The Benefits of a Local Guide (Part One) – Yatsugatake Mountains

“On a Mish” #198 The Benefits of a Local Guide (Part One). Yatsugatake Mountains. Yatsugatake Cushin Kogen Quasi National Park. Japan. 8.6.2013. There are two groups of islands, one in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the south, that are not only similar in size but also both have people who enjoy a good hike. Hiking and working at Ultimate Hikes introduced me to my first friends from what until then was a far and foreign land – Japan.

The benefits have been both interesting and very epic.

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to hike the trails that follow the epic ridgelines of the stunning Yatsugatake Mountains with the help of a local guide. If I hadn’t stepped into the hiking world in 2008 then I wouldn’t have been able to trek such remote and faraway mountains …

Back in 2013 few westerners made the journey west from Tokyo into the Nagano / Yamanshi Regions to hike the ridges and peaks of Yatsugatake. The range is located on the border of Nagano and Yamanashi, and it took some effort to organise the right trains and buses just to get to the base of the range to start the mission.

I was lucky to not only be in the area on my birthday, but also have the much needed assistance of a very knowledgeable and experienced guide (my girlfriend at the time). This was crucial for negotiating the area, as there were very few signs with English characters, let alone any English words.

After making the trip west we got a ride from the bus station directly to our first night’s accommodation at an Onsen Lodge, hidden away in the Yatsugatake mountains. My girlfriend used to work at the lodge and was looking forward to catching up with old work mates and seeing her old workplace / home.

The service at the lodge was second to none, and a dip in the refreshing waters of a real Onsen Spa was an amazing way to start an adventure. We have Onsen-like spas in Aotearoa but nothing compares with the original product. The lodge also provided us with a comfy room and a belly and a half worth of food!

First Views Above the Treeline

Early-ish the next day we said goodbye to our friends at the lodge and then began the hike towards the summits of the Yatsugatake Ridge.

First we had to gain altitude by climbing up through a beautiful misty forest. The swirling cloud added to the mystery of our trek, well at least for me. At this point my guide / girlfriend was going to work with one of her most difficult clients!

While Japan and New Zealand may have a similar land mass, the history of Aotearoa is just a second in an hour when compared with Japan. The hiking trails throughout the country are a real testament to this, and the longer humans are in an area the more infrastructure there is. As we climbed I was told that we would be stopping for a break at a lodge in a rather dominant position.

Along with providing shelter for weary hikers, it also is a place where you can get a hot meal. We stopped for some morning tea and a refuel. As we sat with the other trekkers at the lodge the cloud slowly revealed the next part of our adventure and from what I could see I knew what we had just done was nothing!

The trail changed from an easy up-hill hike to rock scrambling. From broad paths and boardwalks to steep steps, ladders and chains. Of course my trusty guide had told me about this but words can never match the real thing.

The first scramble of the day up the old chains was a great way to get the blood pumping, but little did I know that I would soon bump into hikers trekking the trail who had had a couple more summers under their belts than me…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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