On Monday afternoon (Japan time), I climbed my fifth hyakumeizan — Mount Hachimantai, in Iwate Prefecture.
The mountain sits in Towada-Hachimantai National Park, about 2 hours by bus from Morioka City. For reasons I’ll discuss in more detail in my book, 100 SUMMITS (Prometheus Books, 2020), I opted to ride the bus to the “Hachimantai Summit” visitor center, which sits only about a 45 minute hike from the mountain’s actual summit.
The trail started off fairly flat, paved, and lined with bamboo grass–a pleasant walk in the (national) park.
And then, without warning . . . it changed to this:
The guides I’d read suggested hikers “be prepared for some snow if hiking before midsummer.” Based on my experience “some snow” means “up to four feet of solid snow pack” – this was more than a little snow.
Fortunately, I have now joined the ranks of the uber-prepared Japanese hiking set, and was carrying my fully loaded pack, carbon fiber hiking poles, and enough food to get me through the apocalypse. I was also wearing my trusty Lowa hiking boots – which Saturday’s adventure on Mount Hakkoda proved could handle the snow.
So I set off on a delightful game of “find the pink tape trail flag in the winter wonderland.”
Many of the other visitors didn’t come prepared for the snow. They slipped and skidded along in street shoes–or, in at least one case, black leather loafers. I felt almost guilty cruising along with my hiking poles and no trouble at all.
After about twenty minutes on the trail, I reached the Dragon’s Eye – a beautiful crater lake.
A sign near the lake warns visitors not to approach, because “you might fall in a lake.” A curious warning in a country where mountain trails without any railings wind past hundred foot-drops without so much as a “watch your step.”
Fifteen minutes past the crater lake, I reached the summit, where a viewing platform offered a great place to stop for lunch (I did) and views of several nearby mountains, including the ever-present Mount Iwate–which I’ll be returning to Tohoku to climb later in the summer. (The snow on two much smaller peaks suggests Iwate might be a little slippery at the moment.)
Since Hachimantai offers a loop trail to the summit, I headed back to the visitor center via the other side of the trail, which led through more large snow fields:
And past two more beautiful crater lakes.
Although the shortest climb to date – and the one with the least elevation gain – Hachimantai was spectacularly beautiful and vastly different from my other hikes in Tohoku. I enjoyed it immensely – and recommend it for hikers looking for trails to walk in Japan. It’s a hike that anyone in reasonable physical condition can handle–you don’t need any real training or physical prowess to reach the peak, though I recommend good boots and ski poles if you’re thinking of trying it before July.