Hiking in Tohoku: Mt Kurikoma (1626m), Miyagi Prefecture, October 2020

On October 16th, JR East introduced the JR East Welcome Rail Pass 2020. For just 12000 yen, I could travel for 3 consecutive days in Kanto, Nagano, Niigata and the whole of Tohoku, including the use of the shinkansen. My first thought was: “How many mountains can I climb thanks to this?” The second was: “Can I do them as day trips from Tokyo?” Up to now I had been mostly limited to the Kanto area, but now, thanks to the shinkansen, my strike zone had been considerably expanded. For this first mountain, I had to leave Tokyo before 6am to catch the 9am bus from Ichinoseki station on the Tohoku shinkansen line, nearly 400 kilometers North of Tokyo. I had 6 hours to complete the hike, which seemed more than enough. I would even have time for a hot bath at Sukawa Onsen (須川温泉) near the start of the hiking trail. I didn’t have a hiking guide book for Miyagi prefecture, so I relied on Wes Lang’s description of the route. The weather forecast seemed good: some clouds, some sun, and most importantly, no rain. I was ready for my first hike in Miyagi prefecture.

Crossing Nagorigahara Marsh

Sukawa Onsen’s big rotemburo

There was some construction going on in front of the bus stop at Ichinoseki station, and I wasn’t sure where to stand in line for the bus. In the end, there was just one other passenger, also a hiker, so there was ample seating space for the ninety-minute trip. The ride from the valley up to Sukawa Onsen at 1100 meters was spectacular: even though the clouds were in, the autumn colours were still at their peak. After getting off the bus at 10:30, I had a quick look around in the visitor center, which would certainly be closed by the time I finished my hike. They had an interesting collection of stuffed wildlife, including several bears. Directly opposite was an outdoor bath, one option for the after-hike soak. Just beyond, a hot water stream rushed down the mountain side, creating puffs of steam (see video), reminding me that today’s mountain was also an active volcano.

Autumn colours were still at their peak

One of the several streams on the mountain

I reached the start of the hiking path at the top of some stone steps, and very soon I had some good views of the mountainous area to the North. This time, I was inside the Kurikoma Quasi-National Park (栗駒国定公園) and it seemed very wild and devoid of human activity. Around 11h30, I arrived at Nagorigahara marsh (名残ヶ原), crossed via a wooden walkway like in the Oze marshlands. The weather continued to be mostly overcast, with occasional sunny spells, and I was worried that the summit would be in the clouds. I passed the junction for the most direct route up to the summit, currently closed due to high levels of volcanic gas. I was now back on a muddy hiking trail. After crossing several streams, the trail started to climb. Soon I was above the trees, and there were good views north and east.

Path leading down to Kurikoma highland in Miyagi

View North towards Iwate

Around 12h30, I reached the final climb to the summit. There were patches of snow here and there, but none on the trail itself, which was a relief, since I hadn’t brought crampons. At 1pm, I was standing on the top of Mt Kurikoma (栗駒山 くりこまやま kurikomayama), one of the 200-famous mountains of Japan. I was surprised to see several other hikers; apparently the trail on the other side from Kurikoma Highland (car access only) is more popular. Miyagi prefecture stretched away beneath me to the east; south and north were many mountains I couldn’t identity since I wasn’t familiar with the area. No sooner had I finished lunch that the mist arrived. There were no more views and it was suddenly very cold. It was nearly 2pm and heading down at once seemed like a good idea.

Different path on the return through the marshland

The changing room at Kurikoma Sanso

I descended the same way as before but turned left in the marshland so that I could return via a different route. It took me through an area with white sand that reminded me of my hike on Kozushima island. I was back at Sukawa onsen at 3h30 and had an hour before the return bus. I decided to take a bath at Kurikoma Sanso a few minutes down the road inside Akita prefecture, since it had an outdoor bath with a view of the valley. It was a good decision since the bath was nearly empty at this time and it was very relaxing. Afterwards, I caught the 4h30 bus back to Ichinoseki station, with the same hiker as on the way there. At the shinkansen station, I hopped on the Tohoku shinkansen for the 2h30 high-speed ride back to Tokyo.

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