30,000 Steps Up to Karasawa Valley, Japan

IMG_4678Karazawa, is one of the most beautiful valleys with a camp base at 2,309 meters (7575 feet) in the North Alps of Japan. The camp base looks up to Mount Okuhotaka and Kitaotaka. Many trekkers and climbers often climb Mount Okuhotaka or Kitaotaka the next morning. You can also walk on the ridge from Kitaotaka to Mount Okuhotaka and back down to Karasawa in one full day though there is some serious climbing on the ridges between the two mountains. Be aware of your level before you decide to go over the ridge. Many first time climbers will go up and down the two mountains before attempting the ridges.

This is not the first time I’ve been up to Karasawa camp. This trek is my second. The first time I went was in 2005 in June and there was still snow on the ground. And when I came across the trail leading up to the camp, I found that had to walk on a snowy 70 degrees Upon arrival, I was a bit distraught that we had to set up our tent on top of snow.  It was a very cold night I only got a few hours sleep but the next morning the mountain charmed me. I never saw anything so beautiful in my life. I promised myself that I would come back again.  And it was going to have to be during the autumn season.

S__15900678Finally, my dream came true, I went back up the same trail and saw the most beautiful and charming valley again. This time, I stayed up there for three days and two nights with four other friends.  Though we also met other Deaf people up there too.

The trail starts at Kamikochi, a ground level park site along a lovely clear water river with bus terminals, inns, lodges and a huge campground. There are also cafes, restaurants, stores and supply shops for campers and trekkers.   A huge information center is also in the same area.  One can get a lot of information about the area and mountains.

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The river we follow from Kamikochi to Yooko

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Ascending up a steep slope to Karasawa Valley

The trail follows the river, through the woods to Yokoo camp base. The walk from Kamikochi to Yooko is an easy 3 to 4 hours with a gradual elevation change along the way.  Yooko is the starting point for going up the 2,309 meters (7,575 feet) to Karasawa camp base.  Most people would stop for a lunch break, use the toilet, refill their bottles with water before going up to Karasawa valley. Some people will stop to camp at Yooko
overnight before going up the next morning.   My group decided to continue our trek up to the valley.  We had to be there by 4 pm for some members in our group who wanted to order dinner on the base instead of cooking. Also, if we wanted a good camping spot we had to get there as quick as possible or camp on top of snow like my last experience in 2005.

My long time friend, Meri Hirose with whom I will share a tent and cook dinner together, wanted to hurry up to the top.  Meri and I carried up with us, our tent, mats, sleeping bag, warm clothing and our food including, pasta, olive oil, garlic, cheese, salami, banquette bread, chocolate, and wine.  We also had eggs, rice, canned fish, mochi, ramen, mushrooms, coffee, tea and snacks for our 4-day meals. We had to carry our own cooking equipment, dishes and as well as our own trash.  Our bags weighed between 15 ~ 20 kilograms (22 lbs ~ 44 lbs).  Strong legs are recommended for this climb.

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We’re close to Karasawa Valley

We arrived the base around 3 pm and members of our group were able to order dinner and breakfast. Meanwhile, Meri and I rushed over to the registration for a camp site. There was a long line of other trekkers who had arrived before us registering for some ground. The area wasn’t filled as yet though the whole place was very rocky. It looked kind of hopeless to find a flat surface spot for our tent. Luckily we were able to find a beautiful flat spot with rocks flat into the ground. Quickly we set up our tent and laid out our mat. We test our surface and space. It was surprisingly perfect. We had no bump of a rock underneath us.  Our tent was set up right next to a little green bush that offered some charm to our camp. Indeed, it also was a good marker to help find our tent among hundreds of other campers who stayed for the two nights.

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Our camp site

IMG_9216On our first night, Friends and I cheered our success with some cold beer, sausage, and oden. Tamae, who is a new friend that I met on this trek kept track of our steps from Kamikochi to Karazawa valley.  She reported that we took nearly 30,000 steps on one day.  That is so many steps one person can do in one full day.  I thought, WOW!

