The Hakuba Weekend

Hakuba is FAR. So, for the three day weekend, I figured might as well do the two hyakumeizan whose starting point is at Hakuba - Mt. Shirouma and Mt. Amakazari. Are they doable in winter? I don't know - but public transportation is going to be very difficult.

Total Damage: JPY33,750 (~USD316)
  • JPY6,510. Friday: Train to Hakuba Leg*
  • JPY12,270. Saturday: Mt. Shirouma Ascent Leg*
  • JPY11,180. Sunday: Mt. Shirouma Descent Leg*
  • JPY3,790. Monday: Mt. Amakazari Leg

*Includes accommodations (hostel/mountain hut)

Other expenses: I brought my trailfood from home, and that's all I generally ate for breakfast/lunch. I paid JPY1,300 (Fri), JPY150 (Sat) and JPY1200 (Mon) for my food, plus some snacks.  

August 7, 2020 (Friday): Train to Hakuba Leg
  • JPY2,410. Train, Tokyo Station to Hakuba Station. (via Seishun 18 ticket
  • JPY4,100. Hostel. 

  • 03:30pm. Train, Yotsuya Station to Takao Station, not sure if platform 1 or 2 as I was running to make it to the train haha.
  • 04:22pm. Arrival, Takao Station. I simply had to cross the platform for the train to Matsumoto Station. The train has a restroom on the first car, which does bring a modicum of assurance, given the 3 hours ish train ride. There were quite a lot of loooong stops, so bring something to read. Passing by Kami-suwa station, I saw that they have a foot onsen right inside the station! Haha. Pretty cool.
  • 07:57pm. Arrival, Matsumoto Station. I have an hour waiting time before the next train, so I decided to go out for dinner. I went to Menshou Sakura, a 10 minute walk away. Their ramen is not my thing (the soup is not thick and tasty enough), but their gyoza with mayo and onion springs is definitely worth trying. I was back at the station around 8:35pm, so I decided to get a McFlurry haha. I then went back to the station, straight to Platform 6. 
  • 09:08pm. Train, Matsumoto Station to Shinano-Omachi. There is a restroom on this train too. There was an earlier train, but the trains to Hakuba are that rare I would have had ended up waiting longer in Shinano-Omachi. Better put all the breaks together and actually have a decent meal. 
  • 10:02pm. Transferred to the last leg of my journey - one train ride! You have to take the ticket at the first car.
  • 10:41pm. Hakuba Station! Finally! I exited and confirmed the bus boarding place - Bus Stop 2, left of the Hakuba Station exit.  
  • 10:46pm. Checked in at my Hostel, showered, and slept. 
August 8, 2020 (Saturday): Mt. Shirouma Ascent Leg
  • JPY570. Bus from Hakuba Station to Tsugaike-kogen.
  • JPY2,000. Gondola/Ropeway
  • JPY9,700. Mountain hut with dinner (Hakuba sansou)
  • 06:05am. Woke up, brushed my teeth, packed my bags. I was out the door by 6:20, and at the bus stop at 6:24. The bus stop came around 6:27. Cash only, so had to take the ticket upon entry. 
  • 06:30am. Bus, Hakuba Station to Tsugaike-kogen. Bus stop 2. 
  • 07:00am. Bus stop, Tsugaike-kogen. Once you get off the bus, go straight forward the direction of where your bus was going. You'll pass through a big parking lot, just continue straight. You'll end up with the gondola. It took me less than minutes to get here. 
