Tsuru Pass to Okutama Lake & Monkeys, Yamanashi & Tokyo Prefectures, Sat May 25 2019


Temperatures were unseasonably hot at the end of May – up to 35 degrees in Tokyo – so it made sense to start my hike from a higher point. I decided to take the bus from Uenohara station to Tsuru Pass 鶴峠, squarely inside Yamanashi prefecture at nearly 900m. On the way, I passed through the charming village of Saihara, one of the area’s hidden wonders. This hike is an original hike not featured in any of my guidebooks. It’s main purpose is to connect two bus stops without passing any major summits on the way (although a detour via Mt Mito can be made).

Once I got off the bus, just below the pass, I couldn’t believe how hot it was at 10am. Luckily it was a dry heat. To reach the start of the hike, I had to cross the road and take a hard-to-spot ascending path. There is another path going up to the left, towards Mt Narakura 奈良倉山 (1349m) which I climbed from the other side the year before. After barely a few minutes, I came across part of a deer leg lying across the path. Just the foreleg, with fur and hoof at the end. “Some animal must have killed the deer and left just this part here” I thought to myself. “…but what animal??”

Pleasant May hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

Shortly after, the path for Mt Mito 三頭山 branched to the right, and hugged the side of the mountain to the right. It was very peaceful until two ladies popped out of the forest above me – they had mistakenly continued straight along the previous road. After confirming they were now on the correct path, I soon left them behind. The trail gradually rose through the forest. There were few views but I was glad to be in the shade on this hot day.

One of the rare views along the way: Mt Kumotori

After one hour of pleasant and mostly solitary hiking, I reached the junction for Mt Mito and hesitated : should I continue along what had been up to now a nice, quiet and mostly flat path, or should I climb up to the top of Mt Mito, which I had submitted twice before, and where there was bound to be tons of people? I chose the former option, and I was quite glad I did, because it soon became obvious that I wasn’t just following a hiking path. It was actually an old road that had probably been in use for generations; some sections had been propped up with stones. I had already hiked a similar road in the same area a few years before.

It was thrilling to follow the remnants of an old road high up a mountain

After another hour, I reached a second junction with Mt Mito. Here I turned left and headed down the mountain towards lake Okutama and into Tokyo prefecture. I had also entered the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, although there were no markers or signs to indicate this; I only realised this while writing this blog post – a real shame! The descent was gentle at first, but soon there were some steep bits with ropes; these are fine for climbing, but going down them can be quite a pain!

The author posing on a minor summit on the way down to Okutama lake

Soon, Okutama lake came into view and, after a couple of ups and downs, I finally emerged onto a road circling the lake, nearly two hours after I had started down. Here, my plan was to take something called a floating bridge “ukihashi” 浮橋 across the lake, but I was informed via a sign that it was closed at the moment. Nonetheless, I decided to check it out. While following the road, I saw a green snake. After some prodding with a branch, I realised that it was dead, despite looking very much alive. Apparently, it had been hit by a vehicle moving at high speed, and only suffered a “nick” to a part of the body, which was enough to kill it.

Even dead, the snake looked very much alive!

After a while I reached some steps leading towards the lake, and very soon I was able to lay eyes on the floating bridge. It had been detached from the shore I was on, and thus ended in the middle of the lake. The reason given was strong winds. Just opposite, was my bus stop. Now, in order to reach it, I had to circle round, a detour of about half an hour. I wandered back despondly, and decided to continue along the path circling the lake in the opposite direction since I had an hour to kill till the next bus.

The floating bridge floating in the middle of the lake

I was glad I did, because I got to see monkeys, lots of them, resting, playing and feeding in the trees. Eventually, one of them was sitting next to the path and I didn’t dare go further. In any case, I was quite content to take photos and videos. Soon my time was up, and I had to rush back along the road in order to catch the bus back to Okutama station. The views of the mountains surrounding the lake were beautiful – I don’t often get to see this area in perfect weather. It was pretty hot around the lake in the late afternoon, and it felt nice to sit inside the air conditioned bus!

View of deep blue Okutama lake under a light blue sky

Monkey in the way!

If you like monkeys, check out this compilation video


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