TR: Japan Alps Traverse

damian

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Jul 29, 2009
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Here is one from the last week in Japan, from an area of the Japan Alps just south of Hakuba. It contains a lot of terrain names that will likely mean nothing to most people, but I included them (copy/paste from my blog) so that anyone wanting to visit the area could benefit from the beta. And I hope someone does visit - it is certainly totally within reach of any experienced backcountry traveler. In one hut book I found an entry from May 1st 1992 by a Kiwi.

For the telemarkers here (and there are many): I was the only guy on alpine touring equipment. There were two on normal telemark bindings and one with leather boots and three pins mounted on pattern based sticks - what he happily called 'Australian Style'. This is what went down...

I joined Matsumoto-san (owner of the local mountain store in Hakuba, Rapies), Touji-san (grower of rice and maker of fine local sake) and Harada-san (Hakuba telemark skier) for a 3 day ski trip that took us from the west side of the Kita Alps to the eastern edge.

A poor quality attempt to depict the traverse using Google Maps. This image covers an area about 30km wide
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Summary:
One day hiking in 9km into the mountain range with some skiing in the afternoon. Next, two days of great skiing as we edged our way to the east on the traverse. The second of these two days ended in a mildly grueling exit from the mountains that lasted 6 hours and consisted of boot-pack down-climb of 900m vertical and a 17km hike in ski boots on a summer road to our car depo.

Skiing towards the Tododaira Hut
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The Tododaira Hut on the ridge with Yakushidake to the right
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The hut
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Day 1 - Hike in and ski:
Meet at 3.30am and drop a car at Nakakura Dam near Omachi, drive 3 hours or so to the Hietsu Tunnel on the south west side of the mountain range, just south of Lake Arimine. Hike for 9km into the range, to the western edge of the Kurobe drainage. This was a long easy 1000m climb to Kitanomatadake. We skied a short descent into the drainage then climbed to Tarodaira Koya (mountain hut) and spent the night there. The huts are still shut for normal business, but many have emergency rooms open all winter.

The shrine on top of Yakushidake
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The contents of the shrine
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Yakushidake from across the Korobe Drainage
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Day 2 - ski and traverse:
Climb 600m vertical to the top of Yakushidake, ski a line into the one of the classic east facing bowls from the summit, ascend to the ridge again and ski another perfect corn run to the west. This combo of runs gave about 700m vertical skiing from Yakushidake (2920m). We then returned to the hut to collect our heavy gear and by midday were on our way east to continue the traverse. Along the way we skied another good run into the Kurobe Goro drainage then put in a long rising traverse towards Kurobegorodake (2839m), finishing the day with a great run from there to the Kurobegoro hut.

Some of the terrain we skied in the Korobe Drainage
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Another aspect of the Kurobe Drainage. The first night's hut is at the far end
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Our second night accommodation: The Kurobegoro emergency hut. It is a fantastic little hut in a perfect location
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The view of Kasadake from the hut
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The east aspect of Kurobegorodake that we skied
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Good views all day of Yarigatake, the highest peak in the Kita Alps
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More terrain that we skied
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Day 3 - ski, traverse, ski and exit:
Continue heading east to complete the traverse, with a big day ahead of us. We started by climbing 500m vertical to Mitsumatarengedake (2820m) and skiing a great 400m vertical run to the north, passing near to the Mitsumata Hut and into a secluded basin. This descent and climb allowed us to by-pass the steep slog up Washibadake, a pointless exercise. Next, another ascent of 500m vertical back up to the ridge line and on to to the Suisho Hut perched on the edge of a steep face that skis directly into the main Kurobe Dam drainage.

The top of the run towards the Kurobe Dam headwater
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This run of 600m vertical was the best of the trip and set us up for another climb of another 500m vertical, still tending east to continue the traverse. We gained Masagodake at 2840m and skied direct east into a great bowl of corn, then down into a horrible narrow gully that I would never normally venture into.

Matsumoto-san toured in leather boots and three pin bindings to keep it light. It was challenging on some of the steeper terrain
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He is doing ok
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The canyon of a river was well filled with old avalanche debris, making it possible to ski about 800m vertical and reach the only feasible ascent route out of the trap. Our final ascent for the trip took us out of the canyon up 300m vertical to the top of Yumatadake at 2378m at 4pm.

