Dawn came before 5am. Taking a walk in Kamikochi before most tourists came out was a charming experience. Walking southwest along the serene Azusa River before reaching Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル), a small metal plaque at a small water pond reminded us the early mountaineering history in Kamikochi back in the late 19th century. Known as the Weston Memorial, the bronze plaque was made in honour of Walter Weston, whom many referred to as the “Father of Mountaineer in Japan.”
Before the late 19th century, the Japanese Alps was largely unknown to the Western world, and climbing mountains just for fun was a non-existence. Employed by the Meiji government, English surveyor William Gowland became the first foreigner to summit Mount Yari (槍ヶ岳) of the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈) in 1878. His adventure started a trend of mountaineering in Japan and was the first person to coin the term “Japanese Alps (日本アルプス)”. In 1891, English missionary Walter Weston also climbed Mount Yari. Sometimes referred as the “Father of Mountaineer in Japan”, Walter Weston wrote about his experiences and published “Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japan Alps”, an important travel literature that promoted this part of Japan to the Western world. He continued to adopt also Gowland’s term “Japanese Alps” in his publications, and established the first Japanese Alpine Club in 1905. Each year, the Weston Memorial Festival takes place in Kamikochi to commemorate Walter Weston.
Walking at 5am along Azusa River was a lovely experience. The charming scenery under the early morning sun gave us an uplifting spirit.
The turquoise water of Azusa River led us southwest towards the volcano Mount Yake.
It seemed that our fortune with perfect weather continued.
The rising sun was behind us as we moved along the river in a leisure pace.
The volcano Mount Yake in the distance was our intended hiking destination later in the day.
Before reaching Kamikochi Onsen Hotel, we came across the bronze plaque of Walter Weston. The memorial could be reached via stepping stones in the pond.
Soon we reached a path that led to the trailhead of Mount Yake (焼岳). The trail up to Mount Yake (焼岳) can be done in a 6 hour hike (round trip). It was our intended destination for later today. But our hotel manager said the snow conditions on the trail was not too convincing, and recommended us to do the day hike of Dakesawa (岳沢) instead.
Continuing south we reached the Tashiro Bridge (田代橋), where we had a fine view of Azusa River, Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル) and the mountains beyond. Crossing the bridge, we began to turn back towards Kappa Bridge.
Along the riverside, there were occasional park benches and tables where hikers were enjoying outdoor breakfast.
On our way back, the rising sunlight finally reached the summits of Mount Hotaka (穂高岳).
Before the arrival of tour groups, hikers can enjoy a moment of tranquility in the early morning.
Looking at Mount Yake (焼岳) from Kappa Bridge, we decided to drop by the Visitor Centre to ask for their advice on the trail conditions of Mount Yake.
If the hike up Mount Yake was not possible, we would turn to the Dakesawa (岳沢) trail going up the slope towards Mount Hotaka (穂高岳).
At the Visitor Centre, the staff confirmed that the trail up Mount Yake was still quite snowy at the upper section. Unless we had snow crampons they advised us not to go for the volcano. They said even the Dakesawa trail could be covered by snow at the upper sections, so we could go as far as we could accordingly to the trail conditions.
Back at Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge, we enjoyed our scheduled breakfast at 7am. It was a tasty and filling meal before we embarked onto the hike up to Dakesawa Hut.