From the Archives: Tokyo Wide Pass Silver Week 2018

Here are a couple more hikes I did using the Tokyo Wide Pass during Silver Week in September 2018, plus a couple of short excursions I did with my mother using the pass in November. All previous Tokyo Wide Pass hikes are linked at the bottom of the Golden Week 2018 update. I also describe two hikes I did using the pass during the “Coming of Age” long weekend in Tokyo Day Hikes January 2019 (Mt Inafukumi & Mt Tatsuware).

Mt Tengu (Eastern peak 2640m), Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, Sunday September 23

I still find it hard to believe that I was here on a day trip from Tokyo

This is highest I’ve been using the pass, if not the furthest – 130 km away versus 160 km for Mt Nasu – although the travel time might be the longest: after taking the shinkansen to Sakudaira, it’s a 2-hour bus ride to the trailhead. Despite that, I was able to start walking from 10h30. Surprisingly, few people were lining up for the bus – most people preferred to head for Mt Asama, only one hour bus ride away. Most passengers, got off at Shirakome pond, but I got off at the next and final stop, Mugikusa pass (2120m).

The beautiful dark blue of Shirakome pond

I had seen the pass and its steep-roofed hut a few years earlier when I hiked Mt Shimakare to the North. This time, I set off Southwards through a thick mossy pine forest. Mt Tengu 天狗岳 is a 200 famous mountain in Japan, and is part of the ancient volcanic range of Yatsugatake, an extremely popular hiking area West of Tokyo. I hadn’t really appreciated how popular it was till I reached Takami Ishi hut where their masses of people. What surprised me was the number of small children with their parents – it is not an easy place to hike!

Typical views during the hike – it’s quite level, no?

Behind the hut, atop some rocky boulders, is a great view of Shirakome pond and Northern Nagano. After I short break I set off again. For a while the path was really muddy and I had to make tiny detours through the forest – it had rained hard the preceding days – but eventually I reached some narrow wooden walkways which were much easier to navigate. Occasionally the twin peaks of Mt Tengu were visible in the distance, as well as the dramatic-looking Mt Io.

Mt Io – I climbed it in winter from the other side

On paper it looks like a long hike but in reality most of the hike consists of a gently undulating path along a wide mountain top – the steeper sections are located lower down. Very soon I arrived at the base of Mt Tengu. I lost a lot of time taking photos during the climb, as it was mostly devoid of trees and the views in all directions were absolutely amazing. The Eastern summit was packed with people, half of them young children around elementary school age. The Western peak is four meters higher but required at least a half hour round trip, time I didn’t have since I was planning on returning to Tokyo the same day. According to my guidebooks, the views were fairly similar. Mt Neishi was also achingly close but I had to skip that as well.

The twin peaks of Mt Tengu

I set off down a rocky ridge that ended on a windswept sandy pass where I took a steeply descending pass that zigzagged down the Western flank. After what seemed like a lot of descending, I reached Honzawa Onsen hut from where it was a long slog along a dirt road – it really made me appreciate the size of the mountain I was coming down from. I emerged from the forest just as it was getting dark, two hours after the start of my descent, but still twenty minutes or so from Umijiri station on the Komi line. Originally I had planned to head back up to Sakudaira where I could get a hot bath, buy some local sake and get the shinkansen back to Tokyo. Unfortunately I made a mistake with the train times so I had to take a train in the opposite direction towards kobuchizawa, also covered by the pass, and take the very crowded Chuo line back – fortunately the station there also sells sake!

 

Mt Hakkai (up to Mt Yakushi 1654m), Minamiuonuma City, Niigata Prefecture, Monday September 24

The viewing platform at the top of the ropeway – a nice place to relax!

This one broke the record for furthest day hike from Tokyo – 175 km! I was less than 50 km from the Sea of Japan although I couldn’t see that far because of the poor visibility. I arrived in Niigata prefecture under the sun but the clouds rolled in with surprising speed and most of the day was spent under grey skies. Even the ragged top of Mt Hakkai 八海山, another 200 famous mountain of Japan, soon disappeared in the mist.

