[Visited on May 29th, 2022]
The world knows Fukushima for all the wrong reasons. First of all, it is an entire prefecture, the third largest in Japan and the historical continuation of the Aizu domain. It stretches from the pacific shoreline to the interior of Honshu. Mountain ranges split it in three parallel parts, Aizu, Nakadōri, and Hamadōri. The infamous nuclear disaster happened at the shore, where the tsunami struck. The after-effects, both physical and promotional, affected the reputation of the prefecture as a whole. Parts of the towns of Tomioka, Futaba and Namie are still in the ‘difficult-to-return zone’, but apart from these areas, the danger of radiation has disappeared. Regardless, the goal of this hike is a the west part of the prefecture, which was not affected by either the tsunami or the nuclear accident.
The Aizu area used to be the stronghold of the local samurai and an important trading post on the way from the north to Edo-Tokyo. It is surrounded by mountains and active volcanoes. Mt Adatara (安達太良山) is a prominent volcanic peak, a bit closer to Fukushima city. Its name consists of a lot of wonderful kanji, which I can vaguely translate as safe and accomplished, thick and nice mountain. The last time it erupted was in 1996, so it is indeed pretty safe at the moment. Because the volcanic activity continues brooding underneath, as demonstrated by the numerous hot springs in the area, the crater is off limits due to toxic gas emissions. The 1700m peak of Mt. Adatara is the goal of this hike.
The most beautiful area in Fukushima is probably the Kitashiobara area, just southwest of Fukushima city. Three main volcanic ranges define the landscape: the Bandai range with its characteristic twin peaks, the Azuma range with a perfectly symmetrical crater and the Adatara range with its colorful textures. Mt. Adatara is located right next to the Azuma mountain range. Mt. Azuma-Kofuji, shaped like a miniature Mt. Fuji, is clearly visible from the expressway below. The area in-between the mountain ranges is occupied with lakes and marshes. Our base of operations was a wonderful Donaludo pension just next to the Goshikinuma lakes.
On a sunny day in the early summer, I started the hike from Adatara-Kogen skin resort. The ski lift works as a hiker’s lift during the summer. This way, you can skip some of the elevation and get directly from 940m to 1340m. However, it was a bit windy and the lift was not available for security reasons. So, I walked straight parallel to the lift cables, which turned out to be a much nicer alternative. The slope is pretty steep, but the lush greenery and the unobstructed view towards the city makes up for it. A couple of people were collecting mountain weeds on their way up, something that I don’t see so often in Japan.
Mt. Adatara has secured its spot as one of the 100 famous mountains of Japan. All over the Adatara range there are a lot of hot springs and fumaroles. The area smells of moderately of sulfur. In the previous centuries, there was a sulfur mine at the top. Unfortunately, when the volcano erupted in 1900, 72 workers at the mine lost their lives.
There are seven trails to the peak, but I choose the one from Nihonmatsu city’s side, that goes up from Goyomatsu-daira (五葉松平). This area Until that point the trail is surrounded by trees and lush greenery, but becomes increasingly rocky. You can catch a breath at Goyomatsu-daira, but it is not a good place to stop because of the many rocks that make the terrain uncomfortable. Patches of snow at the top of the mountain were visible from Goyomatsu-daira.
The next checkpoint is the Yakushidake (薬師岳) peak and the summit station of the lift. Yakushi is the Buddhist equivalent of the Greek god Asclepius. Again, the terrain is covered by rough rocks. A small stone shrine decorates the peak. From Yakushidake you can get a full view of the mountain range. A large waterfall, with an intense flow due to the melting snow, catches my eye. It is nice up here.
The path after the summit station is paved with wood and is easy to walk on. This part of the mountain is abundant with animal life. Watch out for snakes, I saw a pair of snakes mating. After a kilometer or so, the terrain becomes rocky again. A stream flows down the rocks making everything muddy. Turns out that the source of the water flow was a remaining patch of snow just above. It was only 20 meters or so, but extremely slippery and thin to walk on. After that point, the path continues as normal and the landscape becomes even more volcanic.
After a final push, I can see the peak of Mt. Adatara. To go to the absolute summit, you have to climb up the rocks using chains and ropes. A wooden sign that marks the height and another stone shrine decorates the peak. The scenery up there is worth it, because of the clear view towards the crater. The dirt is more yellow on the other side, due to the sulfuric content. At the background, there are both green patches of fresh grass and white patches of old snow.
After a quick break, you can continue along the ridge line, the Ushi no se (牛の背), parallel to the rim of the crater. At this part of the path it is extremely windy, and it was hard to walk straight at some points. You can get a clear view of the Numanohira crater, which is extremely barren and desolate, compared to the surrounding grassy areas. It has a 500m diameter. The sulfuric smell becomes stronger with every step. Unfortunately, the interior of the crater is off limits. However, both the crater and lake Akimoto deep in the background are clearly visible. After 30 minutes or so, you can reach an alternative peak of Mt. Adatara, also called iron peak.
From that point, the hike continues downward towards the Kurogane mountain hut (くろがね小屋). Another patch of snow is melting into a tiny stream. You can observe figures walking along the ridge like tiny ants. You can rest a bit at the open space in Mine no tsuji (峰ノ辻). It is a great location to observe the changes of the scenery and the rainbow set of colors of the volcanic sand and dirt.
The Kurogane hut is a cozy two-storied hut another 30 minutes further down. They do not sell water, only soft drinks, but they will let you refill your bottle from the tap outside. They also offer a small onsen to clean up your body and brushes for your boots. The hut owns an off-road jeep and can reach civilization relatively quickly, if need be. They also have a bell to notify the hikers in case of danger due to the volcano.
After that point, the path moves parallel to a small stream and then turns towards Seishidaira. The path is flat and wide, for the jeep to be able to move properly. If you want to save time, you can follow the signs to the old horse road, and walk inside the forest, instead of the dirt road. If you follow the sound of water, you can find waterfalls here and there.
The whole route took less than 5 hours for a 10km distance with a slow pace. The path directs you back to the ski resort. A large onsen (Adatarayama Okudake no Yu) is conveniently located right there, to wash yourself and relax. The open air bath has a great view to the lower mountain side. Alternatively, you can drive a bit further to Dake onsen village and stay there.
If you find yourself on the way to northern Japan, make sure to visit Mt Adatara or the other nearby ranges. Have you been there already? Are you planning to go? Tell me what you think in the comments. You can check out today’s route at Alltrails. Stay tuned for the next post, I will guide you around the Goshikinuma lakes at the foot of Mt. Bandai!
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