Epic Mountainscapes: The Japanese Alps

So we went for some mountaineering in the Japanese Alps, the northern ones to be precise. From Osaka, you can take the “Thunderbird” train to Toyama (the city next to the Alps where we stayed) in 3 hours. When we arrived, we were welcomed by a huuuuge impressive mountain range!!! And we were going to climb them!



Wooow!! We were all hyped when we took the 7am train the next day that took us in to the mountains. From there, it’s an hour bus ride that brings you higher and higher up the mountain to where the hiking trails start. We set out to climb Tateyama, one of the three sacred mountains of Japan (Fuji and Hakusan being the other two.)

This was such an inspiring experience!! The mountainrange was unbelievably impressive in scale and beauty. we really want to do some more mountain climbing, that’s for sure.

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The first part of the journey alone was already jaw-dropping, since there was an extreme high layer of snow on the landscape. In fact, Tateyama has the one the heaviest snowfall in the world! But because the Japanese built a dam right in these mountains, they needed to clear the road every spring to access the dam, and this results in extreme high snow-walls. This year, the wall was over 15 meters high!!







Once you traverse this wall of snow, you come the base camp on Murodo Plateau from where you can climb mount Tateyama and do several hiking trails. This area is already at a height of 2500 meters, so the food and drinks we took from below were all expanded because of the difference in pressure! I was afraid we might feel some altitude sickness but that was no problem. And so, we started to climb the mountain.




we climbed higher and higher…



And then, I turned around and looked below. Suddenly, I became extremely scared of the height and had to sit down on the steep trail (you cannot really see it on the photos but the trail was very, very steep!) I was afraid of heights?? I felt soooo tiny suddenly between these immense mountains and seemed like such a long way down, that I really felt scared for a bit. And so I took a small break, trying to get used to the surroundings.



In the distance, you can see smoke coming from the grounds. There is actually some volcanic activity going on there! They used to call Tateyama the mountain of Hell and Heaven. Hell being the hot, damping and poisonous ponds scattered around the plateau, and heaven being the immaculate white peak of Tateyama.



We slowly continued our journey along the trail, but soon found out our gear was not good enough for a hike like this. Without crampons (spikes) underneath our shoes, we often lost grip on the snow or simply sunk in up until our knees.




At one point, we saw a fellow climber collapse in the snow. We went up to him, asking if he was okay and if he needed help. He slowly woke up, told us he was fine but his baggage was over 30 kilos and so so heavy. We encouraged him to go on because he was almost at the base camp!




A second climber who came down advised us to go back, since it was too dangerous to go any further without the proper gear.  We agreed, and turned around to follow a more easy trail across the mountains. We decided to return here in summer, when the snow is less thick, and with spikes on our boots, to try to go for the peak again!

The other trail we followed was really beautiful as well, as it lingered over the plateau and past the volcanic lakes, some of which we all covered in snow.



Then, we spotted something amazing! An actual Thunderbird couple!! These birds (called thunderbirds in Japanse, the name originating from ancient legends of the birds causing the great thunderstorms occurring in these mountains) are the symbol of the Tateyama area, and are a protected species. They are quite rare to spot in winter since they still have their white winter coats. But since the Thunderbird doesn’t have much natural enemies, they are extremely fearless and we could come really really close to take picuteres!





Look how cool!!!

We walked around the plateau for hours, enjoying the amazing views and immense scale of the beautiful Tateyama landscape. It is hard to capture this scale of photos, but here we will try. See that tiny black dot in the middle?:



Let’s zoom and enhance:



Yes, that is a lonely climber right there!! Climbers looked like ants on the mountains.








Even though we weren’t prepared well enough to climb to the top of Tateyama, it was still an amazing amazing experience and we are determined to return here in summer when the fields are green and only the very top is covered in snow.



And even on the lower parts of the mountains, there are some very beautiful sights to see. There is a huge cedar forest, with ancient trees and hundreds of birds. There was also the tallest waterfall in Japan. This waterfall is longer than the Eiffel Tower!


Beautiful views everywhere:



And even on the way home in the train some very nice shots of these majestic mountains.



Wow, now this is an area in Japan where we will definitely go back to many, many times, to experience the immense scale and feeling so tiny among these giants of mountains.


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