Mt Echigokoma surrounded by clouds

After taking the shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa, I boarded a local train to Muikamachi station (not covered by the pass). The town is fairly rundown and would benefit from a facelift. I got on a bus to the Mt Hakkai ropeway – I was the only passenger. Even the parking lot was depressingly empty. We were perhaps a dozen people to board the ropeway. I was pretty relieved that I didn’t have to wait in line. The view from the wooden viewing platform at 1120m was quite impressive – I guess the lack of people was due to the poor weather forecast, although it never rained.

The long summit ridge of Mt Tanigawa

The hike itself wasn’t anything special – up and down the same path, alternating flat and climbing bits. There were some good views to the North of Mt Echigokoma, and Mt Tanigawa to the North. There were much less people than the previous day on Mt Tengu. There wasn’t enough time to go all the way to the highest point (1778m). Perhaps it was a good thing because it is rated as somewhat dangerous on my map – lots of steep bits with chains and ladders.

Autumn has arrived near the upper reaches of Mt Hakkai

The clouds blocked most views from my turning back point, the top of Mt Yakushi 薬師岳 but there was a consolation prize in the form of some early autumn colours. I also saw three snakes which is always exciting. I recommend taking a bath into the hot spring facility inside the Echigo-Yuzawa station – it’s small but super convenient – and also buying some well local sake from the extensive souvenir shop.

 

 

Shiobara Gorge, Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday November 3

View from the main bridge in Shiobara onsen

This is a relatively short hike I did with my mother. I rented a car near Nasushiobara shinkansen station (it is also possible to go by bus). I was hoping to see some autumn colours, and so were the hundreds of other people stuck with us in a massive traffic jam, a few kilometers out from the onsen town! At least we could slowly enjoy the spectacular views.

The hiking path was a little worn out but easy to walk

We finally reached the visitor center with about an hour delay. Our plan to walk along the river downstream and then take a bus back. Unfortunately the traffic jam never let up so that we took a long time getting back to our car and then getting back to the station. Fortunately we could take a bath at the a hot spring before leaving.

Peaceful lake near the end of the hike – it would make a good painting

The hike itself had some nice views of the gorge and various waterfalls, and of course the autumn leaves. We crossed the river several times over narrow suspension bridges. The final part however consisted of a relatively long, steep climb followed by a descent with no real good views. The last part is over a suspended bridge that crosses a picturesque lake formed by a dam further downstream. There are other hikes in the area so I will probably return in the future.

It was the first time I’d ever seen people doing SUP (Stand Up Paddling)

One of the waterfalls we saw during the hike

 

Dragon Gondola and hike along the Kiyostu River, Yuzawa Town, Niigata Prefecture, Sunday November 4

Mt Sennokura with its autumn cloud cap

The next day I decided to check out the Dragon Gondola – 5481m long and apparently the longest in the world. Normally a ski lift – I had taken it once when skiing at the Naeba Prince Hotel resort – it is exceptionally open for a short while in autumn, and also in spring. It requires taking a bus from Echigo Yuzawa station. After that, things got complicated. Most passengers were non-Japanese like us, possibly also traveling on the Tokyo Wide Pass. However, the busdriver started giving complicated explanations in rapid-fire Japanese which obviously nobody understood. Apparently we had to get off one stop before the Naeba Prince Hotel to take a shuttle bus directly to the start of the gondola. Most people just remained on the bus. Finally, language barriers were overcome, and everybody was able to board the shuttle buses.

Mt Hakkai with its winter snowcap

At the gondola station, we got in line for the gondola. However I noticed that the people in front of me were holding tickets – I had no idea where to buy ours. I went to the head of the line to ask, and found a small ticket counter next to the boarding area – it could have been advertised better. The gondola ride was truly spectacular and exciting, since several small ridges and valleys had to be crossed, at times only meters above the ground.

Rising up and up among the camphor trees

The top area, at 1346m, was a little cool but pleasant in the sunny autumn weather. We walked up a bit to higher ground and had great views of many Niigata mountains: Mt Naeba, Mt Hakkai, Mt Tanigawa and Mt Sennokura. After that we walked past Tashiro lake and took the Tashiro ropeway back down to the bottom of the valley, enjoying the beautiful autumn leaves covering the sides of the mountains.

Taking the Tashiro ropeway back down

From the base of the ropeway, we walked along the river, following it upstream for about an hour while enjoying more autumn leaves and the fine early November weather, till we reached a spacious rest house. Inside, there was a good relief map of the surrounding mountains. From there it was a short ride on a crowded bus back to the shinkansen station.

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