One of the reasons why I love climbing the mountains of Japan is because it is a pure hobby, no business. That is – if you like to climb one, then just go there and climb. They won’t hassle you to obtain a permit or a guide except during winter or non-climbing season when snow covers the trails and become technical. They won’t even charge you with entrance fees or whatever!
A view from Mount Ainodake after sunrise
So the spontaneous me just showed up in Minami Alps National Park one Saturday morning in a hope to spend the weekend climbing Mount Kitadake and Mount Ainodake, respectively the second and fourth highest of Japan.
Located in Chubu Region, Minami Alps National Park is a mountainous area in Japanese Akaishi Mountains. The park was established on June 1, 1964 bordering Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures. It is made up several peaks, some of which are over 3000 meters in height including Kitadake (3,193 meters), Ainodake (3,190 meters), Nakashirane (3,055 meters), Notoridake (3,026meters) and Senjogatake (3,033 meters). Other prominent peaks in the park are Mibudake (2,999 meters), Kaikomagatake (2,967 meters), Yokokawa-dake (2478 meters), Houousanzan (2,841 meters), Kushigatayama (2,052 meters) and Yashajin Pass (1,770 meters), among others.
Mountain contours as seen from Mount Kitadake
A trek to Minami Alps National Park is a favorite weekend past time for Japanese mountaineers specially those based in surrounding prefectures and a bucket list for others as it offers a panoramic view of Mount Fuji. A day climb is possible and guarantees unparalleled view and unforgettable experience but I preferred to spend a night in one of the mountain lodges atop to see the surroundings in all its glory at the golden hour.
Daybreak hues on the way to Mount Ainodake
Day 1: Tokyo – Hiragawara – Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge
The first day of the journey is the transfer from Tokyo to Hiragawara and the assault from Hirogawara trailhead to Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge that served as my base for the climb.
I took the first train from Shinjuku Station to Takao Station that departed at 455AM, arriving Takao Station at 6AM and just in time for the connecting train to Kofu Station that left at 614AM. By 8AM, I was already in Kofu Station with enough time for breakfast and last minute shopping before the first trip of local bus going to Hirogawara scheduled at 9AM. (Tip: Make sure to queue your bag in platform 1 as soon you arrive.)
One of the series of waterfalls from Hirogawara to Mount Kitadake
By 1130AM, I was already in Hirogawara, the jump-off to Mount Kitadake and Mount Ainodake. From there, it was a six-kilometer of pure assault from the trailhead going to Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge on the ridge between Mount Kitadake and Mount Nakashirane. It took me five hours to complete the stretch with elevation gain of about 1,500 meters. Five hours of challenging and varying trails, from the forest path that runs parallel to the river to the boulder trail going to ridge line, crossing numerous bamboo ladders and metal bridges.
I arrived at the lodge just before sunset to witness the golden hour of glorious beauty 3,000 meters above.
The ridge trail going to Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge
Day 2: Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge – Mount Nakashirane – Mount Ainodake – Mount Kitadake – Hirogawara – Tokyo
The second day of the journey is the assault to Mount Nakashirane, Mount Ainodake and Mount Kitadake, the descent to Hirogawara trailhead, and transfer to Tokyo.
The lodge where I stayed at sits at the shoulder between Mount Kitadake and Mount Ainodake, which means I had an option to sunrise at either of the two peaks. Per recommendation of fellow Filipino mountaineers I met along, I went to Mount Ainodake for sunrise. It was a good choice considering that it was less crowded.
A view of Mount Fuji from Mount Ainodake before sunrise
I started the assault at 4AM and reached the summit of Mount Ainodake at 525AM, before the first ray of the sun broke the horizon. I was mesmerized by the scenery around me that I spent an hour in the summit. By 6AM, I started the descent back to the lodge. It took me an hour back to the lodge where I had a quick breakfast before checking out to continue my assault to the next peak. After another hour of trekking, I reached the summit of Mount Kitadake, spent a few minutes up there and proceeded to descend back to Hiragawara.
One of the ladders going to Mount Kitadake
How to Get to Mount Kitadake
The trailhead to Mount Kitadake and Ainodake is located in the village of Hirogawara in Minami Alps Natural Park, around 4.5 hours away by train and bus from Shinjuku Station.
