Mt Sajiki (1915m), Mt Murakami (1746m) and Mt Kakuma (1980m), Gunma Prefecture, Sunday, September 1st 2019

Continuing my tour of Japan’s National Parks, I next visited the Joshin-Etsu-Kogen National Park in Gunma prefecture. Despite the poor weather forecast, I decided to risk taking the shinkansen to Ueda city. There, I rented a car and drove up the Western part of Mt Asama. I had been there a few years ago to climb Mt Yunomaru and Mt Eboshi, but there were a few more peaks that had remained unclimbed.

The balding top of Mt Yunomaru, climbed in November 2015

From Ueda station, I could see that the mountains were in the clouds, and on the way up I encountered thick mist. Fortunately, I broke through it before I reached Yunomaru Kogen above 1700m, and I even had some sun after I parked my car. I immediately rushed up the hiking trail, since I knew that the blue sky that had opened up overhead wouldn’t last. The path was quite nice, and I reached the top of Mt Sajiki 棧敷山 at exactly 11 o’clock. I had an excellent view of Mt Azuma and Mt Kusatsu-Shirane, hundred famous mountains I had already climbed.

Mt Azuma, climbed at the end of May 2012

I retraced my steps for a few minutes, and turned left to take an alternative path down. I soon reached a lookout point towards Yunomaru Kogen. At this point, the weather had become overcast, but luckily the clouds were quite high, and I could make out the Japanese Alps in the distance. The path then descended quite steeply. After it bottomed out, I was walking in a spooky, dark forest . I soon arrived at an intersection for the small brother of Mt Sajiki – I decided to check it out. I soon reached the top of Mt Kosajiki 小棧敷山 but the views were limited. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to get back to my car.

The highest point of Mt Asama

I drove on to my next target at Kazawa Kogen 鹿沢高原. This time, I simply had to go up and down the same trail. I walked as fast as I could up the relatively easy path and reached the summit of Mt Murakami 村上山 just before noon. I was greeted by a vast panorama of Western Gunma, centered on Tashiro Lake. The views were wider than the previous summit and it was a good place to enjoy some lunch.

 

Mt Kusatsu-Shirane and Tashiro Lake

I quickly made my way back down and drove back up to Kazawa Onsen 鹿沢温泉. It was 2h30 and I had one more peak to climb, but I had to be back by 4h30 for the last entry at the hot spring. I raced up and reached the top of Mt Kakuma 角間山 a little after 3h30. Nearing 2000m, the vegetation had become alpine. While I was taking pictures of the view, it suddenly started raining, which for once was a good thing, since it forced me to head back down rather quickly. I half ran back the same way, and made it to the onsen with a few minutes to spare.

 

View Westwards from the top of Mt Kakuma

NEXT UP: Hiking from Yanagisawa Pass to Shirasawa Pass (Yamanashi Prefecture)

Mt Asamakakushi (1757m), Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture

For this hike, I drove a rental car from Takasaki city to a small parking area near the entrance of the trail to the mountain. Starting from an elevation of 1450m at 11am, the hike to the top took only one hour. Although the top of Mt Asamakakushi 浅間隠し, meaning “Hidden Asama” was similar to that of my previous hike, it was a lot colder, since I was further North.

Yatsugatake in the background

The view of snow covered Asamayama to the West was breathtaking. I could also see the entire Joshin-Estsu mountains forming the Northern edge of the Kanto plain; there are just too many mountains to list here. Southwards, I could make out the Yatsugatake range, Karuizawa and the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Finally the three holy mountains of Gunma – Myohgi, Haruna and Akagi – were all visible in the same panorama.

The Joshinetsu mountains

After an hour taking pictures and eating lunch in near freezing temperatures, I made my way down the same way I had come up. Once back to the car, I drove to the onsen at Hamayu Sanso at the base of the mountain. I got there just before 2pm and I was able to warm myself up, before driving back to Takasaki station.

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Mt Settou (1736m), Mt Junigadake (1683m) Kawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture

I had already hiked parts of the Misaka mountains – the mountainous area between Mt Fuji and the Oku-Chichibu mountains (for example Mt Ou to Mt Oni). However, I had never hiked the central part, between Kawaguchi and Saiko lakes. I decided to approach from Ashigawa valley on the North side, and finish at lake Saiko, on the South side. I took the Chuo line to Isawa Onsen station, and then the bus to the farmer’s market in Ashigawa 芦川. I had a very good impression of the place since they offered me free tea while I got ready for my hike!

