Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kita-Dake (partially)

Start: Hirogaware bus stop (1600m)
Target: Kita-Dake - 北岳 (3193m)
Actual: Kita-Dake NE ridge (2850m)
Time to target: 3:30 (estimated - normal pace: 7:00)
Time to highest point: 2:30 (normal pace: 6:00)
Time down: 1:30 (normal pace: 4:00)
Water: At start,  at 2250m and at the top.
Access: Kofu station to Hiragaware. Buses at 4am, 7am and 9am. Last return 16:40. Connection with Tokyo 1:30 to 2:00 from Shinjuku.

I wanted to do this hike, but was not sure if it would be possible in one day, if I were to start at 6am from Tokyo. Indeed it wasn't. The bus was 30min late. The tourist map indicated 3 hours from the first (1600m) to the second hut (2250m) and another 3 to the ridgeline (2850m), with 1 more hour to the top (3193m). But I had just 5 hours to do the whole thing, which was very uncertain. So I set off at a brisk pace (no running) and got at the ridge line in 2.5, with some nice views of Fuji.

I was seriously thinking of going to the top anyway and sleeping in the hut. However there was no internet connection so I had no way to communicate with home. So I ended up going back down and having a bath in the river rapids. The extra change of clothes turned out to have been useful. Anyway, next time I think I'll go and sleep at the hut at the top of the mountain, and wake up to see the sunrise over Fuji!

You begin at a riverbed, spanned by a suspension bridge. On the other side, there are camping grounds and a hut. The initial stages of the hike are in shady forest. I took the right (northern) path, as the left path was deeper in a gully and would probably be windless. As it was, there was little wind on the path I followed.

The forest (1600-2200m)

Most of the hike was in forest, until the second hut, where you broke out into low vegetation. Insects were a problem again, and it was difficult to have a snack as they kept biting if I stood still for more than a couple of seconds.

The way in the forest was moderately steep overall, but it was also accentuated by many small ladders and log steps, which made progress slower than expected. It was also quite crowded, even though this was one of the hottest days of the year.

The ground was wet at places, as there are a couple of streams crossing the path. The largest one is near the treeline.
In fact, after some about 1:30 (note: it can take 3 hours at normal pace), I emerged at a clearing where there is a hut, camping grounds and small pond.

The hut has fresh water, as well as ice cream and other refreshments. There are camping grounds both in the sun and in the shade, but it was quite hot that day. Definitely hotter than the camp by the river bed. So if you were to camp in summer, I'd recommend either below or at the top. The 2200m location seems best for spring/autumn.

The pond at the plateau

The plateau at 2250m, view towards the ridge.
The remaining climb to the ridge was in low vegetation and only partial shade. This took about an hour. Near the ridge, there was an intersection with the path coming up from the central chute, which is perhaps slightly more shady, but also less windy. The going here is easier, even though it's significantly steeper than before, as the ground is much more even, with rocks, dirt and gravel. Hence, it is possible to maintain a steady pace and climb quite quickly.
The views at the ridge are excellent, but getting to the top gives you a full view of Fuji. The path looks to be similar to the path leading up to the ridge. Hard, flat ground with gravel and dirt, and so the climb should be easy. At this point you might start feeling the effects of altitude, but in my case the fatigue was more muscular than aerobic. Below are some views from the ridge.
View SE (towards Fuji) 

View SW (path to Kita-Dake)

View East
View North (and me)

Going back down was quite fast (1:30) and relatively painless. But it was still quite hot, and so I went into the river to have a bath and clean my stinky clothes.

PS. Would it have been possible to get to the top and back? At the same pace, it would take me 45min to get to the top, and I suppose add 90 min extra time. In practice, I did 4:15, so the total time would be 5:45. But the 9am bus is only scheduled to arrive at the trailhead at 10:55, and the last bus to town is at 16:40.... which stretching itreally tight. This is possible if one takes the 7am bus, but to get the 7am bus you need to start from Tokyo the day before and spend the night in town (Kofu). All in all, better to spend the night in a hut.

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