Mt Koshin (1892m), Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday, November 14, 2021

This mountain had been on my to-climb list for the past few years. I needed to go by car and be physically fit to be able to do it it as a daytrip; good weather was also a requirement to justify the expense of the trip and the effort of the climb. The drive from Nikko station and back seemed straightforward, although I would need to skip the after-hike hot spring bath if I wanted to be back before dark. The beautiful autumn weather was supposed to continue for a few more days. However, due to the higher elevation, I had little hope of seeing any autumn leaves. My only concern was about the trail itself, since it went through an extensive rocky area, equipped with ladders and chains; it looked fun but I needed to be careful. Finally, I was looking forward to hiking inside the southern part of the Nikko national park and seeing some great views.

View of Mt Sukai from near the summit of Mt Koshin

Koshin Lodge with the cliffs of Mt Koshin in the background

I arrived in Nikko around 9h30 under a mostly cloudy sky. By the time I reached my car, I noticed a blue patch slowly expanding from the east, and after I arrived at the Ginzan-Daira parking area (銀山平駐車場) a little after 11am, the sky was entirely blue above. At 1130, I was walking a long a flat road closed to traffic and hugging the mountainside above a steep river valley; one hour later I reached the red shinto gate at Ichi-No-Tori (一の鳥居) marking the start of the hiking trail.

The forest road leading to the start of the hiking trail

The first part of the trail was fairly easy to hike

I followed a beautiful mountain stream up a gently sloping path. On the way, I crossed a couple of wooden bridges and passed several huge rocks with various names. A little after 1pm, I reached Koshin lodge (庚申山荘), where most hikers spend the night, and then hike to Mt Sukai and back the next day. Rising dramatically behind it, I could see the cliffs through which somehow a trail led to the summit. I took a short break and set off again, reaching the rocky base about ten minutes later.

The trail followed a lively mountain stream

Climbing steeply from here

I was the only person on the trail so I resolved to be doubly cautious as I made my way up through the rocks. I was amazed that anybody would think of creating a path up what was almost a rocky cliff, and I would only recommend it to surefooted hikers. I moved quickly, soon reaching the cliff top and a view point from where I could see the low mountains of southern Tochigi. I continued through a thick pine forest along a gentler sloping trail. At 2pm, I reached the top of Mt Koshin (庚申山 こうしんざん koshinzan), a hundred famous mountain of Tochigi.

Halfway up the rocky area

Surefootedness is a must here

It was completely in the trees but after walking a few minutes along the ridgeline, I reached a break in the trees and a fantastic view. Directly opposite, I could see Mt Nokogiri and Mt Sukai. To the north was Mt Shirane and Mt Nantai. I was the only person enjoying this glorious panorama on a peaceful windless day. I wanted to stay longer but I needed to head back before it started to get dark. I went down the same way, although now it was mostly in the shade.

Gazing upon the mountains of Tochigi from above the cliffs

View of the Nikko national park from near the summit

It took me an hour a half to get back to the trail entrance. Since I was on schedule, I had a quick look at the nearby 7 waterfalls of Koshin (庚申七滝), although access to some of the falls was currently closed. I reached the parking area just before 4h30 and left soon after. As I drove along the Watarase river valley, I came upon a troop of monkeys crossing the road. I reached Nikko station at 5h20 and then hopped onto the Kegon limited express for the ninety-minute ride back to Tokyo.

Follow the mountain stream to the top of Mt Koshin

Mt Kabuto (913m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, October 10, 2021

I had done many hikes in Yamanashi, but I had never been to the hills between Yamanashi and Kofu cities. My hiking guide had two suggestions for that area, but, after studying my map, I ended up choosing another mountain in-between, because it was shorter and easier to access. I would take a taxi from Yamanashi-shi station to the start of the trail, and after a loop hike, return on foot via a road to a hot spring, and Kasugaicho station on the local Chuo line. Although the trail went through a rocky area, it didn’t seem to present any major difficulties. I was more concerned about spiders and their webs blocking the way, a recurring headache when hiking under 1000 meters in September and October. The weather was supposed to be cloudy at first with sun in the afternoon, and since there was a viewpoint near the top, I hoped I could get to see the mountains of Yamanashi as well as Mt Fuji.

