Ascent of Yariga-take on 2015-07-27

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:Jill Stone
Twm Stone
David Stone
Ceri Stone
Patrick Stone
Date:Monday, July 27, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Bus
    Elevation:10433 ft / 3179 m

Ascent Trip Report

On a family holiday to Japan we were mostly engaged in sightseeing, visiting temples, shrines and gardens, sampling exotic cuisine, relaxing in onsens, maximising the use of our Japan Rail Passes on the Shinkansen (bullet trains), revelling in novel cultural experiences and getting to grips with the language. However, I did manage to sneak a few mountain ascents into our itinerary...

Yariga-take, or Mount Yari, is often known as the Matterhorn of Japan. "Yari" is "spear" in Japanese, although perhaps this shapely and impressive peak looks more like an arrowhead stuck onto the end of the main ridge. The fifth highest mountain in Japan, it is justifiably one of Kyuya Fukada's "100 Famous Japanese Mountains". This distinctive peak in the Hida Mountains (Northern Alps) was probably my favourite mountain of our entire Japan trip.

Our visit followed a comfortable stay at the Dormy Inn Matsumoto from where we took the 08:00 train to Shin Shimashima and the 08:40 bus to Kamikochi. After arrival at the bus station we spent a few minutes looking around the excellent Kamikochi Visitor Center with its relief models of the area's mountains and extensive information on the local hiking and natural history (but unfortunately virtually nothing in English).

We set off walking at 10:00 in hot, humid and predominantly cloudy conditions. The going is initially very easy and comfortable and largely flat, following the true left bank of the Azusa-gawa (Azusa River). The trails are very popular but most coach parties don't make it much further than Kappa-bashi (Kappa Bridge), a particularly photogenic location and consequently very crowded. Thick forest with bamboo understorey provides shade and the path is wide, well-maintained and signposted (albeit one needs to recognise the Japanese characters for Yariga-take to avoid taking incorrect alternatives). We were carrying food for lunches but additional drinks and snacks are available en route, we bought some tasty doughnuts at Yokoo Lodge which is the highest place service vehicles can reach and where the Karasawa Trail diverges (and hence above which food gets a little more expensive and the trail gets less crowded). Beyond Yokoo the path also becomes narrower and increases in gradient. It took us 4 hours 30 minutes from Kamikochi, inclusive of all drink, lunch and photo stops, to reach Yarisawa Lodge (1,820 metres). We stayed the first night at this lodge, having booked a dormitory bedroom for each of the huts we used on this trip. However, there were plenty of spaces available in the general dormitories of both this and the higher hut despite it being summer, so booking might not be essential. As is usual in Japanese mountain huts futons and duvets are supplied thus obviating the need to carry one's own bedding. Dinner served promptly at 17:00 was standard, filling, Japanese fare. We chose to accompany the meal wth green tea but the majority of fellow hikers seemed to be taking advantage of the many vending machines full of cans of beer.

The next day, after eating (most of) the hut set breakfast served at 05:00, we continued north-westerly up the valley. The hike becomes more challenging, rocky and steeper from here on in. River crossings generally have bridges but there were a few minor fordings. Several snowfields had to be crossed, some quite extensive, but by following previous boot-prints and taking extra care did not require crampons or offer any problems. Finally, above the tree line and particularly beyond a small rock shelter used by Banryu (the Buddhist monk credited with Mount Yari's first ascent) a series of switchbacks leads up to the Yariga-take Sanso (3,050 metres), from where one can see Fuji-san peeking over the nearer mountain ridges. This hut-to-hut section took us 4 hours 35 minutes.

We had originally planned to make our summit bid at dawn the following morning (exactly 187 years to the day after the first ascent) but as the route wasn't crowded and the weather remained fine, but with a forecast for significant deterioration, we decided to proceed directly with the final climb. I was facing these last 120 metres of vertical ascent with some trepidation as I wasn't sure how much technical difficulty and exposure there would be and hence how appropriate and safe it would be for our mixed family group (with four teenagers). I'd done my research through reading trip reports and watching YouTube videos and decided against bringing technical kit from home, mostly on the grounds of weight, so the sight of so many Japanese climbers wearing helmets and a few carrying rope and mountain hardware did concern me (although in fairness some were probably planning on doing the whole Yari-Hotaka Traverse including the infamous Daikiretto). We did however have Showa rubberised builders' gloves to protect our hands on the metalwork.

In the end I needn't have worried as we all coped well with the (at times very) exposed scramble, following the "O"s and avoiding the "X"s painted on the rock on the separate up and down routes. The rock is mostly solid with excellent hand and foot holds and wherever these are lacking chains, pitons and fixed ladders are provided to assist with balance and security while getting up to (and down from) the small summit plateau with its geographical marker and small Buddhist shrine. The top was surrounded by swirling cloud blocking views to the south towards Hotaka-dake but the outlook was intermittently extensive in all other directions, revealing how truly impressive this range of mountains is. 20 minutes to climb up the final 120 metres of Yariga-take, 20 minutes on the top, and 20 minutes to climb back to the hut where we spent the second night. Dinner also served promptly at 17:00.

Sure enough we had heavy rain through the night and the following morning broke with dense cloud all around, but at least we could have a bit of a lie-in and took advantage of the more relaxed breakfast hours (05:00-07:00). We then made the long trek back to Kamikochi in 6 hours 45 minutes and once again managed to avoid being rained on despite the overall weather pattern of cloud with sunny intervals and heavy showers.

Our third night in the area was in the Konashidaira Log Cabins. After a short pilgrimage to the Walter Weston Memorial (the bespectacled vicar who is honoured as one of the founders of Japanese mountaineering) we celebrated our successful expedition with a sumptuous barbecue and spent an hour or so watching a lively troop of Japanese Macaques stripping the surrounding trees of berries and leaves.

The following day we caught buses to Hirayu Onsen and to Takayama and thence trains to Nagoya and Kyoto to continue our tour of Japan.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The spear-shaped summit of Yariga-take in the Northern Japanese Alps (2015-07-28). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5512 ft / 1680 m
    Round-Trip Distance:21.1 mi / 34 km
    Route:Yarisawa Route
    Trailhead:Kamikochi  4921 ft / 1499 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Aid Climb
    Gear Used:
Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
Ascent Statistics
    Time:2 Days 
Descent Statistics
    Time:1 Days 

Other Photos

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The summit of Yariga-take, in the Northern Japanese Alps, with its small Buddhist shrine (2015-07-27). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
From the summit of Yariga-take, in the Northern Japanese Alps, looking down over the top of the fixed ladders to the Yarigatake Sanso (Hut) 120 vertical metres below (2015-07-27). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.

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