Sunday, August 28, 2011

Conquering Japan, one mountain at a time

Okama, the crater lake on Mt. Zao
Got another mountain under my belt this weekend, albeit a much smaller and less challenging climb than Fuji-san. Yesterday my friends and I climbed Mt. Zao (蔵王山) one of the most active volcanoes in Northern Honshuu. According to its Wiki page, Zao "consists of a cluster of stratovolcanoes" which lie on the border of the Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. At the top there's a crater lake called "Okama" that changes color according to the weather.

Taking the rope way up to the first station
Gondolas, the best way to go up the mountain
We climbed up from the Yamagata side, which meant a long train ride to Yamagata city (a little over an hour), then a bus (about 30 min.) to the little Zao Onsen town. It's a cute town with lots of hotels, gift shops and hot springs and a nice place to stay in the winter during the ski/snowboard season. From the town, we took a rope way about half-way up the mountain. There are several rope ways and many different hiking courses to choose from. We decided to take one of the longer routes, so we took the main Zao Rope Way to the first station, then began hiking from there. We followed the course that goes through Iroha Pond, a little wetland full of flowers (in the right season), then up to the Wasagoya trail that that takes you to the crest of Okama. 

Yellow line is our ascent, the blue line is the descent
We took the road less traveled, which unfortunately meant it was pretty overgrown and muddy in places. But I've been on worse, and we were able to bushwhack our way through.
The super over grown trail... it was an adventure!
For less serious hikers, there's also the option of taking the main Zao Rope Way to the second station, which is about a one hour hike from Okama. This is also where I went last winter to see the famous Mt. Zao Snow Monsters. It's amazing how different the scenery looks depending on the season! 

We reached Okama after just under two hours. The view was incredible! The crater lake really does seem to change color, going from bright green in the sunlight to a deeper blue when the clouds pass by. We sat down on the crest and had a picnic with our conbini bento (lunch bought at a convenience store) and some British cheese one of my friends had brought home from the U.K.

The shrine/temple on the crest.
We explored the crest a bit but unfortunately didn't have enough time to do the trail that goes down around the lake. If you come up from the Miyagi side, there's a car park near the top where you can come to see Okama, and just do the hike around the lake. In order to save time, we hiked back along the Mt. Jizou course that goes to the second rope way station, which we took back to town. 

We just barely made the last rope way car and the last bus back to Yamagata Station, and then it was about an hour back to Sendai. I'd really recommend doing Zao by car rather than train and bus, if only because it would allow for a lot more time on the mountain. Still, it was a fun hike and the scenery was gorgeous.  

You can see the rest of the photos here!


  1. In some of these pictures it looks like your in South America with Teal!

  2. I wish! That would be amazing :)