Mt Iwatakeishi (793m), Mt Kuro (842m) & Mt Onita (505m), Ome and Hanno Cities, Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures, January 2021

I was looking for some more “Kanto no Fureai trails” close to Tokyo. I found a promising section in the Okutama area and decided to combine it with a couple of nearby mountains, forming a zigzag hike, straddling Tokyo and Saitama prefectures. My main concern was whether I would have enough time to complete what seemed like an ambitious hike. The last section followed local trails that weren’t shown on my hiking map, and I was hoping they would be easy to follow. I had been to the area many times before, so I was familiar with the way there and back. The weather forecast was good, and I was looking forward to my first multi-prefecture hike in a while.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

Looking east towards Tokyo

I arrived at Kawai station at 9h30 on a sunny winter day. I quickly made my way down to the Ome-Kaido road to catch the bus scheduled to arrive in a few minutes. I got off before the other passengers headed for Bonomine, and followed the signs, first through the village, and then along a paved forest road, which later became a dirt road. At 10h30, just when I was starting to think that I would be walking on this road all the way to the top, I spotted the hiking trail leading off to the right and up the mountain side.

The low, hilly area of Oku-Mukashi

The path to Mt Takamizu

The trail went up a small valley through a gloomy, dark forest. Suddenly, it veered left, leaving the valley and hugging the sunny mountain side. It took me another twenty minutes to reach Nasaka pass (名坂峠). Today’s hike was along the ridge to the left, but, I decided to first do a short round trip to the peak on the right. At 11am, I was standing on the top of Mt Iwatakeishi (岩茸石山 いわたけいしやま iwatakeishi-yama), a Kanto hundred famous mountain I had climbed once before in the spring a few years ago. There were so many people at the top it was hard to find a place to sit down!

On the left, Mt Kawanori

The ridge leading down from Mt Kuro towards Kosawa pass

The view was a lot better than I remembered. To the east was the summit of Mt Takamizu; looking north, I could see the mountains of Oku-Musashi; eastwards was Mt Kawanori and Mt Honita. I walked south along the summit ridge to another viewpoint, where I could see right through the middle of the Okutama mountains all the way to Daibosatsurei and the long ridge leading away from it to the south. After having a late breakfast, I made my way back to the pass and started the long climb along the ridge, part of the Fureai no Michi, leaving the crowds behind me.

In the back, Daibosatsurei

This is still inside Tokyo Prefecture

There were almost no other hikers along this section and it was very peaceful. It was also quite warm, and felt like March rather than January. After about an hour, I reached a viewpoint above a cliff from where I could see Mt Mitake and its shrine to the south; behind and on the right was Mt Odake; Mt Fuji, further behind, was hidden by the clouds. I reached the lonely but sunny top of Mt Kuro (黒山くろやま kuroyama meaning black mountain). There was no view but there was a bench in the sun so I sat down and had some lunch. I decided to skip Bonomine, which I had climbed several times before, and head down another ridge; it formed a sharp angle with the one I had just come up, like a bent elbow.

Looking towards Mt Mitake

A good place for a break

Here the trail became more difficult to follow; I was no longer following the Fureai no Michi, and the signposts were less frequent. At one point, I passed a group of lumberjacks just as the tree they had been cutting crashed to the ground (I was at a safe distance). Just afterwards, I crossed a forest road where a group of hunters was getting ready. They had a loud barking dog, but fortunately it was locked inside a cage. I started to walk faster to put some distance between myself and the hunt. Suddenly, I was no longer on the path. Using Google Maps, I saw that the ridge curved northwards around this point. I retraced my steps and quickly found the trail again.

The sunny top of Mt Kuro

Still sunny through the leafless trees

I could hear the noise of barking getting ever closer. The hunting dog eventually caught up and overtook me. Having seemed quite agressive earlier on, it showed no interest in me. Later on, it passed me again on its way back, having failed to find anything hunt-worthy (see video). On the left side, I had some glimpses of the Iruma valley. Around 2h30, the path started to descend steeply and I saw some towering cedar trees. This section was very beautiful and I was glad it was protected since it was part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park. At 3pm I reached Kosawa Pass (小沢峠). It was later than I had planned and I needed to quicken the pace if I wanted to be able to climb today’s last mountain before dark.