Kawaguchiko City surrounded by nature

I started out after 10am, and walked along the road for about 20 minutes to the start of the trail, which then went straight up the side of the mountain, through trees completely bare of leaves. I reached Oishi pass (1515m) 大石峠 around noon. I had been there once before when hiking from Mt Kuro further to the East. This time I turned right and continued Westards along the ridge.

Kofu valley and beyond the Oku-chichibu mountains

The hiking path went up and down a wide ridge through beautiful evergreen forest. I had occasional views of Mt Fuji to my left, lake Kawaguchi behind me, and the Ashigawa valley to my right. I soon reached the top of Mt Settou 節刀ヶ岳 the third highest mountain along the ridge, after Mt Mitsumine and Mt Oni. From there I could see all the way to the Southern Alps, and the Kofu valley.

Against the sun, looking back towards Minobu

After admiring the view, I started to head down towards Saiko lake. Soon, I had to negotiate a slightly tricky bit involving some rocks and chains. After that, I arrived at the top of Mt Junigadake 十二ヶ岳 which translates simply as “Peak 12”, from where I had some more great views of Mt Fuji ahead of me. I now had two options. The path to the left was an exciting ridge including suspended bridges. Alternatively, I could head straight down to Izumi no Yu, a hot spring on the side of Saiko Lake. Since it was already 3pm, I decided to head down, and leave the exciting ridge for another hike.

Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part II : Karuizawa

In this post we shall explore the Karuizawa area on the Nagano shinkansen line beyond Takasaki. Unfortunately, since the start of the Hokuriku shinkansen in 2015, reserved seats tend to sell out quickly during holidays due to the continuing Kanazawa boom.

Karuizawa (around 70 minutes from Tokyo station) has 3 things going for it:

1) It sits at the foot of the active volcano Mt Asamayama (current status: smoking)

2) John Lennon used to live there for a while with Yoko Ono

3) Situated at 940m above sea level, it’s a pleasant place to visit in the summer months.

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Asamayama from the Hanamagariyama hike

Below are some hiking suggestions (for Mt Asama see the post on Sakudaira): 

 

  • Karuizawa station to Yokokawa station (Dentetsu main line, return via Takasaki)

This is a great hike on the old Nakasendo route connecting Takasaki to Karuizawa with great views of  Mt Asama, Mt Myougi and the Nishijoshuu area. There is an abandoned station and railway line at the end and monkeys can be seen in the warmer months. 

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View of Yokokawa from the Nakasendo trail
  • Mt Hanamagari 鼻曲山 1655m, Kanto 100 famous mountain

Access is by bus but you can walk back to the station. This hike is on the ridge opposite Mt Asama and has good views of Mt Asamakakushi (North) and the Kirizumi onsen area (East). It was a rather dull walk through the bare forest in the winter, but should be nicer when greener. 

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Mt Tsunoochi (left) & Mt Ken-no-mine (right)
  • Mt Asamakakushi 浅間隠山 1756m, 200 famous mountain (climbed in 2017)

It’s a long walk along a road from the closest bus stop in Kita-Karuizawa unless you can hitch a ride. There is an option to descend to Asamakakushi onsen and ride a bus to Nakanojo on the Agatsuma line (return via Takasaki) but buses only run on weekdays.  

  • Mt Happu ハ風山 1315m to Mt Arafune 荒船山 1423m, 200 famous mountain

This is a long hike for fast walkers connecting Minami-Karuizawa with the Nishijoushuu area. Access is by bus and ends at Arafune onsen (last bus to bus to Shimonita is at 15:46). The hike can be shortened by descending from the farm near Monomiyama 物見山 1375m.

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View of Karuizawa & Mt Asama from Mt Happu
  • Kirizumi onsen area 霧積温泉

I haven’t explored this area yet since access is only via car or taxi but it seems to have some interesting and exciting mountains.

  • Mt Kusatsu-Shirane 草津白根山 2171m, a hundred famous mountain

There is a bus from Karuizawa station which (with one change) will take you all the way to the pass below Mt Shirane (2010m) and beyond to Shiga kogen 志賀高原. I haven’t done this yet with the pass. Mt Shirane is currently active and some parts may be off-limits. 

  • Shiroito waterfall 白糸の滝

The waterfall is less than 30 minutes away by bus and you can walk back to the station in around 4 hours through beautiful woods. This is a relatively easy hike and beautiful in the autumn months.

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View of Nishijoushuu from the Nakasendo route