  • 07:05am. I filled up the hiking form, and they asked me about my plans (in Japanese). When I told them I was planning on going down Sarukura, they they said that there is a lot of rocks that fall and cause injury, so be very, very, VERY careful (yes, she scared me). I asked if that place is not passable then, she said it IS passable, but just be careful. Got it. I went to the counter for the Gondola ticket, and she made me fill up the contact form just in case of covid19. I filled it up, then paid for my ticket (credit card). I then went in, and boarded the gondola. It is a 20 minute-ish ride, where you get the option to leave in the middle, for reasons I don't know. Haha. Either way, I stayed put and continued to the next stop. When I got down, I exited to the right and saw a small white sign in front of me that said ロープウエイのりば (which means Ropeway boarding). I walked past a nice trail, and was there in less than 5 minutes. 
  • 07:38am. Boarded the ropeway, which leaves every 20 minutes.  It promptly closed doors at 7:39am left at 7:40am.
  • 07:46am. Start hike. The first section was a normal nice ascent, which can be muddy at times.
  • 09:02am. Arrival, Tengubara (天狗原). This is the "planks" section, and the nice stroll (no elev gain/loss). Soon enough though, I am back to covering all those elevation. It is also from here on that I started seeing leeches (yep, big ones).
  • 09:43am. Did a quick crossing of a snow field (?). No spikes needed, but I had to be careful of my footing. It was a continuous ascent, then quite a big drop to get to the pond. 
  • 10:30am. Arrival, Hakuba-oike (白馬大池). This literally means Hakuba-Big Pond, and yes, it is big. With its own waves. You can camp in the area, and some people who would rather spend two nights in the mountain do. The area is surrounded with nice flowers, and the views are gorgeous too. The rain started around this time too. 
  • 12:14pm. Arrival, Mt. Korenge (小蓮華山).  At this point, there is zero visibility. Coupled with the wind and rain, there's really nothing to do but to take a picture and push on. 
  • 01:41pm. Arrival, Mt. Shirouma SUMMIT! Yey! Oh, there's no marker, at least in the normal sense with the name of the mountain and all. What they have is a circular stone, which, I was later told, was carried by some strong Japanese men in 1922 (this is what the old hikers told me in the hut, so it can be pure hearsay). The rain and wind are full on, and I am rushing to go down. 
  • 02:10pm. Hakuba Sansou! Finally! There are three main buildings - the reception (受付), the restaurant and the actual accommodations. Go to the reception first to check in (on the left if you are coming from the summit), write down your details on the form on one of the tables, go to the counter, and wait for your name to be called. Pay the fees, and they'll give you your instructions.
  • REST! Yey! It was a bit cold, but the shared area near the mess hall has a heater going on until 9pm, so I just stayed there til 8:30pm. Then I filled my Nalgene with hot water (in the thermos available in the same shared area), and put it under my futon.   
August 9, 2020 (Sunday): Mt. Shirouma Descent Leg
  • JPY1,000. Bus, Sarukura to Hakuba Bus Stop.
  • JPY680. Train, Hakuba Station to Nechi Station.
  • JPY9,500. Mountain hut, with awesome dinner and breakfast (Amakazari-onsen)

