Japan's "Cat Ears" Mountain, this mountain completes all the checklist for trail types. It has my favorite rope/rock segments which is a fun and quick way to gain elevation. It also has the knee-breaking, foot-blistering, and endless walk up and down the highway. It has planks, river crossing, ladders, swamps, ridges, gully, and everything in between too.
Budget: JPY1,770 (~USD17)
- JPY680. Train, Hakuba Station to Nechi Station.
- JPY850. Bus, Amakazari-kogen to Minami-Otari Station
- JPY240. Train, Minami-Otari Station to Hakuba Station
- +JPY4,820. Two days' worth allocated with Seishun 18 ticket. (if from Tokyo)
- +JPY9,500. Mountain hut.
Hike Date / Difficulty (Elevation: 1,963m / 6,440ft)
- August 9-10, 2020
- Difficulty: 5 out of 5.
- Route below is around 16.9kilometers, with an elevation change of ▲2,076m/ ▽1,374m
- I did this hike with another mountain whose trailhead is Hakuba Station - Mt. Shirouma.
- Map Link
When to Go
Bus runs from April 1st to November 30th, so that is a restriction. This blog mentions avalanche risk, so I'm saying no winter hikes.
- The mountain is called "Cat Ears" Mountain mainly because of how the summit splits into two peaks. I honestly cannot recognize the cat ears - and I walked kilometers on both sides.
- Public transportation is not easy, and there are two main trailheads, both of which involve at least an hour's walk on the highway. So having a car is really the best way to get there, plus it will let you do this as a dayhike. With the public transportation schedule, dayhike is just NOT possible.
- Trailhead 1: Amakazari-kogen (雨飾高原). The onsen has updated information on access and public transportation. Link here.
- NOT DAYHIKE FEASIBLE. If you plan on backtrailing, and start the hike at 8:30am, the earliest time you can finish is at 5:45pm. The last bus departs at 5:09pm. Hence, the only way to do this is as a dayhike is to have your own form of transport, or be certain you can beat the Japanese time (to be fair, I was about an hour early compared to the Japanese estimate, and I'm slow).
- Mountain huts. Near the bus stop is a Japanese inn - 村営雨飾荘, at JPY13,500+ a night. Reservations online. If full, an alternative is this 小谷温泉, a bus stop away, which is also a Japanese inn with onsen (JPY7,500, no meals). Reservations via phone 0261-85-1221. Both of them fill up fast.
- There is a rest area (休憩場) near the parking lot an hour up the trailhead, which looks like a small emergency hut. However, when I passed on August 2020, this is fully boarded and closed.
- Public Transport to Amakazari-kogen (雨飾高原):
- Train, Hakuba Station to Minami-Otari Station (南小谷駅), JPY240, 19minutes.
- Bus, Minami-Otari Station to Amakazari-kogen. JPY850, 40minutes. For 2020, bus webpage is here (Japanese). Earliest bus leaves at 7:30am, and arrives at 8:11am. Note: If you are doing this after Mt. Shirouma, the bus passes through the trailhead right below the gondola, Tsugaike-kogen (栂池高原).
Bus Schedule, Minami Otari Station to Amakazari-kogen
Bus Schedule, Amakazari-kogen to Minami Otari Station
- Trailhead 2: Amakazari-onsen (雨飾温泉). The maps are misleading - they say the trailhead is at Yamaderajou-iriguchi Bus Stop (山寺上入口), but the onsen is actually a 7km walk up the road from there. The actual trailhead is Amakazari-onsen.
- Mountain hut. Amakazari-onsen is a mountain hut, and can be reserved online in weird English. JPY6,800 a night, no meals. The meals, though, are a feast, and definitely worth it.
- Direct Access: There is Shuttle from Itoigawa Station (糸魚川) / Nechi Station (根知駅). JPY1,000 one way, 70 minutes. Reservations a day in advance needed (online). Shuttle available from August to mid-October.
Shuttle schedule: Direct Access
- Alternative Access:
- Bus, Itoigawa Station (糸魚川) / Nechi Station (根知駅) to Yamaderajouiriguchi Bus Stop (山寺上入口), then walk to Amakazari-onsen (7kms)
- Walk, Nechi Station to Amakazari-onsen (~9kms)
Bus schedule, Nechi Station (根知駅) to Yamaderajouiriguchi Bus Stop (山寺上入口).