Mostly hiking through forest at lower altitude

Approaching the last mountain of the day

The sun was already low on the horizon and I had to be careful not to miss the frequent twists and turns of the trail through the dark forest. It took me one hour and a lot of ups and downs to reach the top of Mt Onita (大仁田山 おおにたやま oonita-yama). There was a small gap through the trees on the east side through which I could see the flat Kanto plain. For some reason, one side of the summit sign was in English. I took a short break before heading down as fast as I could. It took me 20 minutes to reach the road and the bus stop. At 5h30 I was at Hanno station where I got the Limited Express train for Tokyo, relieved that I had managed to complete this long hike before sunset.

Check out the views from the top of Mt Iwatakeishi

Mt Honita (1224m), Okutama Town, Tokyo Prefecture, December 2020 [Monkeys]

For my final hike of the year, I decided to look for something not too far nor too difficult. I wanted everything to go smoothly since many services close around the New Year. I settled on a mountain that could be done station to station on the Okutama line. It was next to Mt Kawanori which I had climbed several years ago in the spring. Back then, the skies were clear but hazy, so I was hoping for better views in the crisp winter weather; perhaps I might even spot Mt Fuji. A less popular climb than its neighbour, I was hoping for a peaceful and solitary hike inside the national park closest to Tokyo.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

Hiking up Mt Honita

I reached Hatonosu station at 10am on a blue sky winter day. I soon found the start of the hiking trail, and after climbing through the village, entered the forest covering the mountain side. One hour later, I arrived at the first trail junction, marked by a small shrine. I took a short break and then headed up the left branch. The path climbed gradually through dark forest. At noon, I emerged from the trees onto a steep ridge partly free of trees. By now, however, thin clouds had rolled in; looking back, the views east towards Tokyo weren’t as good as I had hoped. A little later I was standing on the top of Mt Kobutaka (1116m コブタカ山).

Still sunny in the morning

Getting cloudy around noon

I continued without a break, and after some more climbing, reached the top of Mt Honita (本仁田山 ほにたやま honitayama). Despite the high clouds, I was able to see Mt Fuji, just to the left of Mt Mito, and perfectly framed by the surrounding trees. Its snowy top was still incomplete, unusual so late in the year. I sat down on a tree stump opposite Japan’s highest mountain and had lunch. It felt cold without the sun, and I soon moved on. The descent was steep and some sections were lined with rocks; I had to be careful not to stumble here, especially since it felt like I was alone on the mountain. Before I knew it, I was already halfway down the mountain. By now, the sun had returned, and it felt a lot warmer; today’s hike was turning out pretty well.

Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Honita

The sun has returned

Around 2pm, I heard some noise from the forest; looking carefully, I spotted monkeys! this was my fourth time to see them this year. Like the previous times, they were rather cautious and kept their distance. The terrain here was steep and rocky, and I couldn’t move far from the path to take pictures. I had to use the zoom of my smartphone camera, balancing image stability with monkey visibility. I finally gave up and continued on my way. Suddenly, around a bend, I spotted a solitary monkey about 10 meters from the path. He didn’t seem to mind me and let himself be filmed while cracking open nuts with his teeth (see video). I had hoped for a solitary hike, but I was glad to enjoy the company of the locals!

An Okutama monkey

The Okutama factory

At 2h30, I let the monkeys finish their meal in peace, and resumed my peaceful hike. Ten minutes later, I reached a road at the end of the trail. As I walked back to the station, I passed by the Okutama Industrial Plant. It was an eyesore and a fascinating sight at the same time; an ugly metallic structure inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park just minutes away from a wild monkey habitat, it was a scene that seemed to belong to a Hayao Miyazaki movie. It reminded of the factory at the base of Mt Buko. At 3pm, I was back at Okutama station, a 90-minute train ride from Shinjuku.