View south from the rocky area

The weather was gloomy and cloudy as I rode the limited express out of Shinjuku. It didn’t seem like I would get any views today, as white mist spilled out of the valleys on both sides of the Chuo line. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at “Nageshi Somen“, close to the start of the trail, and less than ten minutes away. As I got ready for the hike, I felt that despite the overcast weather, I was lucky that the temperature felt just right for hiking.

Statue near my taxi drop-off point

An easy to walk path at the start of the hike

After walking along a dirt road for twenty minutes, I arrived at a fireworks store and the start of the hiking trail. I was soon walking on a flat wide path through pleasant forest next to a small river. It took another 20 minutes to reach the start of the “rocky area” trail (岩場コース iwaba-kosu). After a short climb up the side of the mountain, I reached the the rocks and cliffs on the east side of the mountain. I took a break to observe some people practice their rock climbing skills on a huge boulder (see video).

Cairn along the first part of the “rocky area” trail

Walking between the rocks on the east side of the mountain

I reached the first viewpoint of the day as the noon chime echoed through the wide valley below. Directly below, I could see the Kasugai golf course and, on the other side of the valley, the foothills of the Misaka mountains, their peaks lost in the low clouds. I was now halfway up the “rocky area” course and I had fun scrambling between and over rocks of various sizes, using fixed chains to pull myself up when necessary. I could also relax since there were no webs spun across this section of the trail.

Kasugai golf course and the Misaka mountains

My lunch view – somewhere to the right is Mt Fuji

I soon reached a gently sloping ridgeline, and by 12h30 I was standing on top of Mt Kabuto (兜山 kabuto-yama), meaning helmet mountain because of its rounded shape. The summit, a hundred famous mountain of Yamanashi, was completely in the trees, but after walking south along a short path, I arrived at a bench with a view through a break in the trees, a good place for lunch. The weather hadn’t really improved, and although I was supposed to be able to see Mt Fuji, just 30 kilometers away behind Mt Oni and Mt Settou, all I could make out was a white wall. After lunch, I made my way back to the summit and followed the trail west through the forest.

A rocky narrow ridge near the highest point of the hike

View on the way down at the edge of a deforested area

I walked along a rock strewn ridge, slowly rising to an altitude above 1000 meters, the back of the helmet perhaps; for the first time this season, the air felt chilly. The path then suddenly dropped down the back of the “helmet”, and as the temperature went back to comfortable, I had to start dodging spiderwebs again. Luckily for me, each time I stepped into one, its maker was on the higher half, just above the top of my cap. I turned left into a valley and was now walking through the beautiful “Kabuto-yama no Mori” (the Mt Kabuto forest). I was the only hiker around and I was constantly spooked by falling acorns. At 2pm, I reached a forest road between a deforested area and Umezawa river, the same one I had followed earlier in the day.

Looking back at Mt Kabuto

View from the road between the golf course and the vineyards

I walked at a leisurely pace to the parking lot near the start of the “rocky area” trail, completing the loop. I then continued on a paved road, with the river below on the left and a golf course on my right. Looking back, I could see the helmet-shaped summit of Mt Kabuto. Ahead, I had a bird’s eye view of Kofu valley. The weather was finally improving and patches of blue sky were visible above. After a steep descent through some vineyards, I arrived at the Iwashita hot spring inside a building dating from 1888. It was just past 3pm, so I had time for a quick dip, before walking to the nearby train station. I rode one stop and switched to the limited express for the eighty minute ride back to Shinjuku.

Hiking over “Helmet mountain”

Toryu Valley & Mt Omine (1062m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, November 2019

 

Autumn colours along Toryu-Kei

In mid-November, I went on a day-trip to check out the autumn colours in the Oku-Chichibu area. It had been one month since the devastation brought by Typhoon Hagibis, also known as Typhoon #19, and there was a risk that some trails would be damaged or even closed. However, there are many great places to visit in the area, and I was confident I would find somewhere to walk among the autumn leaves.

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Sign reminding me that I was inside the Oku-Chichibu National Park

I drove from Seibu-Chichibu station, past Mitsumine-Guchi station, to Toryu Bridge 登竜橋 where I left the car. Past the bridge, it’s possible to walk along the Arakawa river in both directions. I first headed downstream; the path had been partly washed away in several places, and was also obstructed by several fallen trees. Since the path was a dead-end, I quickly gave up, walked back past the bridge, and followed the river upstream.

