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near Mikuruba, Kanagawa (Japan)
Day hike in Tanzawa
A few days after historical snowfalls in the Kanto area (27cm in Tokyo, biggest snowfall in 45 years. More than 10 casualties and thousands stuck in airports) with clear weather it seemed like the perfect day to go to Tanzawa.
Last year I deplored the lack of snow and I was worried it would be the same this year too: 10 days ago the snow fallen in January had entirely melted. However the snow came in time.
When I reached Shibusawa station I noticed there was about 50 hikers rushing towards the stairs so I realized they were all going for the same destination and so I also ran to the bus stop. I passed a few dozen people in the stairs and barely managed to ride the bus already packed with people. At Okura bus stop the place was crowded and while I was getting myself ready another bus came unleashing another 50 hikers.
The trail from Okura to Tonodake is the worst in the area, it's always crowded, it's full of stairs and the view is comparably worse than all the other trails leading to Tonodake. The only advantage is that it's the shortest one. Also after the heavy snowfall from last Saturday all the stairs were covered and it was not so bad. That's why I decided to go for it. Most people had gaiters and crampons from the trailhead, however below 800m the snow was melting and crampons were useless. After 1000m and 200m of kick stepping I decided to use my crampons. There were a few slippery parts and it was a good timing to wear them. Overall I must have passed 100 people if not more up to Tonodake. There was a handful of fast people, notably one girl. I needed more than 5 minutes to pass her at around mid height and after a while she passed me when I put the crampons on. I passed her again and she was never far in my back all the way to Tanzawa-san. Then I lost her, probably she went another track.
From Tonodake to Tanzawa the track is still very clear but traffic drops radically. There must have been several hundreds of hikers from Okura to Tonodake over the 3 days following the snowfall, probably only a couple of dozens until Tanzawa. The ridge is well exposed so the snow is hard and it was easy to walk with only a few times breaking through the snow crust and sinking above knee level. The weather cleared (it was light snow at some point before Tonodake) and the view became interesting. As I began shooting pictures every few minutes my pace slowed down. From Tanzawa to Hirugatake there is still less traffic but the snow is hard on the surface and most of the time I didn't sink even 2cm. There are a few steep downhill and the chains were almost entirely covered in deep snow, I had take the ice axe in anticipation of these 2 or 3 technical stretches, however since the snow was well packed there too I was fine with the trekking poles. Without full crampons it would have been dangerous though.
Overall from Tanzawa to Hirugatake the view was great, the snow abundant and due to the wind accompanying the snowfall relatively large cornices had materialized. The only thing reminding me I was on a low mountain was the absence of snow on trees.
When I got to Hirugatake I had done well below map time and thought I could make it to Nishitanzawa, however there were traces of only 1 person in that direction so I followed the advice of the hut owner saying that it was much safer to go towards Higashino.
For Hirugatake the trail is facing North the whole time and the snow condition is completely different. There are also even less traffic. All this means that even walking in the track I sunk between 10 and 30 cm at each step and sometimes got caught at mid thigh level. A few times my poles sunk about 100 cm. About midway to Himetugi I met a group of 3 when I was taking off my crampons and preparing to wear my snowshoes. They were collecting data and pictures from hikers to put into a magazine. Apparently there should be pictures of me in the Dec. 2014 issue.
Even after putting on the snowshoes and walking in the trail I was sinking about 10 to 20 cm at each step. I passed Himetsugi without noticing it and kept going while being worried about the time. I had done the same trail but in the other direction in Dec. 2012 http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=3754774 but there was almost no snow we did it in about 7.5 hours. I was hoping the trail would go directly to Higashino going left at the next bifurcation. I felt relieved when I found the bifurcation in the snow corresponding to the trail branching off on the map so I turned left. However after a few minutes the track stopped in the middle of a traverse and doubled back via a steep uphill. I finally made it back to the point where seemingly everybody turned left and found the right track. That little loop took me a long time as each step going 50 cm deep (with the snowshoes) kick stepping as much as possible but it's soft snow and the snowshoes are not designed for that…
The downhill was also tricky as it was hard to visualize the trail more than 10 to 20 m away and that with no wind at all. Each time someone made a mistake everybody followed and doubled back so each time there is an intersection it's actually more likely that the smaller track is the right one but when there are turns I followed the ridge going straight… and got the wrong trail. Going down 10 seconds required 1 minute to go back up so it's pretty annoying to take the wrong trail for even 30 seconds.
The track is good only to be sure I'm going in the right direction, the snow is too soft and the snowshoes were sliding. When the slope was steep my front leg would slide over 3 or 4m and to control my speed I had to dig the front of the snowshoe from the back leg as deep as I could and come to a stop. When possible I went on the side of the track, then of course I would sink at around knee level but that would prevent me from gaining too much speed. The mountain was too steep and full of trees to go straight downhill. After a while I reached the forest road and I got caught by the night. The forest road was also covered with about 1m of snow and although it is almost flat progress was not so easy. Finally I reached a normal road free of snow and arrived at the bus stop. For the past few hours I had made contact with the emergency contacts of Ota club to warn them I was going to end later than expected. The last bus was long gone so I went to the store opposite the bus stop and asked the lady at the counter to let me know the number of the taxi company. She was very helpful and welcomed me with hospitality beyond expectations (I was not tired, I was not cold, I just finished my hike late) and offered me some tea and put a stove on for me.
Overall it was a long day, I needed to hurt my body to forget all the stress I'm loaded with recently. 1 day later I have only very slight muscle pain (due to the snowshoeing in deep snow)
Times real time / map time / % map time
Okura bus stop -> Tonodake 2:12 / 3:30 / 63%
Tonodake -> Tanzawa 0:53 / 1:10 / 76%
Tanzawa -> Hirugatake 2:07 / 1:50 / 115 %
Hirugatake -> Himetugi 2:03 / 1:20 / 154%
Himetsugi -> Higashino 3:14 / 2:25 / 134%
Total including breaks: 11:03 / 10:15 / 108%
More pictures here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/43mpdakl80htkh3/2E1Pjdzf1q