not long before you are convinced that you
are on the wrong road! However perseverance brings you to the summit
of the hills, and you drop rapidly into the valley the other side.
A really enjoyable ride through beautiful countryside. Eventually
you reach a "Y" junction in the road, both ways being
sign posted Route 19. We took the right hand road as we were heading
south on Route 19 to Kisofukushima. After passing through several
tunnels we reached Kisofukushima and swung off into the valley leading
to Nakanoyu to the West. You soon come to realise the religious
significance of the area as the road is dotted with grave stones
and shrines right the way up to the car park at Nakanoyu.
We were ready to climb by 9-00 a.m. and set off up
the steep staircase of logs which make the early part of the climb
much easier. We were surprised to see the number of people making
the climb, and even more surprised to see their climbing attire,
mainly of white and expressing a feeling of purity in respect for
the holiness of the mountain.
I wonder if it will be busy on the
mountain today? Hello, this is Japan!
A variation on pilgrim wear
Mr. & Mrs. Pilgrim
Passing small rest places and the 7th Station, the
path turns in to a typical rocky mountain trail and within an hour
and a half the 8th Station is reached.
The beauty of the mountain becomes immediately apparent
as you reach this point, as you are beyond the tree line and the
entire ridge and the Kengamine peak are visible ahead, along with
the lodges and stopping points seemingly balanced precariously on
the mountain side.
What the best dressed pilgrim is
wearing this year!
The climb becomes steeper now, but the peak seems
well within grasp and we reached the 9th Station in a matter of
fifty minutes. Now begins the last haul up to the top, past the
beautiful turquoise coloured "Ni-no-Ike" pond on the right
until Kengamine itself, 3,063m is reached.
Well constructed stone steps lead up to the shrine
at the top, and the surrounding views are spectacular. We reached
the top at 12 noon, the climb to 3,063m taking only 3 hours.
Mick and Phil
After lunch at the top we decided to take the ridge
route round Ichi-no-Ike to No-no-Ike Lodge. Finding the start of
this path is not easy and you have to join it at the shrine area
at the top of Kengamine, to the left hand side of a small shop selling
religious souvenirs. The path drops down to a saddle as you walk
over a grey volcanic clay material, and the volcanic nature of the
mountain is brought home to you clearly by the roar of the blow
hole in nearby Jigokutani (Hell Valley) and the smell of sulphur.
Rising up from this saddle lies a beautiful ridge
walk leading to Ni-no-Ike Lodge and on to San-no-Ike. This is a
really pleasant walk with rock scrambling and not too much climbing,
until you eventually rise to another saddle overlooking the much
larger pond, San-no-Ike. The path takes off to the left over a wooden
trestle as it traverses the slope and drops down to San-no-Ike.
Again the area is of special religious significance,
and pilgrims clad in white were chanting sutras at a small shrine
at the edge of the pond. It was here that we met up with a mountain
priest clad in white tabi, blue tunic and urushi hat whom we accompanied
on the walk back to the 8th Station.
The trail from San-no-Ike back to the 8th Station
was rather special, traversing the hillside and dropping down through
valleys and cuttings. We were glad to be led by the mountain priest,
who was expert at gliding over the rocks and the uneven path and
gave us confidence that we were, in fact, heading in the right direction.
Dropping down over rickety wooden trestles clinging to the hillside
we eventually came to a small snow bridge across a steep gully.
The experience of the mountain priest told, as he made sure that
we crossed this delicate looking snow bridge one at a time. It was
quite surprising to see snow there in early August, but it attests
to the cool temperatures maintained in the shady valleys at these
It was almost a disappointment to reach the 8th Station,
as we realised that our walk for the day was almost over. Green
tea was shared with our newly made mountain priest friend in the
8th Station lodge, before we left for the hour long walk back to
Returning to Tokyo was easier than the outward journey
as we now had the lie of the land. Dropping down to Route 19 we
headed north to the Shiojiri Interchange on the newly constructed
Nagano Expressway, and were soon speeding along the Chou Expressway
on our way home.
Nine hours in the car and seven climbing mountains
is a long day, but we felt an enormous sense of achievement and
marvelled at the ease at which the walk took us to the 9,000 feet
level and provided such interest. A walk definitely to be repeated,
and to be extended to include Tsugushidake at 2,859 m at the far
end of the ridge.
Disaster - September 2014
On 27th September 2014 Mount Ontake erupted unexpectedly trapping many hikers on the mountain. The result was catastrophic with 51 people being killed.