"Kamagatake is not beautiful." An attendant at the ropeway station said to us firmly. He looked us up and down. "Too dangerous. You don't climb." Excuse me? I think it's great he's looking out for tourists, but lying to our faces? It was a challenge. The gauntlet had been thrown down. Kamagatake had to be climbed now.
We hopped into the gondola and were whisked away. Jagged peaks passed underneath us. Brilliant green foliage dominated the landscape. Once we touched down, the nearby viewpoints from Mt. Gozaisho provided us with a dose of awe. Spirits high, we made for the trailhead.
Slippery sandstone is a continuous obstacle on the track and the occasional rock or two provide the only sure footholds. I can imagine the horrors of making the climb in wet conditions. Parts of the trail had simply fallen away in what looked like rockslides. These required careful navigation. At times I imagined we were traversing sand dunes. For our efforts, we were rewarded with pine-filled valleys, which opened up left and right. Kamagatake was a spectacle in itself. The spire-like peak twisted itself towards the sun. A section had fallen away recently here, revealing naked sandstone beneath Kamagatake's stony exterior. It looked as if it were blistering and peeling in the heat.
We passed a baffling sign for the 'expert route' to Yunoyama onsen. This sign pointed towards a mess of interlocking rock and a canopy of dense foliage. Surely there was no route - it seemed ridiculous! At a distance, there appeared to be no path to the summit either, just sheer, mean faces of rock. Remembering the ropeway man's words, we prepared for disappointment.
A way up Kamagatake's steep extremities does eventually present itself however, in the form of a lofty hands-and-knees scramble. The last obstacle is a metal coil of rope, attached to the mountain. We were careful to only use the rope for balance and not to rely on its support entirely. It's a worthy way to end the climb and finally conquer the beast. At the top, the views are stunning; layers of tree-topped ridges and an endless sea of green. I can confidently say, Kamagatake is beautiful.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2015
From Nagoya Meitetsu Bus Terminal take the Mie Kotsu bus to Sanko Yunoyama Onsen bus stop. Walk to the ropeway & board it.
Osaka (Hanshin Sannomiya) > Osaka Namba > Kintetsu Yokkaichi
Kintetsu Nagoya > Kintetsu Yokkaichi
Kintets Yokkaichi > Kintetsu Yunoyama Onsen > Mie Kotsu (bus) to Sanko Yunoyama Onsen. Walk to the ropeway and board it.
Take the gondala to Mt Gozaisho. Exit the gondola. Head upstairs.
From here, take the concrete steps leading off the lookout point. The path will wrap around and pass by a restaurant (and the chairlift entrance). Climb the ski field just to the right of the chairlift for about 10 minutes and you’ll reach the high point of Mt. Gozaisho. From here, head left on the paved road, following the signs to Buhei-touge (武平峠).
After several minutes you’ll see a signposted path on the right side of the paved path with a warning sign in Japanese telling people it is dangerous (危険). The first part of the route is on slippery sandstone with a couple of low branches hanging across the path.
After that, the route drops steeply through an area of large rocks and boulders. It should take about 30 to 45 minutes to reach Buhei-touge, the low point between the two mountains (Gozaisho and Kamagatake). There are paths dropping off the ridge to both the left and right. The left path will take you back down to Yunoyama onsen, while the right path drops into Shiga Prefecture. The trail to the summit of Mt. Kama is straight ahead so ignore these and ascend the 300 vertical meters to Kamagatake ahead.
It’ll take about an hour to reach the summit. The final 50 meters to the peak is tricky, with slippery rock and poor footholds. You’ll probably find yourself scrambling on all fours. However, there is a metal chain here to help you up the pebbly trail. Always keep three firm points of contact with the ground. I.e. three feet and hands. Do not use your whole body weight on the chain as it is not frequently maintained. You’ll know you’re just below the summit when you reach a blue signpost that says Kamagatake.
From the top, retrace your steps to the gondola and head back downhill.