In the heart of the Northern Japanese Alps, just 3 hours away from Tokyo, there are many outdoor activities available all season. When one mentions Hakuba, the first thing that comes to mind would be skiing. But Hakuba has a lot more to do even during the green season, especially it is also one of Japan’s most well-known hiking destinations. Regardless of your skill level or travel schedule, there are many ways to enjoy hiking in this area, from beginners to more experienced hikers. This article will take you through the route that is recommended more for beginners while enjoying alpine flora and fantastic views.
Mt. Karamatsudake Hike
If anyone is up for an easy, not strenuous hike, then hiking to Happoike(Happo Pond) is just perfect as the gondola and chair lifts will provide you a lift up to Happoike Sanso mountain hut and can be done in about 90 minutes. The pond is a great place to enjoy lunch and photo time for the majestic peaks in front of you.
But, to those who want to challenge, have more flexibility in your travel schedule and are up for a more spectacular view,then push a little bit further from the hut and follow the ridge until Mt. Karamatsudake with an altitude of 2,696m.
It seems way high up, but if you take Happo Gondola Lift Adam to Usagidaira and change to Alpen Quad and Grat Quad respectively, it will take you all the way up to an altitude of 1,820m to Happoike Sanso mountain hut. A bit relieving to know isn’t it? So all you need is just follow the ridge and head up from there, and come back down the same way. Make sure you stay on the trail. There are some steep parts and injuries and death were reported before. During this hike, it will give you a breathtaking view of the Hakuba basin, and the Northern Japan Alps on clear sunny days.
Happoike (Happo Pond)
Just a bit of a walk from Happoike Sanso Mountain hut, you will see Mt. Hakuba(right) and “mountain of no return” (left)
The summit of Mt. Karamatsudake seen around from Karamatsu Hut, approximately 20 more minutes walk to go to the top from here
Having a high altitude of 2,696m, even in summer, as you get closer to the summit, the weather can get chilly. So make sure to carry light jackets to keep you warm. Also, the last ridge trail to the summit is narrower compared to others plus windy in some conditions so stay firm to the ground and watch your steps. If there is any forecast on the possibility of thick mist, there are chances of getting lost so make sure to look around for the right trail.
Looking down Karamatsu Hut from the summit of Mt. Karamatsudake
Looking up Mt. Shiroumadake from the summit of Mt. Karamatsudake
Sunrise seen from the hut if you choose to stay overnight
Mountain of No Return
It is a knife ridgeline divided into three peaks and is one of the three largest Kiret in Japan where advanced hikers and climbers go. Out of the three peaks, Peak 1 and Peak 2 are far most dangerous with lots of chains, rocks and steep hills. There were injuries and deaths in the past too. Peak3 leads to the top of Mt. Karamatsu, and Peak1 leads to Mt. Shirouma-Yari. Tengu-no-Okudari is a slope or directly translated into English as a big descending of Tengu which is a long-nosed legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion usually with an angry face.
Hiking Schedule & Time
During the green season, which is roughly around between July to September, this mountain is really popular with many hikers. Because the views are stunningly beautiful, if you go on a clear sunny day, it's better to schedule your hike longer as there are many places to take photos.
The typical total time you would need for this hike is about 7hours.
Going up would be:
Happoike Sanso mountain hut to 3rd cairn (90 mins)
3rd cairn to Karamatsudake Hut (150 mins)
Karamatsudake Hut to Mt. Karamatsudake (20 mins)
Going down would be:
Mt. Karamatsudake to Karamatsudake Hut (15 mins)
Karamatsudake Hut to 3rd cairn (120 mins)
3rd cairn to Happoike Sanso mountain hut ( 60 mins )
follow the red line to Mt. Karamatsudake and come back down the same way
From Tokyo station via train and bus, it will take about 3 hours.
Take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano station via Hokuriku Shinkansen.
Change to limited express bus to Hakuba. Then finally get on the Fixed Route Bus Sarukura Line to Happo-One Ski Resort