So I had been thinking of doing more hikes in the Tohoku region since the beginning of 2017. But alas, many things happened that kept me preoccupied and on top of that the weather in August, supposedly the prime season for summer hiking, was unbearably bad with constant rain almost every day.
After putting it on hold many times, finally, at the end of September, the plan I had devised to climb Mt. Zao came to fruition! I wanted to see the famous Okama Crater that I had missed the chance to see last year. Together with my usual hiking buddies, Theo and Steven, we rode the 8am train from Sendai to Yamagata. Arriving at the station, we missed the bus to Zao-onsen by just a fraction of minutes, so we took the next bus an hour later.
It was a bit cloudy when we reached Zao-onsen bus terminal. We had a delicious lunch there and packed some more food from the local convenience store before heading to the Zao Ropeway Terminal, to get to the Jizou-sanchou Terminal where the trail starts. Along the way we saw trees that had already started turning red and yellow — Zao is ready for Autumn.
We took a ‘before climbing’ picture in front of the Jizou statue, then walked towards the nicely built hiking path. As we pressed on, the weather got increasingly worse. The wind was blowing a gale, and the rain began to pour moments later. As we continued our climb in the direction of Kumano Peak, suddenly the mountain mist rolled-in and covered everything in no time.
With a pretty bad visual, we were forced to stop our exploration even though it was only 4 pm! We decided to head into the mountain shelter much earlier than planned. We also missed the sunset as our surroundings were totally white with nothing to see. Even so, the mountain shelter itself was superb! Theo commented that it was probably the most lavish ‘free shelter’ that he had ever been to during climbs. It has a stove; it has blankets; it has emergency equipment like helmets and spades. Basically, it has everything a hiker could wish for!
Nobody else was there except for us, for nobody with a sound mind would climb Mt. Zao in such terrible weather…! On the contrary, it was the best time for us. The shelter was basically our base-camp. We took a few selfies inside as you can see below. Afterwards we decided to get some rest until the sky became clearer.
I was sound asleep when Steven woke me enthusiastically. Apparently, the moon had appeared and the mist had cleared a bit. We took our camera gear and proceeded to do some night shots until the moon set in and it became too chilly to bear.
Sunrise came at around 5am, and we excitedly ran to bask in the glorious view. Which, unfortunately, lasted only a few minutes as the wind brought the clouds over and hid the view. We were worried about the state of the weather so we moved on towards the Okama Crater, hoping for the best.
On the way, the mist shrouded the path, so it was impossible to see any semblance of the crater. We waited for quite some time, and we were just thinking about quitting, when out of nowhere Theo shouted, ”Blue sky!”. And there it was! The clouds slowly parted uncovering the mountain from the unending whiteness; the majestic Okama Crater. Blood rushed from to my head as I was filled with excitement. Finally, yes finally, I was able to view this elusive crater.
Mt. Zao hike, mission accomplished!
Since the pivotal destination is Zao Ropeway, please refer to access information in its official website HERE