View from Toryu Bridge

First, I followed a gently climbing road past some ancient gravestones. After a few minutes there was a sign for a trail through the forest on the right. This led back down to the river, round a cliff on a wooden walkway, and finished at Ryumon Waterfall 竜門の滝. I retraced my steps to the start of the wooden walkway, and then followed another path further upstream, a few meters above the rushing river. There was a lot of damage here due to the typhoon. The trail was so washed away, that I soon gave up again. In conclusion, it’s impossible to hike along most of the Toryu valley at the moment. On the way back, I followed the road a little further, and it led to the start of the trail to Mistumine Shrine. Apparently, this trail is open and undamaged.

Entrance to the trail for Mitsumine Shrine

Afterwards, I drove another twenty minutes, past the turn-off for Mitsumine Shrine, all the way to the Irikawa river valley. I was going to leave the car at the Irikawa Camping Ground and explore the river upstream. However, the access road was closed due to typhoon damage, and it wasn’t possible to reach the start of the trail. I had to fallback on plan C: completely avoid river valleys, and drive to nearby Tochimoto Plaza 栃本広場 where I could hike Eastwards along a low ridge sandwiched between two lakes.

Beautiful autumn colours in “deep Chichibu”

This time I was lucky. The path was easy to hike with no damage at all; the autumn leaves were still at their peak. It took me about thirty minutes to reach the top of Mt Omine 大峰山 completely in by trees. Even the little viewing platform wasn’t high enough to see over them. The path continued along the ridge, but since it was now downhill through a thick cedar forest, and I had get back to the car, I decided not to go any further. Luckily, it was possible to take a slightly different path back, with occasional glimpses of Oku-Chichibu-Momiji lake through the trees.

Easy hiking through the forest

I drove a different way back, following a very picturesque road with good views towards Mt Wanakura. I got back to Seibu-Chichibu station before 4pm where I was able to enjoy a nice hot bath, and taste some local sake inside the station, before taking the brand new and futuristic looking Laview Limited Express train back to Tokyo. After the heavy rains and strong winds that hit the Kanto area last October,  I think that most hiking trails in Tokyo, Saitama and Tochigi prefecture are still hikable, except the ones following river valleys. Those ones may be closed for a while, but hopefully they’ll be restored sometime in the future.

View of Mt Wanakura in the late afternoon

Mt Gongen (2715m) & Mt Amigasa (2524m), Hokuto City & Fujimi Town, Yamanashi & Nagano Prefectures, Thursday, October 23, 2019

Hiking on Mt Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I was hoping to climb one last big mountain in 2019, before the arrival of snow, and I had had my eye on the two Southernmost peaks in the Yatsugatake range for a while. Even though they are the closest to Tokyo, right between Yamanashi and Nagano, they’re challenging to climb as a day trip from Tokyo – Mt Tengu, further North, was possible thanks to the Hokuriku shinkansen. In the end, I decided to stay the night in Kofu and drive to the mountain; this way I could leave at dawn, and finish around sunset. I had to travel to Yamanashi and back by highway bus, since the trains weren’t running as usual due to damage by typhoon Hagibis. This was a blessing in disguise, since the bus costs half the price of the train, so I could recoup some of the cost of the hotel and the car.

Looking back at the pointy tip of Mt Gongen from Mitsugashira

On Thursday morning, the sky above Kofu city was foggy, but as I drove West along the highway, blue skies appeared overhead. As Yatsugatake came into sight, I got a shock: the top was white with snow! As I drew closer, I saw with relief that it was only the highest peak, Mt Aka (2899m), that was covered in snow, and today’s hike would be snow-free. I reached the Kannondaira parking lot (1560m) just before 8am – there were quite a few cars, even on a weekday. The first part of the hike, a gently rising trail through forest that was still green, was fairly easy. After half an hour, I reached a clearing with a good viewpoint of Mt Fuji sporting a brand new snow cap – a good place for breakfast.

