Route Knowledge (#299, Norikura & Venus Skyline)

Yamabushi

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#1
So I need to pick the collective brains of TCC's community of resident experts. Eugen and I will be cycling in Nagano for four days, April 6th-9th, and will hopefully be hooking up either Saturday or Sunday for a ride with Chuck (ProRaceMechanic).

This will be the earliest in the year that I've ridden out there and would like to know about probable road conditions. Ideally, we'd like to do the following rides:
  • Chichibu to Suwa via Rt #299
  • Norikura
  • Venus Skyline

Eugen pointed out that according to this SITE, at least part of each of those rides won't be officially open yet. Can anyone "in the know" comment on what that means? I imagine there will be barriers up, will they be manned? Can you get around them? If you did go around them, would they likely be passable or impassable? I realize the last question, especially depends on the weather, but I'd appreciate your thoughts. Thank you in advance!
 

Bartek

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#3
A section of route 299 (jikkoku toge) just past Ueno village on Gunma side is closed all the way to Nagano pref. during winter. What it means is that it is not maintained throughout winter time, so any landslides, large rocks etc. that happened to fall will be there until clean up time in April or May. You have no way of knowing the condition unless someone has traversed through the road and can tell you first hand. Usually there are many adventurers doing it on foot. There are barriers, but they are unmanned.
There are 2 alternatives - 1 goes left to the Jikkoku toge through Budou toge, but I think it is also closed in winter. And there is the route through Shimonita. Instead of going straight through Jikkoku toge you turn right before the barriers and go through Shomonita to Karuizawa. The road going through Shimonita all the way to R254 (I think that's the number) will be open, however the route 254 to Karuizawa is not a pleasant road to cycle on because of the amount of trucks.

I have no idea about the 2 roads in Nagano that you have mentioned, but I believe if they are closed it is because there is snow there.

Good luck.
 

Yamabushi

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#4
Check my blogs, loads of info and pics there! It'll be cold but have a good time:)
Cheers Mike! I've ridden Venus Skyline and Norikura a number of times, my wife's family lives between them... just not this early in the year. I'm primarily interested in the likely road conditions during my above posted dates. That being said, I haven't actually done any of 299 between Chichibu and Chino, so if we're able to ride it, that'll definitely be new to me. I'll take a look at your blog.

A section of route 299 (jikkoku toge) just past Ueno village on Gunma side is closed all the way to Nagano pref. during winter. What it means is that it is not maintained throughout winter time, so any landslides, large rocks etc. that happened to fall will be there until clean up time in April or May. You have no way of knowing the condition unless someone has traversed through the road and can tell you first hand. Usually there are many adventurers doing it on foot. There are barriers, but they are unmanned.
There are 2 alternatives - 1 goes left to the Jikkoku toge through Budou toge, but I think it is also closed in winter. And there is the route through Shimonita. Instead of going straight through Jikkoku toge you turn right before the barriers and go through Shomonita to Karuizawa. The road going through Shimonita all the way to R254 (I think that's the number) will be open, however the route 254 to Karuizawa is not a pleasant road to cycle on because of the amount of trucks.

I have no idea about the 2 roads in Nagano that you have mentioned, but I believe if they are closed it is because there is snow there.

Good luck.
Cheers Bartek, that's the kind of info I'm looking for! You live in Chichibu, right? Any chance you may do some advance scouting on 299? :eek:
 
Dec 31, 2009
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Matsumoto
#5
I was on the mountain near my home today and at 1200 meters the road (closed to traffic until April) was not rideable due to snow and thick ice. Where there was some small sections without snow (I walked for about .5km just to see if it was just a section that was iced over) the debris was pretty thick. Definitly not something you would want to ride down at speed.(It is a westardly facing slope with heavy tree cover and little sunlight. It will be a while before it is passable. It was around 0 degrees there when at my house just 5 km away it was 7 degrees and it felt really warm (it has been really cold lately so 7 felt AWESOME).
I will contact my friend who lives at the base of Norikura and ask him the conditions for road riding. He owns Spring Bank Bar and Grill. They serve good pizza, salads and coffee and have a 9 foot pool table. A good place to warm the up before decending to Matsumoto. His name is Satoshi and he is a whiskey coneseur (hence the name Spring Bank, his favorite) so he has many different varietys and also beers from around the world. They also have a small bike/mountain sports shop. Its on the right hand side when climbing before the local onsen. Check it out if passing through (if I am not with you:)) He and his wife speak English.
 

