Most people who climb Mt kaikoma (甲斐駒ケ岳 2967m) will have gazed across at the jagged sawtooth ridgeline that stretches northwest over to the summit of Mt Nokogiri (鋸岳 2685m). The majority will have taken one look at that dotted line on the hiking map, with its danger markings and warning signs, and dismissed it as one for the foolhardy. A good decision for many; the sawtooth ridgeline is not for the faint of heart. But a traverse of this classic South Alps itinerary makes for an absolutely unforgettable day, magnificently blurring the boundaries between trail runner and mountaineer.
This itinerary requires commitment, as there is no quick and easy way to get to the start from Tokyo. Whether you come by car, bus or train, you’ll need to get round the northern end of the South Alps to Ina City, and then make the short hop (local bus or taxi, if using public transport) up to Todai (戸台).
The carpark at Todai marks both the start of this route and the gateway to the Todai River. Before the Minami Alps Rindou (South Alps through-road) was built, this was the standard way to access the northern end of the South Alps, but now it is rapidly falling into disuse. As the empty shells of collapsing tea houses and mountain huts along the banks of the Todai will attest, the bus to Kitazawa Pass (北沢峠) has superseded this route. But make no mistake; this is by far the more impressive route, both in terms of ambience and scenery.
The route (GPS track courtesy of Hanameizan):
1. In one day
This will require a trail runner’s speed and fitness. Aim to arrive at the Todai car park late evening and camp for a few hours. An alpine start (around 2AM) will see you a good way up the scree chute to the ridgeline by dawn, leaving plenty of time to make the traverse and get down to Kitazawa Pass for a microbus back to the red iron bridge (Todai O-hashi 戸台大橋) about a kilometer short of the Todai car park.
2. In two days
A more leisurely morning start from Todai, and a comfortable hiking pace, will probably give you enough time to traverse the sawtooth ridge and arrive at the Rokugome hut (六合目小屋), below the summit of Kaikoma. If so, you can spend the night here. If not, bivvy anywhere you like on the ridge. You can traverse the summit of Kaikoma the following morning, descending to the Kitazawa Pass for a bus out or back to your car.
The first hour or two is a relatively gentle hike up the Todai River (戸台川). During the day it is easy to spot the trail winding its way up the wide riverbed, and you will be treated to fantastic views of rock walls on either side in places.
At night it is a different story, and the route finding becomes far trickier by headtorch. Cairns marking the way blend into the rest of the rocks, and you should expect numerous false starts and back-tracking to find the correct route.
You will have to cross the river here, so take care on the slippery rocks. Once safely arrived at the other side of the river, head towards a stone cairn and from there, follow the trail upwards.
The trail climbs steeply up through forest, with pink tape markers attached to tree branches from time to time. After some time, you’ll hit treeline and things will open out as you find yourself at the bottom of a steepening gulley with an enormous cliff on your right. Skirt this cliff as quickly as you can, with helmet on, and beware of rockfall from above.
From here to the top you are in a steep boulder chute. It is quite simply amazing… stones piled up on stones, seemingly at the angle of repose. It looks bad, but as long as you move confidently and carefully, it’s not as bad as your imagination will be telling you!
After climbing this boulder chute for what seems like hours, you will eventually find yourself deposited on the col. Take a brief rest before making the short hop up to the ‘nihyakumeizan’ summit of Mt Nokogiri.
The views from here are outstanding, in all directions.
Prepare yourself now for the sawtooth traverse. Heading southeast towards Mt Kaikoma you will spend the next few hours picking your way carefully up, down and along a narrow rocky ridgeline, with tremendous exposure in places.
The most notable places to look out for are:
* the first gap – a vertical in-situ chain takes you down about 20m into the gap, then a scramble up a 40m chain on the other side brings you back onto the crest of the ridge. From there you’ll need to climb down onto an exposed ledge, and traverse across above the void for about 10m before you get back onto a comfortable hiking trail again. There are always holds where you need them, so go carefully and enjoy the exposure!
* the ‘Shika-no-mado’ hole – This ‘eye of the needle’ hole is visible from down below on the Minami Alps Rindou, and is a very famous spot on the ridge, so be sure to snap your photo in there!
* the second gap – much deeper and larger than the first, this begins with a long chain from inside the ‘Shika-no-mado’, which puts you on a thin trail. Traverse this ledge along the grassy and rocky slope to climber’s right, then down into the gap. Keep an eye out for where the trail goes, as it’s easy to get off route here… We did, and ended up traversing the cliff face about 30m above the gap, where a fall would have had serious consequences. The scree in this gap is extremely loose, so be careful not to start a slide. From the other side of the gap, a wet greasy trail climbs the steep slope back up to the ridgeline.
View to Mt Kitadake, Mt Ainodake and Mt Senjogatake:
Further along the ridge from here there is one more steep scree slope to descend to another minor gap, and then you can relax as you’re on decent hiking trail from here onwards.
Looking back at the final scree slope descent (centre):
After several hours of hiking you will arrive at a junction with a trail coming in from climber’s left. Keep going ahead towards Kaikoma, and you will notice how the rock type changes to the white limestone of Kaikoma.
The Rokugome hut lies about an hour before the summit of Kaikoma, at the point where the trail begins the climb up the final few hundred metres of height-gain. A short way up from here you have one final rock step to climb, with a chain hanging down its full height. It’s very straightforward though, and with a bit of confidence, the chain is not necessary.
After several minor false summits along the way, you will eventually hit the 2967m summit of Mt Kaikoma, without a doubt one of Japan’s finest alpine peaks. Enjoy some of the finest views Japan has to offer!
Looking back to the sawtooth ridge:
Final section to Mt kaikoma summit:
Summit of Mt Kaikoma:
You’ve got a few options for descent. If you’ve got a car parked at Todai you’ll need to head down to Kitazawa Pass for a microbus back to Todai. If using public transport, you can take the easier option of dropping down to the Pass for a bus back to civilization, or you can opt for the full descent of the magnificent Kuroto Ridge (黒戸尾根) back to the valley and the Chuo Line railway.
Hands-down one of the finest itineraries in Yamanashi. Enjoyable from start to finish, physically demanding, bringing into play a broad skill set and definitely requiring a head for heights. What a fantastic thing it is to look up at Nokogiri and the sawtooth ridgeline from the window of a Chuō Line train and relive the memories of being up there!