  • 05:10am. Start hike down to Sarukura. The wind was strong, but it wasn't cold. To be fair, I was wearing a shirt with a hot packet, a thin jacket, a down jacket and a rain jacket. Incessant strong winds required focus!
  • 5:30am. I passed through the other hut (Son-ei-choujou-shukusha (村営頂上宿舎)), and it started drizzling. In less than 10 minutes, it was pouring. I put my rainpants on too late, and by that time water has run down my waterproof shoes. I therefore have a squeaky feel for every step. The trail was basically a little stream at this point, and unfortunately you have to walk on the "little stream" as that's the trail. Therefore much much riskier, and more careful footing required. Also, there are SO MANY leeches. And I wasn't much worried about them other than watching my steps, but leeches who will be on the stream is a different story. I therefore had to check my shoes if any uninvited guest has decided to grab on.
  • 07:37am. Arrived at Daisekkei (大雪渓)! I quickly put on my spikes, and started hiking down. A dozen steps later, I realize there are NO trail signs, and no way to to know which path other people used. Maybe there's a segue somewhere else that I missed? I went back up again and the arrow was there, so it IS the right path. Sometimes I follow the tracks, and end up in a crevasse which likely means people took a peek down. I'm not interested in taking that risk.
  • 07:47am. I am lost. I cannot find the trail. There were ZERO MARKERS. I kept on stopping, looking left and right and voila! Finally, a shadow of someone hiking up about 15 meters to my right! I carefully made my way to that side and saw the tracks. From then on, it was easier to follow the tracks, particularly since I meet people hiking up. Once I heard a loud rumbling sound of rocks falling, and I just made sure it's in my far right and not towards me. As to what I would do if it was hurtling towards me? I'd like to say I'll be nimble and jump out of its way, but I'd likely be like a deer in headlights frozen still.
  • 08:07am. Stones with pink ribbons! Finally there are markers! Some blogs prior said there were big red lines, lemme tell you now there IS NO SUCH THING.
  • 08:15am. Done with the Daisekkei. Whew. That was scary. I'm the type of girl that needs markers with her mountains! Took of my spikes, and it was a pretty straightforward hike down. The last hour was simply walking on rough road.
  • 09:40am. Arrived at Sarukura (猿倉) Bus Stop. It's a rather big mountain hut with a parking lot in front of it. The bus stops at the parking lot. 
  • 10:15am. Bus, Sarukura to Hakuba Station, cash only. The bus driver requested we pay in advance to make the disembarkation smoother (he said). I paid with my wet JPY1,000. 
  • 10:42am. Hakuba Station. The train will come at platform 1. They don't accept IC cards, so buy the ticket beforehand (JPY680, cash only). 
  • 11:07am. Train, Hakuba Station to Minami-Otari, transferred to platform 2 (just across), and waited more than half an hour for the train to Nechi Station. The train comes early, so you can go in and find your seat. The train also comes with a restroom.
  • 12:50pm. Nechi Station. Go outside, and the bus stop is about a foot on your right. It was then that I realized my bus time was wrong - the bus I planned to ride is not available on Sundays and holidays. I decided to just walk.
  • 02:30pm. Yamaderajou-iriguchi Bus Stop. That was long. Plenty of signs saying it's 7km to Akamazari-onsen, and I am ready for that 2.5hour hike!
  • 02:31pm. It wasn't a hike. I just walked on the road with cars passing me every now. Zero trail. I now have blisters on my feet.
  • 04:40pm. Amakazari-sansou/onsen! Finally! I took off my shoes, used the sanitizer and he took my temperature. I checked in, he said dinner was at 6pm, breakfast at 5am. Payment later. The hut does not have a drying room, but each room has a rod and some hangers. Since there's not a lot of guests (6 during my visit, including me), he gave me my own room. No wifi (or any signal), but with a plug in the room.
  • 06:00pm. Awesome, awesome dinner. Lights out was at 9pm (they shut down even the plug).