Snow-capped Mt Fuji – the morning mists haven’t fully dissipated yet

The trail continued through thick forest, and after another half an hour I reached the turn-off for my first peak. A steep climb straight up the side of the mountain, with occasional views through the forest of the Kofu valley behind me, brought me to the bare and rocky top of Mt Amigasa 編笠山 at 10h30. The 360 degree view was one of the best I’ve ever seen while hiking.

From left to right I could see Mt Fuji, the Minami Alps, the Chuo Alps, Mt Ontake, Mt Norikura and the Kita Alps – all the highest were covered with snow. I could also see the entire Yatsugatake range stretching North, with in the center the matterhorn-like peak of Mt Aka. There were so many great pictures from this hike, that it was impossible to share them all here.

Today’s mountain is the highest point on the far right, but lower than Mt Aka in the center

After a quick bite, I set off downhill just after 11am, towards a saddle where the Seinen Hut was located, just 20 minutes away. The last part was full of giant boulders, and it took some time since I had to step carefully from boulder to boulder, following painted yellow arrows. After that, I was climbing again through forest. Suddenly, I was above the treeline at around 2600m; there was a sharp drop on my left, and an impressive rocky outcrop towering in front of me.

Fortunately, there was a switchback path on the right, with helpful chains in several places. It looped around the back, and led up to what I thought was the highest point. Noticing that there was no summit marker, I turned around – the true top was behind me, five minutes away and just a little higher. Looking left, I could the impressive “kiretto” or mountain ridge, leading to Mt Aka.

The “kiretto”, on the right, leading up to the highest point of the Yatsugatake

Originally I had planned to go up and down the same way. However, I had made good time climbing up, so I decided to take a different and longer route down. I hurried past another hut to the highest point of my hike, Mt Gongen 権現山 – in fact the highest mountain climbed in 2019. I couldn’t actually get to the very highest point since it consisted of a bunch of huge boulders, but I got as high as I felt safe doing, and had the rest of the lunch while enjoying the view of Mt Fuji in the distance. Since a boulder was in a way, I couldn’t get a perfect 360 degree view. The weather was still sunny, with almost no wind. Despite the high altitude, and proximity of the snowline 200m higher, I was perfectly fine wearing just a base layer. At one point a cargo plane, probably from the Japan Self-Defense Force, flew past the summit (see video at the end).

Perfect view of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Gongen

I had to set off fairly quickly if I wanted to complete the hike before dark, around 5pm. First I headed down and back up again to Mitsugashira 三ツ頭 (2580m). Looking back, the view of snow-covered Mt Aka, wrapped in mist was breath-taking. By now, it was nearly 2pm and I needed at least a couple of hours to get back to my car, so I pulled myself away from the view, and descended into the forest. This was one of the nicest and easiest downhill hikes I’ve ever done. There were good views of my first peak, with orange larch trees around the base. One hour and a half later, I reached the Yatsugatake crossing path (“oudan hodo” 八ヶ岳横断歩道), part of a trail that circles the entire mountain range –  something to try one day. From there, it was another thirty minutes back to the parking area along a mostly level trail, although the last meters were steep uphill – pretty tough after what was nearly an 8 hour hike! Fortunately, there was a hot spring at the base of the mountain, so I could have a good soak before making the long trip back to Tokyo.

Although it’s called the red peak, today it was partly white

 

I believe this was a JIETAI plane flying past the summit

 

NEXT UP: Mt Ihai (Mt Ashitaka) in Shizuoka

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

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

The balding top of Mt Yunomaru, climbed in November 2015

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

Mt Azuma, climbed at the end of May 2012

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

The highest point of Mt Asama

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

 

Mt Kusatsu-Shirane and Tashiro Lake

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

 

View Westwards from the top of Mt Kakuma

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

Mt Higashi-Azuma (1975m), Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, Sunday, August 25 2019

After a one-month break, I’ve resumed my hiking activities, despite an ankle that hadn’t really healed. I needed something easy to allow me to get back into the groove, and also at a high elevation, since it was still quite hot and humid. With the weather forecast looking good, I decided to take the shinkansen all the way to Fukushima city, and then drive up the Eastern side of Mt Azuma, a hyakumeizan inside the Bandai-Asahi National Park about 230 km North of Tokyo.

