I did a short trip from Agematsu (上松) on the Nakasendo (中山道) to Mt. Ontake (御嶽山) recently, catching the late afternoon train from Kachigawa (勝川) north of Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, where I changed trains to Agematsu. Altogether about two hours of travel. From there I rode just under 40kms or so west towards Kaida Kogen (開田高原) before finding shelter in a small picnic area at the side of the road for the night.
These areas are perfect for bike packing in Japan – easy to find, sheltered from the rain, and quite often have toilets and amenities nearby.
I settled down for the night and surprisingly managed to sleep for a solid 8 hours or so. Maybe it was the calming sound of the nearby river or simply tiredness after waking up at 4am earlier that day.
After packing up I headed up Mt. Ontake to superb views of not only the volcano itself but also the ‘Alpe d’Huez’ of Japan, Mt. Norikura (乗鞍), and Ishikawa prefecture (covered in cloud) in the far distance. From there I rode the R435 and R441 across the northern slope of Mt. Ontake (still erupting) down into Gero Onsen and back home. I’ve written about riding here before so take a look if you haven’t already.
Train fare – ¥1940 (single)
There is no planned route for this trip but if you want any help with planning your own please send me a message.
It’s no secret among cyclists in Japan that Mt. Norikura (乗鞍岳) is the highest road passable by bicycle in the country. Some call it the Japanese Alpe d’Huez but I think comparing mountains is somewhat silly. All mountains differ, and all mountains have the potential to change character within minutes.
Most road bike cyclists start from the car park at the bottom of the Nagano side where you can expect to be riding for about 17kms and gain over 1000m until you reach the dizzing heights of just over 2700m at the car park near the summit. Starting from Matsumoto on the Nagano side, or Takayama on the Gifu side is also possible although both sides will add another 40+ kms to your climbing and the tunnels on the Nagano side are some of the worst I’ve ridden through in Japan. One other lesser used route is from Nomugi Pass (野麦峠) in south up and over Shirakabe Pass (白樺峠). It’s a fairly isolated road without much traffic but plenty of wildlife. I saw wild monkeys, native Japanese deer (Nihon shika /日本鹿), and I was given a bear bell at the local campsite to scare away any of the larger wildlife that roam the area.
Camping, giant moths, Nomugi Pass – made famous in this old film – and the eery climb up Shirokaba Pass makes for a solid weekend of riding. I made a short film for my friends over at First Over Everything about a recent trip. You can watch it here.