Adventure, Asia

Hitting the road

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Corridors of snow tower 20 metres above the highway along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

The mythical Mount Tateyama is a place of extraordinary sights – and none more so than the corridors of snow. From mid-April when the route opens, a 500-metre path is cleared where people can stroll between giant walls of snow. They are formed by the mountain’s excessive snowfall, which averages seven metres per year. Some years 20 metres arrive. The corridor shortens towards the end of June, and virtually disappears by August.

The sight is part of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which connects Toyama City, in the Toyama prefecture, with Ōmachi, in Nagano (the prefecture that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics). The route, completed in 1971, crosses the 3,015-metre-tall Mount Tateyama in the Japanese Alps. It ascends 1,975 metres from the bottom to its highest point. To say the journey is ‘varied’ is an understatement: across its 90 kilometres (55 miles) it uses six different modes of transport and changes method eight times.

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First a railway wheels visitors to Tateyama Station at the mountain foot. An information centre lies here alongside a museum on the mountain’s history, culture and environment. A cable car starts the ascent before a highland bus completes the journey to the trip’s highest point. En route is an area of cedar trees that are up to 1,000 years old, and various hiking routes through wetlands and flower meadows.

The pinnacle of the route is called Murodo and lies 2,450 metres above sea level. Incidentally the Tateyama is a volcano and hot springs are on show. So is a large crater lake. Legend calls this ‘a kitchen pond for God’ and says its water was used to cook meals for gods residing on the mountains. Nearby is also a nature protection centre displaying local plants and animals. Not forgetting, of course, the snow corridor.

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Back down again it goes. A trolley bus transfers people from Murodo. It runs on electricity and goes through a tunnel to spare the environment. When the journey ends, yet another transport mode takes over. Yes, a ropeway leaves people dangling mid-air for about 1.7 kilometres down the mountainside. It has no supporting towers and is the longest one-span ropeway in Japan. Continuing the journey is another cable car. Unusually, its entire trip runs through a tunnel; again to reduce the environmental impact.

Following the cable car, another attraction emerges: the gigantic Korube Dam. Japan built it in the aftermath of World War Two amid national energy shortage. Some 10 million people worked on its construction. Sadly, 171 lost their lives in the process. They have been commemorated with a monument on the site. About 10 cubic metres of water pass through per minute from the lake it holds. Visitors cross the dam by foot.

Continuing the journey is another trolley bus, before a local bus completes the trip. It all lasts between seven and ten hours. To most people though, it seems a lot shorter than that.

Photos: antb, Blanscape, marussia [all via Shutterstock.com].

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