Yamabushi

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#6
I was on the mountain near my home today and at 1200 meters the road (closed to traffic until April) was not rideable due to snow and thick ice. Where there was some small sections without snow (I walked for about .5km just to see if it was just a section that was iced over) the debris was pretty thick. Definitly not something you would want to ride down at speed.(It is a westardly facing slope with heavy tree cover and little sunlight. It will be a while before it is passable. It was around 0 degrees there when at my house just 5 km away it was 7 degrees and it felt really warm (it has been really cold lately so 7 felt AWESOME).
I will contact my friend who lives at the base of Norikura and ask him the conditions for road riding. He owns Spring Bank Bar and Grill. They serve good pizza, salads and coffee and have a 9 foot pool table. A good place to warm the up before decending to Matsumoto. His name is Satoshi and he is a whiskey coneseur (hence the name Spring Bank, his favorite) so he has many different varietys and also beers from around the world. They also have a small bike/mountain sports shop. Its on the right hand side when climbing before the local onsen. Check it out if passing through (if I am not with you:)) He and his wife speak English.
Cheers Chuck! I definitely wouldn't want to be trying that road you posted! :eek: It's likely Norikura won't really be rideable either, but I look forward to your friend's report!
 

dgl2

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#9
.... Eugen and I will be cycling in Nagano for four days, April 6th-9th, ....
I've had lots of beautiful rides on closed roads in early/mid-April at elevations the same or higher than Jukkoku ... but it really depends on (1) how much snowfall they got this winter (I think a LOT on the routes you noted) and (2) how warm and sunny it is during the next 2.5 weeks.

Norikura ... elevation is way too high to be clear on April 6-9. It is likely completely impassable by bicycle until it is plowed to be open for bus/taxi traffic in mid-May, since there are plenty of photos of massive walls of snow along the road in May after it opens. I found some photos using a Google image search for "乗鞍スカイライン 4月".

Starting to plow the Norikura Skyline road on April 7, 2010:

http://mainichi.jp/photo/graph/20100407/27.html

Norikura summit (... not so much higher than the pass) on May 15, 2010:

http://tinyurl.com/6uvvdut

Wall of snow visible in May and June:

http://guesthouse-takayama.blogspot.jp/2010/05/blog-post_248.html

April 17, 2010 photo of car at the (Gifu side) entrance to Norikura Skyline:

http://ghblog.sunnyday.jp/yamakiko/201004/17-213603.php

April 30, 2009 photo of Norikura skyline with caption noting that snow is almost cleared but need to be patient for May 15 road opening:

http://norikuradake.net/b_52.aspx

If you went riding yesterday to celebrate the Vernal Equinox, then the pagan gods of weather and cycling should be pleased, and you will have clear pavement up to 1500m elevation or higher. If not ...
 

Ludwig

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Oct 9, 2008
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#10
Pete, thanks for alerting me to the thread through an e-mail. These days I don't get round to following the site every day - apart from the fact that it is always somewhat painful to remind myself of what I am missing...

Basically all road closures in Japan are in principle passable. You only have a problem if it is manned, but even then I have argued my way through them on many occasions :).

However, the problem will come after passing the barriers. Jikkoku Toge may be just about passable if the weather in the days before is warm, and if you are not bothered by the debries that must be all over the road and some icy patches in places which the sun doesn't reach during the day. Mugikusa Toge will be in meters of snow and absolutely impossible to pass. Depending on the weather on the preceeding days, the Venus Line will be variable, but I doubt there will not be stretches with so much snow that you cannot pass it. Norikura will be completely impossible - in fact, it must be even dangerous attempting to scale it on foot (avalanches!).

So my advice is to forget about cycling in Nagano in early April, unless you stay in the large valleys, which however will not be particularly interesting.

How about exploring Izu Hanto instead, or if you can venture much further, Shikoku?
 

Yamabushi

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#11
Pete, thanks for alerting me to the thread through an e-mail. These days I don't get round to following the site every day - apart from the fact that it is always somewhat painful to remind myself of what I am missing...

Basically all road closures in Japan are in principle passable. You only have a problem if it is manned, but even then I have argued my way through them on many occasions :).

However, the problem will come after passing the barriers. Jikkoku Toge may be just about passable if the weather in the days before is warm, and if you are not bothered by the debries that must be all over the road and some icy patches in places which the sun doesn't reach during the day. Mugikusa Toge will be in meters of snow and absolutely impossible to pass. Depending on the weather on the preceeding days, the Venus Line will be variable, but I doubt there will not be stretches with so much snow that you cannot pass it. Norikura will be completely impossible - in fact, it must be even dangerous attempting to scale it on foot (avalanches!).

