I’ve finally found time to add some older hikes to the blog. These four date from January 2017, a couple of years ago, but the mountains and trails are still there (I suppose). The views were all top notch thanks to the clear winter weather. They are located in Yamanashi, Chiba, Tochigi and Saitama prefectures. Two are station to station and two require traveling by bus.
Mt Koshu Takao (1120m), Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday January 7
Koshu Takao – a hilly ridge that separates Tokyo from Yamanashi
An amazing station to station hike that I had been saving for a while for a day when I couldn’t be bothered to look up bus times. I just regret I hadn’t hiked up Mt Koshu Takao 甲州高尾山 earlier – from the pictures in my guidebook, it looked like a dull up and down slog, but, after gaining enough altitude, the views of the Mt Fuji and the South Alps were absolutely fantastic.
The South Alps, with the three Shirane Mountains in the middle
The surrounding scenery was a nice mix of subalpine and alpine – lots of pines trees and open grassy spaces – despite the fact that I was always below the 1500m mark. The hike follows an undulating ridgeline which goes all the way to Daibosatsu Rei but unfortunately there is no connecting hiking path.
Probably one of the best views I’ve gotten of Mt Fuji
Even though the starting point is Katsunuma Budokyo station (what a name!) on the Chuo line, only a couple of hours away by train from Shinjuku, it feels like a completely different world. Shortly after descending, there is the added bonus of a nice bonus of passing through a nice temple complex.
A nice place to stop for a late lunch
Beyond that, the path becomes a road which you need to hike for 90 minutes back to the station. I was fortunate enough to be picked up by somebody on the their way down – they even dropped me off at the onsen close by the station. By the way, this onsen is on the top of a small hill and has some great views of the wide plain that forms the central part of Yamanashi prefecture.
Mt Saga (315m), Mt Tsumori (336m) & Mt Hitobone (292m), Kyonan District, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday January 15
The peaceful top of Mt Tsumori
Since Chiba mountains aren’t very high, I usually need to combine several of them in order to make it worth my time to go all the way to the other side of Tokyo bay. One benefit of low altitude mountains is that they remain snow-free all year-round – or so I thought! No sooner had I started hiking up the trail for Mt Saga 嵯峨山, a short bus ride from Hota station on the Uchibori line, did I encounter snow! Apparently it had snowed the day before in Chiba…however it was only a thin layer which was melting quickly in the winter sunshine.
A rare sight – snow in Chiba
The climb to the top was relatively fast with just one steep section. There were views of Oshima island, Miura peninsula, and of course the Boso peninsula. Unfortunately, the top of Mt Fuji was hidden in the clouds. My plan was to do a loop around the back and end up back on the road, where I would catch a bus to my next destination. However at one point I lost the path and ended up taking a rather steep trail back up to Mt Saga. I eventually found my way down but I missed the bus and had to walk to about an hour to the start of the path for Mt Tsumori.
The Boso peninsula looks quite flat from this perspective – it isn’t!
The climb to the top of Mt Tsumori 津森山 was pleasant and the views Eastwards towards Kamogawa town, the Pacific Ocean and Mt Atago were unexpectedly beautiful. After that I made my way along hiking path and some roads to the frighteningly named Mt Hitobone 人骨山 (meaning person’s bone). This time the views were mostly of the hills towards the South and the West. After that there was quite a nice path through some marshland at the bottom of the valley – it was quite atmospheric in the late afternoon light. Eventually I reached a road which took me to lake Sakuma and a bus stop.
Mt Atago 408m, the highest mountain in Chiba
While I was waiting for the last bus of the day to come, I noticed an advertisement for Emiraku no yu 笑楽の湯, an onsen that seemed to be on the way, so I decided to call and see if they were open. They told me yes and also that there weren’t any more buses running that day – I had somehow misread the bus schedule. Fortunately, they kindly offered to pick me up and then drop me off at the train station after my bath. I don’t know what I would have done without their help. I highly recommend using their onsen if you are in the area!
