Tsuru Alps, Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture, December 2020

There are many “arupusu” (from Alps) hiking trails in Japan. It may seem exaggerated to call a chain of low mountains after the European mountain range, but the name is supposed to reflect the up-and-down nature of the path. The Tsuru Alps Hiking Trail (都留アルプスハイキングコース) was completed in September 2017, and connects Tsurushi and Higashi-Katsura stations on the Fujikyu railway line. Originally, I had wanted to finish at the hot spring near Tsurushi station, but the website recommended starting from there. So I decided to do it that way, and walk back to Tsurushi station since it wasn’t a long hike. On the way back, I could check out some local sights. Initially, I had hoped to take the Fuji Excursion limited express all the way there and back, but it didn’t stop at either station, so I had to change at Otsuki station. The weather forecast called for a sunny day, and I was looking forward to getting a better view of Mt Fuji than I had on my Hakone hike.

View of Tsurushi from the Tsuru Alps trail

I arrived in Otsuki at 8h30 and transferred to the Naruto-themed Fujikyu railway; I had seen the design before, but it was my first time to ride on it. It was a short ride to Tsurushi station, and by 9h30 I was ready to start hiking. I soon spotted the signs for the Tsurushi Alps, leading me past the hot spring, through the town and to the base of the mountains. The weather was good but cloudier than I had expected.

The Naruto-themed Fujikyu railway

First view towards the Oku-Chichibu mountains

I followed a narrow paved road as it climbed steeply via a series of zig-zags. At the top was a water reservoir and a view of Tsurushi town. I could also see Mt Takagawa, and behind, the mountains of Oku-Chichibu. A few meters to the right was a viewpoint of Mt Fuji. Unfortunately it was half covered in the clouds. Moreover, the uncovered side was almost devoid of snow, very unusual for this time of the year.

The Mt Fuji viewpoint

Walking in the sun on the Tsuru Alps

True to its name, the trail went up and down but was never too steep. At 10h30 I was at the top of Mt Ari (658m 蟻山 ありやま ariyama , meaning Mt Ant). There was a signal tower blocking some of the view, but Mt Fuji, still partly in the clouds, could still be seen straight ahead; on the left was Mt Mishotai, a 200-famous mountain. I continued down the other side, following a series of switchbacks. Next was a fairly level section passing over a couple of minor peaks completely surrounded by trees: Mt Shiraki (白木山 625m) and Mt Choanji (654m 長安寺山).

View from the top of Mt Ari

Easy walking along the Tsuru Alps

At 11am, I reached the panorama viewpoint. Mt Fuji was now completely lost in the clouds, but the view of the valley was impressive, even if completely urbanized. I sat down to have an early lunch. Seeing the cars move around town made me feel like I was flying in a plane (see video). At 11h30 I was ready to continue. After some downhill, I reached the Kajiya-Zaka aqueduct (鍛冶屋坂水路橋 also called ピーヤ for pier) which used to carry water for generating electricity during the Taisho era. A short climb brought me to the top of Mt Tenshin (天神山 580m).

Some rocks to create a mountain-like feel

The panorama viewpoint minus Mt Fuji

At noon, I arrived at a wide deforested area with sweeping views from north to south. I could see Mt Mitsutoge, a 200-famous mountain, and Daibosatsurei, a 100-famous mountain. I now entered a forested section, and eventually reached the highest point of the hike at 713m. Although not a summit, it was marked by a signboard. The path then descended all the way to the bottom of the valley, before climbing again via a dried up riverbed. It wasn’t a difficult hike, but it sure was a good workout!

View of Mt Mitsutoge from the deforested area

Looking north up the Tsurushi valley

At 1h30, I found a a nice sunny spot near the trail to finish my lunch. This section was almost entirely in the forest, and although the trees blocked the views, they also blocked the noise from the nearby highway. I was now walking through a forest of red pines, which reminded me of my hike on nearby Mt Kurami. After a few more up-and-downs, I arrived at Mt Kojo (古城山 583m), the final summit of the day. Right next to it was a small shrine called Sumiyoshi-Jinja (住吉神社).

The Tahara waterfall on the way back to Tsurushi station

View of the Tsurushi Alps from the top of Mt Katsu

After one last descent, I was back among the houses. It was now 2pm and I was right on schedule. While walking back to Tsurushi station I passed by Onan Pool (おなん淵), Soryu Gorge (蒼竜峡), and Tahara waterfall (田原の滝). The main road, called Fuji road (“fujimichi“), had a lot of traffic so I escaped to the side streets. My last stop for the day was Mt Katsu, the site of an old castle on a bend of the Katsura river. It was a short and easy climb to the top, and although there was no trace of the castle at the top, I had a good view of the Tsuru Alps on the opposite side of the valley.

