Despite February being a shorter month and the first snowfalls of the year in the Kanto area, I still managed to go hiking every weekend and fit in four more hikes – total of 9 so far this year. I visited 4 different prefectures, including my first hike of the year to Tochigi prefecture – hopefully I’ll be able to do something in Tokyo and Chiba in March. I also managed two more station to station hikes, something that never ceases to amaze me after more than a dozen years of hiking in Japan. I used the bus for the other two hikes. The average height of the climbed mountains was only 377m (nearly 1000n in January) proof that I was fleeing the cold and snow!
Utsunomiya Alps, (highest point 562m) , Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday February 3
View of the Nikko range from the alternative path I took up
You may have read this before on this blog but the Utsunomiya Alps 宇都宮アルプス are another place that I’ve been meaning to explore for years. Originally I wanted to do it as a morning hike but had to give up since I couldn’t find the bus timetables and hiking maps. Since then, the hike has popped up in my hiking books and Google maps now includes reliable bus times.
After getting to Utsunomiya station, I had to ask an attendant for the bus to Nikko since the bus terminal is a big confusing. I believe she was also a bit confused to why I would be taking a bus to Nikko. In fact, I got off left than half way there. The first thing that caught my eye was some leftover snow next to the road which made me panic slightly. However there was very little snow during the entire hike.
Cedar forest walking in the Utsunomiya Alps
From the bus stop, it was a 30 minute walk to the base of the Utsunomiya Alps (hills really). I overshot the start of the trail and ended going up a trail that was closed as it was being redone. It was only a minor inconvenience since only a short portion was difficult to walk. Also, I believe the views were far better on this path. After passing by a couple of minor peaks, I reached the highest point which had fantastic view of the Nikko range covered in a layer of snow.
Mt Nantai on the left and Mt Nyoho on the right
After a short lunch a continued along the ridgeline, which made a right angle towards the South. Unfortunately the weather had turned from sunny and warm to overcast and chilly. After a nice bit through forest, the next peak consisted of a steep climb and an even steeper descent – I was glad I had a good pair of shoes on.
The steep steep slope in the middle of the hike
After descending one more summit, I arrived onto a road which led to another bigger road. Here I somehow missed a turn for a path which led to another small summit. However I didn’t mind; at this point I was pretty satisfied and ready to wrap up the hike. At the foot of the “alps” I had another 30 minute walk to reach an onsen and the bus stop for the return to Utsunomiya.
Walking back to the bus stop can be enjoyable when the views are nice
Mt Ohira (577m), Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday February 10
A bit of sun on an otherwise gloomy day
Since I really enjoyed my hike up Mt Sukumo 2 weeks ago, I decided to return to the Izu peninsula. First I had found what seemed like another good hike on my newly bought Izu hiking map. Second going twice in a short time to the same area helps reinforce my memory of how to get there. This time I went a little further South to Ito city in order to climb Mt Ohira 小平山 – this time I could go all the way by express train so the total travel time was about the same. For those interested in numbers, this hike is located 200km South from my previous hike in Tochigi.
The path up Mt Ohira
The hike starts directly from Ito city. Unfortunately the weather was overcast despite being sunny in Tokyo when I left. The fact that the area is run-down an drap didn’t help – this is one area that apparently isn’t getting a facelift because of the Olympics. I finally reached Maruyama park, the official start of the hike. It was completely deserted on this grey February day but I did some plum early plum blossoms. Very soon, the path starting climbing in earnest up a forested ridge. I was extremely grateful to the yellow signs that were everywhere along the trail and ensured that I never get lost – I really wish they would put these everywhere!
These helpful signs were everywhere along the hike
I encountered only one other hiker going down the ridge – he told me it was very cold at the top but that is kind of expected in the middle of winter at the top of any mountain, even on Izu peninsula. The top was more more of a ridgeline, but again, not surprising the name can roughly translate at “big flat top”. There were however good views of Ito town, the Pacific ocean and Oshima island. From there I moved North along the ridge and reached another opening in the trees with good views North along the coastline with Mt Oyama in the distance.
Atmospheric staircase just beyond Mt Ohira
After that, the path turned West, inland and downhill. The entire hike is in fact a wide loop that after the initial climb, does a series of ups and downs, gradually turning anti-clockwise through beautiful forest. I realised later most of it is completely inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Finally I reached a wide open space with a view of the Pacific Ocean, Ito City, Oshima Island, Mt Omuro (a mini volcano) and snow-covered Mt Amagi, the highest point of the Izu peninsula.
The snow-covered Amagi highlands, around 500m higher up
After taking photos to my heart’s content, I started on the descent. Eventually I got onto a road which I followed all the way back to Ito station. Ito is famous for its onsens and was able to take a quick dip at La Foret hotel. Originally I had planned to walk all the way to Mt Omuro but that was too ambitious – that will be for another hike!
