Mt Azuma (481m), Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture

I wanted to do another hike in the Kiryu area since its low hilly terrain is perfect for winter. I had already completed all the ones in my hiking book, but searching online, I noticed that a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” went up a peak I had yet to climb, before going down the other side and ending at a nature center and a bus stop. It was a little on the short side, so I decided to extend it with a roundtrip to the next peak along the same ridge; the trail continued further for another 5 km to Mt Narukami, which I had climbed two years ago. If I walked that far, I probably wouldn’t make it down before dark, so I decided to keep that section for a longer day. I had been to Kiryu station before so I knew exactly how to get there. Since there was no bus to catch to the start of the trail, I could be flexible with my departure time, something which is much appreciated on cold winter mornings!

View of Kiryu city from the Kite’s Rock

I got to Kiryu station in under 2 hours on a sunny and windless day – ideal conditions for hiking. After a thirty minute walk through a residential neighbourhood, I reached the entrance of Azuma Park behind a temple, and the start of the hiking trail. Today’s mountain seemed popular with families, and many children were having fun climbing the steep, rocky “man’s slope” (男坂). The rocks formed a kind of natural staircase and it was easier to go up than it seemed at first.

View of the Hachioji Hills from the top of Mt Azuma

Nice hiking north of Kiryu city

I soon had my first view of the day from the Kite’s Rock (トンビ岩). Eastwards and directly below, Kiryu city filled up all available flat space between hilly ridgelines. Directly south, the Hachioji Hills stretched west to east between the city and the Kanto plain. However, I couldn’t spot any Black Kites circling above the valley. After some more steep climbing, I arrived at the top of Mt Azuma (吾妻山 あづまやま azumayama), a little after noon.

The long ridge leading to Mt Senjin

Viewpoint near the highest point of the hike

It was unseasonably warm – a thermometer under the summit sign indicated 20°C! The views were similar to before and, after finding a place to sit, I had an early lunch. The summit was getting crowded, and I decided to set off again after twenty minutes. The trail followed the gentle ridge northwards through a mixed forest of pine and cedar. I had occasional views on both sides; to the east was the long ridge leading to Mt Senjn; to the west, I could make out the shape of Mt Akagi despite the midday haze. I had seen no other hikers since lunch, and it was very peaceful.

Less protection from the wind along this section

Looking west, Mt Akagi faintly visible on the right

An hour later, I passed the turn-off for the nature center. I continued up the ridge and was rewarded with a sweeping view to the south. I could see the forested ridge I had walked up, and beyond, the Kanto plain, a vast urban area, its many buildings reflecting the afternoon sun. Past this viewpoint, the trail entered a leafless forest; unimpeded, the cold winter wind now swept over the ridge. At 2pm, I was standing at the top of Mt Ogata (681m 大形山). My map promised a view to the south but it was completely obscured by trees, even without their leaves. However, I did get a glimpse of Mt Narukami on the North side.

Last view of the day from the Nature Observation Forest

Some easy hiking to finish the day

I walked back to the previous viewpoint where I sat down for a short break under the warm sun. By 3pm, I was on the path for the nature center, heading down and west; thirty minutes later I reached the Nature Observation Forest (自然観察の森). There were several paths through this forest, and since the bus wasn’t due for another hour, I tried to pick the longest one. I reached the bus stop at 4h30, a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, and I was back at Kiryu station by 5pm, where I boarded a local train for the 2 hour ride back to Tokyo.

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