For the last two years we have been taking groups on the Shio-no-michi (Salt Trail) walk which runs for 120km from Itoigawa on the Sea of Japan to Matsumoto in the centre of Honshu.
We have focused our 7- day walks on the first half of the trail which follows a deep river valley with rustic thatched roofed villages, terraced rice fields and lots of historical and geological points of interest. The trail climbs gradually through thick forests from sea level and up to a series of pretty lakes at the foot of the North Alps before flattening out to the plains of Matsumoto.
However, on the second day of the hike the trail is forced to divert from the river valley to avoid a deep, winding and narrow gorge subject to landslides. The trail climbs up steadily to Oami (“Big Net”) Pass at 930m above sea level but then plunges back down to the bottom of the gorge to Himekawa Onsen. The walk is mainly through lush deciduous forest, and near the pass where we have lunch is a beautiful natural forest of Buna trees (Japanese beech) that turn golden yellow in October. Also, on the climb up to the Pass are some pretty ponds with delightful vistas across to some craggy volcanic peaks. There is also plenty of wildlife, with signs warning to watch out for bears, but so far we have not sighted any, although weve seen their poo!
On top of that, the area receives heaps of rain and snow, so the trail is guaranteed to be wet and slippery which makes the descent quite challenging. In the Spring it is hazardous because of the deep slushy snow that lies around until well into May. In autumn, typhoons can bring heavy rain and cause the streams and lovely waterfalls to run over the trail and make crossing them a bit tricky. Indeed, that is what has happened to us for the last two years when we had to walk over Oami Pass. Although we’ve had plenty of thrills and spills on the track descending from Oami Pass, thankfully, apart from getting wet and muddy, no one has been hurt and it’s all been something to look back on and have a good laugh about. Especially so after arriving at Himekawa Onsen and having a good hot onsen bath and a beer! This makes the second day of the hike the toughest but most rewarding of the week. These photos should give you a good idea of what it is like.