12 October 2009

Minami Shinano


Mist in the valley between Otsuki and Sasago, as seen on the first Chuo-sen train of the day:


I was extremely intrigued upon reading here about the second day of Thomas and Sergey's "TCC Mountains of Madness" ride, a route from Chino (just South of Suwa, on the Chuo-sen) along the Akiba-Kaido all the way to Hamamatsu on the Pacific Ocean, over 4 passes. The comments indicate that Ludwig also had done the same ride solo last month.

The problem, as noted by Ludwig, is that the first train from Tokyo gets to Chino after 9AM, not allowing enough time to get in the 200+ km to Hamamatsu before dark descends. Since the days are shorter now than 2-3 weeks ago when Ludwig did this, and since I climb much more slowly than him, I figured it was pretty much impossible as a one-day trip ... until I scoured Yahoo Japan's online train routing site and found a much earlier train on Sunday that gets to Chino at 7:45AM (well, actually 7:55 yesterday, due to signal problems after departing Kofu). The only problem is that is local all the way, requires transfers with bike bag at Otsuki and Kofu, and it departs from Takao at 5:16AM. I did the math ... 1hr25min from my house to Takao station, plus time for packing the bike in the bag, getting to the platform and a few extra minutes just in case, and figured what the heck, I could nap on the train.

Anyway, I did not nap, but the early start was well worth the effort. The weather was glorious -- cool but crisp/dry air, warm in the sun. The route was spectacular, as reported, and made for a very tough day ... 39 km to Takao, another 205 km from Chino to Hamamatsu, 4 passes and over 3000 meters of climbing. Map/replay of the route is here.

Morning mist burning off over Yatsugatake at the start of the climb from Chino:
Takato, after the first climb and descent, with mountains to the West:
The river valley past Takato ... a different river in each valley, for the descent and ascent, on each side of each pass, so forgive me if I don't recall all the names:
Add ImageA Japanese roadie team that passed me going quickly as I stopped for a photo (above) and some food from my pack. I later saw a large, fast group, with support van, heading in opposite direction from me on the forest road above Jizo Touge ... and thought I might have recognized one of the strong Japanese riders from NFCC among them, but they were descending and so we passed quickly with only a "ganbare" or two in each direction. They looked just as pressed for time as I felt:
On the climb to Bunkui Touge:
Passing through the O-Shika ("Big Deer") area. The Road is the Road.
*I was going to post photos from Bunkui Touge, from the top of the climb out of Chino, and a few others ... but you can see essentially the same photos on the TCC report.

A few rider notes:

1. I brought a small rucksack with food, since I wanted the flexibility not to stop for a meal on what is definitely a "no convenience store" route, at least from Takato to Tenryu -- a stretch of about 140 km. There were vending machines, and places serving udon/soba and other food to tourists, but extra food is highly recommended for a trip with minimal stops.

2. Thomas reports 3133 meters of climbing. From Chino to Hamamatsu, I show 3058 meters of climbing on my Garmin, which usually records slightly on the low side (within 10% of actual) when on the "smart recording" -- one data point every 6 seconds, instead of every second. Ludwig's comments suggest "only" 2500 meters climbing. I get much more than that just counting manually using his method from the lowest to highest reading on each of the 4 climbs (even if my altimeter needs adjustment, it is probably off by the same amount at the bottom and top of the climbs):

Tsuetsuki Touge/杖突峠 (750m to 1257m): 507m climb
Bunkui Touge/分杭峠 (750 to 1443): 693m climb
Jizo Touge/地蔵峠 (676m to 1493m): 817m climb
Hyoko Touge/兵越峠 (403m to 1183m): 780m climb

Or a total for the 4 climbs of 2797m ... plus some small up/down in the valleys and on the last 80km to Hamamatsu easily gets to 3000+ meters (and in my case add 150m on the dark, Garmin-less trip to Takao).

If you view Thomas/Sergey's photos you will see a sign at Jizo Touge showing 1314m elevation ... and will understand how disappointed I was when the forest road on the South side of the pass kept climbing, almost another 200 meters, before turning downhill. Likewise, Aokuzure Pass (closed) is listed as 1082m elevation, but Hyoko Pass (open) is almost 100 meters higher.

3. My "Mapple" map book includes a comment that Aokuzure Pass has such extreme landslides that "Japanese tunnel technology withdrew, defeated" (日本のトンネル技術が敗退), an incredible admission given what we have seen on other rides. The map also notes that Hyoko Pass (兵越峠)gets its name (which translates something like "army crossing pass") from when Takeda Shingen led an army on horseback over it.

