Takatsuma + Kusatsushirane + Azumaya

Upon arriving at Takatsuma yesterday afternoon, I suddenly recalled cjw’s warning “the path to the trailhead leads through a ranch – better be careful on that one”. Too late! I had forgotten to bring the soft carrycase. And the ranch had a checkpoint hut staffed by a forthright woman who looked as if she would stand no nonsense. So this was what I had seen in my dreams a few months ago! No doubt about it. The hut and her, with a commanding view of the trail. And not only that, but a ranger had set up his “advice station”, a tent by the trail a few hundred yards further up. Another early-morning assault would be needed.

In fine weather, the Togakushi Eastern campsite would have been a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon. But no sooner than I had set off to the onsen to wash away the grime from Myoko and Hiuchi than a rainstorm started. When I returned to the tent, first the car became stuck in the deep mud, and even my light 4WD had to be towed out. And then I found I had left both inner and outer tent flaps open, and a half-inch of water filled the floor and my down sleeping bag. Damn. Ever a slow learner, I will admit this is not the first time it has happened.

By dawn, I was tired from more than just yesterday’s hiking. And the gentle stream was now flowing fast. Another soaking! I assume the trail must usually be dry, but today some sections had become a river. Once your feet are a foot deep in water, thereafter it doesn’t matter how many “crossings” there are, and indeed, the water was cool and refreshing.

High up on the final ridge to the summit, once again the dog became highly agitated, but this time it was only monkeys, which screeched their protest at being disturbed.

On the descent, I met a steady flow of hikers, one of whom immediately exclaimed “Ryogami-san!” Yes, late one afternoon back in April, he had arrived back at his car just as I was setting off . It seemed an eternity and many peaks ago. We both still have the Northern Alps to tackle, and perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to meet there.  

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Kusatsushirane was the sort of place I have come to dread. An enormous carpark, filled with cars, coaches, souvenir shops, the smell of unidentified marine creatures frying on skewers. The noisiest of places is where the noisiest officials will be. I chose a detour via the hidden hinterland of the carpark that brought me onto the trail well out of sight, and made quick work of this short hyakumeizan.

As is clear from the GPS track and map, the final 100 meters to the true summit is closed due to poisonous gases. Having read of the death of a hiker last year due to such gases, I respected the warning sign.

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It had been a long, 60km weekend, but upon reaching Azumaya at 3 in the afternoon, I knew this one would not be difficult. A straight up and down, no time-consuming undulations, less than 800 meters of altitude gain. A carpark flunky of the Azumaya Onsen hotel at the trailhead kindly suggested I was mad to go up now – surely it would take at least 5 hours.

Toward the top, the mountain is gently rounded, with open expanses of rocky outcrops interspersed with rich green heather-like plants. Just like Stiperstones, Shropshire,  

where us four kids had been taken every summer to pick bilberries, which Mum would then turn into magical bilberry pies. And here was the Japanese equivalent, mountain blueberries! A perfect way to finish the day, alone in the warm evening sunshine, picking berries and reliving a happy childhood.

3 thoughts on “Takatsuma + Kusatsushirane + Azumaya

  1. Looks like you had great weather on Azumaya – I guess it makes up for the torrential downpours at Takazuma.

    Kusatsu is a bit of circus, eh? I think most people use the ski lift to go up nowadays. I have no reason why you’d need a ski lift to take you up 100 vertical meters! Did you check out the volcanic lake near the parking lot? That’s the most beautiful part of the entire mountain – imagine if they didn’t have the fence there to keep people out!

  2. I used to live within sight of the peak of Azumaya (Suzaka city), and summitted it twice, both times from the Azumaya Kogen Hotel. Neko-dake, next to it, is one of the Hanameizan Hyakusen (plus 200 Meizan, I think), and I’m sure that would be an interesting route as well.
    When I went to Kusatsu-Shirane for my Hyakumeizan pin, I hiked from the parking lot south (opposite from the lake-filled crater) to Hon-Shiranezan. I’m not sure which is the correct summit, but there are certainly less people to bother with on that side of the road.

  3. Bob – lucky you to have lived in such a beautiful location. Upon reaching those gentle blueberry-filled slopes around the summit, I made a mental note of the date for returning to pick at leisure another year.

    Wes – yes, that lift! And perhaps worse is the shuttle bus that “saves” lazy people from a beautiful 2 km walk to get to the lift.

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