Mt Mikasa (1013m), Mt Nekko (1035m), Mt Goto (944m), Mt Kon (933m) & Mt Tanaba (753m), Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday April 16
The final part of the hike had views galore
A hike of my own creation following the long northward curving ridge opposite Mt Amagi, smack in the center of the Izu Peninsula. If you haven’t hiked Mt Amagi yet, I would recommend that hike first, since this is simply a continuation of that hike. Here, I really appreciated the natural beauty of the Izu portion of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and was grateful that I could hike it as a day trip from Tokyo, even though it is over 120 km away from the capital.
The area between my position and Mt Fuji is not part of the National Park
First I had to get to the Amagi Pass bus stop (650m), a 40-minute bus ride from Shuzenji station at the end of the Izu-Hakone railway. From there it was a short hike to the top of the pass, a place I had passed previously on my descent of Mt Amagi. I turned right along the mostly level path and soon had some good views of snow-covered Fuji to the North, as well as the valley I had previously come through by bus. I soon arrived at Nihonsugi pass (the pass of the two cedar trees). There was a good sign board which included information in English. It’s also worth mentioning that the signs along the way were some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Most of the time the trail looks like this
I knocked off Mt Mikasa 三蓋山, Mt Nekko 猫越岳 and Mt Goto 後藤山 in succession, each peak surrounded by trees. I had occasional glimpses of Mt Fuji, passed a small pond, and saw quite a big toad on the trail, a fairly rare sighting in my experience. It was a beautiful hike during which I saw almost no one. Five hours and a half after setting out, I reached Nishina Pass and the West Izu road at around 2h30. After checking out the great views of Suruga Bay to the West, I turned North and started up another slope, starting to feel a little tired. I was buoyed by the sweeping views since the area is mostly farm pastures, as well as sakura trees in full bloom dotting the sides of the mountains.
Mountain sakura were in full bloom
At this point my hiking path was running parallel to the road, and after a number of passes, I reached the top of Mt Kon 魂の山 just before 4pm. A final effort brought me to Mt Tanaba 棚場山 at the end of the afternoon, just after 5pm, from where it was another hour to a bus stop and my ride back to Shuzenji, a town famous for its hot springs. The hiking path continues all the way to Mt Daruma, but I had already made a visit there the year before.
Spotting any kind of wildlife on a hike is always a source of excitement
Mt Futago (1165m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Sunday April 23
This hike mainly follows the entire length of the ridge
This was an exciting hike along a narrow ridge on the border of Saitama and Gunma prefectures, at the edge of the Chichibu mountains, and in the shadow of Mt Ryokami. It had been recommended to me a couple of years before by fellow hikers staying at the Kumotori lodge on New Year’s Eve. The trail looks deceptively short on the map but does require a full day of hiking. Mt Futago 二子山, meaning twin mountain because of its two peaks, can be reached by taking a first bus from Seibu-Chichibu Station, and then changing to a second bus at Ogano Town.
Chichibu as seen from Mt Futago
The first part of the hike is along a road. After you finally leave the road for the trail, there are some great views of the rocky double peak of the mountain, which seems quite impossible to reach. Once the path reaches the forested area at the base of the cliffs, it curves left under the rocky walls and finds a way up the Northern end of the mountain. It’s steep and roped but you’ll find yourself on the top ridge in no time. From here it’s important to progress with caution along the mostly level path, since there are drops on both sides. I had to be careful not to get distracted by the amazing views: Mt Ryokami and the other Chichibu mountains to the South, Kanna River valley and the mountains of Western Gunma to the North. On this perfect day, I also got to see the snowy tops of Yatsugatake and Asamayama.
North towards Gunma – the highest point is Mt Akaguna
I eventually reached the western peak where I took a well-deserved lunch break. People were climbing up the North cliff with all the proper equipment. It is at this point that I made a big mistake. After lunch, I continued straight along the ridge. I hadn’t bothered to read the description of the route in my Japanese guidebook (I now do this every time), and I had rushed ahead since I was a little behind schedule. Soon I found myself climbing down successive rocky faces with only thin ledges between them. I am used to the occasional rocky face, but they usually come with ropes, chains and ladders. However, here, there was nothing, just metal bits for attaching ropes.
The West Peak of Mt Futago
On one ledge, I had a good look up and down, and realised that I was in the midst of a cliff – this certainly wasn’t the right path. My knees started to shake uncontrollably since any mistake could lead to a fatal fall. At this stage, going back up was as risky as continuing down, so I gulped the remainder of my coffee, and proceeded downwards. I don’t think I have ever been so frightened since I did the “daikiretto” in the North Alps.
