Yamabito Profiles: Joseph Mecha

Joe at his new stomping grounds in Colorado.

A day behind schedule. but just in time for Mountain Day, here’s the final entry of our series.  Today we talk to Joseph Mecha who lived in Nagano for six years and did his best to tick as many of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains off his list as possible, almost reaching the fifty mark.  Additionally, Joe always sets out with a good camera as part of his gear meaning that he has many many photos to share  We could only include a select few here, but hope that it gets prospective trekkers excited about exploring the peaks and trails of Kamikochi and the Kita Alps!


Glacier walking up to Shirouma.

(Joesph Mecha lived and worked in the Suwa and Matsumoto areas for six years from 2011-2016.  Despite having relocated to Colorado, he continues to indulge in his love for climbing and hiking over there.  From the roof of Japan to the roof of America.)

Q: Thanks for agreeing to do this, Joe!

A: No problem.

Q:  Let’s get right to it then.  When did you first go hiking in the Kita Alps?

A: My first trip to the Kita Alps was in July of 2004. I was living in Niigata at the time and had done a lot of hiking in the Joshinetsu region, and I wanted to get into the Kita Alps, which I had only seen from the summits of Myoko and Hiuchi. A friend and I decided on climbing up the snow valley of Shirouma. It was cloudy on the summit that day, which only added to the mystery of the Kita Alps and left me wanting to come back.

Q: In brief, what are some of your favorite hikes?

Tsubakuro, Yake, Hotaka, Yari, Harinoki, Ontake, and Karamatsu to Kashimayari.

Nearing the peak of Mount Tsubakuro, you can see such fascinating granite formations as the イルカ岩 (Dolphin Rock). (photo: Joseph Mecha)

Yarigatake, as seen from Okuhotaka. (photo: Joseph Mecha)

A crowded trail on Okuhotaka. (photo: Joesph Mecha)

Q: Tell us about one or two of your most memorable experiences in the Kita Alps.

A: My two most perfect days in the Kita Alps would have to be climbing Yari from Shinhodaka Onsen in the fall, and making a circuit of Harinoki to Iwagoyasawa beginning and ending at Ogisawa.

Mount Yari, bold and majectic against the autumn sky. (photo: Jospeph Mecha)

Another particularly memorable experience was a two-day thru-hike beginning at Happoike Ski Resort in Hakuba, which included Mt. Karamatsu, Mt. Goryu, the Hachimine knife ridge, Mt. Kashimayari, and Mt. Jii. The weather was not the best, but there was decent visibility on the first day. The ridge between Karamatsu and Goryu was fantastic. On the second day in moderate to heavy wind and rain, crossing the Hachimine Kiretto was challenging but rewarding.

Nearing the end of the Hachimine Kiretto amind rain and fog in July of 2013,

Q: What time of year do you like best for hiking?

A: Spring and fall. I love the relative solitude of spring, and the adventure of hikes that require crampons and an ice ax. That and glissading down is one of my favorite things about hiking when there’s still snow. That being said, fall is my favorite season for hiking. From clear blue skies, lower humidity, and moderate temperatures, as well as the beauty of the changing leaves, fall really is the best.

Autumn colors on the return hike from Mount Yake. (photo: Joseph Mecha).

Q: If you could do any hike again, which would it be?

There are many hikes that I’d like to do again, but the one that I think about the most is Tsurugi. I’ve hiked as far as Tsurugi Sansou, but twice, I had to turn back due to weather, the first time torrential rain, and the second, snow. Another is the traverse between Goryu and Kashimayari, since there was no visibility on the Hachimine ridge the first time I crossed it.

Portrait of the alpinist as a young man. (photo: William Habington)

Q: What mountain would you like to tackle next and what’s your basic plan from start to finish?

A: I’m currently living in Colorado, so most of my mountain plans are set in the Rocky Mountains these days. Colorado has 53 “fourteeners” which are mountains above 14,000 feet, or 4,267 meters. For now, my plan is to climb all of the class 2 and class 3 mountains, and work to increase my experience and skill to be able to climb the mountains with more technical routes.

Q: What style of hiking climbing do you enjoy most? (eg. scrambling, ridge walking, rock climbing, winter climbing? etc.)

A: Well, who doesn’t love a good ridge walk? My favorite climbing is scrambling though. Moving efficiently and safely through that kind of terrain that requires both hands and feet takes a different level of concentration and is usually accompanied by a decent amount of exposure. But the excitement of that level of climbing for me is very motivating and always makes me search out other similarly wild routes.

Day 1 on the Karamatsu-Goryu-Hachimine Ridge-Kashimayari-Jii-Ogizawa hike, summer of 2013.

Q:Can you think of a particularly memorable animal sighting on one of your hikes? Is there any animal you’d like to see, but haven’t yet?

A: Driving to the trailhead, I once saw a group of monkeys harassing a kamoshika, which then ran into the road, head-butted the van in front of me, and unfazed, continued running into the forest on the other side of the road. It was definitely the single most memorable wildlife sighting I have had. In all of my days in the mountains of Japan, I have never seen a bear. I’m 50/50 on whether I’d like to encounter one though.

“You again?”  A randomly encountered kamoshika, just being a kamoshika. (photo: Joseph Mecha)


Q:What’s your choice for sustenance food on the move?

A: Umeboshi and kaki no tane.

Kaki no tane: a savory mix of calorie-rich peanuts and sembei, available at your local combini.

Q: Any plans for Mountain Day? (Failing that any other summer hiking plans?)

I’d like to get out to the fourteener Mount Huron. There is great free camping near the trailhead, and it’s a relatively easy hike with no false summits. My hope is to introduce a couple of new hikers to hiking Colorado’s tallest mountains.

Q:  Great!  Thanks so much for your time, Joe.  have a good Mountain Day.

A: You too!

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And with that, we conclude our series of profiles.  We sincerely thank all of the interviewees for taking part and also our readers whose interest the Kamikochi and the Northern Alps keeps us going year after year.  Enjoy your Mountain Day and remember to check back for frequent updates on the summer season, 2017!