The Shimono Roka (下ノ廊下) in the Kurobe Valley is a very exposed and complex hike with dramatic and incredibly scenic views of the Kurobe river. The valley can only be walked for a very short period every year because of snow. Some years, it might not open at all. Before embarking on this hike, make sure the valley is passable. Also, be advised that this is an expert level hike that requires skill, strength, and is very dangerous.
Time: 9h 50min (Yamap estimate: 15h 30min without breaks)
Location: Kurobe Gorge, Nagano
Elevation Gain: N/A (GPS didn't work accurately because of all the tunnels)
I recommend doing this hike by train and walking it during the week. The Kurobe Alpine Route, Kurobe Gorge Railway, and Asogahara Onsen hut are all incredibly busy during fall colors season.
The details below are important for weekend hikes; during the week it's a lot less busy, and easier to secure reservations.
You need to take the Kurobe Alpine Route and reserve your tickets online beforehand as the early morning slots are always sold out, and you want to start early (5am). We reserved our tickets exactly 1month prior at 4pm when they get released online and were not able to get the earliest departure.
Make sure to go directly to the trailhead and don't "waste" time exploring murodo etc. We went directly to the lake and didn't have to wait long at the different points (trolley, bus, trolley bus, ropeway, trolley) and it took us 2h to get to the trailhead.
This is really important, as you might have to stay a night at Kurobeko to get an earlier start than we did (then you also have more time to walk around). You can stay at Kuroyon, for example.
We are extremely fast walkers and experienced with this kinda hiking. This hike is very dangerous, and you might not be comfortable walking the same speed we did. Sunset in early October is at 5:30pm. The average walking time for day 1 is 9h 45min!
But back to our example. We parked our car at Tateyama Station, took the Kurobe Alpine Route, climbed Kurobe Gorge and for the way back, first the Kurobe Gorge Railway and then 2 regular trains back to the car.
Lastly, it's not possible to reserve the Kurobe Gorge Railway for one-way tickets. Weekends are very crowded, and the trains book out months in advance.
You need to arrive at Keyakidaira by 11:30. (Departure is at 11:46). Recommended by the hut is to leave at 5am latest to arrive in time before the tourist rush. Sunrise in October is at 6am. You'll have to walk some of the trail in the dark, make sure to bring a headlamp that you can attach to your helmet.
If you arrive any later than that, you get into the normal tourist rush and won't be able to get a ticket until the last trains of the day (possibly as late at 3-4pm).
Once you finish the hike, go straight to the ticket booth and buy your timed ticket.
Kurobe Alpine Route: Tateyama to Kurobeko 120min and 9140¥.
Kurobe Gorge Railway: 80 min and 1980¥ .
Train from Unazuki Onsen to Tateyama: 2:15min and 2140¥. Change trains at Terada.
Day 1: 6h, 20km (Yamap estimate 9h 45min)
I described in more detail how to access the trailhead at Kurobe Dam above. If coming from the Tateyama side, you need to cross the dam and go into the station. Then turn left, and you'll get out a little door. Signage for this trail is completely in Kanji, so memorize both (shimonoroka: 下ノ廊下 and asogahara onsen goya 阿曽原温泉小屋).
Go down the little trail towards the river and cross it. On busy days, there will be somebody there counting the people; if you're curious you can ask how many are ahead of you (in our case, we were number 170 & 171).
The first part of the hike is along the river without much exposure, but pretty quickly you'll get higher and higher with drops up to 500m.
The path is a narrow ledge, often only a couple of steps wide. The drops are vertical and straight down with no ledge or anything to catch you, should you slip and fall.
Almost all of the hike has a metal wire running on the side to hold on to. Bring gloves as the wire sometimes has pieces sticking up. I nicked my hand after a couple of minutes when I didn't wear my gloves yet. There are also a lot of log ladders and scaffolding.
You'll be walking along the river going up and down for about 5h, crossing a couple of small bridges. The whole time the trail will be exposed, and you have to watch your every step.
Just before you get to the hut, you need to cross the Sennin Dam and walk through part of the building and tunnels.
Here it's important to know the kanji of Asogahara hut and Shimonoroka as you have to turn a couple of times inside the tunnels, and it's not always obvious which way to go.
After the dam buildings, you have one last section through the forest until you get to the hut. As the name says, Asogahara Onsen goya has a hot spring. For the afternoon, there is a bathing schedule for men and woman. Bring a small towel, the Onsen has soap. The tent site toilet has no toilet paper.
When setting up your tent, stay close to your neighbor. The tent site gets incredibly crowded. I was told sometimes people have to camp next to the Onsen too.
Day 2: 4h, 10.4km (Yamap estimate 5h 45min)
If you walk on weekends, you need to leave the hut by 5am. I didn't really enjoy walking on the exposed ledge in the dark, but we didn't want to wait for the later trains.
Day 2, you'll be a lot higher than the day before, and there are more tunnels. Be careful in the tunnel, they have some low hanging rocks. We walked fast and passed about 50 people.
Once we got to Keyakidaira station, we bought our tickets and if you have time to spare you can walk to nearby Meiken Onsen (20min on foot/800¥/opens at 10).
In terms of difficulty, this hike is on par with Gendarme or Daikiretto, if not more dangerous. Compared to the hida ridge, this hike is constantly exposed, and if you make a mistake, it will be certain death. I found it mentally very exhausting, as I had to be very careful for hours at the time.
Asohara Onsen Goya: Hut 13.000¥ including 2 meals. Reservation required. Tent 800¥ and first come first serve.
The tent site is notorious for being completely packed during foliage weekends. We couldn't even stretch the rain fly because the next tent was so close. (You can see in the picture the only free space is the water run-off from the sinks and directly in front of the toilet.
Same goes for hut reservations. Check the website from when you can make reservations and call immediately. Reservation is by phone only.
Important Information for this hike
The hike is generally only passable for a 1 month a year. Usually end of September until end of October.
The logistics are complicated, so make sure you understand how to get to the trailhead and back with enough time for the hike and trains.
Bring helmet (lots of rockfall and low hanging rocks), gloves and a small towel (for Onsen).
Check the hut website to find out if the trail is already open and current conditions. It's the only reliable source in regards to snow level and if bridges have been repaired, landslides etc.
Again, this is a dangerous hike with no room for mistakes. This is not a hike for beginners or inexperienced hikers.
Map & Elevation Profile
If you have any questions leave a comment or message me directly through the chat!