To get to Hirogawara from Shinjuku Station by public transportation, there are two ways:
- JR Trains + Local Bus
- JR Trains: Shinjuku Station to Takao Station to Kofu Stations (2.5 Hours | ¥2,270)
- Local Bus: Kofu Station to Hirogawara (2 hours | ¥2,150)
- Highway Bus + Local Bus
- Highway Bus: Shinjuku Station to Kofu Station (2.5 hours | ¥2,200)
- Local Bus: Kofu Station to Hirogawara (2 hours | ¥2,150)
If you are doing it just on a weekend, take the first option and catch the first JR train that departs before 5AM, you’ll be in Hirogawara before noon. The earliest highway bus departs at 7AM which will take you to Hiragawara at around 2PM and already a bit late.
At the ridge between Mount Ainodake and Mount Kitadake
Accommodations in Mount Kitadake
There are mountain huts atop for those who wish to spend a night in the area without camping. These mountain huts charge ¥8,500 per night per person with dinner and breakfast and ¥5,500 per night per person without meals. The huts offer big rooms where you will be sleeping on the floor next to other guest, no private rooms.
- Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge
Elevation – 3020 meters, between Mount Kitadake and Mount Nakashirane
- Kitadake Katanokoya Hut
Elevation – 3000 meters, 193 meters below Mount Kitadake
- Shiraneoike Goya Hut
Elevation – 2232 meters, two (2) to three (3) hours to the ridge
Alternatively, you can also pitch a tent for ¥700 per person per night.
Summit of Mount Ainodake, Japan’s fourth highest at 3,190m
Mount Ainodake – Mount Kitadake Weekend Climb Itinerary
If you are interested on this climb, here is my actual weekend itinerary.
1900H Depart Manila
Day 1:0020H Arrive Haneda International Airport0415H Proceed to Shinjuku Station0455H Train: Shinjuku to Takao0600H Arrive in Takao0614H Train: Takao to Kofu0755H Arrive in Kofu / Queue / Breakfast0915H Bus: Kofu to Hirokawa1125H Arrive Hirogawara1140H Start Trek
1645H Arrive in Kitadake Sanso Mountain Lodge
Day 2:0355 Start Trek0425H Arrive at Mount Nakashirane Summit0525H Arrive at Mount Ainodake Summit0600H Descent0700H Back in Lodge0730H Push to Mount Kitadake0830H Arrive in Mount Kitadake Summit0850H Descent1135H Back in Hirogawara / Buy Ticket to Kofu1300H Bus: Hirogawara to Kofu1450H Arrive in Kofu / Buy ticket to Shinjuku1530H: Kofu to Shinjuku
1900H Arrive in Shinjuku
0100H Haneda to Manila
Truly remarkable and memorable climb!
Budget / Expenses
|JR Trains: Shinjuku Station to Takao Station to Kofu Stations (2.5 Hour)||¥2,270/person|
|Local Bus: Kofu Station to Hirogawara (2 hours)||¥2,150/person|
|Accommodation: Kitadake Sanso Moutain Lodge (w/o meals)||¥5,500/person|
|Local Bus: Hirogawara to Kofu Station (2 hours)||¥2,150/person|
|Highway Bus: Shinjuku Station to Kofu Station (2.5 hours)||¥2,200/person|
|Budget for grocery/food||~¥3,000/person|
|Optional: Miscellaneous Expenses (souvenirs, personal expenses, etc.)||~¥3,000/person|
Budget (excluding airfare): ~¥20,270 / P9,300
Above the clouds at Minami Alps National Park
Notes and Other Tips
- Minimum number of day/s for the trek: 1 (Day trek possible)
- Guide: Not required
- Accommodation: Mountain Lodge or Camping
- Water Source: Available
- Best Months: July to September
- Highest Elevation: 3,193 meters
- Peaks summited on this Trek: Ainodake (3,190 m), Nakashirane (3,055 m) and Kitadake (3,193 m)
- Other Possible Peaks: Mibudake, Yokokawadake, Inaarakura, Daisenjogadake, Senjogatake, Kosenjogadake, Notoridake, Kurisawayama, etc.