Mt Nijuroku in the late afternoon light

Yorimichi no Yu hot spring near Tsurushi station

At 4pm, I finally reached the new hot spring facility of Yorimichi no Yu (より道の湯) inside a modern looking, square shaped building. Unlike the usual hot spring resorts, this one featured a bar with a wine menu, and a relaxation area with hammocks instead of massage chairs. After a refreshing bath, I got on the local train for Otsuki station, where I changed to the limited express for Shinjuku.

Ask for a hiking plan for the Tsuru Alps

Hiking the Tsuru Alps

Tokuwa River Valley, Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, October 2020

I was looking for a good river walk and apparently the nearby Yamanashi prefecture had many of those. I had to give up my first two choices because the river trails were damaged during the massive typhoons of 2019. Fortunately, my third option, near the entrance to the trail for Mt Kentoku, seemed promising. It was a short hike, and although it was possible to go by bus, I chose to hire a car instead. That way, I could have lunch at a soba restaurant on the way there, and drop by a hot spring facility on the way back. The weather forecast was perfect: sunny and warm for this time of the year. However, I had to be careful not to start hiking too late, since the sun sets early at the end of October, and even earlier in the mountain valleys. I wanted to see the sunshine reflected on the water and the autumn leaves, at least for part of the hike. The only thing that made me uneasy was the possibility of crowds along the trail – how well known was this river valley among the hiking community?

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

秩父多摩甲斐国立公園

One of the river’s many level stretches

…and some of the sudden drops!

I arrived in Kofu after a comfortable train ride on the Chuo line limited express, and used a rental car to drive 45 minutes to the parking lot near the entrance of the trail up Mt Kentoku (乾徳山). On the way, I dropped by Soba Maru (そば丸) for an early soba lunch. From the parking, it was a thirty minute-walk, first on a paved road, and then on a forest road, to Muso waterfall (夢窓の滝 meaning dream window waterfall), and the start of the hiking trail. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the river, one of the best I’ve ever hiked. First, there was no concrete road running next to it (something frequent here). Next, it seemed relatively unscathed by the 2019 typhoons. Finally, there were many excellent views as the river alternated between long flat stretches and sudden drops.

Sunlight reflected on the water surface

…and on the autumn leaves

I decided to have a closer look at the impressive Muso waterfall by walking down a short metal staircase leading to the river side. I had to be extra careful not to slip on the rocks – I didn’t want to get too close! After walking back up, I entered the Tokuwa River valley hiking trail (徳和渓谷コース tokuwa-keikoku kosu). For the first twenty minutes, the trail stayed close to the forest path, occasionally merging with it. Then it suddenly dipped, crossed the river over a wooden bridge, and went up the opposite side. I was pleasantly surprised by how well maintained the trail was and by the near total absence of other hikers. By now, it was nearly 2pm, so it was likely that most people had already come and gone (I had passed a few on the way). Luckily the river valley was still bathed in the autumn sunshine, and the interplay of golden leaves and sparkling water was dazzling.

The start of the hike had many viewpoints next to the river

One of the many small waterfalls dotting the valley

The river views kept on getting more and more spectacular. I was now hiking alongside the western branch of the upper Tokuwa river. I passed four small waterfalls, as the path climbed the rocky right bank via a series of wooden steps. According to my map, I was just inside the southern part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. Around 2h20, I reached the highest point of the hike, around 1200m, near Yanagi waterfall (柳滝 meaning willow waterfall). The Tokuwa river continued further but here the path made a U-turn and headed back. I was walking on a level path following the mountain side; below on the right was the river, a white line snaking through the trees. After a few minutes, the trail descended sharply along a ridge, the river disappearing from sight but still heard. I soon arrived back at the wooden bridge, just after a double waterfall, and before the merging of the east and west branches of the river.

The rockier sections were equipped with wooden steps

Many close-up views thanks to the wooden walkways

It was almost 3pm and I was nearing the end of my short hike. I quickly walked back along the forest road, now in the shade, and arrived at my car at 3h30. By now, the entire valley was in the shadow; it was getting cold and nearly everyone had already left. I drove 15 minutes to Hayabusa onsen for a quick hot bath, and then back to Kofu station. As I settled down into my reserved seat for the train ride back to Tokyo, I felt satisfied that I had caught the sunshine and the autumn leaves, and that I hadn’t been caught up in any crowds while hiking this secret river valley.