See the monkeys of Okutama in action

Sengenrei (903m), Hinohara Town, Tokyo Prefecture, November 2020

I had good memories hiking this ridgeline in 2014, so I was keen to redo it. This time, instead of starting from the bottom of the valley, I decided to start from near the base of Mt Mito. I would mostly be walking on level or downhill terrain, a rare thing in Japan, so I was looking forward to a relaxing ramble. Last time, I had still been able to see some autumn colours, so I was hoping I would be lucky again, even though the season was nearly over. I also decided to skip the Hossawa falls at the end, since I knew there was less water at this time of the year. The weather forecast was perfect: blue skies and higher than average temperatures. I wasn’t sure if anything could make this hike better.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

View of Mt Gozen from the top of Sengenrei

It was still early when I got off the bus at the Citizen’s forest (都民の森). While the other passengers headed up Mt Mito, I continued on the sidewalk next to the road for Okutama lake. After it ended abrubtly, I was forced to walk on the winding but busy mountain road. It didn’t feel very safe, but fortunately, I soon arrived at the Sengenone parking lot, where there was an excellent view of the ridgeline I would be following today. After getting ready, I walked past a sign informing me that I was inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, and entered the hiking trail a little after 10am.

The Sengen Ridge in the autumn

Hiking a level trail through the forest

Barely 15 minutes later, I reached the first peak of the day, Mt Obayashi 1078m (御林山 おばやしやま obayashiyama). Some trees had been cut down so it was possible to see the view southwards – I recognised the ridge I had hike over a year ago. There was no wind, and no noise, except for the song of a nearby bird. Even though I had just set out, I sat down for a few minutes to enjoy the peace and quiet. After setting off, I quickly reached another clearing with an even better view to the south. The trail was mostly level, with some small ups and down and frequent signposts. Half an hour later, I reached the trail junction I had hiked up 6 years ago; from now, the trail would be more familiar.

The ridge I hiked in June 2019

There were many statues and other religious icons along the trail

I passed a good viewpoint of Mt Gozen on the left, one of the 3 mountains of Okutama. A little further, I arrived at a huge boulder called Saru-Ishi (サル石) because the pattern on the face of the rock resembles the handprint of a monkey. Just before 1pm, I reached a wide deforested area on the left. I had an excellent view of Mt Gozen, Mt Odake (another of the 3 Okutama mountains), and Mt Mitake. In the distance, I could also see Mt Kumotori, the highest point of Tokyo prefecture, and a hundred famous mountain of Japan. I was tempted the stop for lunch, but I knew that the summit with an equally good view, wasn’t far away.

A narrow path following the mountainside

Climbing towards the sun

I reached a junction where both branches were signposted for the summit. On my previous hike I had taken the level path on the left. This time, I took the right branch for the summit of Koiwa-Sengen 908m (小岩浅間). The trail was rather faint and there was no view, so I concluded that the left path was probably the better of the two. Walking down the other side, I soon reached the Sengen Ridge Rest Area (浅間尾根休憩所) where a group of people were having lunch. This is also where the trail merged with the Kanto Fureai no Michi climbing up from the valley on the right. I continued without stopping to the Sengenrei viewpoint just a few minutes away.

Mt Gozen, with Mt Kumotori behind on the left

Mt Odake with a white leafless birch tree in the front

I had the viewpoint entirely to myself. Since it was already 1h30, I sat down on one of the benches surrounded by the pale yellow “suzuki” and enjoyed lunch with a view. Although Sengenrei (浅間嶺 せんげんれい) felt more like a ridgeline, it had a proper summit marker at the highest point. Thin wisps of white cloud had now appeared in the sky, but it was still warm under the late autumn sun. I set off again just before 2pm. After passing a flat area with some beautiful autumn colours, the path started to descend. Suddenly, a helicopter flew by overhead, disturbing the quiet of the forest. I supposed it was bringing supplies to the mountain huts in the area.

