I had this mountain in my sights for the past two years. Located in the North-Eastern corner of the Joshin-Etsu Kogen National Park, there were three challenges that had to be overcome to climb this peak. First, since it’s over 150 km north of Tokyo, the climbing season is shorter (from June to October); next, shinkansen access is required for a daytrip: finally, the hiking time was nearly 8 hours, so I needed to be in good physical condition. I was feeling good at the start of October, and so, despite the cloudy forecast, I decided to buy a Tokyo Wide Pass, and attempt the “Matterhorn of Joshu”, as it’s known in the area. I hoped that the steep pyramid-shaped top wouldn’t give me too much trouble, and also that I would get to see some nice autumn colours.
Hiking in the Joshin-Etsu Kogen National Park 上信越高原
The Matterhorn of Joshu
The shinkansen enabled me to reach Echigo-Yuzawa station before 8am and catch the first bus to the start of the trail. Even though it was a Saturday, the bus was empty, most people having gone by car. It took me another half hour of road walking to reach the real start of the hiking trail at 9am. Soon after, I arrived at a bridgeless river crossing. I had to step from stone to stone for about ten meters, using a rope to keep my balance. In case of heavy rain, my guidebook recommended taking off one’s shoes and crossing barefoot. Fortunately, the water level was low today. Recently, I’ve seen several damaged bridges, so perhaps it’s a smart thing to dispense with one altogether.
Some blue patches in the morning
The Daigenta River
Following the river upstream, I soon reached a junction, where I continued straight; if all went well, I would return via the path on the right at the end of the hike. The path was mostly level except for a section equipped with a ladder. It took me ten minutes to reach a second bridgeless river crossing. This one was was shorter – I just needed to step over a gap between two big boulders. The river was beautiful here, so I decided to take a short break. I was glad I did, because the next section was thirty minutes of non-stop steep climbing. It was lined with ropes, which I used to pull myself up, and save some leg power. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a long section of uphill before!
First views and autumn colours
At ten thirty, I reached a short flat section, and had my first glimpse of the summit area through the trees – it looked deceptively close. After some more steep climbing, I was walking along the top ridge. Here, the trail climbed gradually and was mostly above the trees; I had good views of the dark green mountains surrounding the river valley; turning around, I could see the flat light green rice fields of Niigata prefecture. The path was getting rockier and steeper, and the view more and more dramatic; I was nearing the base of the triangular summit. I passed a mother and daughter team coming down; they had planned to go down the other side, but after one look at the path, had wisely decided to turn back.
Up the left ridge and then down the center
Great views looking back
At 11h30, I was standing on the flat, narrow top of Mt Daigenta (大源太山 だいげんたさん daigentasan). I kept my break short since I was worried about getting off the summit. My guidebook said that although it was steep, there was no risk, as long as one moved carefully. I tend to move quite quickly, but here I took my time, using the two sets of chains whenever possible, and managed to get through this part safely. By noon, I was at the lowest part of the saddle, and started to climb up towards the next peak. Here, the autumn colours were at their best. I started to have glimpses of the Tanigawa range ahead, playing hide and seek in the clouds. The bamboo grass was really tall around this point, and made walking difficult. Occasionally, I stopped to look back at Mt Daigenta. From this side, it really did look like the top of the Matterhorn.
Looking South towards Gunma prefecture
Mt Asahi, a mountain I have yet to climb
It took me nearly an hour to reach the top of Mt Nanatsugoya (七ツ小屋山 ななつごややま nanatsugoyayama). To the South was Mt Daigenta and Yuzawa Town. Looking East, I could see the long ridge connecting Mt Makihata with Mt Asahi. Directly in front, was Mt Tanigawa, resembling a dark fortress. Far away to the West, I could see the flat top of Mt Naeba emerging from the clouds. The wind had started to blow and it was getting cold. There was no one else around and it was pretty lonely. I was only half-way through the hike, and I had to pick up the pace, otherwise I would miss the bus back. I half-walked, half-jogged along the mostly flat trail, and covered a two-hour section in less than an hour. I took a short break to enjoy the last panoramic views before heading down. Some parts of the descent had been eroded, and had to be be navigated slowly. The path made a lot of switchbacks, and it seemed to take forever to reach the river at the bottom of the valley.
Wonderful hiking under the clouds and above the trees
Walking in the shadow of Mt Tanigawa
I finally arrived at the junction I had passed at the start of the hike and in no time I was back at the first river crossing. Here I met up with the mother and daughter combo I had seen earlier. The daughter was just about to start crossing. Knowing that I couldn’t wait around if I wanted to catch the bus, I excused myself and went ahead. Since she was already holding the rope, I used my walking stick to steady myself, and crossed without hesitation. Minutes later I was back on the road, and I arrived at the bus stop just after 3h30, about seven hours after setting out, and a few minutes before the return bus. Back at Echigo-Yuzawa station, I had time to tale a hot bath and do some Japanese sake tasting, before hopping back on to the shinkansen for the one hour trip back to Tokyo.
Walking the top of Joshu
The second half of the hike was mostly flat
Watch a video of the Mt Daigenta hike including the two river crossings