Mt. Norikura (乗鞍) is considered a right of passage for many cyclists in Japan. It’s the highest road in the country and only bicycles, taxis, and official buses are allowed up. It’s sometimes called Japan’s version of Alpe d’ Huez with plenty of switchbacks, 1200m of elevation gain from the Norikura Heights car park, and a long 19km or so of riding. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve ridden up it since my first ride in 2005 but it’s well over 20 times, probably approaching 30. I’ve written about it previoulsy here.
Both the Gifu and Nagano sides have wonderful views and going up in mid-October also meant a chance to photograph the majestic autumn colours. Up until now I’d always ridden in June, August or September.
However, this year was different as it was the first time of actually hiking all the way to the summit after the ride. The border between Nagano and Gifu prefectures stands at 2716m and the car park a little further along just short of that at 2712m. However, the actual summit peaks at 3026m and involves a 90-minute to 2-hour hike depending on fitness level and tiredness after the ride up.
Once I reached the prefectural border I joined the long trail of hikers – some of which had caught the bus to the car park – and gradually made my way up the trail, past the volcanic crater (that’s still active) and two small lakes to the top. I struggled for a while with the altitude once I passed the 2900m point but felt reassured when seeing all the elderly hikers and even a few children also attempting the climb.
As is typical in Japan there was a tiny mountain hut shop and shinto shrine at the summit where you can buy small charms, pray to the gods, or just grab a quick coffee. I don’t usually fall for cheap souvenirs but after ordering a coffee I found myself unable to resist the Showa style commemorative pin badges and official stamp for cyclists that had both cycled up and then continued on with the hike. At ¥2000 the pin badges were not cheap but they are limited edition and I decided that the purchase would be a way of showing gratitude to the Norikura park rangers that have continually been making it possible for cyclist and hikers to reach the summit.
If you are in Japan between mid-May and late October I highly recommend giving Mt. Norikura a try. It’s situated between Matsumoto city in Nagano prefecture and Takayama in Gifu prefecture. By car it’s about 3.5 hours from Nagoya.