While Tokyo basks in the warmth of early spring and enjoys its first wave of cherry blossoms, late March in more northerly and mountainous parts of Japan is a snowier affair that lends itself to a spot of spring mountaineering.

I joined an expedition guided by David Niehoff of Kanto Adventures to climb Mount Aka, a 2,899 meter behemoth on the southern border of Nagano Prefecture. Part of the Yatsugatake Mountain Range, it is flanked to the west by Mount Amida and to the north by Mount Yoko. Together, the three peaks appear as a set of crooked bottom teeth, rising with an obstinate inelegance from the gummy, red earth that gives Mount Aka its name.

The trek starts at 6 a.m. on a Saturday, allowing us a warm-up hike to the top of Mount Io (2,760 meters). From the road, we follow a pretty, snow-covered path that meanders over a tributary of the Kami River. I feel far removed from Tokyo, and with the open sky comes a sense of relaxation that is spoiled only slightly by a lyricless version of "Winter Wonderland" that repeats in my head ad nauseam.