[Activity] Mt. Kakunodate & Okama in Winter! Go up Zao in snow shoes
April is the perfect spring outfit for the city.
At Zao, you can still enjoy the winter scenery.
At this time, Omotenashi Yamagata is holding a snow shoe trekking activity (from late March to early May) to Kumanodake and the Okama crater lake guided with a mountain instructor as described in this article!
Why don’t you go out to see the precious snowy Okama crater lake that can only be seen at this time of year, and enjoy the view from Kumanodake, the highest peak of Zao.
Zao full of charms
Zao Onsen is not only the second most strongly acidic sulfur spring in Japan, but also a ski resort boasting a vast area and the presence of its Snow Monsters, rime-covered trees with an appearance woven by a most unique winter nature.
This time, we will introduce a special tour to go to trekking with snow shoes to the Okama crater lake for which Zao is known for and mount Kumanodake, the main peak of the Zao mountain range!
The Okama crater lake, symbol of Zao
Many people who have never been to Zao may have heard the name Okama.
Okama is a crater lake surrounded by three peaks, Kattadake, Kumanodake, and Goshikidake, which is located in the corner of the Zao mountain range on the border between Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures.
The lake is filled with emerald green water and has a mysterious atmosphere in contrast to the rough crater wall.
It is also popular as a hiking spot because it has a gentle mountain trail.
Dicentra peregrina called “Queen of Alpine Plants” is in full bloom near the top of the mountain (the best time to see it is around July).
Okama can be accessed from Yamagata City and Sendai City driving on the tourist roads for about 90 minutes.
The tourist roads, Zao Echo Line and Zao High Line, are closed during the winter (November to late April) due to snow, so you cannot usually go see Okama in winter .
Zao Echo Line immediately after opening
This plan is a valuable activity to take you by snowshoes trekking to Okama, which you otherwise can not go to during the winter season!
Zao’s main peak “Kumanodake”
Zao is famous as a tourist destination, straddling both Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures.
Although it is sometimes called “Mt. Zao,” in reality there is no single peak called as such. Instead, the general term for the mountains that straddle Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures (part of the Ou Mountains) is the “Zao mountain range.“
Jizodake ~ Kumanodake mountain trail
Another highlight of this plan, where the main peaks of the Zao mountain range are lined up at the Okama crater lake, is Mt. Kumanodake at an altitude of 1,841m.
There is a gentle mountain trail from Okama to the summit of Kumanodake, so you can easily go trekking this a popular courseif you like mountaineering and even if you have little experience in mountaineering.
Outline of this plan
Be careful in winter! snow trekking
As I have introduced so far, Okama and Kumanodake are relatively easy to get to.
However, the snow-covered winter is not the same as during the snowless season.
There are many climbers aiming for the summit of Okama and Kumanodake even in winter, but there are cases where the search team’s hard search is successful, but unfortunately there are some seasons. The reality is that some are discovered after they have been exceeded, and some have not yet been discovered.
From early summer to autumn when the snow melts and the weather is stable, there is almost no safety problem even without a mountain instructor if you have all the equipment and knowledge. And even in winter, if it’s sunny all the time, it’s not that difficult to go on your own.
However, as you know, the weather in the mountains is variable, and even if it is sunny at the time of departure, it is not uncommon to suddenly be covered with clouds and encounter strong winds and snow.
Therefore, for winter trekking, we highly recommend accompanying a mountain instructor who is familiar with the mountains of Zao.
Most of the photos I will use in this article were taken when I was lucky and the weather was nice.
Depending on the weather on the date and time of participation, you may not be able to enjoy trekking in the same condition. In some cases, the ropeway may be suspended due to strong winds, or the mountain instructor may decide that it is dangerous and will give up trekking in the direction of Okama or Kumanodake.
Course to Okama / Kumanodake
The map below is Time required for trekking to Kumanodake / Okama (cited from Zao Ropeway website).
* Snow trekking takes longer than the map because the estimated time is the average of adult males in the snowless season.
