We went to Zao Onsen back in February, and spent a lovely weekend skiing and relaxing in hot springs. Recently, we repeated the exercise, except we replaced skiing with hiking. It was a brilliant weekend. We stayed in a Ryokan and ate lots of beautiful and delicious Japanese food (if I ever get round to it, there'll be a post about this on my food blog). Then, during the day, we hiked all over the ski slopes, marveling at how different it all looks without the snow and skiers everywhere, before collapsing into a marvellously relaxing hot spring at the end of the day.
We did some other bits of exploring, which I'll blog about in another post, but on our full day there, we went on a very long hike up to the top of the mountain. The onsen town is at about 750m, and the highest point we reached was the top of Mount Kumanodake, at 1841m. Just beyond Kumanodake is Okama, the crater lake from when Zao last exploded. That was our final destination. There is a ropeway, and a bus that take you up to Okama, but we are never ones to take the easy route!
It was a pretty long way up, but not too difficult to follow. You can get hiking maps from the tourist information in Zao Onsen, near the bus station. We had a little trouble finding the start of the trail: in the end we had to follow the main ropeway up a little way until we saw the path on our right. We also made a small accidental detour along a river, but when we headed back we realised that there was a sign at the bottom that was telling us which way we should have gone! We had some gorgeous views on the way up, but unfortunately, as we reached the top of the mountain we found ourselves inside a rather cold and damp cloud. You could only see a couple of meters, and we were both freezing and miserable, thinking that we weren't going to get any view of Okama at all. Luckily, as we huddled in a restaurant and had some delicious curry, the clouds did clear enough to give us a decent view. And, even better, as we descended down the mountain, we emerged out of the cloud to beautiful views over Yamagata.
Being the idiot I am, I forgot to pack my camera this weekend, so all these photos are unfortunately off our iphones. I don't think they're too bad though, considering!
Although I know that the hot springs in Zao are natural and must therefore come from somewhere, it was still really odd to find a steaming river in the middle of the wood.
Carrying the bag for me on the way up, isn't he a good boy?!
John at the shrine at the top of Kattadake peak, right near Okama crater
Here's a photo of a photo inside the restaurant of what the crater should look like...
...and here's the view we got. It was still beautiful though!
The water is just so blue!
We made it to the top of Kumanodake, but were so fed up of cold and fog by this point, that we'd mostly given up with photography!
Emerging out of the clouds...
...to views like this down the ski slopes
Lovely autumn colours
Wandering through the autumnal woods (note that I'm carrying the bag now it's flat, hehe)
So many gorgeous views to make up for aching feet!
Ski slopes with no snow are just weird!
As we got near Zao, we sat on a ski slope to watch the sunset. What a lovely days hiking!