Kurodake Ropeway 黒岳ロープウェイ
A cool, cloudy morning. Most people have left by the time we emerge to surprise the deer browsing nearby.
We set off to hike Daisetsuzan Kurodake. Sounkyo Onsen is where we board the ropeway to whisk us up to the chair-lift station so we can begin our ascent. One ticket will cover a round trip for both.
The ropeway ride is a brief 7 minutes but affords some splendid views of yellowing beech trees and the Sounkyo gorge. Then the chair-lift to the 7th. station of Kurodake (about 1500m) this doubles as a ski lift in winter. It skims you along close to the ground and is a very pleasant ride. Especially coming down, tired out but bathed in warm afternoon sunshine it was a joy in itself.
＊Kurodake Ropeway and Chair-lift; 2550 yen / return
Climbing Kurodake 黒岳登山
However, arriving in the cool, cloudy morning, we start to climb. The going is steep, relentlessly steep and very rugged. The way is a crude stairway of rough, uneven boulders. These are very stable, so no problem with loose stones underfoot.
The early stages are hemmed in by high sasa (bamboo) grasses but as you ascend the view becomes better and more frequent. The gorge below, and the unbroken expanse of trees as far as the eye can see, swathes of yellow and the patches of red are wonderful, even under a cloudy sky.
As we ascend, the sun gradually gains supremacy as the clouds give way. This improves the colours, but we are stripping off layers of clothing as we and the temperature climb. There are a lot of fellow climbers. Not uncomfortably many but enough to impress on me that I am old and slow.
I noted no wildlife. No birds were visible, and we only heard the scurry of squirrels and caught a disturbance in the undergrowth.
Perhaps two thirds to the summit, there is a notable outcrop of rock standing stark against the sky with the tree covered mountain side stretching away into the hazy blue.
Then suddenly, after a very steep section, with a whiff of sulphur you are at the summit (1984m). An area of boulders dust and loose stones. Some of the rocks large and flat enough to sit on in relief.
The views are magnificent all around and there is an inviting path across a plateau, past patches of last year’s snow, to the view of ‘Ohachi-daira’ a 2.2 kilometer diameter old caldera, then to the Daisetsuzan Asahidake Ropeway. But that is another very long walk.
But no! I was lucky to make it to the top and after a brief rest we start the descent. Going down is much easier, of course, but the way is rugged, and care must be taken. Without the walking poles I was very reluctant to buy, my knees would have not made it.
Sounkyo Onsen 層雲峡温泉
At the bottom we have discount tickets for the Kurodake-no-yu, but we have been there before and found it far too crowded to be a pleasant experience. We drive a short distance up the hill to the Sounkaku Grande Hotel*. Here the bath for visitors is 700 Yen. This was a good decision, a comfortable if not notable onsen with almost no others. The outside bath I had to myself but for a Grande Hotel the rotenburo (outside bath) is ergonomically unsound. It is very difficult to find a comfortable spot where one can soak with a view of anything other than the building.
*This hotel changed its name to ” Sounkaku Mountain Resort 1923″ in 2022.
Back to Sounkyo Auto campsite for hot food, wine and contented exhaustion.
＊Sounkyo Auto campsite ; 500 yen / free site
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.