Time  5 hours 23 minutes

Coordinates 3102

Uploaded April 13, 2014

Recorded April 2014

7,736 ft
5,098 ft
8.32 mi

Viewed 1600 times, downloaded 16 times

near Higashi-gumi, Nagano (Japan)

Day hike at Azumayasan

This time I had some time constraints and could not make it a long hike. Since I was to be in Gunma by 5 PM, I considered the options I had for a snow hike with "light equipment" and set for Azumayasan. Located on the border between Nagano and Gunma prefectures it lies roughly equal distance from Kusatsu-Shirane and Asama-yama. All three mountains are on the 百名山 list, yet Azumaya is not popular compared to the other two.

We rode from Takasaki station around 9:00 PM and reached our destination shortly before 11:30 PM. We pitched the tent on the vast parking lot of Azumaya Kogen and, after a short and cold night way below freezing point, woke up at 2:30 AM. We then drove to another trailhead about 11km West on the Nagano side of the mountain and started walking past 3:15 AM.
The main objective was to reach Neko-dake for sunrise, which was expected to be at 5:09. From 管平牧場 to the summit map time was 2:10, so it felt like we'd have plenty of time if we left by 3:30. However I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of snow quality so I was glad to have this additional 15-minute margin. Once we realized the snow was hard and the slope never steep we tried to walk as slowly as possible.
In fact reaching the summit to early would be a bad idea because it meant waiting by -5 to -10 degrees with 10 m/s wind... nothing to rejoice about.

The trail up to the summit was almost entirely covered in snow. Some faint tracks were visible a times but I repeatedly lost them and couldn't easily find indications about the trail because it was dark. I heavily relied on the GPS to navigate but I knew from the topographic map there were no dangers on this part of the mountain so it didn't matter if we were off by 50 meters on either side of the trail. At parts the trail when through a forest of sparse trees which barely shaded us from the myriad of stars overlooking us. Most of the ascent we had a unobstructed view and could guess the shape of the surrounding mountains.
Around 4:30 we started to perceive some light, the morning glow was imminent and few minutes later we were at the summit. The skies were getting red and still long before sunrise we had a 360-degree panoramic view extending more than 100km in all directions.

Setting the cameras on tripods made our fingers cold and while waiting for the sunrise we ran back and forth on a moderate slope to keep warm. As the sun rose the mist gradually evaporated from the lower altitudes to the South and West where the North Alps appeared. To the East some very distant clouds were hovering just over the mountains in a almost motionlessly in a way that it gave the impression they were mountain ranges.
We then followed sky tracks going North-West to Koneko-dake. I originally planned to go as far as the bifurcation 30 minutes further North but it presented no interest in terms of scenery. We came back to Neko-dake and started towards Azumaya-san. At first the ridge was narrow and exposed with some ice so we geared up (small crampons). After a while the slope became softer and we followed ski tracks to a pass. We then climbed straight a relatively sharp slope to reach the ante summit. We did so at a fast pace without pausing and I tried to keep straight, only deviating from my straight line when a tree blocked my way.

From there we had Asama-yama with a good angle but not an ideal position with respect to the sun. We passed below a massive double cornice armed with 2 series of icicles and after a narrow ridge we reached the summit.

Upon flipping my tripod for the group picture I broke its second leg... it's not cold-resistant I reckon. Then I took off the crampons and packed the camera. We ran all the way downhill until we reached grass lands. Fearing my pack would be too light I had taken additional gears with me: 2 ice axes and wooden snowshoes. Also the 45-minute break below -5 degrees made my hydration system freeze and so most of the 2L remained. All this to say I was quite heavy and could not easily keep pace with my partner while running downhill.

Once we reached the pasture field I realized we could go straight to the car and didn't have to bother walking on the road. There was just a detail: 2 river crossings, the first seemed easy but the second looked almost as steep as a gorge so I aimed further North to merge on a different trail which would make the river crossing easy. All worked as planned and we were back to the car by 9:00 AM.
On the way back we also took the small roads and I was back to my wife's place by 12:00 PM, exhausted from my short and almost sleepless night.

Overall it was a beautiful hike suitable for families (first part to Neko-dake provided it's warm) and cold enough to make me forget it's already to hot for me at low altitudes. In terms of exercise it was barely half of what I need but I had a cold so it was probably wise not to exert myself

More pictures here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/go3k3o116m9d3td/GMqEggC5_s




Sacred architecture

根子岳 神社





Mountain pass








Pasture lands



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