When you look at the alps from Toyama, there's a calm appearance to the three peaks of Tateyama that make up the highest point of the mountain range. Look over to the side and you'll see Tsurugi-dake, which looks awkwardly out of place with it's steep jagged edges and intimidating appearance. The peak is considered one of the most challenging to climb in the Northern Japan Alps, though many people attempt and make it to the summit all summer long. Every year someone gets stuck on the route or gets hit by falling rocks, slips and/or falls to their death.
Depending on the route, Tsurugi can be climbed in a matter of hours. A common schedule is to leave the Murodo Bus Terminal and make it to Tsurigu-sawa Camp grounds, spend the night and start the climb out and back in the morning. The main issue with climbing this route during summer is the amount of people who also want to do the same.
We decided on the alternative route, the Hayatsuki-one route from Banbajima in the Town of Kamiichi is a significantly longer climb which starts at around 760 meters above sea level and reaches the 2999 meter peak about 8 kilometers later. While longer, there are much fewer people who attempt to summit this way, preventing the traffic jam on the chains and ladders when someone gets cold feet after taking a glance down into the abyss from Murodo.
We got into Banbajima late into the evening. From Ryan's house in central Kamiichi, it was another 14 mile drive into the foothills and the camp site. We set up the tents on the grass, left the packs in the car and went to bed. It was going to be an early day tomorrow.
I didn't get much sleep. It felt like a race day morning. We were all up and getting our packs ready in the dark around 3am. We were on the route in the trees beginning the steep stair-like trail up towards the summit by 4.
There's a handy sign letting hikers know of every 200 meter gain in elevation along the route. At 2200 meters above sea level, we finally made it out of the tree line and towards open skies. This is where the Hayatsuki-Koya rest house is located and there were a few hikers who set up camp in the opening. From here it was another 800 meters to the top and with the sun rising, the peak cast a shadow looking down on us for the remainder of the journey up.
The last two hundred meters to the top was where the route tests your wits and fear of heights. Several series of chains have been set for hikers to hold while crossing the narrow rocks and occasional rebar jammed into the mountain to give a step while crossing the gaps. It's hard not to take a glance at the drop behind the small rebar when looking down to focus on the next step.
We made it to the summit before the clouds settled over the peak for the rest of the afternoon. After taking short break, we began our descent back down the way we came. Having a clear view of the river below that passes through Banbajima where the car was waiting. After getting back to the car, a perfect 12 hours passed since departing for the peak.