Make sure to check the link, as the schedule is different for 1. weekdays, 2. Saturdays, and 3. Sundays and Holidays.
- Access from Hakuba Station. I keep on mentioning Itoigawa Station and Nechi Station. Hakuba is in Nagano, Itoigawa is in Niigata. In between them, is Nechi Station. Itoigawa Station is accessible via bullet train, Nechi Station is accessible via local trains. However, the local train is pretty rare (6x a day), so plan accordingly.
ItineraryWhat I did was took the train from Hakuba Station to Nechi Station, then walked all the way to Amakazari-onsen (trailhead 2), where I stayed the night. I started my hike the next day early, and ended the hike at Amakazari-kogen (trailhead 1)
- 10:42am. Hakuba Station. The train comes at platform 1. They don't accept IC cards, so buy the ticket beforehand (JPY680, cash only).
- 11:07am. Train, Hakuba Station to Minami-Otari, transferred to platform 2 (just across), and waited more than half an hour for the train to Nechi Station. The train comes early, so you can go in and find your seat. The train also comes with a restroom.
- 12:50pm. Arrival, Nechi Station. Go outside, and the bus stop is about a foot on your right. As I came on a Sunday, there is no bus until 4pm+. So I started walking.
- 02:30pm. Arrival, Yamaderajou-iriguchi Bus Stop. It was a very flat road, practically no elevation change. From Yamadera, you can see the sign saying it's 7kms to Amakazari-onsen, and from here on it is a gradual ascent up (700m+ in total), with a bit of a descent every now and then.
- 04:40pm. Arrival, Amakazari-onsen! FI took off my shoes, used the sanitizer and the staff took my temperature. I checked in, he said dinner was at 6pm, breakfast at 5am. The hut does not have a drying room, but each room has a rod and some hangers. No wifi (or any signal), but with a plug in the room.
- 06:00pm. Dinner. Lights out at 9pm (they shut down even the plug).
- 04:20am. Lights up. Got up, started packing by bags.
- 05:00am. Breakfast.
- 05:30am. Start hike. Upon exiting the hut, go right. The trailhead is right next to the outside onsen. Trail started steep, and rest assured, it shall continue to be steep for the rest of the hike up and down (actually, steeper)
- 06:57am. I come across the aluminum ladder. There's only one aluminum one, but plenty of wooden ones.
- 07:43am. Arrived at Naka-no-ike (中の池) It's a small pond that is basically hidden under all the vegetation.
- 08:31am. Arrived at the intersection between the trails and the summit (not marked on map). Left is to Amakazari-kogen, right is summit. I turned right. It was a gentle slope across the ridge, then one big steep ascent up the summit. Once you reach the top, you have a fork - ten meters to the left was the summit, ten meters to the right the Buddhist stones. I turned left.
- 08:54am. Summit! I took some pictures and crossed to the other peak with the Buddhist Stones, then started my descent. Once you get to the intersection again, remember that the left one is to Amakazari-onsen. So take the right fork.
- 09:37am. Arrived at Sasadaira-bunki (笹平分岐). Right is the trail to the bus stop, Amakazari-kogen. Left is up Mt. Kin (金山 = Money Mountain!), merely 320 minutes away. Took the right turn. For the trail down, there are plenty of ladders, and huge rocks. It has been a scramble down, which involves both my hands, so trekking poles are discouraged.
- 10:55am. Arrived at the River crossing. After crossing the river, it was a bit of an ascent, after which it tapered off to a nice trail, then back to steep descent. Fortunately, it's not as bad as the scramble prior the river.
- 11:09am. I stumbled on an emergency toilet. It's just a room, with a toilet lid on it, and a basket of portable toilets. You then carry your, er, package with you to the entrance and there's a bin about 20 meters before you get to the parking lot.
- 12:17pm. Arrived at the parking lot. I kept on walking straight, and it is just a long walk down the road, so I simply followed the highway road down. At the fork, I turned left, and continue following the road down.
- 01:04pm. On my left, about 10 meters before the big curve going to the bus stop, is an outdoor onsen, that seems free for everybody. I just quickly took a peek and went back to the road.
