In the lowlands of Kamikochi spring ushered in cherry blossoms, but on Mt Tate the snow was only beginning to melt. Snow walls twice the height of our bus lined the road, making for an otherworldly trip. As you traverse the tunnels of snow the cold seems to press in on you from all directions. A rhombus-shaped cablecar greets you once the bus is alighted and whisks you higher still on the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route. A wooden station marks the entrance to Murodo, the gateway to Tateyama. Its entrance dripped with icicles clinging to the roof. We passed under the ice-melt torrent and began to explore.
Outside, the snow was blinding. We stumbled across another, human-sized, tunnel of snow and intricate ice formations, which looked like frozen coral when broken off. The snow was soft and our footprints deepened as we left the crowds and made for Tateyama. Off-piste skiers bulleted down the virgin snow slopes to our left and right.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky. That was, until we gained some more altitude and were able to see over the edges of the plateau. A blanket of cloud hugged the corners of the gigantic Japan Alps enclosing us. We were the sky. We were floating on an island in the clouds. Adrift on a fantasy world where the sea was white and unmoving.
The sky took on a purple hue as we neared Tateyama's 3015m summit, the atmosphere warping with the altitude. Camouflaged black ice coated the rocks sporadically and required careful navigation. The summit was marked by a torii gate buried to its waist in snow and sweeping valley views. To our backs, hazardous ridges, half covered with snow, were divided down the middle where the wind had ripped away one melting side.
On the horizon, an uncountable number of peaks emerged from the hazy cloud. Among them stood Fuji, proud and tall. It was our first sighting of the mammoth mountain and a worthy one. It was somehow distinguishable despite 120 miles separating it from the Japan Alps. A hard view to tear ourselves away from.
Inspired by a group of Japanese girls nearby, we slid all the way back down Mt Tate on our raincoats, beyond ecstatic. It was the most surreal slide of my life. Back on foot, we circled around to take in the final sights; a pristine meltwater lake and the menacing plumes of smoke rising from Hell Valley. Japanese warning signs frequented its banks as though it were the lair of some fire-dwelling demon. Exhausted, sunburnt, but both wearing grins which we felt would never fade, we descended the Japan Alps.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2015
This walk utilises the services provided by the Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route.
From Murodo (a stop on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route) follow the signs and people (and paved path in no snow) up to the Ichinokoshi Hut (一ノ越山荘).
From here turn left. The trail gains elevation, zigzagging upward through a maze of boulders towards Mt Tate.
At the top of Tateyama there is a shop. The shrine at the top costs ¥500 (but only in summer).
It's possible to continue over the ridge for a short while to a second summit, but it get a little technical here (in winter conditions) so we didn't. Either continue to the ridge and branch off to the left down into Murodo when the path presents itself (and if it is safe - this is untested) or head back here.
Turn back and head down to Murodo.
Before reaching the cablecar terminus head right on the Mikurigaike Pond Loop and circle around.
Complete the loop and head back down the mountainside via transport.