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Hiking in Gifu, Dainichigatake

Hiking in Gifu, Dainichigatake

Added In: Places to Go › Outdoors › Mountains

Address: Dainichigatake, Gifu

Richard Harris

Dainichigatake (大日ガ岳) is probably more familiar as the mountain on which Dynaland ski resort sits, but as a hiking destination it is a great way to spend a day in the mountains of Gifu.

For Nagoya residents, Dynaland is probably the best choice for a one-day ski trip.  Only two hours away on good roads, the resort has pretty decent facilities and enough variety of terrain to satisfy most of us.  And for those hardy types on touring or cross-country skis there is a straight-forward  route from the top lift up to the peak, along the ridge, and down into Hirugano (蛭が野), the neighbouring ski area to the north.  (For my description of this trip, see Avenues issue #42.)

There is much more to this destination than skiing, however.  Dynaland is situated on the east face of Dainichigatake, a mountain well worth visiting for a number of reasons — scenic, cultural, historical, geographical.  Named for the Buddha of wisdom, Vairocana, who is said to have appeared to a monk on the summit in the eighth century, Dainichigatake is the high point of a northeast-southwest running ridge separating the headwaters of two major rivers that flow respectively to the Pacific and the Sea of Japan: Nagaragawa (長良川) and Shogawa (圧川).  It is possible to ascend the mountain on good trails from either Dynaland or Hirugano, but to take full advantage of this wonderful ridge, walkers should start from the south. 

The southern trailhead is at Hinokitoge (檜峠), where a couple of signs indicate the opening of a path through tall cypress trees.  Winding pleasantly through these woods, the trail passes a small shrine at a spring before emerging onto the edge of a wide, cleared slope.  This is the easternmost run of the Winghills ski development, a small resort close to the trailhead.  The path heads straight up the slope, reaching the top lift hut about an hour from the start of the walk, before re-entering the woods.  During ski season, distorted recordings of 70s disco music from the resort serve as an incentive to increasing the pace through this part of the trail.  Far from being the most attractive section of the hike, the cleared area near the hut nevertheless gives great views south across the pass to Shirotori Kogen (白鳥高原), the peak of Bishamondake (毘沙門岳) behind and, to the west, Nobusedake (野伏岳) on the Fukui ken border.

Above the hut, the trail climbs through broadleaf woodland dominated by huge beeches, especially beautiful on my last November visit in their autumn colours.  Gradually narrowing to a distinct ridge, the terrain begins to afford tantalising glimpses of the route ahead to the northwest as the trees thin out, as well as views down the multi-coloured flanks of the surrounding peaks.  By the time the trail climbs up to the first named summit, Suigoyama (水後山), it has become an airy, exhilarating walk along the undulating spine of this impressive massif, with unimpeded vistas in all directions.  Immediately to the northwest, though, the imposing pyramid of Kamagamine (鎌ガ峰) entices with its promise of an even more extensive panorama, and anticipation diminishes the 30-minute effort of traversing the steep gully separating the two peaks. 

Such pleasant expectation is, for once, fulfilled: the 1660-meter summit of Kamagamine is a fine place to sit — map in one hand, cup of tea in the other — and gaze at the surrounding mountains.  Directly to the north is the distinctive, twin-peaked profile of Hakusan (白山), seductive in its austere grandeur, while lesser but still attractive peaks fill the western quadrant.  Bishamondake and the Mino mountains lie to the south, and across the Nagara valley to the west is the ski mountain of Washigatake (鷲ガ岳) and beyond, the solitary mass of Ontakesan (御岳山).  All exciting prospects to be savoured for future excursions, and along the ridge to the northwest, the other side of a dismayingly steep declivity, is Dainichigatake.

Fortified by both the views and the tea, the descent to the foot of the Dainichigatake summit ridge, though somewhat precipitous, does not prove too exhausting, and the 1709-meter objective is attained within 45 minutes or so of leaving Kamagamine.  The junction of three trails, the highest point of Dainichigatake is a clearing in the bush bamboo containing a triangulation stone, a summit marker, several Buddhist images (including a fine new one of Dainichi Nyorai himself), and an orientation disk identifying many of the main mountains of central Japan, as well as the direction of major cities.  The views are similar to those from Kamagamine, but the orientation table does help in situating this peak among all the surrounding ones.  Japan really is blessed in its mountain topography!

The path leading down east from the summit is the one from Dynaland, and hikers on public transport (or those prepared to take a couple of buses back to Hinokitoge) can take the easy walk down to the ski area.  A better option, though, given sufficient daylight, is to take the northern path leading to Hirugano, as this route stays on the ridge longer and heads down through beautiful woodland before reaching the resort  (this is also a fine excursion on mountain skis or snowshoes). Of course tempting though these circle routes are, returning along the ascent path to the trailhead is also a very attractive option; it really is such a magnificent ridge.

The hike described above should take about five hours, depending on the amount of time spent gazing at mountains or drinking tea.  Being an open ridge walk for most of its length there is not much shade, so take a hat in the hot season, but route-finding is never a problem and there are no objective dangers except for a couple of steep sections (and, in winter on the lower section, novice snowboarders).  The views are spectacular in all seasons, although the autumn colours perhaps add an extra dimension of beauty, and the new green of early spring has its charms, when the woods ring with birdsong.  Basically, Dainichigatake is a superb day out at any time of the year.

By car: Leave the Tokai Hokuriku at Shirotori IC, head north on Route 156 for about 10 kilometers and turn left onto Route 314.  The trailhead is at the top of the pass, where the access road to Winghills leads off to the right.
Public transport: Buses or taxis run to Winghills from Shirotori Station on the Nagara Railway. 

Hiking in Gifu, Dainichigatake
Hiking in Gifu, Dainichigatake
Dainichi ridge
Hiking in Gifu, Dainichigatake
Looking at Hakusan