White Horse Mountain


The downhill skiing events at the Nagano Olympics were held in the foothills of White

Horse Mountain in Nagano Prefecture. The ski slopes end at around an elevation of

one mile, which is about where the climb up Big Snow Valley begins. The valley is a

snow drift shaded by the surrounding mountains that never completely melts. The five

mile climb up the valley goes up one more mile in elevation and takes about five

grueling hours if you don't stop to rest.



The Climb

Because of the year-round snow, the hike is especially popular in the summer when

people want to escape the sweltering heat in Tokyo. A large number of those climbing

the mountain bring along their skis or snowboards for a spectacular five-mile downhill

run. There is no need to buy a lift ticket -- there are no lifts. The slope is open year-

round, twenty-four hours a day. The only problem is that you have to climb for five

hours to get a twenty-five minute slide. It is a safe hike. There is no way you could fall

off the side of the mountain as you are always in a valley. You can't get lost as there

is only one path up. But the climb is not without danger. Three college students went

up the first week in January and got caught in a snow storm. They haven't been found

yet, five months later.



The View

The view is spectacular, one of the best in Japan, and it gets better every step you take.



The Mountain Hut

The mountain hut at the top looks like the Potala Palace in Tibet. It is one of the largest

in Japan and can accommodate up to 1500 people, packed in like sardines. But after a

five hour climb, it is a beautiful sight.



The Accommodations

When I was there the first week of June there were only ten people in the whole place.

The accommodations were Spartan, but the view was fantastic.




The sunset was spectacular.



The Old Days

The hut was celebrating one hundred years of operation. This picture shows climbing

fashion in the 1930's.




I got up at 3:30 am to climb the last fifteen minutes to the top and see the sunrise.



The Wait

The clock on my camera records this picture as being taken at 4:22 am, two minutes

before sunrise.




It was worth the climb.



The Descent

I took the ridge route down the mountain.



The Ridge Line

After about two hours the elevation was low enough that the snow had melted off on

the peaks.



The Ski Slopes

It was an easy five hour downhill hike from the peak to a gondola that goes over the

ski slopes to the village below.