Traildino in Japan!

Shirouma-dake is one of the Hyukameizan, 100 Famous Mountains. It is the 26th highest mountain in Japan. The name translates to "white horse" because of the shape of the snow that lies on the mountain slopes in spring. Climbing this mountain of 2.932 m is not difficult. But on the other hand it is not an ordinary walk either. Prepare for a strenuous 1500 m climb through a snow filled valley.

Hike data

  • Where
    Shirouma-dake 白馬岳, Japan | Rate 8

    PositiveGreat views. Not too difficult. Exotic forests.

    NegativeThe huts were huge because so many people want to enjoy this superb mountains.

  • When July 2010
  • Distance walked 25 km (~15.5 miles)
  • Days walked 3 days
  • Part walked Hakuba - Sakurruka-so - Hakuba Chojo-shukusha – Hakuba Chojo-shukusha - Shirouma-dake (2.932 m) - Shiroumadake Renge Onsen - Kazafuku Sanso

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Introduction

Japan is a cryptic country for foreigners, and it takes patience and perseverance in order to plan a hike. Check the strategy guide on our Japan page.

The Japanese Alps are not at all like Europe. It's puzzling: one feels the difference, but one is not apt to describe it. Different stones, different green, different smells, different blues, no cattle, no grazing grounds... But then, there are beautiful flowers, attractive woods, old solitary trees, ... everything is different.

Shirouma-dake, 2.932 m, one of the Hyukameizan

Practical

Travel

The mountain Shirouma-dake 白馬岳 is located in the Chubu region on the main island Honshu. Take the train from Tokyo to Matsumoto, and hence a local train to the village of Hakuba at the foot of these mountains. You can reach the first hut - Sakuruku-so, 1250 m - by bus or by taxi and stay there overnight.

Huts

For us Westerners, Japanese huts are expensive. Count three times the price you pay in the Alps.

Dormitory in mountain hut

The food is very good, but you must develop a taste of it. We had the impression that breakfast, lunch and dinner were all identical. Can't you get used to it, then switch to biscuits (we did ;-)).

I think this was breakfast, but I'n not sure

Technical

The difficulty of this hike is its initial climb. You need to climb more than 1500 m, half the time through a fairly steep snowfield. There is a risk of rock avalanches. At the top is a short traverse. The best route is usually indicated by a red dye trace in the snow.

Between the mountain huts, safety personnel run back and forth tightening ropes, checking markings, and safeguarding our lives.

The snow field

Once you are on the ridge, walking is easy. Mostly, the ridge is wide and comfortable. Sometimes you need your hands for a change. In early summer, there is much snow, and it becomes a riskier.

The walk

Hakuba – Sakurruka-so

Tuesday, july 6

Our walk started in the hut called Sakuruka-so at 1250 m altitude, surrounded by mixed woods. We were practically the only guests. The hiking season had yet to begin.

The omnipresent question in our minds was "how does the next thing work." No one spoke English, all writing was in Japanese. And at the same time, there were that many rules and expectations.

There are many (unwritten) rules. Carefully watch your neighbour, and keep asking. Japanese relax when they realise that you know the rules. One rule is that you must wear hut slippers. Every room type has its own type of hut shoes. So you change shoes a lot. A second rule is that you get up very very early to hit the trail together with the first rays of sunshine. Third rule: always make reservations in advance.

After being installed, and after learning our first lessons "how to behave ourselves in a Japanese mountain hut", we decided it was time to relax and we went outside to watch the mysterious fogs drifting through the trees.

Sakuruka-so – Hakuba Chojo-shukusha – Shirouma-dake

Wednesday july 7

The Japanese enjoy an early start of the day. We got up at 5.00 am, had breakfast half an hour later and left after another quarter of an hour. We set our first steps on an unknown path in an unfamiliar landscape in an unknown country.

Today, four groups took off for Sharouma-dake, and we were one of those. The first hours were on a clear path, passing the hut Hakuba chojo-shukusha (closed). Then started the great snowfield. If only I had crampons! The slippery snow took me a lot of energy. We became friends with two Japanese girls who undertook the journey with us. High up the snow valley, we had some difficulty finding the traverse; watch for the ropes and the red paint in the snow.

Almost done

Out of breath, we reached the hut Hakuba Chojo-shukusha, 2.730 m. It was a large refuge, but almost deserted. In the afternoon I climbed to the top of the White Horse, one of the Hyukameizan, passing this mega hut Hakuba-sanso (1200 beds!). It was foggy and there was nothing to see.

Hakuba Chojo-shukusha – Shirouma-dake – Shiroumadake Renge Onsen

Thursday July 8

A splendid day. The fog had moved away and the mountains were visible in a fresh braze of sunlight. The second climb to Shirouma-dake brought us more luck: great views of the Japanese Alps, a kind of checkerboard of dark woods and white snowfields.

Near the summit

We continued over the ridge, walking up and down in a relaxed manner, enjoying great scenery. We reached a natural mountain lake, Hakuba Ooike at 2430 m, with a hut, where we took a cup of tea.

The lake

Descending through beautiful woods, we reached the Lodge Shiroumadake Renge Onsen at 1470 m altitude. Detail: a few hundred meters before we reached this hut, there was an electronic eye on the path to notice the warden that people were about to arrive. The hotel was situated in a volcanic active region, with hot mineral springs. Good for a nice hot bath, and then relaxing outside to enjoy the spectacle of clouds, fog and forests.

View from Shiroumadake Renge Onsen

Shiroumadake Renge Onsen – Kazafuku Sanso – Matsumoto

Friday July 9

The last day we hiked through forests, over steep muddy trails, small snow fields, all in an exotic atmosphere. White, arum-like flowers thrived in muddy hollows. Higher up in the mountains, we reached a swamp and a lake. Again, there was this funny phenomenon: a bell which you were supposed to pull hard, so the warden of the nearby hut would know you were coming.

No people at the hut. Its doors and windows carried all kinds of incomprehensible notes. Some Japanese walkers tried to explain to us what the papers said, but it was impossible to grasp the meaning of their words, nor did they have the slightest idea about what we wanted to know. After one hour waiting, a man arrived who helped us out of the dream: the cabin would not open, we could not stay, we had not made reservations. He offered us a ride in his car, so we continued descending the steep muddy trails in his footsteps, this time in poring rain, till a parking lot where his pickup was parked, and he drived us safely to the station down in the valley.

Ring the bell before arrival