by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2015/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
Today I embarked upon a follow up report from the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route to check out the autumn colors along the popular highland traverse. It has been nearly three weeks since Raina came through here on our first koyo report from the area, at which time the colors were squarely concentrated around Murodo at the highest points of the traverse. Since then the colors have been moving down the slopes and can now be enjoyed throughout the route, except around Murodo as it is now covered in snow.
Normally we approach the Alpine Route from the Nagano Prefecture side of the mountains, however on this occasion I happened to start from Toyama. As a result I was able to visit the Midagahara Highland on the west side of Murodo. The expansive plateau, which sits about 1930 meters above sea level, is located a few kilometers down the mountain from the Snow Corridor and is completely covered in heavy snow through spring. In summer and fall the highland's wetland marsh becomes a popular hiking spot and visitors can walk along a network of wooden boardwalks that run through it past a variety of alpine plants and shrubs. Some of these, like the nanakamado bushes, chinguruma and alpine grasses change colors in autumn.
The bus stops off at the Midagahara Hotel and from there are two circuits that you can walk. The easy one is about a 1 kilometer loop while the longer circuit is about 2 kilometers. I headed out on the 2 kilometer loop, which took about 90 minutes to complete at quite a leisurely pace. Just be aware of the early morning frost which makes the boardwalks dangerously slippery. I almost lost my footing a few times and saw several older people take some hard falls.
Typically the koyo season on the highland runs the entirety of October. Yet the colors were relatively muted today as the grasses, which provide the majority of color, seem to still be transitioning to yellow. There were also nanakamado bushes and an unidentified species of yellow leafed tree found in sporadic groups around the marshes, but these looked to be past their peak and losing leaves fast.
The weather was pretty bad along the route yesterday. It was snowing at Murodo for much of the day, and by the time I arrived the next morning there were several centimeters of snow covered pretty much everything in sight.
The Tateyama Trolley Bus takes you from Murodo, through the mountains, to the Tateyama Ropeway on the Nagano Side of the Alpine Route. Emerging from the tunnels at Daikanbo where the top station of the ropeway is located presented quite a change in scenery, trading the white, snow-capped mountains for colorful slopes and warm, blue skies. Looking at the slope you could see the transitioning colors as the altitude decreased. The highest points of the slope were turning brown, while the lower parts around the lower station at Kurobedaira were around their peak color.
After a quick descent on the Kurobe Cablecar, I arrived at the Kurobe Dam, which is always one of my favorite parts of the traverse. The colors surrounding the dam were quite good and right around or approaching their peak with a variety of red, yellow, and orange trees to enjoy.
Finally I took the trolley bus through mountains to Ogizawa, which is at roughly the same elevation as the Kurobe Dam. The trees around the station were brilliant shades of yellow, and struck me as some of the best of the day. Since I was traveling by public transportation today rather than by car, I had some time before my bus to Nagano Station. I'd always wanted to check out the station restaurant where you can order one of their "dam curries", which are served with a rice-shaped dam holding back the curry on the plate. And I have to say it wasn't a disappointment. The Kurobe Curry (green curry with two small tonkatsu cutlets) was pretty dam good.