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.

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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.

 

Mt Takanosu (1736m), Okutama town, Tokyo Prefecture

This isn’t a very famous mountain, but many people climb it since it’s one of the ways up Mt Kumotori, a hyakumeizan, as well as the highest summit in the Tokyo prefecture. It’s also inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. I left Tokyo (the city) under the sun, but arrived under clouds and drizzle – how the weather can change fast!

HOW TO GET THERE: The best way is to hop on the early morning direct train to Okutama from Shinjuku station, otherwise you will need to change trains at least twice. If possible, sit in the front carriage, since this will put you close to the station exit; then make sure be at the front of the line for the bus, since this will guarantee you a seat. The bus for Nippara, also the stop for this hike, departs right in front of the train station.

The bus stopped running all the way after the strong typhoons in 2019, so best to check beforehand whether service has been fully restored. 

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Takanosu

 

THE ROUTE: After getting off the bus, I quickly continued walking along the road through the village. I knew the way since I had been here earlier this year to visit the Nippara caves. Also I was on a tight schedule and I didn’t have time to dawdle. Since the mountains were shrouded in mist, for once I didn’t lose any time taking photos. I arrived at a sign pointing to a footpath going down to the left, leading into the forest, over the river at the bottom of the valley and up the other side. It was pretty, but also slightly spooky, since there was no one else.

The path led me to a river bed through a ravine – it was remarkably beautiful (but difficult to take in photo). The approaching sound of bells told me that some other hikers were right behind me, but I lost them quickly on a steep slope. It took me away from the riverbed, and to the start of a rocky outcrop jutting above the ravine I had just climbed. Another group of hikers returning from the top of this outcrop told me it took 15 minutes to reach.

Despite my tight schedule I decided to attempt it since I was making good time. The rocky outcrop was somewhat slippery because of the recent rain, and turned into a bit of a scramble at the end. However it was worth it – even though the surrounding peaks were hidden in the clouds, I could see down the valley and the Nippara village below. Trees were showing their autumn colours here and there. It was hard to believe I was still in Tokyo prefecture.

View from the rocky outcrop – yes this is Tokyo prefecture.

Fifteen minutes later I was back on the main trail, and set off at a fast pace to make up for the lost time. Soon I was surrounded by mist. This made the climb doubly hard because it was impossible to see the summit – every time I thought I was about to arrive, the mist gave way to more forest and more climbing. Everything around me was silent and it felt a bit gloomy.

Finally I reached the top of Mt Takanosu (鷹ノ巣山 takanosuyama). There were a lot of people, but still plenty of space to sit down and have lunch. As expected there was no view to reward my efforts – just a lot of uniform whiteness. I headed down at once after lunch. There was really no point in hanging around, and I wanted to get back on schedule so that I would have time to take a hot bath at the end, and catch the direct train back to Shinjuku.

I thought that the way down was much nicer than the way up – a nice wide grassy ridge similar to a fire barrier. The mist went from spooky to mysterious. Suddenly I came to a point where the ridge turned right and went steeply downhill. The hiking trail seemed to be heading the same way. I was afraid of going down the mountain too soon, so I started to consul my map. Another hiker who had also been checking his map at the same place, told me this must be the right way. He was quite convincing so I started to follow him, anxious not to lose any more time. The path levelled and all seemed well; it started climbing again, became faint and  then disappeared. We both stopped to look for it through the mist. Eventually I found it twenty meters to our right. We were on a minor summit and the main trail had gone round it. I said goodbye to the other hiker, and continued ahead at at a fast pace. Funny things like this happen all the time.

Soon I came close to another minor summit, Mt Mutsuishi 1478m (六ツ石山 mutsuishiyama). The name means six rock mountain. It was only 5 minutes to the top so I went up. The top was grassy with some trees but looking back I could see Mt Takanosu. Since the elevation of Okutama station is only 350m, I knew I still had a long way down, and I quickly set off again. Soon the weather cleared up a little, allowing some sun through. I slipped on some rocks on a steep slope, somehow spinning around 180 degrees and landing with my chest on a rock. It knocked the wind out of me, but otherwise no damage done. Lower down, I had to navigate a slippery muddy path through thick forest. At one point I slipped again. After that, I decided to leave the path and walk through the forest alongside it. This is one reason not to go hiking after a period of rain.

Eventually I reached gentler slopes, an easier to walk path and finally a paved road. I was probably just above the old Okutama road which I had walked this year in May. At the entrance of the hiking path, there was a sign that a bear had been spotted at this location a few weeks ago. For one’s state of mind, I find it better to know this after the hike, rather than before. After another 30 minutes I was back inside Okutama town. From past experience, I called the hot spring Moegi no yu, but they told me it was very crowded at the moment and I would have to wait to get inside. I decided to skip my hot bath so that I could catch the last direct train for Shinjuku. As a consolation, I treated myself to some local sake on the ride back.

CONCLUSION: A surprisingly good hike with some pleasant ridge walking ending at the station. Definitely worth another shot in better weather. The official name for the hike from the summit down to Okutama is the Ishione Ridge Walk (石尾根縦走路 ishione jusoro).

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Takanosu

Beware of bears