There were other deaf trekkers at Karasawa camp the same night. We exchanged greetings with them and talked about our next day’s plan for climbing nearby mountains. Some were going to climb Mount Okuhotaka, others have a more difficult route to Kitaotaka. Meri was the only person who planned to ascend Kitaotaka, over the ridge to Mount Okuhotaka and then descend down to Karasawa. I decided not to join Meri as there were going to be some serious climbs that I felt I wouldn’t be ready for. Instead, I decided to just follow a trail towards the ladder to Mount Okuhotaka.  It would go as high as 2,553 meters (8,376 feet).  If I felt confident I would ascend up the ladder to Mount Okuhotaka.  It was going to take 2 or 3 hours to get up there and about 1.5 hours down.  I was going to have all day and I could take my time.

IMG_0043It was dark by 7 pm.  The camp lit up with colorful tents and then by 9 pm the stars came out. It was a lovely sight. The sky was dark purple with thousands of stars shining down our camp.  It was the only light of the night.  I thought to myself that camping at the Karasawa valley was worth more than a five-star hotel.  It was worth a million of stars. Our neighbor campers had cameras set up for taking photos of the starry night.

IMG_9238The next morning I woke up very early like 5 AM to watch the sunrise. While waiting for the sun to come out, we saw other climbers with headlights on moving upwards in line to Kitaokata or Mount Okuhotaka. Some of these climbers apparently wanted to be on top of the mountain to see the sunrise.  Those who stayed behind at the valley stayed to watch the sunrise from the camp base, we brewed our coffee and made breakfast on rocks near our tents. And while finishing our meal we watch the sun come out while the other trekkers ascending up started to show up in line with colorful day backpacks.

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Peggy’s climb to Mount Okuhotaka

Some friends could only camp for one night. They would leave at noon to return back to the Kamikochi. Meri embarked on her climb from 9 am to Kitaokata,   By 10 am I ascended up to Mount Okuhotaka. Meri and I agreed to meet at our tent before 5 pm for dinner. My trail appeared to be more popular as there were many people ascending up and the lines were getting longer as we approached the ladders. And there weren’t very many ladders to go up or for those to come down.  And so the waiting lines grew longer.  By 3 pm, I decided it was too late for me to ascend to the top instead I descend down following a different path back to my tent. Meri finally returned a bit after 5 pm telling me how awesome and scary her trek was and how so many people were trying to get down from Mount Okuhotaka on the ladders.

It was very crowded at the time due to the national Silver Week holiday in Japan that included the weekend.  Many people took their time off and family with children as young as 5 years old were climbing the Japanese Alps with their parents. I was shocked to see very little kids climbing on rocks up to Karasawa valley camp base. I even saw a mother with a baby on her back ascending and elderly people that appeared 70 or older also climbing with us. It was impressive. Though I didn’t see any elderly people camp. In fact, they carried smaller backpacks. I believed they stayed in the bungalow lodges and had their meals cooked too.  There were two lodges in Karasawa that were open to trekkers for something like $100.00 per night.  Both lodges did not have showers. There are private rooms that cost more. The only thing worse about staying at Karasawa camp were the toilets. They stink!  Though once you come out from use, the charm of the valley makes you forgive and forget.

IMG_4657The next day around 9 am, we ascend down to Yooko and had lunch by the river. We took a long break at Yooko watching trekkers come down or go up.  We also explored the area and the many billboards with information.  I learned that there was a warning of black bears nearby all campgrounds.  A bear mauled a man a few days earlier. Upon reading this, I thought I was lucky that a bear didn’t come near because at one time I decided to nap on a flat rock under a tree up near Mount Okuhotaka.  More alerting was th other huge board that posted trekker’s injuries and those who had died from accidents in the mountains in the last few months. The youngest was a woman aged 24 who fell from Kitaokata and the oldest a 74-year-old man who fell from Nishihotaka another route that embarks from Mount Okuhotaka.   Though there were more inquiries than death and helmets were strongly recommended. There has been some talk that it may become required for all trekkers to wear helmets in Japan sometime in the near future.

Finally, we walked all the way back to Kamikochi campgrounds and stayed there another night.  For a moment, I felt like I had forgotten the ordinary way of camping. It was a nice to see a supply store.  I badly needed some chap stick.  We also got electricity, washed our hands under hot running water and use toilets that flushed at this campground. There  more families and children and also barbecues that smoked up the whole area. And there were more bear warnings as well as Japanese macaque monkeys that were said to have been seen close to the campgrounds.  I was rather more looking for them, hoping to spot one before I leave the park but didn’t get to see any.

Though Mount Okuhotaka is calling me. I’m going back up 30,000 plus more steps one day soon.