In the southern section of Japan’s main island, Honshu, lays a series of mountain ranges to rival all others. The Japanese Alps. With small towns and villages scattered amongst the valleys, accessing these incredible mountains is a breeze. Head into Hakuba, famous for hosting the 1998 winter Olympics, and drink in all of its scenic glory.
The ski town is booming with summer life, as tourists and locals alike explore the shops and restaurants in the sun. Free of snow, this town only gives glimpses of its incredibly harsh winters, a highly peaked roof here, or the faint outlines of ski lifts zig zagging up the mountains. The “off” season takes on a life of its own, with mountain bikers, hikers, and paragliders all taking avid use of the numerous ski mountains surrounding Hakuba. Fly tandem in a paraglider, and you will experience the incredible rush of seeing the towns spread out amongst the valley, while appreciating just how tall the surrounding mountains really are. After seeing how incredible the views were while paragliding,
I knew I had to get myself deeper into the mountain range. Following some advice from a local, I opted for an extremely ambitious two day hike, planning a stay at one of Japans hidden treasures, mountain huts. The name mountain hut doesn’t truly do it justice, it’s a city in the sky, with hot meals for its staggering 2000 guests in the peak summer season, tatami floors, and plenty of beer. The hike was tough, but the views were to die for. Watching the sun set and the stars arise from high above the clouds before turning in, I knew I was going to pay for staying up late taking star pictures. Japan’s hikers are famous for waking up before the sunrise and getting an early start to the day, often settling in a camping spots by early afternoon. The weather held steady, luckily, as my second day of hiking included intense scrambling next to sheer drops, aided by chains bolted into the mountain side. As I began my descent in late afternoon, I took every opportunity I could, to join the day hikers and stare back at the incredible range I had just completed, marveling at its size and grandeur. Views: 10/10. Difficulty: 8/10 (technical hiking required). Popularity: 9/10. Accessibility: 8/10. Food: 11/10 (how often do you get to have a hot multi-course meal this high in the mountains?)