Five weekends in March and four hikes done…not too bad, especially considering that the last weekend was hanami and the weather has been pretty foul lately. This month I stuck to Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures, as well as to low altitudes as winter maintained its grip on the Kanto area. Only one hike was station to station. The others relied on additional forms of transportation such as bus, taxi and a kind offer of a lift to the nearest train station from a local. Next month, I will definitely do a hike within the confines of Tokyo prefecture!
Mt Sekison (348m), Kimitsu City, Chiba Prefecture, Saturday March 2
The peaceful top of Mt Sekison in the heart of Chiba
I finally returned to Chiba after more than a year. The two main issues I have with Chiba hikes are 1) public transport access is usually a problem (even now, Google Maps doesn’t have information on many bus routes) 2) trail signs leave a lot to be desired. Despite those shortcomings, Chiba has some great hiking, especially in the colder months. This time I choose a fairly straightforward hike connecting Yoro Keikoku station, on the Kominato line, with Kazusa-Kameyama station, on the Kururi line, and passing by the summit of Mt Sekison 石尊山.
I hadn’t been to the Yoro river valley since May 2016, and I had forgotten what a wonderful train ride it was: the retro train from Goi station will definitely put you in the mood for hiking. At one tiny station along the way, locals were selling bentos on the platform and passengers were encouraged to get off to buy something. I bought some tasty “fried balls” and a cup of local sake. After I got off at my destination, the station attendant kindly asked me about my itinerary and gave me a useful map – a very nice welcome!
The charming 90 year-old station of Yoro-Keikoku
If you haven’t hiked the Yoro River valley before, I’d recommend doing that first. I had, however, hiked it a few years before, so I set off along a road perpendicular to the river. Shortly after setting off, I spotted a lone monkey in a field, but it fled before I could get a good picture. Still, it was my first monkey spotting in Chiba prefecture. The first part of the hike was along a narrow road that followed a gradually climbing ridge. There were few cars so it was quite pleasant, with occasional views of the neighbouring ridges to the left and right. Unfortunately, I noticed that people had dumped trash down the steep sides at several points. I don’t know if this is still a problem or whether it’s a thing of the past – the signs warning people not to dump trash were old and faded – but considering that it’s within a protected nature zone, a clean-up might be in order. I finally reached the first of five short tunnels along the way, always a nice way to spice up a hike.
Ropes to help you stay on the path
After the fifth tunnel I turned left onto a dirt forest road. It was a very enjoyable and solitary walk in the middle of nowhere. After a while the road ended and became a small up and down trail along a narrow ridge – a true Chiba hiking path. Although there were almost no signposts, the path was well-maintained and had ropes along the tricky bits. After crossing some nice forest, I reached a high level area with some good views to the West through the trees – a good place for a lunch break. The sun which had been ducking in and out of the clouds, chose this moment to come out and warm me up.
A good place to stop for a late lunch
I was finally approaching the summit of Mt Sekison. The final climb to the top was along a staircase in dire need of some maintenance. The summit area was devoid of views but pleasantly green and peaceful. My research had revealed that there was a path from Mt Sekison all the way to the Pacific coast but I decided to keep that for another time. I started to head down to the entrance of the trail, and the end of my hike, but the trail soon vanished. Since the road wasn’t far I decided to simply head straight through the forest and I eventually emerged onto the road. Nearby was the lovely Shichirigawa Onsen and bus stop. However after enquiring at the onsen, I found out that the bus wasn’t running. Luckily the onsen owner offered to drive me to the train station about ten minutes away, after joining me for a hot bath!
Mt Hokyo (461m) & The Chiyoda Alps, Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday March 9
View of the Chiyoda Alps from the top of Mt Omachi
This is another hike that seemed difficult to access till Google Maps showed me the bus times. The bus from Tsuchiura, on the Joban line, runs all the way to Mt Tsukuba and was this quite crowded. However I was the only person to get off near the start of the trail up Mt Hokyo – it seems that most people go by car, as was made clear by the large parking area. There is also a nice rest house with pamphlets of all the trails. It was pretty empty when I was there but I am sure it must be quite lively later in spring. I decided to take the trail that went by Mt Sengen. At first it went through fields, then parallel to a beautiful mountain stream. The final part was a long steep slope (actually called the very very long slope).