Technically, the highest point is the Western summit about ten-kilometers away, so summiting the Eastern summit doesn’t really count towards increasing my tally of hundred famous mountains, stuck at 81 since last July. Although there is a bus from Fukushima city, the return is quite early, and doesn’t allow enough time to hike to the top and back.

 

Part I: Usagi-daira – Toriko-daira – Mt Higashi-Azuma

The top of Mt Higashi-Azuma in good weather

After parking my car at the free parking at Usagidaira 兎平, just a few minutes from the huge paying parking in front of the Jododaira visitor center, I set off on a small path that went through the campsite on the other side of the road. Apart from a few nice sections, I didn’t enjoy it very much. The path was tricky to walk, and was in dire need of maintenance. It was a relief when I finally reached Toriko-daira 鳥小平 with its wooden walkways and many dragonflies.

Here I turned right instead of going straight

Instead of heading up Mt Takayama straight ahead, I turned right, crossed the Bandai-Azuma Skyline, and slowly started climbing. Shortly, I reached a kind of plateau where I had great views of the summit, as well as a small lake. I was at the same height as the clouds and it was fascinating to watch them drift by. I soon resumed my climb. As I gained more altitude, the weather started to worsen, and by the time I reached the observation point near the top, I was, to my great despair, in the cloud with almost no visibility.

I continued somewhat dejected towards the highest point, but by now it had started raining. I took refuge under the trees just a few meters short of the summit. I put on my rain gear and proceeded to have some lunch. I was hoping the rain would let up, but it only seemed to pound down harder. The wind was blowing, and it felt cold even though it was still August. Finally I gave up and made a dash for the exposed summit of Higashi-Azuma 東吾妻山. I took a quick summit pic, and immediately headed down the other side.

Blue skies and clouds reflected in a pond

I was glad I had put on my rain clothes, as they soon got soaking wet, partly due to the rain, and partly from brushing against wet vegetation. The rain eventually stopped and the sun came out, but I had already descended too far to return to the summit. I didn’t like the path down very much: lots of roots and rock, making it tricky with my bad ankle.

 

Part 2: Uba-ga-hara – Kama-Numa Pond

A beautiful lake high up in the mountains

Eventually, I emerged at Uba-ga-hara 姥ケ原 where I was faced with a crossroads. I decided to head straight rather than head back straight to Jododaira. Very quickly, I reached Kama-Numa Pond 鎌沼池 which was quite a breath-catching sight. The dark blue water and light sky perfectly complemented the light green grassy rocks near the shore, and the dark green forested hills opposite. Definitely a landscape that would be worth painting.

The path leading down and back to the visitor center

Initially I thought I would walk clockwise around the lake, but my footsteps somehow took me counter-clockwise. I hope to come back some day and climb the remaining peaks on the other side of the lake. Eventually I left the lake behind me, and started to head back towards the visitor center. The weather had completely recovered. Descending in the sunshine, it was hard to believe that only one hour earlier I was sheltering from the wind and the rain near the summit!

 

Part 3: Jododaira – Mt Azuma-Kofuji

Spectacular view of “small Fuji” on the side of Mt Azuma

I was behind schedule, so I started to hurry towards Jododaira 浄土平. Although I had come by car, according to signs I had seen on the way up, the road back to Fukushima city closed at 5pm, so I had to make sure I was gone by them. My pace slowed somewhat after I started getting some jaw-dropping views of Mt Azuma-Kofuji 吾妻小富士, the mini-volcano sprouting from the side of Mt Azuma like a pimple. I definitely wanted to walk around the rim!

Walking above the clouds…

Although some sections had steps and walkways, a lot didn’t, so my ankle suffered some more. To my right, steam was venting out of the side of Mt Issaikyo. It was with great relief that I finally reached the visitor center. I took off my rain gear, and then rushed up the side of the mini-volcano and was standing at the edge of the crater less than five minutes later. I managed to walk around it in less than half an hour, enjoying the stunning views in every direction. It’s a pretty easy walk and anyone can do it. I managed to be back at the car before 4h30 and was happily driving back to the train station by 5pm. On the way, I had a quick bath at the very nice public onsen Attakayu.