Sunset at Sakuma Lake
Mt Daisho (314m) & Mt Daibo (285m), Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday January 22
A nice circular hike along a ridge
This was my very first foray into the low mountains of Southern Tochigi, the perfect place for mid-winter hiking, and very much off the beaten track. Somebody actually exclaimed “gaikokujin da!” (meaning “it’s a foreigner!” – kind of rude, no?) after seeing me, something which I have only heard small kids say.
Close-up view of the characters “small” and “large”
This is also a station to station hike, the first part requiring some walking along roads and through fields. After a while the kanji 小 (sho) and 大 (dai) were visible on the side of Mt Daisho 大小山. It took me a very short time to hike up the path and reach the lookout point just below the characters, and about the same time again to reach the highest point of the trail (called Mt Myogi) where there were amazing views Northwards of the green hills of Tochigi.
The low mountainous area of Southern Tochigi
This is a circular hike – it follows an up-and-down ridge as it turns counterclockwise from East to West with lots of great views in all directions. The snowy peaks of Oku-Nikko, as well as Mt Akagi, can be seen from several points along the trail. I could also see the sprawl of Ashikaga city in the next valley. Finally, after a rocky section, I reached the top of Mt Daibo 大坊山 the other main peak of this hike, and the location of a small temple.
View towards Ashikaga city with Mt Akagi in the back
After that, it was a quick hike down to the base of the mountain, followed by some road walking in order to reach a small path that took me back up to the top of the ridge where I started my hike – above the the 小 and 大 characters. After enjoying the last great views of the hike, I made my way down quickly via a different route to where I had started my hike in the morning. Winter days are short but I managed to get to the train station just before sunset.
Ogano Alps (highest point 590m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday January 28
A glimpse of the Chichibu mountains from between the trees
This hike took me completely by surprise. It was mentioned in my guidebook but due to its low altitude and bus access both ways, I made it low priority – a mistake since it had superb views, interesting sights and some thrilling ridge sections. The Ogano Alps 小鹿野アルプス are located South of Ogano town and West of Chichibu city, and are low enough that the mountains of Oku-Chichibu further to the West and South seem to tower above.
Mt Buko with blue skies in the background
After a short walk from the bus stop I reached a nice little temple called Hoshoji behind which the hike starts. Very soon I got to the top of a rocky outcrop with nice views and a statue of Kannon. The next highlight was the Mt Kame viewpoint from where I could see an intriguing rock formation, resembling a giant lizard – it reminded me very much of similar rock formations on Yakushima island. The pyramid-shaped Mt Buko was also very prominent throughout the hike.
Fantastic lizard-shaped rock formation clinging to the side of the mountain
After the viewpoint I descended into a valley where there was a mountain retreat (apparently closed in the winter), and then climbed up a slope on the other side. This part is called “kamanosawa goho” 釜の沢五峰 – quite a difficult name to remember. It translates roughly as the five peaks of the cauldron valley, probably because, like the previous hike, the top ridge forms a circle. The five (small) peaks are numbered and are fun to hike, not to mention energy and time consuming!
Top of peak number four – one more to go!
As I approached the highest point of the hike, the dramatic ridgelines of Mt Futago and Mt Ryokami came into view. This part felt wild and isolated; I saw no other hikers, but maybe this was because it was already past 3pm. It was time to start heading down. During the descent I passed a small transmission tower perched precariously on a small outcrop, walked under a cliff, down steps carved into another cliff, saw more interesting rock formations, and finally arrived onto a road which I followed all the way back to Hoshoji temple, where I had started out five hours ago.
It took me four hours to reach the highest point of the hike
It was already past 4pm and the sun was starting to set. However, rather than take the bus directly back, I decided to follow another short hiking path nearby which took me over a hill to a main road and an onsen on the other side. The first choice for onsen was actually closed but thanks to Google Maps, I located another one within walking distance which I reached just after dark.
Perilous place to put a power transmission line no?
Water bubbles trapped under an icy stream