Travel up and down the Tokuwa river valley

Mt Tennyo (1528m), Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Hiking on Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I found out about the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo (八ヶ岳横断歩道 meaning “crossing path”) hiking down Mt Gongen. Looking at my hiking map it seemed like a mostly level path following the contour of the mountain. However, I wasn’t sure how well-maintained the hiking path would be, seeing that it didn’t lead to one of the popular summits in the area. Also, I was curious whether there would be any good views along the way. I decided to start from Kiyosato 清里 station, and finish at Kai-Koizumi 甲斐小泉 station, not to be confused with Kai-Oizumi 甲斐大泉, one station away. According to my map, the hike would take over 8 hours, but hopefully it could be done in less.

Hiking through the cow pastures

I left Tokyo under grey skies, but I wasn’t worried, since sunny weather was forecasted for Yamanashi; indeed, as soon as I reached Kofu city, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. I was more concerned about the train back being full as well, and I made sure to book my return seat as soon as I got off at Kobuchizawa. I was using the Tokyo Wide Pass which had gone through an upgrade since the last time I had used it. The fancy card format was out, replaced by a ticket similar to a shinkansen ticket, that could be put through the automatic ticket gates. I could also use it to reserve my seat in a ticket machine (I had one of the station staff show me how).

Hiking on the slopes of Yatsugatake

The Kawamata river valley

The Koumi line was also full so I had to stand for the short but exciting ride; the train went up the side of the valley, reaching Kiyosato – altitude 1274 meters – where I got off at 10am; the next stop on the line is Nobeyama 野辺山, the highest train station in Japan at 1345 meters. The air was definitely cooler here, and the village reminded me of Switzerland. To get to the start of the “ondanhodo” trail, I had to walk alongside a busy road for 45 minutes. Then, it was another half an hour of gentle climbing through forest before a short descent led me to Kawamata River. I took a short break here and had a late breakfast, enjoying the warm sun and the sound of the water.

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, in the clouds

Dragonfly taking a break on the top of a signpost

Setting off again, I soon reached wide pastures with a sweeping view of the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, and cows – it’s not often I get to see cows while hiking in Japan. It took me another hour to reach the top of Mt Tennyo (天女山 tennyosan meaning heavenly woman). The view, on the other hand, wasn’t so heavenly and didn’t detain me long. Since there is a bus route and a number of facilities in the area, there were many hikers. However, from then on I had the trail mostly to myself. After a few minutes of climbing I reached a sign for a viewpoint off the main trail. I decided to check it out, but ended up disappointed since trees blocked the view. Probably at one time in the past, it must have been quite spectacular. I retraced my steps, having lost five valuable minutes. The path continued to climb steadily with no end in sight. Since I wasn’t aiming to summit a peak, any meters gained would eventually have to be walked down. It was around this point, that the surrounding forest, a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, started to get really beautiful.

The Kofu valley with on the left Mt Mizugaki

The “ondanhodo” trail, a pleasant walk through the forest

Eventually I reached the highest point of today’s hike, 1791 meters according to my map, and after a short level bit, I started descending again. This pattern continued for the rest of the hike, although on a smaller scale, as the trail made its way along the natural folds of the mountain. It was tougher than I had imagined but the trail was well-maintained and enjoyable; there were frequent numbered signposts; It made me appreciate the size and complexity of the massive ancient volcano I was walking on. I saw no other hikers and it was very peaceful. There were few viewpoints; I passed another sign of an observatory up a path heading straight up, but decided to skip it since I was still behind (I found out later that there was indeed a view). 

The Minami Alps

Looking back at Yatsugatake

At 2h30, I reached a break in the trees with a nice view Eastwards of Kofu valley. I sat down on the side of the trail and had a late lunch. Mt Fuji was in the clouds with only a part of the summit – still free of snow – visible. Soon after lunch, I reached a detour sign; the trail had collapsed lower down. However, I was grateful for it, as it allowed to avoid one of the many “dips” in the path. At 4pm I reached Samisen Waterfall 三味線滝 (1550m). Here, I turned left, leaving the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo” path, and headed down. The trail soon turned into a narrow paved road with nice views of the South Alps in front, and (part of) Yatsugatake behind. After a good hour of road walking, I reached Kai-Koizumi station a little after 5pm, just in time for the local train back to Kobuchizawa, one stop away. After admiring the dusk view from the the top of Kobuchizawa station, I hopped on the limited express for the two-hour ride back to Tokyo.

Listen to the sounds of Yatsugatake

This section of the path across Yatsugatake turned out to be a beautiful and peaceful hike, even though all the ups and down made it tougher and longer than I had imagined. The second half of the hike had few views, but that’s to be expected when walking the side of the mountain. The trail continues all the way round Yatsugatake – I think this may have been one of the better bits, and the only one that can be done from station to station; I’ll find out by hiking more of it in the future! 