Perfect view of Mt Tsukuba from the top of Mt Hokyo
After catching my breath at the top of Mt Sengen, I continued to the top of Mt Hokyo, about half an hour away. From the top, there were great views of Mt Tsukuba to the North, as well of my next destination, the Chiyoda Alps to the East, described in my guide book as a separate hike. However, since Mt Hokyo was quite a quick climb, I decided to try to combine them. There is a nice forest road (no signposts) leading to the busy Omote Tsukuba Skyline. Then it’s about an hour walking to get to the start of the Chiyoda Alps. On the way I passed by Mt Omachi (361m) 大町山, slightly off the road, and a launching spot for paragliders. I also passed by the Asahi Pass View Park, a parking area with great views of the very flat Ibaraki prefecture to the East. I also got to observe some hobbyists flying remote controlled planes.
Mt Tsukuba as viewed from the Chiyoda Alps
I finally reached the start of the Chiyoda Alps, after 2pm. There are two main peaks: Mt Yukiiri (345m) 雪入山 and Mt Sengen 浅間山 (345m). There were many escape routes to the left and the right. After what seemed like an interminable path, I reached Mt Gongen, the final peak of the hike, after 4pm. I quickly checked out the view and hurried on to to the closeby bus stop, from where I was able to get a bus back to Tsuchiura station.
Still too early for green leaves
Remote controlled plane doing loops in the sky
Mt Kumano (311m) & Mt Morigane Fuji (340m), Hitachiomiya City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sunday March 17
Path leading to the to the top of Mt Kumano
I decided to go to Ibaraki again because I wanted to check out Kairakuen Park in Mito, one of the 3 famous parks in Japan, especially famous for its plum blossoms. But first the hike: after arriving at Mito station in the morning, I got on the Suigun line and got off at the unmanned Shimoogawa Station one hour later – I was the only person to get off there since most people were heading to Mt Nantai further down the line.
The start of the hike up Mt Kumano
After crossing the river and passing by some beautiful plum blossom trees, I reached a beautiful forest path which I was able to enjoy all by myself. Eventually I reached a “torii” and a long staircase leading up to the top of Mt Kumano 熊野山, where there were good views of the Kuji river valley. I got to enjoy the last bits of sunshine before the clouds rolled in.
The summit is at the top of these steps!
The next part of the hike involved descending all the way down to the river, crossing to the other side and making my way to the start of the trail of Mt Morigane Fuji 盛金富士山, where there were some beautiful plum blossom trees in full bloom. Half way up, I emerged into an open space with great 360 degree views – if only the sun were out, it would have been perfect!
The best view of the hike
I spent some time here taking photos before continuing to the summit where the views were less good. The descent was surprisingly steep, and I was down in no time. It was only 2pm so I had plenty of time to check out the plum blossom garden in Mito City.
Mt Moto-kiyosumi (344m), Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday March 24
View of Hodai Dam on a blue-sky day
I really wanted to go back to Chiba before the warm weather arrived, and I was given a good opportunity by a high pressure system that brought cold but sunny weather to the whole of the Kanto area towards the end of March. Apparently Western Boso has the highest amount of rainfall in the whole of Chiba, but I hardly saw a cloud during my hike.
Start of the long ridge leading up Mt Moto-Kiyosumi
The start of the hike was from Hodai dam, a truly beautiful area with few people, which I reached by taxi from the train Awa-Kamogawa station. I saw even fewer people on the hike – a family of monkeys crossed the path at one point. After what seemed like an interminable hike along an up and down narrow ridge, I reached the top of the quiet, but viewless Mt Moto-kiyosumi 元清澄山 just before 1pm. A short way beyond, I rejoined the Kanto Furenai Michi, a network of paths covering the entire the Kanto area. This section was well maintained with good signposts.
The second part of the hike followed a well-maintained trail
After some ups and downs a reached a very enjoyable flat section which I followed all the way to an asphalt road. From there it was a fairly simple hike to Kiyosumi temple. I had originally planned to continue from there to Mamenbara Plateau but I was running late and that plan would likely have to be abandoned.
Tunnel #7 along an unexpected detour on my hike
I spotted by chance a trail to the right of the road and decided to check it out. It turned out to be quite a fascinating trail along the side of the mountain and passing through five eight tunnels – the last one had bats sleeping in it! Unfortunately the path did not reconnect with the road but followed an empty riverbed down the mountain. I had to give up and go back the way the I came. Once I was back on the road, I hurried along it to Kiyosumi temple about 45 minutes away. There were great views of the Chiba hills from various points. At the temple I boarded a minibus – I was the only passenger – back to the train station.
View of the hills of the Southern Boso Peninsula – endless hiking opportunities!