One of the biggest challenges to Hotaka, at 3190m Japan’s third tallest mountain, is that the standard route (which is the only one really while there is snow) features a very long, almost 15km approach walk from Kamikochi along the Azusa river.

The mountain huts recommend staying right at the foot of the mountain and starting early, but I didn’t take that easy way out. I found an overnight bus from Tokyo that arrives in Kamikochi early enough that even with the long approach, reaching the summit in one day is possible. I proved that.

Of course the weather was horrible. It was raining cats and dogs almost all the time the weekend I spent there, and on Sunday the wind was just crazy to make it worse. The bus arrived in Kamikochi around half past 5am. I changed into full waterproof gear and started walking. To make the distance less burdening, I used my trekking poles too.

After what felt like an eternity, the path started getting steeper and turned into a good old forest trail. The other side of the valley was first Mt Myojin, Mae-Hotaka, Byobu-no-Kashira, then Kita-Hotaka after I crossed the stream to the other side following the route.

Soon after crossing snow started showing up too, and after another hour it took over completely.

At least there were the occasional path markings on the snow, so I didn’t have to worry about finding the right way. I put on my crampons and switched the poles for the ice axe at the Karasawa hut and headed for the steep climb towards the “Seitengrat” (don’t ask me why it’s in German) rocks. (My climb log has some “very snow” pictures too.)

The only hint of blue sky I got to see in two days

After arriving at the hut on the col, I left behind my backpack and went on with just my crampons and ice axe for the summit. It was supposed to be under one hour, but at that point I’d been walking for over 10 hours, which combined with the altitude meant it took much more effort. The worst bit was right under the summit, where the path crossed a wall of snow that was half-melted and terribly unstable. I basically had two swim across it.

I ate and rested at the hut. It’s really well equipped: there was a dry room for wet gear operating even though I was the only staying guest. The food was really good too. I slept like a log, except for an occasion when the storm outside was so wild it woke me up. Needless to say, I woke up a bit worried the next day: is it physically possible to get down the mountain in such a storm?

It was pretty bad on the ridge where the hut sits, so I gave up my plan of climbing the Karasawa peak (in nice weather it’d have been a 15-minute climb, but in that storm I’d rather not risky). Once down on the slope it wasn’t unbearable though. By the time I got below the snow line, it was barely raining at all.

It was at this point that I noticed that my photos look a lot more fogged than they should. It turns out that my supposedly waterproof phone gave in (after many rainy climbs before) and it was completely dead by the time I got to Matsumoto a few hours later.

I had time to spare until the bus I planned to take, so I visited the Hyoka hot spring in Hirayu and changed to dry clothes for the way home. I even managed to catch a train earlier than planned.