So my advice is to forget about cycling in Nagano in early April, unless you stay in the large valleys, which however will not be particularly interesting.

How about exploring Izu Hanto instead, or if you can venture much further, Shikoku?
Ludwig, thank you for the feedback! My wife's parents are in Nagano, and we've already got definitive plans to go there, heading elsewhere isn't an option.
 

Bartek

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#12
I rode the 299 route yesterday and unfortunately it is still not clear of ice and snow. There are no problems up to about 4 or 5 km before the pass. Most of the road is actually beautiful. But the snow/ice patches are too big for a road bike - too much walking the bike :( I was forced to turn back before even hitting the part that follows the top of the ridge.

The good news is that the official opening of the road (according to the sign) is on the 10 of April, which means that at least all the debris will be cleared off. Also the sign said that the road is closed up to the pass, which (I think) means that the Nagano side is open.

Anyway, below is a link to a map that shows where I stopped. From that point on, you will likely have to push your bike more than you will ride it. It has been pretty cold this year. Here in Chichibu, the temperature at night still falls below zero.

http://app.strava.com/rides/5785675

Well, good luck if you decide to ride :)
 

theDude

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#13
Wow, that's as far as you could get? Not even that high compared to the other side of 299 with mugikusatouge....!

(got caught in a snowstorm at the end of April on a motorbike a few years ago on mugikusatouge!)
 

Bartek

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#14
You can probably get much further or even all the way. The snow that i saw wasn't deep. It was just a long stretch and I didn't feel like walking the bike.
I am not sure how it is further up, but I have a feeling it is ridable on a MTB. This side doesn't really get much snow and it is 1000m lower than Mugikusa toge.
 

Yamabushi

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#15
I rode the 299 route yesterday and unfortunately it is still not clear of ice and snow. There are no problems up to about 4 or 5 km before the pass. Most of the road is actually beautiful. But the snow/ice patches are too big for a road bike - too much walking the bike :( I was forced to turn back before even hitting the part that follows the top of the ridge.

The good news is that the official opening of the road (according to the sign) is on the 10 of April, which means that at least all the debris will be cleared off. Also the sign said that the road is closed up to the pass, which (I think) means that the Nagano side is open.

Anyway, below is a link to a map that shows where I stopped. From that point on, you will likely have to push your bike more than you will ride it. It has been pretty cold this year. Here in Chichibu, the temperature at night still falls below zero.

http://app.strava.com/rides/5785675

Well, good luck if you decide to ride :)
Cheers mate, I appreciate the first hand report! Due to the likely conditions on #299, I've decided on an alternate plan. I need to double check the probable conditions with Chuck "ProRaceMechanic", but I think we'll do a lower altitude route from Chino going over Tsuetsuki Pass and south down #152.
 
Dec 31, 2009
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Matsumoto
#16
I have a great route that I know you will enjoy I may not be able to draw until tommorow though. I have not contacted my friend in Norikura yet, I figure any information now will be too early and it will be better to wait until closer for more accurate info. What day are you wanting to do the Chino Start?
 

Yamabushi

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#17
I have a great route that I know you will enjoy I may not be able to draw until tommorow though. I have not contacted my friend in Norikura yet, I figure any information now will be too early and it will be better to wait until closer for more accurate info. What day are you wanting to do the Chino Start?
Chuck, good to hear from you! We are driving out from Tokyo Friday(6th) morning. My original plan was to cycle out from Chichibu via Rt. #299, but that's not going to happen. So... on the way out, I think Eugen and I will get out of the van around Chino and do something like this ROUTE to get to my wife's parent's place. I think it should be clear and we can easily add or subtract some distance dependent on time. What do you think of that route, Chuck? Unless there is some unseasonal big snow, it should be all clear shouldn't it?

As for Norikura, by all means check with your friend, but at this point I'm pretty confident that it won't be close to being rideable. With that in mind, I am definitely open to some route suggestions. And, we definitely want to ride with you at least one day, Saturday or Sunday.
 
Dec 31, 2009
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Matsumoto
#19
Rode over from chino to takato via
152 and was all clear, I will to recon tommorow on the later half. You actually hit the nail on the head with the route you planned, that was going to be my suggestion! I will let you know how it goes.