Our last descent of the traverse from Masagodake
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It was a slow climb at the end of 1800m climbing for that day. What followed was the long exit of the mountain range: descend on foot 900m vertical to the Takasegawa (river), which took 1.5 hours of painful down-stepping on a steep uneven summer trail with no snow. Then a quick rest and some food, focus the mind, and off on a 17km hike to our cars along a hiking trail and into the night on a closed summer road. We finished at 10pm.

A parting shot of Yarigatake
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DJM

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Thanks Damian, a refreshing change of scenery.

"17km hike in ski boots on a summer road to our car depo"
cool.gif
Nice one!
 
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Snow Blowey

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looks like a great trip damian. Love the look of the slopes in the 2nd last photo. Would this sort of trip be possible in mid winter?
 

telecrag

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Oct 12, 2007
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Thanks Damian, a refreshing change of scenery.

"17km hike in ski boots on a summer road to our car depo"
cool.gif
Nice one!

+1

Please tell me you were rooted. We did an unplanned 16k hike in and out once, it hurted.
 
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damian

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Jul 29, 2009
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Thanks for the comments. The traverse itself is not that much of a major distance, but if you yo-yo ski descents along the way, plus do a bit of back-and-forth, it starts to add up.

Regarding the hut size: it is actually a summer hut designed to take a fairly large amount of traffic, akin to European alpine huts with dinner and breakfast served (only in Summer in Japan). There are many smaller than that one, and some in wonderful locations. However some are even bigger. The largest in the Japan Alps is just above Hakuba and beds 1500 people in summer. It is a hotel, not a hut. Sometimes the bigger huts have an emergency room open all seasons. Sometime in winter the front door is left unlocked but temporarily boarded with slats. Unfortunately the huts in the Hakuba sector of the Japan Alps do not do either of these things (with two very distant exceptions that are useless in winter)

VSG - nice red shelter. What is the ladder for?

17km hike: We knew it was coming all trip and was prepared for it. It was the 900m downclimb that came before the walk which posed the biggest drain on muscle resources. I could have done without that. When the time came for the 17km we marched it at 6kph. The next day I was a bit sore and fatigued and took it easy 'on the farm'. Had a nap at midday. I can walk forever with a load, but the AT boots break down the system after a while. The rubber is worn on my soles and the metal Dynafit heel piece on each boot is now the first thing to strike the road when my foot comes down. After 1000's of steps this jarring becomes uncomfortable (and the noise is annoying)

Snowblowy - you could do it it winter in a modified form, but there are an awful lot of buts attached to that. A better use of time might be to load up a hut in autumn with fuel and food. Then return for a week or two in winter. Even then there are a lot of buts attached.

Tele-whippet: I wish I took more action shots, because judging how challenging leather and 3 pins appears to be, he was putting in some nice open surfy turns on 35-40 degree terrain at times. Though it didn't come without some genuine relief at the end and always trying to ski 30 degrees or less where ever possible. All three telemarkers on the trip could ski very well - I was amazed how graceful, fast and smooth they were.
 

damian

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Jul 29, 2009
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Hi Mike,

We did the trip on 18-19-20 May when a weather window opened up. Latest - you could ski up there in June, though May is certainly better, but will be walking a long way to reach the higher snow. By then a traverse would be a lot of rocky ridge hiking, so I'd just get to a high bowl and milk that area instead. It wasn't a guided tour, just a bunch of us who live here and ski backcountry (3 Japanese, and myself a foreigner). As for a Haut Route of this part of Japan - I do not know of anything officially regarded as that, but you could certainly extend it to have started at a place called Tateyama and added two days to the trip, perhaps an extra day to enjoy some skiing along the way rather than just humping your gear along narrow ridges the whole time. Our route took three days, but it could easily have been done in two if we were not there for the skiing diversions. No matter which way you skin it though, there is seldom a pleasant ending to the trip as exiting the range on the east side pretty much always requires a lot of undulating narrow rocky (sometimes forested) ridge hiking to eventually ski out, or a long walk with no snow.
 

Rabid K9

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Jul 15, 2008
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Looks like a great trip, most good ones end with a sound degree of suffering well into night.
 
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