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Final Day: To Kamikochi

Final Day: To Kamikochi

We rose before dawn, took a farewell photo with Chippy, and started our descent at a little past six in the morning. My muscles were a little cold and stiff at first, but they soon warmed up – and the spectacular sunrise was a nice distraction.

We found ourselves passing several other groups on their way down the mountain, and our pace picked up even more as the morning progressed. It was quite exciting for me because I no longer felt like a slug next to Bruno. (A turtle, maybe, but not a slug.) That’s not to say my knees didn’t start complaining after half an hour or so of going downhill, but at least I’d become better equipped to withstand their threats of rebellion and mutiny.

Sunrise in the mountains

Sunrise in the mountains

The weather forecast was gloomy for the day, and we had 17km to go until Kamikochi. Luckily, most of the descent fell within the first hour or two of the hike, which meant that after the initial knee-breaking section, it would stay fairly flat for the rest of the day. We calculated that we had around five hours of sunlight. By midday, the rains were due to start again – and we really wanted to stay dry because we had several buses and trains to catch before we could dry off again.

It didn’t take too long for us to reach the valley. From that point, we began running into more and more people, many of which were part of tour groups of twenty or so, including a few consisting mainly of elderly people. Everybody was in good spirits and we generally exchanged greetings, but to be honest, my primary goal for the day was to beat the rain and stay dry – so we hurried on as soon as we could.

Down the valley

Down the valley

This was the first day where I maintained a fast, steady pace for the entirety of the hike. On previous days, I either could not or chose not to do so; on this final day, however, the trail was so comparatively flat and easy that I began a “military march” (Bruno’s term) and didn’t really stop until we reached Kamikochi. Whether we faced creek crossings or scree slopes, rocky steps or narrow forest paths, I just continued on – though a part of my brain was very excited that I could almost dance over series after series of loose, slippery rocks without losing my footing.

By the time we made it to Kamikochi at 11:30am or so, I was sore and my legs were shaking quite ridiculously – but we were dry. We made it just in time, though. It started drizzling in the ten minutes or so we took to reach the bus shelter, and was pouring down by the time we finished buying tickets. Our hard-earned weather sense in the mountains had served us well.

Kamikochi

Kamikochi

From that point, it was a bus to Shin-Shimashima station then a train to Matsumoto. We walked to the nearest hotel, booked the first room they had with a bathtub, got ourselves something to eat (ramen, ramen, ramen), then spent the next hour or so showering then soaking our muscles in the tub with cans of beer and Chu-hi beside us. After a full week of grit and dirt, being clean again was an indescribable relief. We lay in bed and enjoyed the bliss of doing nothing until dinner.

That night, we treated ourselves to some fine dining at the hotel restaurant, though I’ll admit that I don’t remember much of it besides the fact that it was western and involved no rice. Not to say that the meals and bento boxes in the mountain huts weren’t delicious – because they were really very satisfying – but three meals of rice per day for a solid week was enough. Knowing me, I probably ordered steak or something similar, along with a glass or two of wine. We’d completed our first one-week hike, and it was something we wanted to celebrate.

After that, since all our clothes were filthy, we spent the rest of the night doing laundry – which sounds mundane but was actually quite wonderful simply because we ended up clean clothes again. Then it was off to sleep in a real bed, with only the two of us in the room, and with the heavenly scent of soap and detergent all around us. Cleanliness is next to goodliness, they say, and we agreed.

4 Comments

  1. Hi!Enjoyed the daily accounts of the ultimate hike,both the description and pics gave me a better idea of what to expect. How difficult was it to navigate the trail though? Was planning on this until i thought long and hard about navigating (esp in bad weather,being novice hikers).

    • Glad the posts were helpful! The trails are well-marked, but some of the crossroads are not signposted. I would suggest getting some of the detailed hiking maps for the area you intend to hike (via yamachizu.mapple.net or a Japanese bookstore). Those maps provide fantastic terrain and topography detail as well as realistic hiking times in both directions for each sub-section of the trail, and paired with a compass, I think you will be fine!

  2. Angel & Bruno hello and thank you so much for recording your hike so thoughtfully and the great photos!

    My partner and I are planning the same traverse mid September, wondering if the ‘long hauls’ suggested in the Lonely Planet ‘Hiking Japan Guide’ would be better broken up into shorter days much as you guys did for one reason or another. And I think I have the answer.

    We aren’t in a particular hurry and if the weather with us / or not its nice to enjoy being where you are. Appreciated also your take on making the most of the weather in the morning … great tip.

    Am I right guessing you exited without crossing the Daikiretto … we figure if we don’t have to do that we won’t!

    I gasped when I read your description of loving the alpine / high places! YES! YES! YES! A friend of mine used to say of the Himalaya ‘… its not a place on the map but a place in the heart.’

    Happy trails!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. I definitely vote for breaking up the longer stretches, especially since you’re not in a rush. If the weather hadn’t pushed us on to the next hut each day, I know we’d have been happy to relax on each mountaintop for a few hours!

      You’re right – we took the “valley” route from Yari down to Kamikochi instead of passing through the Daikiretto, so we effectively skipped the last part of the traverse. If the weather is being friendly, you can definitely take the route we didn’t take! In our case, we just weren’t sure we’d survive a wet and slippery Daikiretto… 😉

      That’s a great quote and I hope you enjoy the traverse as much as we did! All the best.

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