In this tour, join the mountain instructor at Zao Ropeway Sanroku Station in Zao Onsen Street, and transfer to the Sanroku Line and Top Station to reach Jizo Sancho Station. Then, when you arrive at Jizo Sancho Station, first visit the Zao Jizoson statue and then head to the Jizodake summit, aiming for the destination Kumanodake and then Okama.
* Mountain Inster will decide whether to go to the summit of Kumanodake and then look at the Okama, or to see the Okama and then head to the summit of Kumanodake, taking into consideration the weather of the day.
* Since Okama is seen from a point near Kumanodake, this tour does not go to Kattadake.
* Depending on the weather, you may not be able to reach the Okama or Kumanodake, or you may not be able to see the Okama even if you go nearby.
Now, let’s take a look at “Kumanodake & Winter Okama crater lake ☆ mountain instructor will guide you ♪ snowshoessnow trekking “!
First, take the ropeway to Jizodake
Meet at the foot of the mountain station
The meeting place for this plan is Zao Ropeway Sanroku Station.
Meet the mountain instructor at the free rest area on the 1st floor of the station building.
There are changing rooms and coin lockers in the rest area, so you can change clothes and temporarily store your luggage.
Take the foot of the mountain line to Juyo Kogen Station
After joining the mountain instructor and receiving a simple orienteering, it’s time to start!
First, board the Sanroku Line that connects Zao Sanroku Station to Juyo Kogen Station.
It takes about 7 minutes to reach Zao Kogen Station, which is 1,734m.
If it’s sunny, you can see Mt. Gassan, Mt. Chokai, Asahi mountain range, etc. from the train window.
If you are fascinated by the scenery, you will arrive at Juyo Kogen Station at an altitude of 1,331m in no time.
Take the mountaintop line to Zao mountaintop station
When you arrive at Juhyo Kogen Station, change to the mountaintop line.
The distance from Jizo Kogen Station to Jizo Sancho Station is 1,872m, a 10-minute road seaweed.
The mountain in front is Kumanodake.
It is one of the destinations of the book snowshoes snow trekking.
On a windy day, the whole area outside the window is pure white
From the end of March to the beginning of May, which is the period of this plan, the rime on the trees has completely collapsed, but around February, when the rime on the trees is at its peak, another world is spreading on the outside of the gondola on the mountaintop line.
View from the mountaintop line around February
View from the mountaintop line around February
While enjoying the gondola trip, we arrived at Zao Sancho Station at an altitude of 1,661m in no time!
The rooftop of the mountaintop station is an observatory, and you can get a panoramic view of the surrounding scenery.
From Jizodake to Kumanodake
Pray for safety to ZaoJizoson statue
After getting off the Zao Ropeway Jizo Sancho Station, head to the must-see Zao Jizoson statue .
Built in 1775 (Yin Wood Goat), this Jizoson statue is a sitting statue with a height of 2.34m, a shoulder width of 1.2m, a knee width of 1.8m, and a pedestal height of 0.34m.
This Jizoson statue, which has been enshrined in the highlands at an altitude of about 1,660 m for over 200 years and still watches over the safety of climbers, is famous for being buried in snow during the winter.
As an aside, the Jizoson statue has its face on the ground no matter how much it snows, but in February 2022 (Reiwa 3), when the snow depth was unprecedented, was it unheard of? !!
The whole body disappeared in the snow, and I couldn’t even worship!
(No matter how much Jizo is buried in the snow, I admire the fact that the whole offering box is always on the snow.)
To the summit of Jizodake
After praying to the ZaoJizoson statue for trekking, the snowshoes snow trekking will start in earnest!
First, head to the summit of Mt. Jizodake.
The seaweed road from Jizo mountaintop station to the top of Jizodake is an uphill slope that is probably the hardest in this snow trekking.
I will take a little breath and proceed while admiring the surrounding scenery.
A little 10 minutes after leaving the Zao Jizoson statue.
