Sunday 7 September 2014

Running the Norikura Skyline road (乗鞍スカイライン)

Mountain:  Norikura-dake (乗鞍岳 3026m)

Area:  North Alps, Nagano/Gifu prefectures

Map sheet:  38 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Mt Norikura is a stratovolcano situated at the southernmost end of the North Alps. Although the chances of it erupting are slim, it is regarded as an active volcano, and there are onsen resorts all over its lower slopes, around the Norikura Highlands (Norikura kōgen 乗鞍高原).

The 3026m high-point of the mountain is Mt Kengamine (剣ケ峰), and it was apparently first climbed in the 1680s by a Buddhist monk named Enkū. It is Japan's third highest volcano (after Mt Fuji and Mt Ontake), and nowadays with its hyakumeizan status, it is a deservedly popular mountain.  Norikura has something for everyone, from skiing and snow-shoeing in winter, to hiking, cycling and running in summer.  There is even some quality ice-climbing to be had at Zengoro waterfall (善五郎の滝).

The Norikura Skyline road was opened in 1973, traversing the mountain from east to west. It's Japan's highest road and is a popular draw, and although closed to private cars, a bus service will take hikers all the way up to Tatamidaira (畳平) just down from the pass, with its car parks, restaurants and souvenir shops. From there it's a short hike of just over an hour to the top of Mt Kengamine, to bag the hyakumeizan summit, and that's exactly what most people do.

It's always struck me as a rather sad way to reach the top of a 3000m mountain though, so I was looking for an alternative that would do justice to Norikura's full stature. One way to do it would be to cycle the zigzags and hairpin bends of the Skyline road, Tour de France style, and then leave the bike at Tatamidaira for the final few hundred metres to the summit. That's how my friend Hanameizan did it during his well-known hyakumeizan quest in 2008, and he tells me there is a cycle race up the Skyline every year.

I don't have a road bike though, so that idea was out... but I can run... and so it was that we decided to run all the way up the Skyline road together from a car park near Zengoro-no-taki, hit the summit and then head down to Tatamidaira for a refuel, before running a more direct line down the hiking trail back to the car.

Some stats for those who care about numbers:

* Total distance:  approx 37km
* Moving time:  5h17m
* Avg moving pace:  8m43s/km
* Elevation gain and loss:  approx 1700m respectively

Long way to go from the car park:

Getting hot out there:


The snowfield on Mt Kengamine is popular with summer skiers:

Crater lakes:

The final slopes to the top:

On the 3026m summit of Kengamine:

Summit ridgeline:

Heading over to Tatamidaira:

Hanameizan enjoying an ice bath down at Zengoro-no-taki:

1 comment:

  1. Tony, thanks for the link from the japan-guide forum. this is awesome! i will most likely want to descend the mountain on foot after reading this.