 

Mt Konara (1712m), Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, September 28, 2019

There are so many mountains in Yamanashi prefecture that I sometimes feel I won’t be able to climb them all. Today’s hike, mostly level and downhill, was perfect for my ankle that was still a bit painful. On top of that, the weather forecast called for high-altitude clouds – I needed something that would be well below that. Otome highland 乙女高原 at around 1500m and situated below Mt Kinpu seemed liked the perfect place, and I was lucky to get a seat the day before on the reservation-only bus for Odarumi pass.

Mt Fuji with a rocker’s hairstyle

A surprising thing happened on the way to the start of the trail. The bus, operated by Eiwa Kotsu, failed to show up at Enzan station. Despite the gloomy forecast, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and around 30 people were in line. Eventually, a replacement bus arrived 40 minutes late – I never found out what happened.

View from the top of Mt Konara (Mt Fuji on the right)

Luckily I wasn’t on a tight schedule, unlike those who were doing the roundtrip to Mt Kinpu. I was the only person who remained on the bus for the final segment along Otome lake to Yakeyama Pass 焼山峠 – everybody else had transferred to minibuses for Odarumi pass. I was finally ready to start at 10h45, a full hour behind schedule. In the meanwhile, the high-altitude clouds had rolled in.

The start of the trail felt a bit spooky

Shortly after starting out, I was feeling spiderwebs all over my arms and legs. However, I couldn’t see the offending web or find any trace of it on myself. Also, the path was several meters wide – a bit unsuitable for spinning a web. The feeling persisted, and I was starting to think that I was imagining it. Eventually I was able to spot some ultra-thin filaments attached to some leaves – can’t imagine what kind of insects the spider was hoping to catch. The feeling of walking through spider webs continued for the first hour of the hike.

Thin spider webs crossing the path

Cobwebs aside, this part was also some of the best hiking I had done recently. Even though Otome highland is just outside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, I thought that the trail and the surrounding forest were especially beautiful. I saw just one person on the way to the summit, one hour away. The trail was easy to walk: wide, grassy and gently undulating. The total height gain was less than 200 meters, which is why I had chosen this hike, since steep inclines were bad for my ankle.

At one point the path split into a new and an old path. The new one went up a steep slope, whereas the old one continued level through the forest. I choose the latter one, since according to the map, they joined up again, and they did indeed after a few minutes, with almost no elevation gain – go figure.

New path but worn-out sign?

With very little effort, I reached the top of Mt Konara 小楢山, a mountain few people have heard of, and was greeted with some sunshine, a wide panorama, and a group of hikers having lunch. Luckily the top was quite spacious, and I found a quiet spot for my own lunch. I could see Mt Fuji, although the top was in the clouds and Kofu city. I could also make out Mt Kenashi, Mt Kuro, Mitsutoge and Daibosatsu Rei.

The top of Mt Konara, a good place for lunch

During lunch, I studied the rest of the course in my guidebook. I realised that the rest of the trail was tougher than I had imagined – a succession of ups and downs with several rocky sections. Normally I would have thought “Perfect!” However, with my weak ankle, I wanted to avoid anything too adventurous. So I decided to take a different route down. Shortly past the summit, instead of continuing southwards, there are a couple of trails heading West. Their names translate roughly as “Missed Mother” and “Missed Father”. I took the latter since it allowed for a slightly longer hike.

After the summit the path gets narrower

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a difficult trail as well. In addition to being hard to see, making it necessary to search for the pink ribbons attached to the trees, it was steep, going directly down the side of the mountain. Luckily it wasn’t too long (about an hour), and I soon emerged onto a forest trail, not without a certain amount of relief. From there it was thirty minutes to the road, and another hour to the bus stop through Yamanashi Prefecture’s famous vineyards. It was the middle of the harvest season, and I was surrounded by beautiful ripe grapes on all sides – I was very tempted to pick some!

The sun tried valiantly to break through the cloud cover

Bus drive to the start of the trail

 

NEXT UP: Mt Shirasuna in Gunma Prefecture

Yanagisawa Pass to Shirasawa Pass, Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, September 7 2019

Coincidentally, I ended up hiking in another national park, this time the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, the closest one to Tokyo. I took the limited express Chuo line all the way to Enzan – they updated this line to all reserved seating earlier this year, and I have to admit that so far it’s a positive change, since I’ve been able to get a seat every time, which wasn’t the case with the old system.

From Enzan station, I took a bus all the way up to Yanagisawa pass at nearly 1500m. After I got the bus I was able to see a good view of Mt Fuji, as well as some classic cars parked just behind the viewpoint. The last time I was there, I went East towards Mt Keikan and Daibosatsu Rei. This time I made my way first West, then North, along an easy to hike path through beautiful forest. I could hear deer but I couldn’t see them – I did see a toad though. Since there were no major peaks along the way, I saw almost no other hikers, and the weather was a lot better than I had expected – sun and clouds, but no mist.

