Minami-Alps 南アルプス or Southern Alps is a beautiful mountain range in Chūbu region in Japan about 150 km west of Tokyo. It is also called Akaishi mountains (red-stone mountains) but the western style name has largely stuck in the language. These mountains are massive, Japan’s second-tallest mountain after Mt. Fuji Kita-dake 北岳 or North Peak, at 3193 m is here. Mt. Kita summit boasts also something that Mt. Fuji does not have : an excellent view of symmetric cone of Mt. Fuji just 50 km to southeast (and no big crowds). The southern location makes the slopes very green in summer. Only the mountain tops and ridges remain without trees. The rock is mostly sedimentary and much older than in the Yatsugatake volcanic group just to the north of the range. Terrain is therefore easier for walking. Some places are covered with snow until late July but the trekking season is usually from the Golden Week until late November. These mountains are highly recommended for hiking and sports, also for multi-day tours.
Access to Kita-dake region from Tokyo is via Kōfu town. There you have to take a long 2 hour bus ride to Hirogawara 広河原 (for the bus take the south exit of the Kōfu station, platform number 6 at the bus terminal square outside). Mobile phone network coverage is bad (docomo and emergency calls may work, softbank does not). Hirogawara at 1500 m height is the end point of a long winding road with lots of tunnels and precipices. It is the starting point of the trail to Kita-dake. The road is closed to other traffic so you have to take the bus from a parking lot near Ashiyasu if you arrive by car. The bus does not circulate very often (schedule is here in Japanese) and the guide-book time for reaching Kita-dake from Hirogawara is about 5 to 6 hours so you usually have to overnight in a hut or take a tent. There are Kita-dake-kata-no-koya (北岳肩の小屋) hut at 3000 m altitude just below the Kita-dake summit and Shiraneoike hut (白根御池小屋) at 2250 m of altitude.
The trails are easy to hike and equipped with some wooden ladders and other aids. The average slope is steep (about 35%). The trails are therefore very suitable for endurance training. I planned a trail running day-trip to Kita-dake. I took an early limited-express (Azusa) train from Shinjuku and then the bus to Hirogawara where I started running at 11:00 am. I wore light but sturdy shoes for running and a very light backpack with just some water and some cloths just in case the weather turns bad or if I have to stay overnight in a hut. Nights are pretty cold up at 3000 m even in summer. I actually could have left the backpack home because the weather was stable and the Shiraneoike hut was open and sold refreshments (google claimed that it’s permanently closed but it had business as usual). I had a wonderful uphill workout and reached the Kita-dake hut in 2h57. The rainy reason had just ended and it was finally very warm and pleasant with cloudless skies. The views from the ridge were wonderful. The altitude was 3000 m but I felt very little altitude effects despite the low altitude of Tokyo I live in. There was no time to enjoy the thin air. The last bus left early at 16:40 so I decided to skip the summit and descend the same trail back to Hirogawara. It took 2h20 and the long descend gave the usual aching muscles (DOMS!).
Next time maybe a bit more relaxing trip. The place is worth a longer visit!