We arrived at the summit of Jizodake in no time!
It seems that the field of view has opened and it has fallen into another world at once.
However, nothing can be seen in the wind and snow. ..
In sunny trekking, the beauty of the landscape makes it easy to forget the other side of the snowy mountains, but you can still see the strength of the wind and the harshness of nature.
One of them is a lump of snow on a pillar (wooden stick) that serves as a guidepost for trekking (right photo below).
Snow is attached to a thin wooden stick for a surprisingly long time in the lateral direction.
Snow and water droplets blown by the wind from the same direction adhere to trees and rocks, and the type of ice that has accumulated for a long time and rime that has grown snow is called the ” shrimp tail .”
The shape on the snow is really like the tail of a fried shrimp!
The stronger the wind, the larger the shape of the tail, so oversized tails are scattered all over the mountaintop.
Walking while looking for a better-shaped shrimp tail may be one of the pleasures of snow trekking.
Let’s start for Kumanodake!
White land, distant view, awe of nature-
The world opens and the heart is washed.
Climb to Kumanodake!
40-50 minutes from the summit of Jizodake.
We have arrived at the summit of Kumanodake , one of the highlights of this plan!
It’s a feeling of liberation that makes you want to scream while receiving the power of nature!
Where is Kumano Shrine
On the summit of Kumanodake, the Kumano Shrine, its office, torii gate, and Mokichi Saito’s monument are erected.
However, even if you look around the mountaintop during this snow trekking season, you will not find any shrines or torii gates.
The only thing you can see is the strangely shaped big snow catamari.
Apparently, Katamari on the right side of the center of the photo above is a company with a red roof, and on the left is a company office with a green roof.
▲ Kumano Shrine is in the center, and the office is below the small high part where Male stands.
And where did the big torii and the stone monument disappear?
In the center of the photo below, there is a stone monument with the words “Zao Mountain Shrine” behind it, and the snow mountain on the right is a torii gate.
To Zao's symbol "Okama"
What is the winter appearance of Okama?
After enjoying the scenery at the summit of Kumanodake, head to another main event, Okama !
* Depending on the situation, you may go to Kumanodake after seeing the Okama.
Okama is usually filled with emerald green lake water.
What’s going on in winter?
Here is the figure …
I sigh involuntarily at the fantastic sight.
It is a precious Okama crater lake that can only be seen during this season and only by those who stood here.
Trekking during snowfall is not as easy as during the snowless season, as you have to be well equipped and prepared.
However, it should be a special one where you can spend valuable time that can only be experienced here.
In participating in this plan
Finally, I would like to introduce the mountain instructor , equipment and belongings that are indispensable for this snowshoesnow trekking.
Indispensable for this tour is the existence of a mountain instructor.
As already mentioned, it is very important to accompany a mountain instructor who has a wealth of mountaineering knowledge and experience when trekking to Okama / Kumanodake during the snowy season in order to avoid distress and to respond to unforeseen circumstances.
Mr. Kasukawa of Zaomountain instructor
Accompanied by the book snow trekking is the veteran Zaomountain instructor.
Not only safety measures in the mountains, but also Zao’s flora and fauna, terrain, and other mountains are familiar, so it is unique to this plan that you can get a broad and deep understanding of the charm of Zao that you can not understand just by walking by yourself. is.
Equipment / belongings
The snowshoes used in this snow trekking tour are old-fashioned ring snowshoes.
* Snowshoes rental fee is included in the travel price
How to tie a string is a little complicated for first-time users, but let’s wear it under the lecture of the instructor who accompanies you.
In addition, the following equipment is required to participate in snowshoessnow trekking.
・ Ski wear (or fleece + rainwear for mountaineering)
・ Trekking shoes
・ Thick socks ・ Climbing spats (gator)
・ Cold protection gloves ・ Goggles (or sunglasses)
・ Knit hat that hides your ears ・ Snow stock ・ Lunch ・ Drinks
・ Behavioral food (easy to eat by yourself)
* Climbing equipment (excluding snow shoes) such as ice ax, crampons, and ropes will not be used in this tour.
