• Ontake
  • 3067 m
  • Primary factor 1712 m
  • Japan
  • Location: North 35.89302, East 137.48045 (GPS on the summit)
  • Difficulty: YDS class 1
  • Attempted August 3. 2016.
  • Climbed October 9. 2019.


How to get there:
There are at least 2, possibly 3 trailheads that may be used. From Kiso, the valley have signed side-roads for Ontake. When everything is back to normal, the best trailhead is the one further south (above a ski area. The road turns uphill at the end of a long lake. (A water reservoir with a dam at the north end). There is a large, free parking area on top and the elevation is (slightly) higher than the the top of the rope-way, thus saving a significant cost as well. This location is at N35.87322, E137.50317, elevation slightly above 2200 meter.
The alternative trailhead would be the big parking area that you access from a different road in the valley, serving the rope-way. This road is also well signed. The parking area is a location N35.90174, E137.53731, elevation about 1560 meter. As of 2016, a round trip fare cost 2600 yen. This rope-way will take you to a suitable trailhead above 2100 meter.
Note: As of August 2016, the trails to the summit of this mountain were closed and access was strictly prohibited. The operator of the rope-way saying: "If you go there you go to jail". It was a bit difficult for us to fully understand the reasons, but appearently, the eruption in 2014 (that took 60 lives) is still making the summit access considered dangerous.
It was rather unfortunate that there was no easy or obvious way to get this information in English when planning our trip. Thus, we wasted a full day in order to learn this.

Route description:
3 years later, 2019.
Access to the summit has finally been opened up after the disaster in 2014.
It seemed that the only legal trail is the one that starts from the ropeway. However, there are some public parking available a bit higher up on the mountain than the big parking just in front of the ropeway. One such location is N35.89472, E137.52122, elevation about 1800 meter. From here, the trail runs more or less directly up the slope with many wooden steps. The trail from the top station of the Ropeway joins from the right. Just as you break out from the forest you will pass a large hut. The trail "forks here, the correct trail to the summit bears left. You will see the entire route, first gently uphill crossing some vegetation, then more steeply up to a second hut. Above the hut, the route turns left. You pass a small lake on your right hand side, then follows a gentle climb to yet another building. Finally, a concrete stairway will finish the route to a good sized summit plateau. The highest rock is to your left, an easy 5 meter scramble. The summit area has religious statues scattered all over.
August 3rd. 2016:
This turned out to be a day characterized by closures. We left our accommodation in Ina at 0630 and drove to the high trailhead, arriving at 0815. Ready to go shortly after, we took the wide path (a small road), that starts under the portal and heads directly across the flat area before the hillside. Unfortunately, this trail was closed off with a big barrier just where it has its first few uphill steps. A religious ceremony of some sort took place nearby to the right and we bumped into a man that explained that the access was forbidden. However, he indicated that one could hike from the rope-way, (limited English, as most Japanese.)
Bad news indeed, the drive all the way back down to the reservoir, up the valley and to the rope-way was 55 kilometer of very slow driving (sharp curves) road. Not much to do about it, we drove back down to the reservoir. There, we discovered that the road we had just driven along the reservoir, had been closed (for some sort of repair?) in the meantime. Backtracking, we located the road that ran along the reservoir on the opposite side. We were parked at the rope-way parking lot by 1000.
Here, we discovered the ultimate bad news of the day, all trails to the summit were closed and unlawful to attempt. Thus, our plan to complete the climbing of all Ultra prominent mountains in Japan would definitely not succeed.
We got back into the car and headed for the base of our next goal, Haku-san, further west. It was already too late in the day to be able to climb it today. We found the Happo hotel next to the local reservoir and after some bargaining with the receptionist, an acceptable price for lodging.
Here is a quick summary of peaks climbed in our trip to Japan in 2016.