Mt Fuji from Yanagisawa pass

I soon reached Yanagisawa no Tou 栁沢の頭 where there was another view, and a little further, I got to an even better viewpoint, Hanze no Tou ハンゼの頭 (1681m). I could see Mt Daibosatsu Rei, Mt Fuji, the Kofu valley and the entire range of the South Alps. Another hiker even pointed out the pointed peak of Mt Kinpu which I had completely missed. One of the best views in the area and almost completely deserted!

Mt Fuji with blue mountains in the foreground

After an enjoyable lunch, I continued along the long ridge that forms part of the backbone of the Koshu Alps, as the mountains of Yamanashi are called. I soon reached the Kasatori forest path – there was no signpost, but I instinctively turned left, and found the continuation of the hiking path a little further, just beyond the NTT antenna.

The South Alps – notice the pointy peak of Mt Shiomi in the middle

The path was flat and easy to hike, but as most paths in Japan, it didn’t last. I soon reached a steep downhill which took me to a construction site, a little surprising high up on the mountain. They were installing solar panels, something I’ve been seeing more and more on my hikes. Past the solar panels, I lost the path for a short while, but managed to get back on it soon enough. This is a trail that could certainly do with more signposting.

Clouds converging on Mt Daibosatsu Rei

Soon the path begun a series of steep uphills and downhills. I would love to recommend this hike to people who are looking for a not-so-challenging hike, but although the climbs and descents aren’t long, they were pretty steep! I got some nice views Eastwards of Mt Keikan and Daibosatsu Rei, as well as the triangular summit of Mt Kumotori further in the distance. In front of me was Mt Kasatori, and to the West was Mt Kobushi and Mt Kentoku. I had already hiked all these peaks and connecting ridges, so it was enjoyable to view them from a distance.

Looking back towards Tokyo

I was starting to wonder when I would arrive at Shirasawa pass 白沢峠 when I suddenly spotted a couple of people sitting in chairs in a clearing ahead. It was quite surreal since I hadn’t seen anybody for the past 3 hours. But here they were relaxing and smoking cigarettes in the middle of nowhere, as if they were at some campsite. There was also an abandoned vehicle in the middle of the clearing with a tree growing in the middle of it. I wasn’t too surprised to see it there, since I had seen photos of it while researching the hike.

It’s like something from a Ghibli movie!

There was a jumble of signs nearby and I couldn’t quite make out where I was, but surely not Shirasawa-toge! first I wasn’t at a pass; second there was no path heading down to the East. I asked the two people, not hikers, relaxing near the abandoned truck but they had no idea. The younger of the two vaguely gestured to the right saying that they had come up through the forest, but I couldn’t see a path. I decided to continue along the main trail.

Solar panels with Mt Kobushi in the background

I continued for nearly half an hour, during which the path went down a bit, and then started to climb again. It had turned into a wide and not so nice forest path. I was starting to wonder when I would get to the pass, when it suddenly hit me – the grassy area with the two guys and the car was the pass! I immediately turned around and started to run back. When I got back, the 2 guys had gone, and I found the path down to the bus stop – it was really faint and hard to see, but it was a proper trail.

Luckily it was easy to run and I sped down it as fast as I could. Soon I was following a mountain stream, and then I reached a dirt road, where I passed the two guys who were in fact motorcyclists. I half hiked and half ran, and finally reached the Koshu Kaido (which runs all the way from Tokyo) where I caught the bus (the same one as in the morning) back to Enzan station.

Japanese toad I spotted on the trail

Next up: Mt Mikuni in Gunma prefecture

November Snow Hiking, Daibosatsurei (2047m), Yamanashi Prefecture

With  early freak snowstorm, mountains in the Kanto area received up to 20 cm of fresh snow. I did a short reconnaissance up Mt Hiwada 日和田山 (305m) near Hanno station on Friday. Unfortunately snow and November temperatures don’t really mix, and everything was melting as if Mother Nature was trying to cover up some big mistake in a hurry.

Big lumps of snow were falling from the branches making walking under the trees quite perilous. In other places snowmelt was coming down in streams of water just as if it were raining, except that it was a beautiful sunny day. Overall the muddy and wet conditions were starting to make me despair that I would be able to find a good place to go hiking on Saturday. Too low, I would encounter similar slushy conditions. Too high and there was a risk of losing the trail or worse, running into trouble on a steep section.

