Mt Morai (1717m), Sakuho Town, Nagano Prefecture, Monday, October 5th, 2020

Having climbed Mt Ogura in 2018, I had wanted to do another hike in the same area, between Yatsugatake and Western Gunma. After checking my Nagano guidebook, I found the perfect candidate just ten kilometers to the north. I attempted it last year, but had to abort at the last minute because of poor weather (I visited Picchio in Karuizawa instead). Since access was with the Komi line via Saku-Daira, I needed to use the Tokyo Wide Pass. The weather on my chosen day was dubious, so I decided to delay my departure by a couple of hours to take advantage of sunnier weather forecast to arrive in the afternoon. Since it was a short hike, and I had planned to use a taxi to get to the start of the trail, a late start wouldn’t be an issue. So once again, my number one concern was the weather – would I get clear skies on my second attempt on this faraway mountain?

Panoramic view from the summit

I arrived at Haguroshita station at the rather late hour of 11am. The sky was still overcast but I was feeling optimistic. The taxi driver told me that the current Emperor, an avid hiker, had once climbed this mountain. The last kilometer of the road, including the parking area, was closed due to road repair, and so I expected to see no one else on the mountain today. The first part of the hike followed a forest road parallel to a river. The surrounding forest was wild and undisturbed, and it felt wonderful to be hiking in Nagano prefecture. I was occasionally startled by sudden noises coming from the forest – falling chestnuts, not a bear stepping on a branch. A little after noon, I reached the official start of the hiking trail. Looking up, I could see wide patches of blue sky.

Forest road at the start of the hike

One of the 100 giant trees of Japan

The trail climbed slowly through the dark and peaceful forest. It took me about half an hour to reach a giant Japanese Horse Chestnut tree (トチノキ tochinoki). It’s one of the hundred giant trees in Japan (I had last encountered one in Ibaraki earlier this year). After checking out this impressive giant tree, I continued on my way. For the first time while hiking, I spotted several daddy long-legs spiders (see video at the end). There were many fern plants on the ground, a nice change from bamboo grass. The path was getting steeper and steeper, and soon it became a series of switchbacks. I was quickly gaining altitude, and thirty minutes later I popped onto a ridge. I was greeted with a blast of cold wind, and I had to take a short break to add a layer of clothing.

Steep climbing among the ferns and birch trees

Hard to believe that the top is only minutes away

After only a few minutes of fast walking along the wooded ridge, I reached the rocky top of Mt Morai (茂来山 もらいさん moraisan) a little before 2pm. Above my head was a nice surprise – beautiful blue sky, as I had hoped. I dropped my pack and enjoyed the views. Spreading beneath me eastwards, were the low mountains of Nishi-Joshu (western Gunma). Straight ahead was the flat top of Mt Arafune, and to the right, was the serrated top of Mt Myogi. Southwards, I could see Mt Ogura, and behind it, the pointy top of Mt Kinpu. South-West, I could just make out the outline of the South Alps. Northwards was the populated valley of Saku. However, the summits of both Yatsugatake and Asamayama were still in the clouds. After spending a full hour on the summit, I started to head down.

Blue skies!

Dark clouds lingered above Mt Yatsu

I retraced my steps to where I had joined the ridgeline earlier, and continued straight. The path soon dived down the other side of the mountain. At times, it was faint and hard to follow, and I had to slow to check the way carefully. After a steep descent, the path leveled, and became easier to walk as it followed a small river. It took me just thirty minutes to descend all the way to the parking lot on the other side of the mountain. However, it was another hour and a half walk, first along a forest road, then a paved road, back to the station. The first part was along a river through beautiful forest; the second part went next to yellow rice fields ready for harvest (and a few already harvested), with good views of Mt Morai. I got to the small unmanned Kaize station at 5pm, fifteen minutes before the train arrived to take me back to Tokyo.

Caution: video features spiders!

Mt Morai with a banana hairstyle

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