4. Some quick online research reports that the crossing involved 35,000 soldiers -- mainly on horseback -- and took place in autumn, just about this time of the year, in 1573. Very impressive ... and probably a bit of a shock to the local lords in Enshu region to the South when 35,000 soldiers on horseback came thundering down the valley. The average Japanese cavalry soldier (salaryman) of today is significantly less hardy, I was reminded on the descent when I came upon a traffic jam of vacationeers' cars blocking the road in both directions. One driver had driven just off of the road surface and into the drainage ditch (a sharp-edged channel about 25 cm wide and deep enough to swallow a tire up to the axle). I did not stop -- no time -- but I could not help but think that if all the people standing around would simply lift up the front of the smallish car, they could quickly get it back on the road and be on their way.

On the climb to Jizo Touge:

5. Ludwig did not like the tunnels on the long stretch of this ride after the last pass -- over 80 km to Hamamatsu Station. I thought the tunnels were the best part, but not because I liked them. I just liked the endless road along an endless reservoir even less. And once past that stretch, the traffic and sprawl stretching along the 20+ km from Tenryu to Hamamatsu was not pleasant. There must be a better route for the last 20 km, if only I knew the territory. It looks like there are several chances to hop a train (Iida-sen) to Toyohashi and skip this last part of the ride -- cut over approx 10 km from Akiba Kaido to Hiraoka, taking Rte 418 just North of the start of the climb to Aokuzure/Hyoko Passes, or take it from Misakubo, just over the last climb and a few km down the nice pre-reservoir section of the valley. This would not save much if any time, but it would save a long slog, and just looking at the Saturday schedule, for example, there is a 17:06 (express/reserved seating) train from Misakubo that gets to Toyohashi at 18:31 and would have you back to Shinagawa at 20:03.

I would suggest that next year (Golden Week or so) we try this, and add a side trip up to Shirabiso Touge (elev. 1833m) off of the forest road near Jiso Touge. Shirabiso was featured in the Cycle Sports Shinshu special earlier in the year, and would have a spectacular view of the Minami Alps, still with snow on top in May, if we timed it right. I had a few nice glimpses of the tall peaks yesterday, but no snow visible at this time of year.

7 comments:

TOM said...

Breathtaking adventure! What a wonderful ride and report!

Manfred von Holstein said...

Well done, it is not an easy ride! By what time were you in Hamamatsu?

Thanks for the detailed reporting which is not only interesting (history) but should also help future riders.

This is definitely one of the few stretches in Japan where it is hard to get any food, at least between the second and forth passes. When I rode, it was even hard to find restaurants that were open. In the end, after a 7-11 visit in Takato, I had nothing until the last pass which I prepared for with two energy bars. Fortunately there is a nice supermarket in the village just after the descent from the last pass.

It is possible to get even earlier to Chino if one takes the night train leaving Shinjuku at midnight and getting to Chino around 4am. This seems TCC's Arai-san's favorite. I don't like missing out on sleep so would take neither that night train nor get up for a 5am train from Takao... Then I'd rather ride the last bit in the dark.

I did not mind the tunnels in the long valley towards Hamamatsu (all I said is that they distort the mapmyride altitude reading). I did suffer just like you mentally from the very long stretches of road along the water. The scenery is nice, just so monotonous, and the lack of climbing is actually particularly tough on my back because it is harder to get out of the saddle to relax the back.

David L. said...

Manfred:

According to Garmin, I started at 8:06AM and finished at 6:35PM or so. I was at the top of the last pass around 3:15PM or so, and hauled ass to Tenryu, at which point I gave up the idea of eating dinner with my famiily and took a reasonable convenience store break, before hunting and pecking in the dark another hour (including 2 side detours to try to avoid Rte 152, neither particularly successful) on the way to the Hamamatsu station.

Best, David L.

Manfred von Holstein said...

I had studied with some care how to avoid route 152 into Hamamatsu and actually go as straight as possible. Here is the track:

http://www.mapmyride.com/route/jp/chino/381125401939156098

I would recommend it to others. It is pretty much exactly 20km from Tenryu to Hamamatsu station, and I made it in 40 minutes (didn't go full speed any more in the dark).

Anonymous said...

David, very cool ride. I had forgotten our transalp mantra "the road is the road" - thanks for reminding me!! DJ

David L. said...

Yes, DJ. A wise man -- I think was Chauncey Gardiner, political philosopher and Presidential adviser -- once said:

"Die Strasse bleibt die Strasse," ("The road is the road.")
"It takes us up."
"It takes us down."
"It has an end."

mob said...

He also said:

"After summer comes autumn, and after autumn winter and spring. And then summer will come again."

One my favourite movies of all times.

Beautiful ride and post.