- 01:07pm. Arrived at Amakazari-kogen Bus stop.
- 01:37pm. Bus, Amakazari-kogen to Minami-Otari Station. Cash only, so get the ticket upon entry.
- 02:18pm. Arrived at Minami-Otari Station.
|I saw a "climbing taxi" pass me by on my way up, which is why I asked around once I got there. Here's the flyer they showed me.|
|Upon exiting Nechi Station, I turned left, then left again to cross the train tracks. And since trains come every hour or so, I had time to take pictures.|
|An hour and a half in, I see the sign (in Japanese) to Amakazari-onsen (雨飾温泉). So I turned left to cross the bridge. |
|This is at the end of that bridge. Took a photo, then turned right. Around this time a couple in a car stopped by me to ask me if I was going to Amakazari. When I said yes, they winced and said, oh, that's far. |
|About two and a half hours of walking on the road. A buggy, insect infested road (no, it's not that bad but get insect repellent)|
|Finally reached Amakazari-onsen! Boy, I'm so envious of those with cars.|
|My room for the night. Since there were few guests, I didn't have to share mine. I would say that the futons are shared and NOT washed after use, so I was planning to sleep in my sleeping bag liner (but I fell asleep before any of that)|
|While waiting for dinner, I just sat down outside looking at the mountains. Here's the description of the trail up. It is also here that I realized this mountain is called the Cat Ears Mountain. |
|Best. Dinner. Ever. (in a mountain)|
|As with most mountains in Japan, there's a trekking itinerary slot where you will write your name, emergency number and gear. This is I think the emergency number, so better to have it than be sorry.|
|4:40am! The day has started! This is the view right outside my window.|
|Loading up before my hike. Breakfast starts at 5am.|
|Within the first ten minutes, I got a taste of what it'll be for the rest of the hike up.|
|Got lucky to look up when the sun was rising above the covers of the mountain.|
|Soon enough I got into the pond. This I think is the flattest area during the hike up.|
|After the pond is a steep way up. I had to be very careful of the loose rocks, as there were people below me. |
|Legit rope segments. They are steep, and ropes definitely were needed in a good number of sections.|
|There were quite a lot of if these signs, which are not a reliable gauge of time. Haha. |
|And finally reached the ridge! Trail to the summit is on the right. The left says "小谷温泉" which is the town right next to the Amakazari-kogen Bus Stop. |
|Summit! It is a very, very, VERY crowded small space. |
|Yey! Was that the northern alps? I don't know, but I probably have hiked it haha. (Directions are NOT my strong point)|
|Here's the Buddha Stones on the other side of the summit. Also very crowded. |
|And down we go! I am at the edge of a mountain range in Niigata, so I assume that this was it. |
|Back to the intersection earlier. To the left is where I came from, and I am going to Amakazari-kogen Bus Stop so I took the right turn. |
|The Sasadaira Intersection. If I go left, I get to the hike the rest of the mountain ranges. This is not a main trail though, and having walked ten or so meters in, the trail is there but not well used. I turned right.|
|I was hoping for a less intense descent. I was wrong. This side was way steeper, and HOT! There's minimal tree cover, so expect the full force of the sun.|
|This is where I slipped and hurt myself (somewhere at the top), to the extent that I had to have painkillers for the next two days, and was practically on bed rest. So, hide your poles away, and be ready to use hands. |
|Also with rope segments. Plenty of them. |
|River crossing! I am thankful for the guy having a meal right next to the path, coz he made it easy to see where the path is. |
|A surprise emergency toilet! Not for peeing though. |
|That's why I said it's not for peeing. It's just a seat. A basket above it are plastic portable toilets, where you put the plastic over the seat and do your business. Then you bring this, er, package with your and dump it close to the trailhead. |
|This is where you dump it. It's about 10 meters away from the start of the trek from the parking lot. |
|The rest spot (休憩場) that can be used as an emergency sleeping spot. But it's all boarded up when I came.|
|Alas, the last hour of the trail is nothing but highway road. With no sidewalks really. |
|There's an onsen really close to the Amakazari-kogen bus stop (less than 5 minutes walk?). But with this heat? I would say it's more than 30c. Which means I have zero desire to soak at, what, 40c? |
|The cute little mascot near my seat. What a coincidence that I got one with mountains on it.|