Double view of Mt Gozen and Mt Odake with autumn leaves in the foreground

Rocky path down the mountain

The trail left the ridgeline and followed a rocky path next to a small stream. Eventually, I arrived at a soba restaurant (closed today), on the bend of a paved road, which I now had to walk on for a short while. Fortunately, there was no traffic. I walked past a small shrine and a good view of Mt Odake, and arrived at Tokisaka pass (時坂峠) just before 3pm. Here, I ducked down a small hiking path on the right, under a huge fiery red maple tree. The path descended quickly and soon I was walking among small fields and small houses. After walking down a staircase covered in fallen leaves, I joined a paved road leading to the Hossawa Falls marking the end of the hike.

One of the short road sections along the hike

Huge maple tree at Tokisaka Pass

I noticed some movement on the left side just as I walked through Hossawa Falls parking lot. Taking a closer look, I saw a couple of monkeys scampering besides the small river below. I was pretty excited, since it was only my third time seeing wild monkeys this year. Scanning the side of the mountain, I realised that that there was a whole troop of them in the forest above the river. They were shier than the ones I had seen next to Okutama lake the previous year, but I was still able to film them at a distance (see video). I wanted to linger there longer, but it was nearly 3h30, and I had a bus to catch. Since I hadn’t expected to see any monkeys today, I felt quite satisfied with my hike inside the National Park closest to Tokyo.

Ask for a hiking plan for Sengenrei

Check out the monkeys of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

Mt Atago (394m), Akaboko (409m) & Kasumi Hills, Ome City, Tokyo Prefecture, Saturday, February 1, 2020

 

While trying to find some new hikes to do in the Tokyo area, I came across the Kasumi Hills (kasumi kyuryo 霞丘陵) in my guidebook. Starting from Higashi-Ome station, it ended at Iwakura Onsen 岩蔵温泉, halfway between Ome and Hanno cities. It seemed like the perfect hike except that it was only three hours long. After studying my Okutama hiking map, I saw that it was possible to extend it by hiking some minor peaks South of Ome city.

Ome city and the Okutama mountains

At 9am on a sunny morning, I got off at Miyanohira station on the Ome line. Each carriage was decorated with a Flying Squirrel or musasabi ムササビ theme. The hiking trail started on the other side of the Tama river, across Wada bridge, and was indicated by a signpost. Soon, I was walking along a path that went through a thick bamboo forest alongside a small creek, then climbed to the top of a low ridge. There, another signpost told me to turn right. Before that, I decided to investigate the path heading left. It turned out to be a very nice, not-on-my-map, alternate start to the hike, from Shinmei Shrine 神明神社.

Another path leading to the start of the hike

I retraced my steps and started to head up the ridge. Very soon, I reached another junction and a viewpoint of the Okutama mountains. The main trail continued to the left. I turned right instead, going downhill, then back up, reaching the top of Mt Atago 愛宕山 at 10h30. This section isn’t signposted, and I had to figure it out from Google Maps. The view is mostly obstructed by trees – even standing on a tree stump I couldn’t make out much.

Top of Mt Atago marked by a huge tree

Although the path continued down towards Ume no Koen, I returned to the previous junction, and took the path heading left. I was a little behind schedule so I picked up the pace and, consequently completely missed a great viewpoint that was indicated on my map. The path continued through beautiful and peaceful forest. It was hard to believe I was still inside Tokyo prefecture.

Beautiful scenery at the edge of Tokyo

It took me less than an hour to reach Tengu Rock or Tengu-iwa 天狗岩 , a spectacular viewpoint of the Tama river valley and Ome city. It was also the perfect place for an early lunch. No sooner had I set off again, that I reached another amazing viewpoint, Akaboko 赤ぼっこ. I could see the Okutama mountains to the left, the Oku-Musashi mountains in the center, and the skyscrapers of central Tokyo to the right.

