Upon arriving in Kamikochi (my base for the Japanese Alps) there appeared to be two types of hikers – the leisurely, flat along the river walker, and full blown mountain climbers, with ice axe, crampons etc. Being comfortably in the middle of these two categories I went in search of a middle of the road hike.
In the end I decided to walk from Kamikochi to the Nishi Hotaka Hut (2367m), and back. The only information I could find online about this route (in English) was from people hiking down, after taking the Shin Hotaka ropeway up the other side. Generally people said the descent was fine, and as I’m better with up than down I decided to go for it.
How To Get To The Trail
From Kamikochi bus station walk toward the river and turn left (toward Taisho Pond). Walk until you reach the Hotaka Bridge, and cross. From here you will see the sign pictured below, and this leads you straight to the trail.
The trail is fairly well maintained, with built in steps, which really helps a lot with the descent. The route up starts relatively flat, before climbing fairly steeply. You are walking through the forest and there are lots of tree roots, so keep your wits about you.
About halfway the route flattens, as you walk along the saddle. Afterward the steep ascent continues. Then came the biggest surprise – snow! And a fair bit of it. I hiked in the end of May, which isn’t the peak trekking season, but as I wasn’t going too high I thought snow wouldn’t be a problem. Thankfully it was negotiable in decent hiking boots, and there is a fixed rope to hold onto if you really struggle.
This part of the hike is a mixture of snow and boulders, but it isn’t too difficult to reach the hut. In total the route took two and half hours from the sign up to the hut. And then two hours back down afterwards.
Following The Route
The route is easy to follow, with regular signs. Although these are all in Japanese, so it’s worth taking a picture of the symbols in the visitors centre before setting out. There are also ribbons on poles, which are particularly helpful in the snowy section.
There is only one junction, and you want to go right and head upwards. Rather than straight ahead. This is signposted so check the symbols if you’re unsure.
Unfortunately despite my efforts the view was hidden by cloud. A bit of a disappointment, but generally the view from the hut, and nearby ridge is meant to be rather impressive. So if you go on the clear day I’m sure you’ll be happy.
Things To Note:
▪️Wear a bear bell! I saw lots of Japanese trekkers with these the day before and had no idea why they were jingling. Later I saw a sign about bears, and that one had been sighted that week. After that I made sure I jingled too!
▪️Although the route does not go particularly high, there may be snow outside of peak trekking season. Be prepared and take sturdy, waterproof boots. Also be willing to turn back if it gets too sketchy.
▪️I stayed in a ryokan before hiking, which provided dinner and breakfast. Although this was nice food, it wasn’t really trekking food in my book. And I struggled more than usual until I tucked into a jam pastry. There also isn’t anywhere to buy good trekking snacks in the area, so bring some with you to Kamikochi.
▪️Make sure you take enough water and sports drinks with you on the hike. The sports drinks can be bought in Kamikochi.
▪️Take rain gear and warm clothes in case the weather turns bad.
I would recommend the hike to anyone whose interested in trekking in the Japanese Alps, but hasn’t got the equipment/experience to go up to the summits. It’s certainly a bit more adventurous than the typical day hikes from Kamikochi, and you don’t have to pay for the rather expensive rope way. Fingers crossed you have better views than me!
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