I finally hit upon an interesting idea which I was able to confirm after a quick search on internet. Buses for Daibosatsurei (2047m) 大菩薩嶺, one of the hundred famous mountains, usually run till about mid-December, after which the service is stopped till the spring because of snow. Daibosatsurei is a relatively easy mountain to hike, a place I was familiar with, and that would also make a good snow hike, except that in the in the winter months you would have to hike up (and down) from a much lower point, the entrance of the Daibosatsu mountain trail at 900m. However, despite the unusual snowfall the buses were still running on Saturday November 25th and thus it was possible to get all the way up to Kamihikawatouge 上日川峠, nearly 600m higher, and a very good convenient starting point for a stroll in the snow.

After getting off at Kaiyamato 甲斐大和 station, I rushed to get in line at the bus stop. Daibosatsurei is a highly popular place to hike, not only because it’s a hyakumeizan but it’s also relatively close to Tokyo and easy to hike. However this time, we were only a handful of people waiting for the bus. Perhaps most people were dissuaded by the snowy conditions or maybe less people go there after the Koyo (autumn leaves) season.

Whatever the reason, I almost thought they were right when the bus failed to turn up on time. We were informed by the bus driver of another bus that ours was running late because of the icy roads. Our ride finally rolled in 30 minutes late making a loud rattling noise because of the snow chains. For once this was a good thing, since the hike I had planned, a simple loop of the top part of the mountain was a tad too short. With half an hour shaved off, the timing was perfect.

There are few mountain roads in the Tokyo area that are open through winter and thus it was quite a unique experience riding up the mountain with snow banks on either side and, ice and snow underneath on the higher parts of the road.

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Icy conditions on the road to Kamihikawa Pass

I was finally able to start hiking just after 11am. At 1600m the snow was already getting heavy and wet, and any hiking below that point was bound to be unpleasant. I took the ridge trail leading straight up to the summit. Under the trees, it was enjoyable to hike on the snow, made compact and firm by the footsteps of previous hikers, and on the rocky sections higher up, the snow had completely disappeared from anything in direct sunlight. There was no ice, and crampons weren’t necessary on the ascent although I had light ones in my pack, and several people were using them, mainly for going down. The views of Mt Fuji and the entire range of the South Alps were stunning. I had been to Daibosatsurei before but the views hadn’t been anywhere as great.

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Mt Fuji in a sea of clouds

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The South Alps with their winter caps on

The top ridge at around 2000m was freezing and the snow was 20cm deep and practically powdery.  From the highest point, you can walk down along the ridge enjoying the beautiful winter scenery. At the emergency hut on the Daibosatsu Pass I turned right and walked down along the gently sloping wide path that meanders through the forest at the base of the top ridge back to the bus stop. Being somewhat sure-footed and having heavy solid hiking boots, I never had to resort to my crampons.

All in all a satisfying if somewhat short hike (under 4 hours) in a snowy setting and a good choice after a late autumn / early winter snowstorm. Most likely the bulk of the snow under 2000m will have melted by next weekend making this a one-off.

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The Daibosatsu Ridge

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The famous Daibosastu Pass

Mt Kenashi (1964m), Mt Ama (1771m), Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture

Mt Kenashi is a famous mountain but not part of the original one hundred. It is part of the famous two hundred mountains, which isn’t too shabby considering that there are thousands of mountains in Japan. It sits opposite Mt Fuji and thus has some excellent viewpoints of Japan’s most famous volcano. Consequently, there are quite a few people climbing this mountain.

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

HOW TO GET THERE: The biggest drawback is that this mountain is tough to get to from Tokyo. You will need to shell out 5000 yen to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Shinfuji station in Shizuoka (about an hour), and then put down another 1300 yen for the bus to the Asagiri Green Park entrance (also about an hour). To take your mind of all this spent money, there are great views of Mt Fuji along the way.

Fortunately the way back is slightly cheaper. At the end of the hike you can catch the same bus taken in the morning and get off in Kawaguchiko. From there, you have a choice between a local train or the limited express back to Shinjuku. The latter is more expensive and only runs a few times a day. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Shinjuku station for less than 2000 yen. However if you are going back on a weekend, beware of traffic jams. You could also take this way to go there but you would end up at the start of the hike half an hour later, and to trains heading out to the Mt Fuji can be packed (less so so on the way back).

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Kenashi

THE ROUTE: Once again I was the only person to get off the bus; it seems that most people come here by car. I had to walk along a flat road for about half an hour to reach the base of the mountain and the start of the hiking trail. The view of Mt Kenashi towering above me was impressive; I wondered if I really was going to be able to manage this long and steep 1000+ meter climb. On the way I passed a wide and grassy camp site on my right with some excellent views of Mt Fuji. I definitely want to camp here some time in the future.

At the end of the long asphalt road I turned left following the signs for Mt Kenashi. Eventually I entered the forest, passed numerous parked cars, and started climbing along a rock path. There were two main paths up Mt Kenashi. I chose the shorter one so that I would have enough time to take the long ridge route down. The path was divided into 10 stations each marked with a sign, similar to the Mt Fuji stations. I passed quite a few people going up and down the mountain. The weather was sunny and not too cold for a November day, although judging from the absence of leaves higher up, it seemed that autumn was already finished on this mountain.