I mistakenly took the “advanced” red route instead of the “usual” blue one
Eventually I reached the base of the cliff and a little further the path merged with the path I should have taken. Soon I reached a pass where I left my pack and did a quick round trip to the lower and less impressive eastern summit. There were good views of the Western summit and the cliff I had just hiked down (shivers). After taking in the views, I decided it was time to head down since it was nearly 3pm. The descent down a forested valley was uneventful and I reached the bus stop around 4pm.
Mt Komotsurushi (1379m) & Mt Azegamaru (1293m), Nishi Tanzawa Mountains, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday April 30
Seeing Mt Fuji is one of joys of hiking in Japan
This was another of my original hikes, and it’s also part of the Tokai hiking trail. I really wanted to walk through the westernmost area of the Tanzawa mountain range, but none of the peaks were featured in my guide book. This is probably because the area is rather difficult to access, despite being half the distance of my previous hike to Izu. The problem lies with the adjacent Doshi valley, which has extremely poor public transport. One needs to take a bus from Sagamiko station and then change to another bus. However the transfer times don’t line up so if you go that way you can’t make it back the same day.
Across Doshi Valley – Mt Shotai
Instead I took what must be the most roundabout route ever to approach the start of the trail – from behind. First I took a train from Shinjuku to Fujisan station via Otsuki. There I caught a bus to Yamanaka lake, where I changed to another bus heading to Doshi village, and finally got off at Yamabushi Pass. Despite the long detour, I was ready to start hiking at 10h30. I was the only person to set off on the trail to the top of the ridge. There I turned left (Northeast) towards the Tanzawa mountains with the Fuji area to my back. In the clear spring weather, I had good views of Mt Fuji along the way as well as Mt Shotai to the North. The trail was easy to hike and I saw no one.
A really easy trail to hike
There were some escape routes to the left down into Doshi valley but since there are hardly any buses running there, they are pretty useless. I soon passed the summit of Mt Komotsurushi 菰釣山 and its nice and clean emergency hut that had just opened for the season at the beginning of April – the visitor book showed some guests had already stayed there. This peaceful and relaxing hike eventually brought me to the top of Mt Azegamaru 畦ヶ丸山 with a nice stone summit marker. There is no view but there is another emergency a little bit before the summit.
A man-made waterfall on the final section of the hike
From there, it was an interesting descent down a rocky river valley with multiple crossings along small wooden bridges to the Nishi Tanzawa nature center. Curiously, the signs changed from the usual white paint on wood, to the unusual black paint on yellow painted metal. They seemed quite new and I’ve never seen such signs anywhere else. At the Nature Center, which I reached shortly before 5pm, I caught a bus back to Shin Matsuda station for a much shorter ride home.
Mt Gangaharasuri (1874m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday May 20
Mt Gangaharasuri as seen from Mt Ubako
This is another summit I had been eyeing for a while but couldn’t figure out how to access it without a car. In the end I saw no other way but to walk for 2 hours along an asphalt road. The starting point was the final stop of the Fujikyu bus from Otsuki station on the Chuo line – I was the sole passenger as usual. The first part was quite pleasant, following a river. Less than an hour out, I passed a taxi coming down the mountain. Only after it disappeared from sight, I realised I could have used it to get to the start of the trail since it would have cost half or less of what it would cost to go from Otsuki station.
A mountain stream in the heart of Yamanashi prefecture
I finally reached the parking area at Otoge pass (1560m) just after 11h30. I took a short break and enjoyed the good views of Mt Fuji. Luckily the summit was only 45 minutes further and 300m higher along a nice hiking trail. The top of Mt Gangaharasuri 雁ヶ腹摺山, located just North of the Chuo Line and West of Otsuki, is one of the 12 viewpoints of Mt Fuji in the Otsuki area. After lunch, I headed down a different path. At first it was pretty steep but soon I emerged at the top of Mt Ubako where there were some good views of the peak I had just descended.
Mt Fuji less clear in the late May haze
After that it was a long descent along a forested ridge during which I met no other hikers – most other people having done the roundtrip from the pass by car. Eventually I went down a short path to the right to join up with a road and a couple of inns. Unfortunately they didn’t allow daytime use of their hot baths, so I walked along the road till the bus stop and got back to Otsuki station where I caught a train home and a shower.