Clouds, mountains and green grass  in Nagano Prefecture Japan, between Mt Shirouma and Mt Karamatsu. (Photo: Matt Seary)

Climbing Mount Karamatsu

A three day hike from Hakuba & Mount Shirouma

Clouds, mountains and green grass  in Nagano Prefecture Japan, between Mt Shirouma and Mt Karamatsu. (Photo: Matt Seary)
Matt Seary   - 4 min read

This is a fantastic hike, climbing Mount Shirouma (Shirouma Dake in Japanese) via the Daisekkei (great snow valley) then heading south along the mountain tops to Mount Karamatsu (Karamatsu Dake in Japanese) before descending via cable cars across the ski fields which were host to the 1998 winter Olympics. The Daisekkei has year round snow and is an exhilarating climb requiring crampons to safely ascend the steep valley. Shirouma Dake is also famous for its truly stunning views of the Kita (north) Alps and rare mountain flowers.

We started our journey from the trail head at Sarakura (1250m) which is a thirty minute bus ride from JR Hakuba station. We started out late in the day and hiked for just over an hour to Hakuba jiri goya at the foot of the Daisekkei, but if you start out early enough you can push on up and easily make this a two day one night trip if you like. We took in the stunning scenery, pitched our tent, cooked some food and got some sleep for an early rise. The next morning we awoke before dawn for breakfast, put our crampons on and headed up the Daisekkei. The snow is steep and slippery but not a problem with crampons. The boulder strewn landscape is quite eerie when the clouds roll in. Take care in bad weather especially after heavy rain as avalanches and falling boulders are common! After about three hours we reached the mountain huts near the summit of Shirouma Dake, dropped our packs and headed up for about fifteen minutes to the summit for some truly breathtaking views of the entire Northern Alps. We then continued south along the ridge line for a couple of hours to reach Tengu Daira which is a small mountain hut and our next night’s accommodation.

The next morning we were treated to a glorious sunrise through the sea of clouds which we were camped above before hitting the trail towards Karamatsu Dake. This ridge line is truly breath taking Alpine hiking with the Hakuba valley and ski fields way down to your left, Yari ga take (the Japanese Matterhorn) straight ahead and the notorious Tsurugi Dake to your right and if the weather is good you will be gob smacked by how beautiful it is! After a couple of kilometres of leisurely hiking we hit Tengu no daira which is a long descent utilising chains and ladders drilled into the mountain side. These areas would otherwise be in accessible to ordinary hikers as you would need specialist gear, but as long as you take your time and don't lose your bottle they are truly exhilarating bits of trail. Once at the low point we then had three hundred metres of vertical climbing to do, again with chains and ladders strategically placed to help us out. At one point we had to walk across a ladder with a chain handrail and nothing beneath us but air! It is only a few steps but with a large pack on it's definitely not for the faint-hearted! It took us about two hours to reach Karamatsu Dake and the mountain hut there where we stopped for a well deserved lunch. From this point you can continue south for another two days all the way to Ogisawa but unfortunately we didn't have the time and so descended for a couple of hours before hitting the ski lifts which whisked us back down to Hakuba and the train home.

If you are interested in doing this hike I would recommend the taking a hiking guidebook, and also the staff at local lodges, like the Phoenix Hotel can assist you. You will need to have a good level of fitness, especially if you are camping as you will need to carry everything with you and also be experienced in Alpine hiking so you are aware of the dangers. This is a truly beautiful hike and comes highly recommended! Enjoy.

Matt Seary

Matt Seary @matt.seary

I love travelling and have travelled extensively throughtout Asia and Africa and had the pleasure of calling Japan my home for five great years. My travels within Japan have taken me to all of the five main islands on walking, camping and hitchhiking adventures."