Despite its grim appearance, michi no eki Shinshushinmachi is fine from a shachuhaku point of view. There were very few other vehicles, the facilities large and clean and rubbish bins are provided. The road has very little traffic during the night.
An early rise, and off to Hakuba Happo-one. Already busy when we arrive and parking at 1000 yen a bit shocking, plus the two chair lifts and gondola ride make this a pricy outing. The chair lift is an interesting ride in itself, and it is clear some people ride it for its own sake and do not venture further up the mountain. The lift whisks you up to Happoike hut, 1830m high.
Most, however, do start to climb. This ascent from the top of the chair lift to Happoike is about 1.5 kilometres and mainly steep, rugged, rocky steps with flatter bits of loose shale. Soon after you start to climb, there is an option of the hard or easy ascent. The hard being to continue on the steep, rocky incline or to take the fairly gently inclined wooden walkway. D. assures me it is recommended to take the rocky climb and the walkway down so; this is what we do.
＊Happo Alpen Line ; 3200 yen / adult return (green season) ・・・ Gondola lift ‘Adam’ + Alpen Quad lift + Grart Quad lift
Happoike, Happpo pond
The going is slow, as picking your way up the boulders is a painstaking business and the rocks can be slippery. The Autumn colours are better here and when the sun breaks through it enhances the show but makes us regret our jackets. High in the Northern Alps in mid-October and the temperature is well into double figures. There is also a lot of fast-moving, low cloud so the views of towering Hakuba-sanzan (3 mountains ; Shirouma-dake + Shakushi-dake + Hakuba Yariga-ake) are fitful and limited.
As the morning progresses, and we creep higher, the gas/mist develops in earnest. By the time we reach or goal Happoike, it is a muddy pond enveloped in people and mist. There are no views at all except occasional pleasing vistas of the lower slopes, ablaze in colour and traversed by billowing mists.
My overall feeling about the hike was not that favourable. Had the weather been kinder and afforded us spectacular mountainscapes, I could have overlooked the crowds. As it was, following a procession of arses up a steep, rocky gradient to view a misty, muddy pool was not the best way to spend a morning.
In more favourable circumstances, I concede, it is probably a fine hike.
Kurashita no Yu
Once down, we drive a short distance to Kurashita no Yu. This was an experience. There was a vending machine dispensing tickets, not unusual but in this case indispensable as the gentleman behind the glassed-in counter was fast asleep.
Once inside, slipping quietly by not wishing to disturb, there was a small rectangular bath of seriously rotted wood full of cold water. The washing stations around the walls were good and functional but the floor was very slippery. Outside, was another rectangular bath of rotted wood, larger but with a steady flow of hot water. It was murky and deep, the colour of the muddy pool we had trekked to earlier in the day. Good to soak in and with a view of mountainside beyond a large area of tangled weeds.
Having decided to walk Tsugaike Shizen-en tomorrow, we drive to michi no eki Hakuba. We arrive much earlier than usual as we expect it to be very busy.
＊Kurashita no yu ; 600 yen / adult. (Sodium-chloride/bicarbonate hot spring)
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.