Next up: Hiking at Yu no Maru, on Mt Asama (Nagano prefecture)

 

Clouds rolling by at nearly 2000m elevation

Mt Kushigata (2052m), Minami Alps, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 22, 2019

After my foray into the very southern part of the Southern Alps the previous weekend, I decided to go back and do one of the few higher mountains in the Minami Alps that can be done as a day trip from Tokyo. I had been wanting to climb this one for a while but since it requires a car, I kept putting it off (it can be done via public transport but you’d have to stay the night before in the area). The weather wasn’t perfect but I decided to risk it anyway, and I was glad I had!

It was my first time experiencing the new “all seats reserved” Chuo line, and overall, I felt that it was an improvement over the previous system. At least I was guaranteed a seat, which is essential when traveling all the way out to Kofu, where I had reserved a shared car. The trip up to the parking lot at Ikenochaya 池の茶屋 (1860m) was mostly uneventful – the road was pretty bad in some parts, but I had seen worse. I snagged the second to last parking spot. Under a thick cover of clouds, and the odd drop of rain, I was ready to set out at 11h15.

Super easy hiking for the first thirty minutes

The first part of the hike was incredibly easy to hike – a gently sloped series of switchbacks leading to a viewpoint of Mt Kitadake which was unfortunately entirely in the clouds. Rain was falling intermittently, but I didn’t mind since the surrounding vegetation, mostly ferns, was a very beautiful shade of light green. Soon the path started to descend via a series of log staircases. The amount of descent started to alarm me – I should be going up a mountain not down – but my guidebook and the numerous signposts reassured me that I was on the right trail.

Looking back up this long log staircase

The path soon bottomed out and I was rising again, gently, through beautiful typical Southern Alps forest scenery. At this point I got a bit confused. I pride myself on my sense of direction, but here I will admit I lost track a bit. The path did what I thought was a loop, yet I never crossed my previous path. Eventually I arrived at a flattish area with a wooden walkway, and white flowers that ressembed sakura, but which were in fact oxalis.

An unexpected flower observation section on the hike

Apparently the area is famous for its irises, but they weren’t in bloom yet. In no time, I reached the top of Mt Hadaka (meaning Mt Naked). I was supposed to see the main peaks of the Southern Alps and Mt Fuji but in reality I saw nothing. However the temperature was pleasant, even a little cool, and there was no wind, so I settled down for some lunch.

At first sight I thought these were some really late blooming mountain sakura

The next section was through amazingly beautiful forest, full of massive camphor trees and moss-covered undergrowth. At one point I spotted a solitary juvenile Kamoshika (Japanese serow), passively munching some grass (see video). I arrived at the top of Mt Kushigata 櫛形, a two-hundred famous mountain, a little after 2h30, where there was a relatively new summit marker, a few meters from the old weather-worn one. The clouds were still in, so no view, but it was very peaceful and quiet. I had not seen anybody in the past hour and a half.

Most of the hike scenery and trail was like this

I set off for the final part of the hike back to the parking area. The mist had rolled in, providing some very nice photo opportunities. At the car park, my car was the only one left – time to head back! Heading down the mountain, the sun broke few in a few places, I was able to get some nice views of the valley below. Instead of taking the train directly back to Tokyo, I got off at Isawa Onsen, less than ten minutes away. It’s a great place to have a hot spring bath, and I got to taste some Yamanashi wines at the wine server in the tourist office below the train station – a great way to finish a Yamanashi hike!

Tree in the mist number 1

Tree in the mist number 2

Have you ever seen a Kamoshika while hiking?

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

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

Yatsugatake in the background

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

The Joshinetsu mountains

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

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Mt Yokote (2307m) & Mt Shiga (2037m), Yamanouchi Town, Nagano Prefecture

I did this hike with my mother who was visiting Japan for a couple of weeks. Since it was quite far from Tokyo, we rented a car in Takasaki, and spent the night in a traditional Japanese inn, or “ryokan”, in Kusatsu Onsen. The next morning was sunny, but by the time we had made our way all the way up to Yugama Lake 湯釜 the clouds had rolled in. We admired the light blue colour of the crater lake, but gave up on climbing Mt Kusatsu-Shirane. I had climbed it before in the clouds, and had little interest in doing it again in similar conditions.