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View from Akaboko

I resumed hiking at 12h45, now very much behind schedule. I had planned to reach Ome city, and start the second half of my hike around 1pm. I half walked, half ran down the mountain; fortunately the trail was wide and not too steep. I recrossed the Tama river at 13h45. It took me another hour of road walking to reach Shiofune-Kannon-ji Temple, famous for its Azalea flowers in May.

This popular flower garden was almost empty in the middle of winter

Even in winter, it’s worth a visit. I saw a couple of giant cedars, the tallest one rising up to 43m high! All the buildings had impressive thatched roofs. There is also a huge statue of Kannon at the highest point of the park. I made my way up there, and was rewarded with a view of Mt Fuji, just before it wrapped itself up in clouds. The Kasumi Hills 霞丘陵 hiking trail started just behind the statue, sandwiched between Ome Golf Club and Ome City. I had lost track of time and it was already 3h30.

IMG_20200201_152413

Start of the Kasumi Hills hiking trail

I jogged along the easy to follow and well signposted path. I soon reached a road near an athletic park, which took me to Iwakura-kaido Avenue. I needed another hour to do the last part of the hike through Shichikoku-toge 七国峠 (meaning “seven country pass”), but since the onsen was closed to day-trippers after 5pm, I decided to leave it for another day, and follow the road directly to the hot spring. I was able to take a hot bath at the very charming Mamada Ryokan before heading back home.

The signposts were decorated with these painted stones

Hossawa Falls to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, Hinohara Village, Tokyo Prefecture, Friday, July 5, 2019

Despite the long rainy season this year, I managed to squeeze in a short hike on a cloudy, rain-free day. Although the elevation of the walk was relatively low – between 400m and 200m – the temperature and humidity were also low for July, so conditions were quite pleasant throughout the day. In general, this hike is best attempted in the spring and autumn.

I had last been to Hossowa falls 払沢の滝, one of the hundred famous waterfalls in Japan, located inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, after hiking Mt Sengen 浅間山 a few years ago. Then, Autumn was in full swing and I got to see some beautiful autumn leaves along the short trail to the waterfall. This time, the surrounding trees were lush with green leaves, and hydrangea flowers (ajisai アジサイ) were still in full bloom. The river and small falls leading up to the waterfall were wider and bigger that I had remembered, perhaps due to the high amount of rain that had fallen in recent weeks.

Smaller falls on the way to the main attraction

I had set off late and so I arrived at the Hossawa Falls entrance bus stop 払沢の滝入口, just after noon, and promptly started up the narrow climbing road to the left of Hinohara Tofu – their tofu donut makes an excellent snack! I soon reached an information board that showed the details of the whole area, and another one showing the location of 13 (!) waterfalls in the area of Hinohara Village, Hossawa falls being the most impressive one.

Entrance to the path to the waterfalls

Hossowa waterfall is located at the Eastern base of a narrow ridgeline wedged between the Kita Aki river to the North, and the Minami Aki river to the South. The latter is the longer of the two, and takes its source at the base of Mt Mito. The Kita Aki river joins the Minami Aki river just before the falls. Further downstream, it joins up with the Yozowa river (coming down from Mt Mitake to the North), and finally becomes the Akigawa river (which later merges with the Tamagawa further East).

The Minami Aki river after merging with the Kita Aki river

Since I was taking many photos of the river and flowers, it took me nearly half an hour to reach the waterfall, along an easy-to-walk path with no steep inclines. Along the way there were good views of the rushing stream below.

Not a real hiking trail but more of a walking path

On the left, a ravine, on the right, a cliff

There is a wooden sloping section that can get slippery when wet – someone took a tumble just as I was approaching! According to Wikipedia, the total length of the falls is 60m, divided into four sections – it was indeed an impressive sight to behold. You can get relatively close to the base pool, but the best shots can be obtained next to the stream, a little further away. After comparing with photos from my previous visit, I can confirm the falls are much bigger in the rainy season than in the autumn.

