12 May 2009

Big Pass, Pine Princess Pass

Is the water safe to drink?

That was the question that became an obsession briefly on Sunday afternoon as I climbed up the closed Maki-Koganezawa Forest Road, slowing working my way up the back side of the hill toward Otoge ("Ootouge," or "Big Pass") on a great Sunday ride,

I left home early and quickly rode to Oume, then out Yoshino Kaido and Oume Kaido to Okutama-ko; then up to the top of Matsuhime Touge ("Pine Princess Pass"), arriving by Noon.

As usual, I stopped to enjoy the view on top of Matsuhime.

Matsuhime Touge from David Litt on Vimeo.


Click here to see a larger version of this photo, on which the names of the various sights from the Matsuhime viewpoint are legible:



The weather was spectacular, hot and a bit humid down below in the valleys, but nothing like the summer, and on this one rare occasion I felt as if I had raced the Tokyo heat to the higher elevations and won!

From Matsuhime it was a very fast descent from 1250 to 650 meters elevation heading South, and I turned off the main road at the reservoir behind Fukashiro Dam ("Deep Castle Dam?"). I slid my bicycle under the locked gate and headed through the tunnel, a first for me but following in the footsteps of many Positivo Espresso riders (Tom, Ludwig, Michael).

I had tried to fill my water bottle at the "Lake Fukashiro" park rest room, but thought better of it given the large warning signs that indicated the water was not drinkable (just like the water at Matsuhime). I started riding up the road slowly, knowing that without any food left and only about 300ml of water, and having consumed several liters of liquid just to try and stay hydrated so far during the day, I would need to conserve energy to make it to the top. Google Maps' terrain feature had led me to believe, correctly, that even though the top of Otoge is 1560 meters elevation, the North (back) side of Otoge is not nearly as steep as the climb up from Otsuki on the other side, and I was in the shade much of the way.

Also, based on Ludwig's posts from earlier this year, I knew that the road condition on the North side was too poor for a carefree descent. The road seems like it is used only for some TEPCO maintenance of electric power facilities (including some mysterious tunnels into the hillside -- very Area 51) and is shut off to all other traffic. There were two short gravel stretches where the road is under repair, lots of landslides (but none blocking more than 25% of the road surface, and too many rocks to count -- but nothing to create any difficulties in climbing slowly on a closed road in bright daylight and dry weather).

I rested when I got to another gate, somewhere around 1200 meters elevation, having finished my water long ago, running very low on energy, and with another 350 meters elevation of climbing ahead. It was at least peaceful, like this:

Otoge -- climb from the North side from David Litt on Vimeo.



There were streams running down the hillside, and I was tempted to drink the water ... which looked perfectly clear and safe. But having hiked in the Appalachian mountains in the eastern U.S., where just about every stream has enough giardia lamblia to require water purification of some kind, made me cautious. I pushed ahead and finally, after another few kilometers, came to various signs of life -- a van or two parked by the side of the road, a cyclist descending, two motorcycles (dirt bikes) and then a wood cutting team with chain saws, the senior member of which was standing in the road supervising. I asked and he assured me that the water was "probably" completely safe, that he and his crew drank it all the time. I filled up my liter bottle, immediately consumed about half of it (delicious!), and hopped back on my bike.

Then it was up to the pass, around yet another gate (watch out for bears at the top!), took one look back at the last gate, and then a very quick descent the last 15-20 km to Otsuki Station, to hop an express train to Tachikawa and ride the last 25 km home from there, for a total of almost 170 km and 7000 meters of climbing (calculated using Tom S.'s altimeter ... something more like 2300 meters elevation on my altimeter, the truth probably somewhere in between.)





More next weekend!

3 comments:

TOM said...

Enjoying the mini movies! I happened to be on Matshuhime too last Sunday. Following the descent, I rode back over Suzugane-toge, then Rd. 35 along Akiyama-mura. My altimeter is the Garmin Edge 200 but depending on the software one gets different readings! I kind of like MapmyRide as it often tells me I scaled Mt. Everest! Phew!

Manfred von Holstein said...

Very impressive, David! You must be in top form. You did Otoge the right way: up the more difficult but also more beautiful north side, down the smoother south descent.

Tom, your Garmin is definitely giving you the wrong altitude readings, as do most cycling computers. They are too sensitive to pressure changes and record a constant up and down which adds up to a lot of phantom ascending and descending. I ignore my own readings completely for this reason. If I were to believe it, I would be doing regular Mount Everest ascents, just like you, and this is of course completely unrealistic. MayMyRide does a good job except for the tunnels - if you want accuracy, deduct the altitude difference between mountain on top of tunnel and tunnel level.

All, just explored some other steep mountains. Will blog eventually, but here is the quick summary. Mikkuni Toge between Saitama-ken and Nagano-ken (and close to Gunma-ken, hence the "three countries") is not accessible by road racer. At least 18km of gravel on an ascent of 1,000m from the east side. Similarly, the tunnel pass between Mikkuni and Hacchou is a gravel road (so why did they even bother to build a pretty long tunnel??). The only viable way from Nakatsukawa into Gunma is via Hacchou Toge, which MOB and I explored previously.

The most accessible pass into Nagano-ken is Juuishi Toge along route 299 - yes, the same 299 that runs between Hanno and Chichibu, but has almost no traffic over the passes first into Gunma and then into Nagano. In fact, the 299 pass into Nagano is a very narrow and winding road, often too narrow for two cars to pass each other. Very beautiful though. But also a tough ascent of 900m up to 1,351m. Technically, 299 is closed for traffic until the end of August due to road repairs and there is a detour on what is supposedly a better maintained forest road, but I'm not sure it is a good idea taking it because 299 is already pretty steep and the detour is less than half in length so must be incredibly steep! I negotiated my way past a construction worker and getting by the part under repairs was absolutely no problem (as always).

Incidentally, doing Hacchou Toge and Juuishi Toge and then riding all the way to the Sakudaira shinkansen station (which is one past Karuizawa) is a 222km ride (and something close to 3,000m of climbing with the toughest climb close to the end). My longest ride so far and getting me into Itoigawa territory.

David L. said...

Ludwig:
Thanks for the report of your ride through deepest Chichibu and into Nagano. I've looked at it on the map before and tried to figure out what it would be like as an alternative to the Itoigawa route across the island ... more climbing but much less populated, and so nicer? I'm looking forward to your post.