August 10, 2020 (Monday): Mt. Amakazari Leg
  • JPY850. Bus, Amakazari-kogen to Minami-Otari Station.
  • JPY530. Seat reservation fee, Furusato Line, Minami-Otari to Matsumoto Station. 
  • JPY2,410. Train, Tokyo Station to Hakuba Station. (via Seishun 18 ticket

  • 04:20am. Lights up. Got up, started packing by bags. 
  • 05:00am. Breakfast. Awesome, as expected. 
  • 05:30am. Start hike. Upon exiting the hut, go right. It is on the right of the outdoors onsen, to the left of the inside onsen (in short, in between the two onsens). Trail started steep, and rest assured, it shall continue to be steep for the rest of the hike up and down (actually, steeper)
  • 06:57am. I come across the aluminum ladder. There's only one aluminum one, but plenty of wooden ones.
  • 07:43am. Got into the pond . It's a small pond that is basically hidden under all the vegetation. For whatever reason, I expected something out in the open with mountains reflected on it. I was wrong.
  • 08:31am. The intersection between the trails and the summit. Left is to Amakazari-kogen, right is summit. I turned right of course. I finally got some rest for the nonstop ascent, as it was a gentle slope to cross before the last leg. But this last leg turned out to a steep rock scramble to the top - I basically was on my hands half the time. BUT. I was definitely distracted with the flowers - they are gorgeous! I was thinking this place should be named Hanadake (Flower Mountain). Once you reach the top, you have a fork - ten meters to my left was the summit, ten meters to my right the Buddhist stones. I turned left. 
  • 08:54am. Summit! The place is utterly crowded. Took pics and vids, then more pics, the I just have nothing else to do. Most people take lunch here. I, on the other hand, decided to head to the Buddhist stones.
  • 09:03am. Arrived at the Buddhist stones! Well, I have now gone to the left and right "ears" of Japan's Cat Mountain. My job here is done. I started my descent. Once you get to the intersection, remember that the left one is to Amakazari-onsen. So take the right fork.
  • 09:37am. Arrived at Sasadaira. Right is the trail to the bus stop, Amakazari-kogen. Left is up the mountain towering in front of me,  Mt. Kin (金山 = Money Mountain!), merely 320 minutes away. I decided to turn left, take about 10 steps in and use it as my restroom. This is the least "busy" place in the trail, and the most private I ever was for most of the trail. I then went back to Sasadaira, got my trekking poles ready, and took the path to Amakazari-kogen. I put on insect repellent and additional sunblock as there is no tree cover and it was hot!
  • 09:58am. OOPS! I slipped and almost catapulted myself headfirst down a ten meter-plus rock scramble. For the trail down, there are plenty of ladders, and huge rocks. It has been a scramble down, which involves both my hands. So in one of these I tripped on my trekking pole but managed to stop the fall. How bad was it? The faces of the 20+ people right below me shows it. The girl behind me approached me after we got down this section, and said I should stow away my pole and start using my hands, as it will basically be like this until the river (her help and her disapproval of me hiking alone was well communicated). Feeling like a scolded kid, I put my poles away.
  • 10:55am. Arrived at the River crossing. After crossing the river, it was a bit of an ascent, after which it tapered off to a nice trail, then back to steep descent. Fortunately, it's not as bad as the scramble prior the river. 
  • 11:09am. Emergency toilet! Seriously. It's just a room, with a toilet lid on it, and a basket of portable toilets. You then carry your, er, package with you to the entrance and there's a bin about 20 meters before you get to the parking lot. 
  • 12:17pm. Finally got in the parking lot! The rest spot (休憩場) that can be an emergency spot is closed. Maybe for renovation. But I don't know when they'll open this again. Either way, after this is just a long walk down the road, and I simply followed the highway road down. You'll soon end with a fork, turn left, and continue following the road down. 
  • 01:04pm. On my left, about 10 meters before the big curve going to the bus stop, is an outdoor onsen. It is free for everybody,  separated for boys and girls, doesn't seem like it has toiletries so bring your own. Nobody's watching it, so all honesty basis. There is a donation box near the changing room, so maybe not free? I didn't read the text and simply left, as I have no plans of using an onsen in this heat. Back to the road, 
  • 01:07pm. Arrived at Amakazari-kogen Bus stop! Yey! There'a restroom at the waiting place, so if nature calls you'll be ok. 
  • 01:37pm. Bus, Amakazari-kogen to Minami-Otari Station. Cash only, so get the ticket upon entry. 
  • 02:18pm. Arrived at Minami-Otari Station. I went to the counter, showed them my Seishun 18 ticket, and bought a reserved seat from Minami-Otari to Matsumoto for JPY530. The area has no convenience stores, but right outside is a little store with some snacks and ice cream on it. Inside the station is a tatami mat area where you can take your shoes off and stretch your legs (or lie down, if you're brave enough) 
  • 03:16pm. Train, Minami-Otari Station to Matsumoto. The train is at platform 2, so I had to go up the stairs. My legs were not happy with this. The Resort Furusato train is pretty cool though - huge seats, restroom on car 2, and a screen showing the tracks in front of the train. Plus the cute green bear with snow capped mountains for a hat, at least on my seat. 
  • 05:26pm. Moved up the escalator to transfer to Platform 1. I went outside for a bit, but no place has decent food available for the 10minute transfer time I have. Rather than miss my train, I decided to just get a sandwich.
  • 10:35pm. Tokyo Station! WHEW.

Post script:
Two days later (August 12), my arms and ankles are covered in insect bites which are utterly itchy, and my fall has given both my legs a nice purple tone.