Ski wear (or fleece + rainwear for mountaineering)
Snowwear is basically layered so that you can take it off when it’s hot and put it on when it’s cold.
Ski wear, snowboard wear, rain jackets for mountaineering, etc. that are highly waterproof and breathable
Fleece, thin down jacket, soft shell, etc. with excellent heat retention and breathability
Inner (underwear) with excellent heat retention and quick-drying properties, such as long sleeves on the top and tights on the bottom.
Zao’s snow is often not very moist, so regular trekking shoes are fine (a waterproof spray is recommended).
In the book snow trekking, which walks in the snow for a long time, it is essential to protect your feet from the cold. Thick socks with high protection against the cold and quick-drying are recommended to prevent the inside of the shoes from getting stuffy and the feet from getting cold. If you are worried about your feet getting cold, it is safe to wear thin socks as an inner in thick winter mountain socks.
Just in case, it’s safer to bring a pair of socks.
Mountaineering spats (gator)
The most important thing about your feet is that snow does not get inside your shoes. Therefore, mountaineering spats (gator) that prevent snow from entering the shoes are a must.
Cold protection gloves
It is safe to use gloves that are waterproof for skiing and snowboarding. If you’re worried about biting your hands, it’s a good idea to wear a warm inner.
Goggles (or sunglasses)
Sunglasses and goggles are a good idea, as the sun’s reflections are dazzling on sunny days, and on stormy days it can be difficult to open your eyes due to a snowstorm.
Knit hat that hides your ears
The hat is fine for everyday use, but it is important that it hides your ears. The best recommendation is a knit hat, but if you don’t have it, don’t forget your earmuffs.
Snowy mountain stock
Stock is also essential for snow trekking up and down snowy mountains. However, it is not ski poles but snowy mountain stocks that are used for snow trekking.
The size of the basket (ring) is different between the snowy mountain stock (left photo) and the ski pole (right photo), and the snowy mountain stock has a larger basket than the ski pole.
Left: Snowy mountain stock / Right: Ski pole
Ski poles are fine for well-maintained and compacted Slopes, but when a person steps into a snowfield where they haven’t set foot and puts on the stock, the small basket of ski poles is big. The part will sink into the snow.
* If you do not have snowy mountain stock, we can also introduce you to a rental shop.
Differences when each stock is stabbed on the snow surface (left: snowy mountain stock / right: ski pole)
Lunch / Drinks / Emergency food
In the book snow trekking, we have lunch on the snow.
The recommended menu is “bread”.
On the other hand, we do not recommend rice balls and other rice-based products.
In snow trekking, which walks below freezing for a long time, the rice is very hard to eat and not delicious by the time the rice balls are taken out of the backpack at lunch time.
If you are willing to bring hot water in a container with high heat retention, you can use cup ramen or alpha rice that you can rehydrate with hot water and eat.
* The use of firearms is strictly prohibited in the section that is the route of snow trekking, and the use of burners etc. is prohibited.
An example of lunch: cup noodles (lower left) / porridge that is completed by pouring hot water and stirring (lower center) / miso soup (lower right) / strawberry (upper left) / side dish bread (upper right)
I think that 500 ml of drinks, such as sports drinks and tea, will suffice.
* If you are worried, please bring more
In addition to lunch, be sure to bring an action meal (easy to eat for each person) that can supply energy and nutrition.
Please see ” Detailed Information ” below for information on applying for this plan.
Why don’t you have a valuable experience that can only be done in Zao this season?
Click here to make a reservation
[Travel planning / implementation]023-631-9522023-631-9522
Omotenashi Yamagata Co., Ltd.
Yamagata Governor Registered Travel Agency No. 2-295
Yamagata Prefecture Honcho, Yamagata City 2-4-3
(One company) All Nippon Travel Agents Association Regular member Business days ・ Hours: Monday-Friday 8: 30-17: 15