Mt Kenashi with the camp site at its base

As expected the climb was seemingly endless. Similar to when I was climbing Mt Takanosuya in the mist, the top ridge always seemed to be out of reach, always just beyond my level of vision. Every time the path became level, and I thought I was finally there, it would surprise me by rising steeply again. I was slowly getting higher than the rest of the ridgeline, and it felt like I was ascending some kind of spire.

At last I reached a small rocky outcrop, marked as a viewpoint of Mt Fuji. I decided to have an early lunch there, not because I was especially hungry, but because the view was fabulous; there was a comfortable unoccupied sitting spot, and there was no guarantee of something similar at the summit. However I only got past my first sandwich when I was forced to flee because of a group of hikers that talked loudly behind me while taking photos of the view.

Pine tree forest at the base of Mt Kenashi

From this point I reached the top ridge quite quickly. I overtook a lady hiker for the second time, who couldn’t figure it out how that was possible (she hadn’t seen me taking my lunch break on the rocky outcrop earlier on). From there, on it was an easy stroll to the summit of Mt Kenashi (毛無山 kenashiyama – means hairless mountain). Interestingly, just by stepping onto the ridge, the temperature dropped to near freezing. At nearly 2000m, winter had arrived.

As expected, there were plenty of people at the summit. I still managed to find a decent spot to sit down and finish my lunch. Unfortunately, the view of Mt Fuji wasn’t as good from here. However, before I could tuck in, a friendly hiker told me (in good English) that if I continued ten more minutes along the ridge line, I would reach a much better spot for lunch with a 360 view, including Mt Fuji and the Southern Alps. That seemed like a very attractive proposition, so after having him take the obligatory photo of me and the summit marker, I set off for this perfect lunch spot.

The first view of Mt Fuji before the summit

Sadly, I never found it, and one hour later I reached the next summit, Mt Ama (雨ヶ岳 amagadake), the last viewpoint before going down the mountain, and last chance for a (late) lunch. I was lucky I had eaten something before reaching the top, since I wasn’t able to find any good sitting spots with a view along the ridge. Even when I had a 360 degree view, the bamboo grass on either side was just too high to sit down comfortably. I guess the other hiker had walked the ridge in other seasons when the grass hadn’t been so high. The ridge was a mix of cold and shady forested sections, and warm and sunny  grassy sections. The views of Mt Fuji were the best I had ever seen since the sun was behind me; I could make out all the details of the snowy rocky summit area. There were also far less people walking the ridge, since most people, having come by car, had  to go up and down Mt Kenashi the same way.

I found a rectangular block of stone perfect for sitting. moved it into the sun and sat down to enjoy the rest of my lunch while examining Mt Fuji. However, I couldn’t stay too long however since I had a bus to catch. Soon I could see lake Motosuko on my left but too many branches in the way meant that I couldn’t get a good picture.  Oddly enough I had the same kind of experience going down as when going up. Three times I thought I had reached the lowest point between 2 peaks only to discover that the path dipped further down.

Picture perfect view of Mt Fuji along the ridge

Finally I reached the flat part between two peaks and at another viewpoint of Mt Fuji, I saw the escape path for the bus stop leading down to the right. Here I met a male hiker on his way up. He told me that he was going to camp at the top of the mountain so that he could see the sun rising above the summit crater of Mt Fuji the next day, also called Diamond Fuji. It’s something I have never been able to see, but at the same time I don’t think I want to put in some much effort.

After a short while I reached a junction for the Tokai Nature trail. I had to jog along the last flat portion of the way, and I finally reached the bus stop with less than five minutes to spare. The bus back was empty at first but filled up quickly at the next stop. Despite that it was an enjoyable ride since you could see Mt Fuji from time to time.

CONCLUSION: A difficult but rewarding hike with fantastic views up a famous mountain that will see the crowds melt away during the second part.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Kenashi

View to the South

Honjagamaru (1631m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

This 100 famous mountain of Yamanashi would deserve a place among the 200 or 300 famous mountains of Japan. It offers a challenging climb and a wide view from the top, including Mt Fuji and the South Alps. The trail is also easily accessible on foot from Sasago station on the Chuo line. Funnily enough, it’s not called a “yama” (mountain), but a “maru” (circle).

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Chuo line from Shinjuku station and get off at Sasago station a couple of stops past Otsuki station. Don’t do like me: fall asleep and miss your stop. I was lucky to be able to get off two stations later, and catch a train back within ten minutes – there are only about 2 trains an hour out there.