Mt Omuro, to be tackled on a future hike
Hachioji Hills (highest point 294m) & Mt Kana (239m), Kiryu & Ota Cities, Gunma Prefectures, Sunday February 17
Mt Akagi from the South-East – first time for me to see it from this angle
I had been saving this hike for a really cold winter day. Unfortunately, it was also a really windy one so I was doubly cold! The Hachioji hills 八王子丘陵 are a series of rolling hills running parallel to the edge of the mountainous area to the North of the Kanto plain. After getting off the Ryomo express train at Shin-kiryu, I took a local back one station to Azami station, about 10 minutes on foot from the start of the hiking trail.
A great hiking trail to do in the winter
The first half of the hills were mostly made up of gentle ups and downs which eventually led me to the highest point of the trail where there were excellent views of Kiryu City, Mt Kesamaru and Mt Akagi to the North, and Mt Haruna and Mt Asama to the West. There were 3 sets of binoculars available at different spots so that one could check out the view in detail.
Kiryu city is that way
The second half of the hills had steeper ascents and descents – even though the hills are low, they do make for a good workout! The last part in particular was a succession of ups and down through steep valleys – it was hard to believe that I was hiking in the middle of the densely populated Kanto plain. I saw almost no one in the last section. I finally emerged from the hills back into civilisation. Since it was still early afternoon, I decided to continue to neighbouring Kanayama mountain.
Mt Kesamaru – I was there last year in June
On the way I saw some human-sized Kokeshi dolls, had some nice views of the Hachioji hills and saw a group of 5 stray cats. According to Google maps I would need to make quite a big detour to reach the base of the mountain. However I decided to take a risk and head to a nearby campsite from where I thought there might be a connecting path to the mountain – and I was right! The path up Mt Kanayama 金山 was a lot steeper than I had imagined and I was pretty tired after my earlier crossing of the Hachioji Hills. So it was with great effort that I finally reached the top after 4pm.
I saw no one else hiking this part of the trail
The summit is home to a shrine and castle ruins. Unfortunately since it was late in the day, I didn’t have time to check out either fully. I also had to forgo the hiking path down and take the most direct route following the car road in order to reach the station by sundown. The hot bath hopes were dashed when the sento I found on Google Maps was no longer in existence. However I made a pleasant discovery at Ota station – the very new and beautiful Ota Art Museum and Library was a nice place to check out while waiting for the next express train back to Tokyo!
Sunset from the top of Mt Kanayama – time to head down
Votive tablets clattering in the wind
Miura Alps (highest point 212m), Zushi City, Kanagawa prefecture, Sunday February 24
View of Sagami Bay from the top of Mt Sengen
I had already done one hike on the Miura peninsula a few years ago, climbing the highest peak Mt Ogusa (241m). I hadn’t thought there was more hiking to be done there till I was combing through my Kanagawa hiking book and found that I could do what is called the “Miura Alps” 三浦アルプ – a series of hills that cross the entire peninsula from Zushi on the Sagami Bay to Taura on the Tokyo Bay.
Luckily Zushi is one of the easiest places for me to get to, since there are direct trains from Ikebukuro. From the station there are frequent buses for the short ride to the start of the trail. From the bus stop I climbed a steep road to a church (!) behind which started the trail. The trail felt very similar to the ones I’ve hiked in the Kamakura area – wide dirt trail path through a tunnel of vegetation. Very soon I arrived at the top of Mt Sengen with a ncie view of Sagami bay and Enoshima island. There were also tons of people, so I moved on quickly. Although this isn’t a famous mountain, it’s a fairly easy hike near populated areas so I often passed large groups of people. However, as usual, they were attentive and courteous, and always let me pass in front.
Walking along the Miura Alps
As I progressed along the ridge, further inland and completely surrounded by green hills, I certainly felt like a jungle explorer. Also, the name alps was well deserved as there was no end to the ups and downs. Not unpleasant but best to be prepared for the extra effort. Most summits were in the trees but I finally reached a clearing with a transmission tower so I decided to have lunch. The view wasn’t so good but at least it offered me some space a relatively quiet place to sit. As it usually happens, there was another transmission tower with a much better view a little further up. This was also the highest point of the hike, about 211m I believe. Finally I could see the Tokyo Bay on the other side of the peninsula.
The plum blossoms are nearly fully out
Next I hiked down a little and then back up to the last summit of the Alps, Mt Nyukasa. From it’s summit, there was one space where you can see through the trees towards Taura city, Tokyo Bay and Yokohama. From the summit it’s a steep rope lined descent all the way back down to sea level. On the way I crossed a highway and a plum blossom park (taura ume no sato) that was nearly at full bloom. After crossing a small bamboo forest, I emerged into the town. However my hike wasn’t over yet. It was still only 3 o’clock in the afternoon, so like the week before, I decided to tag on another short hike to nearly Tsukayama Park.
View of Tokyo bay from above Taura town
This demanded another climb up a steep staircase and then a pleasant stroll along a quiet road following a ridge with occasional views of Tokyo bay. I also got a good view of part of the Miura Alps which I had just traversed. Finally I ended up at at Tsukayama park where the gravestone of Anjin Miura is located. If you’ve read Shogun by James Clavell, you’ll know who that is. There are also a couple of good viewpoints inside the park. From there, it was a short 15 minute back to the station, from there it took me less than an hour an half to get home.
Lateral view of the Miura Alps