A beautiful crater lake

We drove on to Yokoteyama Ropeway which took us to the top of Mt Yokote 横手山. We got some nice views of Shiga Highland 志賀高原. Fortunately, the Nagano side was still free of clouds. We finally arrived at Kumanoyu (meaning the bear’s bath) where we left the car. We were now firmly inside Nagano prefecture. Another short ropeway took up to the start of the hike. Luckily, the weather was holding up. The first part was quite level. At one point the path went through some very high bamboo, higher than our heads, and I was worried about bears. So I reached into my bag to retrieve my bear bell only to realise that I had left it in the car!

View from the top of Mt Yokote

Soon the path started to climb. It was steep, with big rocks and protruding tree roots, making progress slow. The path slowly wound up the side of the mountain. We saw few people, and thankfully no bears. We reached the top of Mt Shiga 志賀山 just before 2 pm. A little way past the summit, there were some good views of Onuma-ike Lake below. The whole hike is inside the Joshin Etsu Kogen National Park and is very wild and beautiful.

The area of our hike – Mt Shiga is in the clouds on the right

We climbed down via a different path, spotting various small ponds on the way. Finally, after passing through a shinto gate or “torii”, we reached the base of the cone-shaped Mt Shiga. The next part involved walking along an elevated walkway through marshlands – much easier than the rocky path down the mountain! The final part back to the ropeway was along a wide and level path through the forest.

Onuma Lake in the middle of Shiga Highland

Since it was getting late, we decided not to take a bath at Kumanoyu, and leave right away. No sooner had we set off, that a dark shadow dashed across the road – it was a bear cub. It disappeared into the bushes opposite. We waited a bit for a mother bear, but she was nowhere to be seen. In any case the place certainly deserves its name!

Elevated walkway through the marshland 

On the way back, we stopped briefly for some photos at the marker for the highest national road in Japan at 2172m high. The drive down to Kusatsu onsen was through thick mist. We had a bath at the Sainokawara open-air bath, one of the biggest in Japan. After we were done, it started raining really hard, but we managed to get back to Takasaki safe and sound, a little after nightfall.

Hiking up and down Mt Shiga

Nikko-Shirane Ropeway & Goshiki-Numa Lake, Katashina Town, Gunma Prefecture

I did this hike with my mother who was visiting Japan for a couple of weeks. Since it was quite far from Tokyo, we spent the night at the Takasaki Dormy Inn Hotel, and the next morning, I drove to the Nikko-Shirane Ropeway. Even though it was a weekday, I was surprised by how few people there were, especially since it was the middle of the summer holidays. The place is mainly a ski resort in the winter so perhaps people aren’t aware that it also runs from June to October. I love ropeways and I keep on discovering new ones – it’s amazing how many there are in Japan!

Sun shining through the forest

At the top of the ropeway, inside Nikko National Park and nearly 2000m high, the visibility wasn’t the best, and the views were a little disappointing. At least it was cooler than down in the valley. The hike started out on a fairly level trail through beautiful forest. After an hour or so, we had to climb steeply for a short while to reach the edge of a pond. Here I was able to look up towards the top of Mt Nikko-Shirane. I had been hoping to get my revenge, since it was in clouds when I climbed it several years ago. However, the top was in the clouds again, and another ascent seemed pointless.

Midaga Pond near the top of Mt Nikko-Shirane

We continued a little further and reached the edge of a crater with at the bottom, the beautiful Goshiki-Numa lake 五色沼 (which means five-colour lake). Since we had enough time, I decided we could descend to the shore of the lake and climb back up again. Unfortunately the descent was steep and rocky, and we regretted it a bit.

The Goshiki-numa lake, inside Tochigi prefecture

After enjoying the peace and quiet of the lake, we made our way back up to the edge of the crater via a different path, and then walked back the way we had come. At the pond, we passed a group of noisy school children who had come up a different path. We headed back down the steep path to the forest below, and at the bottom we took another trail that looped back to the top of the ropeway.

View of Maru-numa lake from the ropeway

Check out the views of Nikko-Shirane

On the drive back to Takasaki we stopped at the very impressive Fukiware Waterfalls 吹割の滝 where we could walk along the river and the falls for a short way.

Where is all the water going?

Check out one of the famous waterfalls in Japan