Karamatsu-dake (Mt. Karamatsu)
One of the most accessible and most popular peaks in the Hakuba area is Mt. Karamatsu. Most hikers utilize the Happo-One gondola followed by two quad lifts to whisk themselves up to around 1,900 m / 6,234 ft. From there it is 5 hours one-way to the summit (according to the map), on a path that goes from wide, rocky and exposed to occasionally dirt, narrow and through dense vegetation. The path follows along the crest of the Happo ridge with excellent views of the surrounding peaks and passes by one of the most famous photo spots in all of Japan's mountains: the Happo-Ike (pond).
Here, in the early morning hours when the winds are low and the waters are still, it is possible to catch the perfect reflection of Mt. Shirouma mirrored by pond. Sunrise is also a treat from here, as the sun rises on the opposite side of the peaks (at your back as you climb upward), which often bathes the tops of the peaks in a warm, red glow as the first rays of light break the horizon.
I have been trying to beat the heat and the crowds, and have been starting a lot of my hikes in the pre-dawn hours, climbing with a headlamp until the skies lighten enough to navigate without one, and finishing with enough time to head home, shower and make it to work.
This particular day I began at 3:47am from a parking lot halfway up the mountain and set out to power hike to the summit and run back down. The weather was perfect, and I had the mountain almost to myself, which only enhanced my excitement. I made quick progress reaching the summit in less than 2 hours, while still managing to enjoy and photograph the spectacular sunrise and views along the way.
I stood solo on the 2,696 m / 8,845 ft summit just long enough to catch my breath and ingest a gel before running back down to my car and heading to work. I must have climbed this mountain a half a dozen times in all seasons, but I still appreciated the beauty and challenge of this hike as if it were the first time, and would definitely recommend it is a great intro hike to this area of the Northern Alps.