You can even feel the wind blowing from the force of the falling water

The return was much faster, and it only took me 15 minutes to get back to the main road. There were few people on a weekday, but I expect there would be a lot more people visiting on the weekend. There is also a cafe at the start of the path but it was closed on Friday.

Racing the stream on the return

Watch out for this interesting chap on the way back

Once back at the Tofu shop, I made my way back to Musashi-Itsukaichi station, sometimes following the main road, and sometimes following smaller and quieter roads on the other side of the river. The various bridges offered nice views of the Minami Aki river. The parts on the left side of the river made for a pleasant ramble through nice countryside with occasional glimpses of the river through the trees.

The sign says “Have a seat!”

Just before Sawato Bridge 沢戸橋, about two kilometers from the station, I stumbled upon a small path heading down on the right. According to the information board, it was the Akigawa Kyuryo Trail 秋川丘陵コース, a very nice discovery! I crossed the Bonbori river on a small wooden bridge, and then followed a very nice hiking path along the right side of the Akigawa river.

Careful not to take a tumble into the river!

Too soon the path joined up with the road again. There a small detour away from the river was needed, but soon I was walking next to the Akigawa again with good views of the surrounding hills. I reached the train station just after 5pm. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return sometime and continue hiking East along the Akigawa!

I found this little fella along the path

The “ajisai”, the symbol of Japan’s rainy season

Check out the power of water

Mt Maruyama (1098m), Hinohara Village, Yamanashi & Tokyo Prefectures, Saturday, June 1st, 2019

I decided to return to the same area as the previous week, and do a portion of the Mitosan-Takosan ridge that I had never hiked before. It contains no major summits, but since it was featured in my Tokyo prefecture hiking book, I thought it would be make a nice ramble. Also, the weather was cooler, so I could start later and lower down. This time I was hiking South and East of Mt Mito, as opposed to the West and North the week before.

Iris season has started!

I took the bus from Uenohara station, but one hour later than the week before. Since the bus didn’t go all the way to Matsuhime pass, I was the only passenger. I got off at Gobara, in the charming village of Saihara 西原村. At 10:40 on a Saturday Morning it was completely deserted, and I wondered where everybody was. The hike was fairly well-signposted, and soon I was climbing up the side of the valley through forest.

Easy-to-hike: I passed a mountain biker coming down around here

It was cloudy and sunny but temperature-wise, perfect for hiking. The climb up was surprisingly beautiful: the path was easy to hike, and the surrounding forest felt wild and untouched – exactly what I crave for in a hike. Apart from a mountain biker, I saw no-else on the climb up. Halfway up, there was a nice viewpoint of Nishihara village, and the ridge I had hiked down from Matsuhime toge, 3 years ago.

After an hour and a half I reached Nishihara pass, and other hikers. I made a quick roundtrip to the top of Mt Makiyose 槇寄山 (1188) less than a minute away. I had been there once before when I had hiked down from Mt Mito years ago. I had a quick bite since there were a couple of benches and admired the view to the South – I could make out the shape of Mt Gongen, another peak climbed years ago.

I then retraced my steps and followed the ridge Southeast. The forest was beautiful and peaceful, with few people. I couldn’t quite decide if the area reminded me of the mountains directly south of the Chuo line, or of the ridge on the opposite of the Akigawa river valley. In any case, the ridge was wide and easy to walk, very unlike the section further down, around Mt Shoto, where it gets really narrow and tricky.

An enjoyable hike in the late spring

Eventually I reached another pass, Kazuma Pass, with benches and a viewpoint to the South. This was the point I had left the ridge on my previous hike down from Mt Mito, so from now on it was new territory. The weather had turned definitely cloudy, not a big problem in the pleasant June temperature. It was past one, so I sat down for the second part of my lunch.

The long ridge leading to the top of Mt Gongen

Another hour of hiking brought me to the top of Mt Maruyama 丸山 – no view unfortunately. I didn’t linger, and the path which had been fairly level up to now, started to descend. Oddly enough, English translations on the signposts appeared around here – I guess I was officially in Tokyo territory. I emerged at Asama Pass, and joined up with the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” about one hour later. I had been here when I climbed Mt Shoto. I had now officially hiked the entire ridge from Mt Mito to Mt Takao.

