08 December 2009

Trailblazing five new passes into Nagano-ken

I headed out on Tuesday to explore a new route into Nagano-ken. The idea was to take as many passes yet unknown to me as possible.

It was a beautiful early morning. When the sun was rising as I hit the Tamagawa, there was still frost on the ground. The sky was crystal clear.

Discovery pass no. 1 was the small hill starting beyond Higashi-Ome station and leading into Saitama, yet without name. Shall we call it Ludwig's belly because it is so flat?

Instead of heading straight and taking the shortest way towards Yamabushi Toge as we usually do, I went north and took Yamao Toge, discovery pass no. 2 (OK, not quite - I had done it once with MOB on a criss-cross through the area around there). At 250m, it is 130m lower than Ozawa Toge, but also amounts to a detour of a few kilometers.

Then the usual approach up Yamabushi Toge - nothing new here.

Disovery pass no. 3 was to take a southern approach from Chichibu-shi towards Ogano. Much nicer than taking route 299 or even the short-cut, but quite a bit longer and with a pass that requires some climbing.

After my first and last pit-stop for the day at the combini shuten in Ogano, I rode through the Nishi-Chichibu Natural Park with its dam up to Yakyu Toge, elevation 840m. This was discovery pass no. 4 and the first "real" mountain pass for the day. It is my fourth pass from Saitama into Gunma, aside from Shigasaka, Tsuchisaka and Kaze passes. It is by far the nicest climb, on a small rindo-like road with no traffic and up a beautiful valley. Well, there was some traffic in the lower part - dumb trucks and other building site traffic that was repairing the road so that it would be easier to pass for other dumb trucks that would do further repairs so that more building site traffic could pass... It is sheer madness!

The descent on the other side is very steep and the road not always particularly good. It is then a long ride up a broad valley until a short climb starts to Shionozawa Tunnel. I was tempted to avoid the tunnel and do the actual pass, but adding almost 400m to the climb would have cost too much time to make it to my final destination.

Down on the other side, it was the final climb of the day (discovery pass no. 5), first through a broad valley with lovely farming houses, then up endless turns. From the border to Nagano-ken which is somewhere up on the climb it was almost 100 curves up to the top - the Saku authorities had put up signs counting every single curve (another ingenious way of wasting tax payers' money). As one ascends, rocky mountain tops emerge and eventually one reaches almost similar elevation to them.

Very beautiful in the setting sun.

From the moment I had entered Gunma, almost everything was frozen. It was a cold day, despite the bright sun, and the afternoon sun was not able to reach the bottom of the valley in many places. Up Taguchi Toge (1,140m) it was very cold, a few degrees below zero. My hands and feet turned into ice blocks on the way down, despite my peddling (the road is not steep at all).

I lost my way temporarily trying to take a new approach to Sakudaira shinkansen station, which cost me 10-15 minutes and meant the last few kilometers were in complete darkness.

210km in all, with 2,600m of climbing.


TOM said...

Impressive ride! Thanks for all the trailblazing work.

David L. said...

Incredible that you did this ride in December. I don't think anyone will try it again before mid/late March or even April next year.

I can't wait to try some of these routes then.

I see you went North of 299 for the crossing from Gunma to Nagano via Taguchi pass instead of Jukkoku or Budo routes to the South. Definitely wise to stay [300] or so meters lower elevation at this time of year ... but still a bit crazy.

Manfred von Holstein said...

I admit it was tougher than in summer or early autumn. The heavier clothing and the colder air take their toll. And I was unlucky to have a light headwind basically all the way. Which is why despite taking only one longer rest, it still took me 11 hours to complete the journey.

But it is definitely worth it. As long as their is no snow on the roads, no problem going up high. I took Taguchi Toge because I didn't know it. Jukkoku Toge would have been shorter and in total roughly the same amount of climbing, because I would have avoided the climb to Shionozawa Tunnel. Budo Toge I would like to try some time, and I was tempted, but it would have taken me too long and to avoid cycling a lot in the dark I would have had to take a local train to the shinkansen station which I wanted to avoid. This will be a ride for when the days are longer again.

Another ride I would like to try then is to take the rindo running parallel to route 465/299 on the ridge of the mountains.