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Autumn colours arrive early on the peaks of Japan's North Alps, then gradually creep into the valleys and plains, reaching the gardens of Kyoto in mid-November. I'd planned the Roof of Japan trek, a seven day north south traverse of the Alps from Tateyama to Kamikochi, to coincide with the glorious reds, yellows, and golds of autumn in the high mountains, and, I hoped, some fine autumn weather. We were lucky. In early October there was a breathing space between the typhoons (no less than thirty or so hit Japan this year!) and the roof of Japan glowed under blue autumn skies.

Tom Jones had led the same route in July this year, but the October Roof of Japan trip marked the 10 th Anniversary of Hike Japan's first Imperial Pilgrimage Route tour in autumn 2003. That year we ran it for a Himalayan Kingdoms (now Mountain Kingdoms) group. On this tour there were eleven members in the party, from England, France, and the States, and three guides. Some had been on Hike Japan tours before, but it for all it was their first multi-day trek in remote country. When we met up for dinner of the first night in Shinjuku there was a real sense of anticipation and excitement.

Japan's Haute Route is a strenuous hut-to-hut trek in mountains between 2,000 - 3,000m, with an overall ascent of about 10,000 meters over the seven days. The mountain hut network in the Alps is amazingly comprehensive. The huts and lodges are clean, very well-managed, reasonably comfortable, and provide meals.

The first morning we made our way to the train from Shinjuku station in the middle of the morning rush hour. A million or so people pass through Shinjuku every day so in simply sticking together we managed to overcome our first big challenge! We felt sorry for the hordes of workers heading to work as we headed for the mountains.

The journey from Tokyo starts at near sea level, then climbs, via Matsumoto, to the Murodo Plateau below Tateyama, at over 8,000'. The last part of the journey is over the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Getting off the train at Shinano Omachi, one travels up and through the mountains by bus, trolley bus, cable car, underground cable car, ropeway, and a hike across the mighty Kurobe dam, the highest in Japan. Some of the tunnels used today were dug at the time the dam was constructed between 1956 and 1963.

The Tateyama peaks and Murodo were formed by a volcanic eruption and the area is still active today, as can be seen, and smelt, from the many huffing vents and sulphurous fumaroles. We had a short stroll after arriving and checking into our first, and relatively comfortable, mountain lodge (well-appointed with hot spring baths featuring magnificent views of Tateyama).

Although the mountains are higher further south, the hike from Murodo to Goshikigahara on the first day gives a pretty good idea of the nature of the country one will pass through in the days ahead. Ascents and descents both totalled about 2,000', but it is the precipitous nature of the rocky terrain in places which presents the real challenge. There are fixed ladders and chains to help hikers, but going can be slow with some sharp inclines and dips. The hike took the best part of 8 hours. Day 2 took considerably longer, and as a result it was agreed that for some members the hiking was too difficult. Only one member decided to continue with Tom, our mountain guide, whilst the others returned to Murodo with Bob and Tomo. We all met up again a couple of days later in Kamikochi. Everyone was happy with the change in itinerary and we still enjoyed plenty of wonderful hiking, albeit at a slightly less strenuous level. I'm very happy that half the group managed the hike from Yoko Sanso to Hotakadake (a 5,600' climb) via Karasawa, and were rewarded with sensational views. The photos taken during the hike illustrate the stunning beauty of the North Alps in autumn.


The Roof of Japan traverse is the ultimate long distance hike in Japan. The only other areas one can enjoy comparable long distance mountain hiking is in the South Alps and on the Daisetsuzan Plateau in Hokkaido. The guides and I learned a lot from this trip, and we'll improve the ROJ itinerary in order to make the hiking less strenuous in future, mainly with shorter days and possibly a modified route.

Our dinner and overnight stay at the fabulous Myojinkan Ryokan and delicious teppanyaki dinner in Tokyo rounded off a very special trip.

Walking together in such good company, and with excellent guides, helped make this 10 th anniversary event a memorable one.


Click here to see a slide show of the tour















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