The sun made it through the clouds from time to time

From here, I turned left and started to head down to the Akigawa river valley and the bus stop for Musashi-Itsukaichi Station. I was one hundred meters from the stop and five minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, when it suddenly careened around a corner at top speed! I ran desperately after it waving my hand, but once I reached the bus stop, I wasn’t allowed to board! It turned out that it was a “zouhatsu” 増発 or extra bus which runs in the high season. Another, half empty, bus came along a few seconds later – I guess the Nishitokyo bus company likes its passengers to travel comfortably!

Off-the-beaten-track: Saihara Village

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

 

Overcoming travel trouble in Okutama

Mt Shishigura (1288m), Okutama Town and Tabayama Village, Tokyo & Yamanashi Prefectures, Sunday November 19, 2017

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Hiking in Okutama 奥多摩

Yesterday I went for a hike in the Okutama area, starting from the Western edge of Okutama lake at  Miyama Bridge 深山橋, going up Mt Shishigura 鹿倉山 1288m (not Shikakura as the Kanji suggests), and ending up at the Nomekoiyu のめこい湯 hot spring.

However it isn’t about the hike itself that I wish to write but rather about getting to and back from the area in the general. The trouble with Okutama is that it mostly sits within the Tokyo prefecture, one of the most populated areas in the world, and thus the trains and buses are packed, especially during the autumn foliage season.

Fortunately when I went out there on a whim yesterday (bad weather threatened my preferred options), I was able to sit all the way there and back. Seeing that the total travel time was nearly 5 hours, I feel that this considerably enhanced my experience, and it only required a little planning and some luck.

First, I turned up at Shinjuku station 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time of the direct train to Okutama and positioned myself first in line at the appropriate spot on the platform (indicated by an overhead sign). The train pulls in ten minutes early since it starts from Shinjuku so the rest of the waiting time is spent sitting comfortably.

After arriving in Okutama, I got off as quickly as possible and lined up for the bus. Despite the crowds it only took me a few minutes since I had previously charged my Pasmo with a generous amount of money and skipped the bathroom. Once out of the station I swooped onto the first bus attendant I saw to confirm where I should line up for my bus (the one for Kosuge no Yu 小菅の湯). I had perhaps a dozen people ahead of me but I still managed to snag one of the last seats.

On the return, I sacrificed some bath time in order to get to the bus stop ten minutes early. I was third in line which doesn’t necessarily guarantee a seat since the bus starts further up the valley. When the bus turned up, the line behind me had grown to a dozen people and there were only about 5 seats left. My gamble had paid off and I got a good seat too, one with space for my long legs.

There was some traffic on the way back and I was worried that I would miss the last direct train back to Shinjuku but thanks to the experienced driver we got to the station with time to spare. Repeating the same strategy as in the morning (move quickly, well-charged pasmo, skip bathroom break) I got a good seat on the train and the return was as smooth as one could hope for. Obviously these tricks only work if you are hiking by yourself or maybe as a pair (or you have good bladder control).

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Mt Odake, one of the three famous peaks of the Okutama area

As for the hike itself, it was the kind I like. Steep ascents at the beginning, gently sloping ridge line in the middle, alternating views of forest and mountains, and a good wide path for most of the descent. I only crossed a small group of people during the whole hike. Unfortunately I can’t recommend this hike since at times the trail was hard to find / follow and the last part of the trail had somewhat collapsed and was difficult to walk. I hope they repair it soon and also put up more trail makers.

One final note: the Nomekoi Hot spring is only 300 yen but at present the rotemburo (outside bath) is closed for construction. However the inside bath has a high wooden slanting roof which gives it a traditional feel so it is definitely worth taking a bath there.

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The long ridge leading to the summit of My Kumotori (on the left), the highest point in the Tokyo prefecture, as seen from the ridge below the top of Mt Shishigura.