Distance: 26.1 km
Elevation change: 1409 metres
Highest point: 2899 metres
Start: Minoto Kogen Lodge
Finish: Umijiri Station (Koumi Line)
Map: Yama to Kogen Chizu 山と高原地図 ［No.33 八ヶ岳 YATSUGA-TAKE］
Kanto’s Adventure Playground – Yatsugatake
The eight main peaks which make up the Yatsugatake Renpo 八ヶ岳連峰 have long held a special affinity with Kanto based outdoor adventurers and are climbed throughout the year. While the full chain of mountains span some 30 km north-south, this hike takes in three of the most prominent peaks.
Day 1: Following the Minami sawa to a Rocky Campsite (6.9 km)
The main access to Yatsugatake is from Chino Station 茅野駅 on the Chuo Line with a connecting bus service to Minotoguchi 美濃戸口 (37 mins, 870 yen). With the busiest summer holiday period over there was only a handful of us taking the first morning bus. From the Minoto Kogen Lodge bus stop take the left trail which follows a graded road for the one hour walk to the Minoto-sansou 美濃戸山荘, here you can fill up your water bottles and enjoy a relaxing lunch on the outdoor tables.
Options from the hut include taking the left trail which heads via Kita sawa 北沢 to the Akadake-kosen 赤岳鉱泉 campsite while the right shadows the Minami sawa 南沢 up to the Gyoja Hut 行者小屋. While the Gyoja Hut is closest to Mt. Akadake the Akadake-kosen is nicer to pitch a tent and has its own resident hot spring. The route described in this hike takes the latter and will take around 2.5 hours to reach the Gyoja Hut (campsite 1,000 yen). The upper reaches follows a dry river bed before merging back onto the riverside easement below the hut. The tent sites here are limited and the ground is also covered in rocks.
Day 2: Spectacular Views from Another 100 Famous Mountain (7.5 km)
The first rousing of the morning took place a little before 3am with some guys in a neighbouring tent feverishly preparing for a pre-dawn summit of Mt. Akadake 赤岳 (2,899m). Exiting the tent at a more reasonable 6am, I was greeted with glorious blue skies which provided the added incentive quickly finish breakfast and pack up a dew saturated tent. While most folk headed off with a day pack intent on returning to base camp, I think many looked on in mild amusement as I proceeded, heavy pack in tow towards the summit.
The trail to Mt. Akadake leads off from the southern edge of the campsite and after 10 minutes forks with another trail heading to Nakadake 中岳 so keep left and it should take around an hour to reach a prominent trail marker 30 minutes from the summit. Take extra care negotiating the final push and use the chains as necessary. On a good day the views from Mt. Akadake are quite simply breathtaking and provides a wonderful vantage point to behold Mt. Fuji.
After passing the Mt. Akadake summit hut the trail makes a rather steep descent to another close by hut which happened to coincide with its weekly helicopter supply drop. From here until the Ioudake-sansou 硫黄山荘 the ridgeline remains above 2,700 metres as you traverse over Yokodake 横岳 (2,829 m) and while some sections pass near precipitous drop-offs, chains and ladders maintain adequate safety. While not indicated on the map, the Ioudake-sansou does in fact have running water and includes one of the best mountain restrooms I’ve come across. The trail up to Mt. Ioudake 硫黄岳 (2,760 m) isn’t well defined through seven odd rock cairns mark the approximate route. From the top the biggest surprise came in the form of a giant explosion crater akin to the one on Mt. Fuji carved into the mountain side. The final leg loses considerable elevation as it pass by another hut on towards the picturesque campsite and hot spring at Honzawa-onsen 本沢温泉 (campsite 600 yen).
Day 3: Following an Old Logging Road Back to the Koumi Line (11.7 km)
The final day whilst the longest in terms of distance is probably the easiest on the legs. From the campsite follow a rather narrow 4WD drive track, first to a locked gate and small parking area then a little further to the Honzawa trail entrance with a walking time of around 90 minutes. The trail back to the station actually continues directly across the bitumen road, unfortunately this rugged section of road looks like it hasn’t been maintained in years is a little punishing. Along the way note an incongruous looking house seemingly in the middle of nowhere opposite a ruined homestead. This final section of trail should take a little over an hour to reach the Minamimaki Village. It was here the map and the actual road layout seemed to differ and required conferring with a resident to navigate the correct course back to Umijiri Station 海尻駅. The infrequent train service on the Koumi Line means you should time your departure from the Honzawa campsite accordingly.