October 9th. 2019:
Heidi and I were living in Hong Kong in the fall of 2019. I became aware of the improved situation on Ontake, but that the last day of hiking would be October 16th. Keeping a close eye on the forecast, it seemed that October 9-10th would be good. I decided to make a quick trip, but also try climbing Dai-sen, the peak that we turned on in 2016 because of very unstable conditions.
I left Hong Kong mid-day on October 8th. and flew to the Central International Airport of Japan with Nippon Airways. Arriving on time, I had hoped to buy a train ticket to Nakatsugawa, but the ticket window informed me that I needed to buy the ticket from another company (JR). Ok, so first buy a ticket to find JR, to Kanayama. Only cash, I had gotten some cash but expected that credit cards would work. In Kanayama, I got my ticket and decided that there was time to increase my supply of cash at a local ATM. I next got on the train for Nakatsugawa, however after about 5 (local) stations I realized that my laptop had been left behind on the ATM. I had used it to explain the ticket office where I wanted to go and (stupid!) carried it in my hand then had to put it on a shelf to operate the ATM. Full CRISIS ! My laptop contains everything. I got off on the next station and took a train back to Kanayama. Ran to the ATM, but no laptop there anymore - about one hour had passed. Next, find the local police - fortunately not far away. THEY HAD MY LAPTOP !! Good luck and thanks to some unknown, but very honest person that found it and delivered it. Back to the train station, I got on a train to Nakatsugawa almost on the minute one hour after my original one, good that there are many trains in Japan. I shall be more careful and focused for the remainder of this trip. The train took me to Nakatsugawa, I walked 10 minutes to the guesthouse where I was well received. Checked the internet briefly then to bed.
Up shortly after 0500, I walked to the train station and located a 7-11 store nearby. Good to buy some breakfast (rice-wraps) and coke. The train left on time and got me to Kiso-Fukushima in about one hour (a local that stopped at all stations). The tourist information is directly across the street. They informed me that the ropeway (gondola lift) started at 0830 and that the first bus there would leave at 0840 and arrive at the mountain around 0940. More importantly, the only bus back to Kiso-Fukushima that I could take would leave the mountain already at 1315. Thus it was clear (similar to what Rob reported) that a taxi would be needed. A taxi was called and I arrived shortly around 0815, this cost slightly more than 10.000 JPY. More potential trouble ahead, I was informed that "maybe" the ropeway would start running around 1000. It was clear that I needed to hike from the base station. Quite surprisingly a Japanese man appeared and offered to drive me to the highest public parking, saving almost 250 meter vertical. Thus, I started at around 1800 meter of elevation and had about 1270 to the summit.
I started out with a reasonably fast walk hoping that it was sustainable and overtaking a pretty large number of local hikers. The day was just gorgeous, blue sky, a warm sun and good fall colors everywhere. I made the summit in exactly 2 hours and knew with confidence that I would make the 1315 bus. The highest rocks were roped off and it seemed that all Japanese hikers respected this. I wondered if anybody would feel bad seeing this foreign tourist crossing the ropes and doing a short scramble (5 meter) to the very top. I did not notice any negative reactions. Good views across the crater as well as down slope. I stayed around almost 30 minutes feeling that I needed a break before descending. Leaving at 1055, I made a quick descent, then noticed that the ropeway had started running. I was at the top station by 1155 and got down with about one hour to spare before the bus departure. An early dinner in the restaurant was the best idea I could come up with.
Back in Kiso-Fukushima at 1410, the train station found a departure at 1430 that would get me to my next guesthouse well before 2100, good news.
The Japan railroad system works really well with frequent and always on time departures. It still can easily be a bit confusing before you understand the system. There are many tracks and ports to enter/leave, each train has a name and if you find the name on a train that also has a scheduled departure time that matches your ticket, you are in good shape. One can buy tickets with a reserved seat as well as unreserved, the price difference is considerable. My ticket (with seats assigned in 3 trains) ran 18.000 JPY. This would get me to Yonago, a good starting point for climbing Dai-sen tomorrow.