Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Tateshina’

I’d climbed it before, but I couldn’t erase the image of the snow-capped 2500m volcanic mass from my daily thoughts. Fumito was keen on the idea, so one cold March morning we gave it a go: the northern face of Tateshina!


We pulled into the parking lot of Shirakaba-Kogen Kokusai Ski Resort on a stunningly beautiful bluebird day, unloaded the equipment, and filed our plans with the ski patrol. At least someone would know what we were up to. Opting to save precious daylight, we shelled out the money for the gondola, which whisked us to the 5th stagepoint of the 10 stage peak. The trail was well-marked for the leisurely stroll through the fresh powder to the trailhead proper at the 7th stage. In the summer,the parking lot is packed with day hikers, but on this particular winter morning, not a single creature was in sight. It seems that no one had made it up this peak for a few weeks, as there were no tracks to follow. Good thing Fumito brought his GPS.


We strapped on our 12-point crampons, gripped our ice axes firmly, and started the short, steep climb towards the towering peak. Weaving in and out of a dense forest, we spotted our initial destination in the distance: a large shoulder sitting at the base of the summit plateau. Up we traversed, through fluffy, knee-deep snow. We took turns taking the lead, frequently checking the time with each passing step. We’d set 3pm as a turnaround time, and were well ahead of schedule thanks to our sustained effort.


Around 45 minutes later, we popped out on the shoulder, finding a large mountain hut almost completely engulfed in snow. “Boy”, I exclaimed, “looks like it’s been a good year!” Fumito agreed, commenting on the meter or so of accumulation on the roof. The summit lie directly in front of us: an easy 30-minute stroll in the summer, but a gargantuan task during the white season. Fumito took the lead, as I kept a great distance behind in case he triggered an avalanche. I started my ascent when he gave the thumbs up, and we did our celebratory summit dance several minutes later, in plain sight of Yatsu-ga-take. Time check: 2pm


The wind was whipping on the peak, so we slithered back down to the sheltered confines in front of the hut and cook up some lunch. I opted for instant pho, while Fumito dug into the udon. Hot noodles on a cold winter day really refresh the spirit, and we arose with increased rigor. We’d beaten the beast of Tateshima at her tricky game, and trotted back through the ski resort just as the skiers were carving their final runs of the day.


With my internal cravings finally calmed, I could finally get a good nights sleep, but not for long. You see, once you make the commitment to climb the Hyakumeizan, the list will haunt you like a long-lost lover, taking over your thoughts and controlling your mind.

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The peaks of Nagano Prefecture are relatively inaccessible from the Kansai region, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken the first Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station in order to reach numerous trailheads. It was early May, the weather looked favorable, and I was on a very tight schedule. Mt. Tateshina beckoned, and the challenge was on to conquer it as a day trip from Osaka!

The first Shinkansen rolls out of Osaka at 6am, and you can be in Nagano city around 10am by changing to the Chuo Line in Nagoya, but I was headed further south, towards Lake Suwa and Chino station. The train seemed to take forever, but I finally arrived in time to catch the 11:20am bus. I asked the driver how long it’d take to reach the trailhead, and he said I could start hiking at 12:57pm! Oops, so much for my early start. Mt. Tateshina was hidden in cloud, so I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to get up there, but was praying that the weather would clear. Sure enough, by the time I reached the start of the hike the sun was shining brightly.

The track initially climbed through bamboo grass, but quickly disappeared under a large mound of snow. I spent the next 1/2 km or so walking on top of the white stuff, wondering how much would be left on the summit. The path started entered a gully and followed it straight up. There were a few patches of snow here and there, but nothing to warrant putting on my crampons. Yatsu-ga-take was rising majestically out to my right, though the clouds were still hiding the high point of Aka-dake. Higher and higher I went, until finally reaching the huge boulder field just below the summit. This is where things got tricky, as snow was still covering most of the path. The biggest problem with walking on top of an unstable snow field is that occasionally you’ll break through the snow and realize there’s nothing below you! I did this a few times but was luckily able to dig myself out. Finally I realized that venturing off the trail was probably a better idea, and I resorted to rock hopping up to the crater rim.

The views were wonderful, with the center of the crater still filled with snow. There’s a small shrine in the middle of the summit area, and it was somewhere between the high point and here that I dropped my lens cap. It bounced off a rock and slid deeply underneath. Actually, if you look closely on the summit you can find all sorts of rubbish squeezed between the rocks. A sad state of affairs, but it really is hard to retrieve something if you drop it, and I’d wondered how many others had done the same thing as I.

Running short of time, I flew back down the same path I’d come up, just in time to catch the last bus back to Chino station. I didn’t arrive in Osaka until just before midnight, but hey, my mission was complete and in the process, I came up with another goal: a winter ascent of Tateshina from the trickier north face. The challenge was on!

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