Ask for a hiking plan for Honjagamaru

 

THE ROUTE: From Sasago station’s sole exit, walk up the road on the right. Within 50 meters you will reach a T-Junction. This was probably the most confusing part of the hike, since the hiking sign clearly points to the left, whereas my map indicated a right turn. According to the map the left trail was a hard to follow route to another summit on the same ridge. Since it was published 3 years ago, things may have changed.

I decided to go right anyway, and after walking along a dirt road for about 15 minutes, I was relieved to spot a sign for the trail entrance, pointing to a dirt trail going up the mountain on the left. I set off along it with renewed confidence, only to reach an unmarked branching barely ten meters further. The left branch followed the bottom of the valley, and the right one went literally straight up the mountain side.

The beautiful ridge line path

Having already lost a significant amount of time by missing my station, and locating the trail entrance, I followed my gut instinct and went right. I guessed that the paths would probably join up later, as it often happens when you encounter an unmarked branching. They never did, and for the time being it was a mystery.

I quickly discovered that my chosen path was extremely steep – so steep that a couple of times I had to kick in the dirt with the tip of my hiking shoes to get a grip. The path was also very faint; I was starting to wonder whether it was the right choice after all when suddenly I saw a pink ribbon attached to a low branch, the unofficial trail marker throughout the area. The climb to the first shelf was intense, and left me gasping my breath at an electric pylon. After that it was easier going. The surrounding forest was beautiful and felt quite wild.

Some autumn colours

There was another confusing part about an hour after I started climbing, when the path disappeared into some dense vegetation, some sort of grass that had grown out of control. There wasn’t a clear path leading around it, so in the end I picked up a stick and literally beat a path through it myself. I finally emerged onto a road on the other side, as predicted by my map, and thus confirming that I was on the right path.

After the road, there was another very steep dirt path requiring more kicking. Eventually big rocks and boulders started appearing on either side of the path, a sure sign I was approaching the summit ridge. At last, I reached a minor summit 1377 meters high, but there wasn’t much of a view, so I soon continued along the ridge line.  After a while I got to see some beautiful autumn colours, looking amazing with the blue sky in the background.

More autumn colours

Finally I started getting some glimpses of Mt Fuji. After confirming with a descending hiker that the summit had a clear view of Mt Fuji, I hurried along till I reached the summit of Honja-ga-maru 本社ヶ丸, and a stunning view. To the south was glorious Mt Fuji, so close I felt could touch it; in front and to the left was Mt Mitsutoge, a 200-famous mountain; to the West were the South Alps; to the North were Yatsugatake and the mountains of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park; the view to the East was hidden by trees. I found a good sitting spot on a rock with a view of Mt Fuji, and had by lunch.

After lingering as long as I dared, I started downhill, continuing along the ridge. There were several more excellent viewpoints on the way. The surrounding rocky scenery felt very wild. On the way, I scared away a family of partridges. At one point, there was a path leading down to Sasago station to the right. I ignored it since I intended to follow the ridge lime for some more time before heading down.

Mt Fuji in the autumn

Just after that there was another tricky part – the path switches back and goes down the opposite side of the mountain. This is the path to Mt Mitsutoge. Shortly after you go under the trees, there is small path leading right and following the ridge again. The sign has fallen down so it is easy to miss. At the fork for Mt Haccho (八丁山 haccho-yama), I turned right to get off the mountain. The round-trip to the top of this mountain takes barely 15 minutes, but I had to drop it since I had lingered too long at the summit, and was in a hurry to get down before it got dark.

View south from the top

A little further there was yet another tricky part. A little before Onna-zaka Pass (女坂峠 onnazaka-toge), there was a path to the right for Sasago station that wasn’t on the map. The route through 女坂峠 was longer and involved an up and down, whilst this new route was more direct. Actually, we were 3 hikers hesitating at this sign. In the end, as evening was arriving quickly, we all chose caution over adventure, and took the fastest route back to the station. Unfortunately, it was also probably the least beautiful option as it descended quickly through secondary forest. As a consolation, it did offer some nice views of Honja-ga-maru and the surrounding peaks.

Honjagamaru from near the end of the hike

Finally after going back and forth through some newly planted pines trees, the path joined up with the official map path. This was the path to the station I had ignored earlier. I was glad I had taken the ridge line path on the way up, since it was truly beautiful with many views. Soon after, the road became paved, and it was a pretty boring 40 minute-walk to the station. According to the map there was supposed to be a bath near the end of the hike. However the locals told me it had closed.

CONCLUSION: Strongly recommended if you are looking for a station to station quiet hike in beautiful forest with great views within 2 hours from Tokyo. The main drawbacks are some navigational difficulties and no onsen at the end.

Ask for a hiking plan for Honjagamaru