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

 

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

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

Kawaguchiko City surrounded by nature

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

Kofu valley and beyond the Oku-chichibu mountains

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

Against the sun, looking back towards Minobu

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

The Furthest Mountain, Mt Nanten (1483m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday November 25, 2017

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Hiking in the Chichibu Mountains 秩父山地

Less than 100km away from the capital as the bird flies and smack in the middle of the Oku-Chichibu mountains of Saitama prefecture, lies Mt Nanten 南天山 1483m. Despite its relative closeness, accessing the start of the trail requires patience and a desire to explore new places.

Last Saturday, I rose at 6h30, got a seat on the Seibu line Red arrow limited express leaving around 7h30 from Ikebukuro station, hurried to catch the transfer to the Chichibu railway in the Seibu-chichibu station and got off at the last station, Mitsumineguchi at about 9h15.

Unfortunately the bus connection wasn’t ideal and I had to potter around for 45 minutes for the bus for Nakatsugawa 中津川, also the last stop and one hour away, making my arrival time a little past 11am. However I wasn’t there yet. I still needed to walk 30 minutes along a road which eventually turned into a dirt road, till I finally got to the entrance of the mountain trail, leading up a small river valley cleaved into the side of the mountain.

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The path crossed a stream several times over narrow wooden bridges

After removing my inner layer, fixing my bear bell onto my bag and having a quick bite, I was officially ready to start up the mountain, a little before noon or nearly six hours after getting up. Fortunately, unlike my previous trip the week to Okutama the week before, the further I progressed the less people there were – just one other passenger on the bus who got off before the end. This was probably because the autumn leaves season was already over.

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First views of the highest peaks of the Okuchichibu Area

The valley I walked up following a small stream was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I could only imagine what it must look like in the spring or the autumn. There was a fair amount of stream crossing along fairly new wooden bridges and the path goes up and down the side of the valley, making for a good warmup. Halfway up the valley, I came upon the spectacular Hojirushi waterfall 法印の滝. Even if you don’t climb to the top, it is well worth walking 20 minutes to check it out.

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The Hojirushi waterfall along the Kamakura River

Twenty minutes further upstream, a zigzagging easy to walk path on the left takes you up to the top ridge where you progressively make your way to the highest point. The last part gets rather rocky and feels rather wild – hard to believe that you are in Saitama, especially when you reach the top and see nothing but mountains in all directions. Directly opposite one could see the massive bulk of Mt Ryokami and in the background Mt Asama already covered in snow,

I headed down a little after 2pm down another zig-zagging path and then joined up with the previous stream valley and legged it back to the road. I was able to take a quick bath before getting on the return bus a little after 4pm. This bus, the last one of the day, took me directly to Seibu Chichibu station in about 90 minutes where after a thirty minute wait, I got the next Red arrow limited express back to Ikebukuro, arriving at 8pm, taking me only a little less time than on the way there.

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The summit marker of Mt Nanten with Mt Ryokami in the background

Enjoy the contrast between the rushing water and the silent summit

 

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 Myoho (1332m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

The starting point for this hike was Mitsumine Shrine, a place I had visited a few times before, but had never really taken the time to explore. Since today’s hike was relatively short, I first took some time to check out the Mitsumine visitor center, one of the starting points for visiting the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. It was a pleasant surprise – I found the displays of mounted animals and the model relief of the area particularly interesting.

View of Mt Wanakura (also known at Mt Shiroishi and climbed in 2018) from Mitsumine Shrine

After spending nearly an hour at the visitor center, I hurriedly set off along the hiking path up Mt Kumotori. The autumn colours were at their peak, and since it was a weekday, I had them mostly to myself. Very soon I reached the turnoff for today’s mountain, located on a small ridge branching left off the main ridgeline. In less than an hour, I reached the small shrine at the top of Mt Myoho 妙法山, from where I got some great views of Oku-Chichibu, with Mt Ryokami in the center.

View of the jagged peak of Mt Ryokami from the summit

After lunch, I headed back to the shrine, and since it was still early in the day, I took some time to check out the shrine grounds – it was beautiful with all the autumn colours. At the back, there was a spectacular view of the mountain I had just climbed as well as Chichibu city.

Good views from the trail heading down from Mt Mitsumine shrine

Afterwards, I located the hiking path leading down the mountain. Although there were a number of people at the shrine, no one seemed interested in hiking down, so once again, I had the path entirely to myself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to hike all the way down to the train station, and the path ended up on the road, from where I caught an express bus back to Seibu-Chichibu station.

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

Mt Ryokami (1723m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Tuesday, May 5 2015 [Hatcho Ridge Route]

I had first climbed this mountain in early December 2009; I went up the Hinata-oya route on a beautiful autumn day and enjoyed some great views from the peak. In May 2014, I was invited by a friend to climb it again using the Shiroisazu route. We obtained permission in advance to use this trail, as it goes through private land; however, this time the weather was poor, and we turned back before reaching the exposed, rocky summit. I decided to give it another try the following year, but I wanted to try a different route. Looking at my map, I saw that by walking two hours along a small road, I could traverse from Hatcho Pass to Hinata-oya. The weather was supposed to be good all day, perfect for a long hike along a rocky ridgeline. It would be a success as long as I managed to catch the last bus back from Hinata-oya. I was looking forward to reaching the top for a second time and getting some great views of the Oku-chichibu area.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

秩父多摩甲斐国立公園

The Hatcho Ridge in Spring

View from Higashi-dake

On a sunny spring morning, I rode the limited express from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu station where I switched to a bus for Nakatsugawa. I got off a few stops before the end of the line and, after passing through a short tunnel, followed a road up a green valley next to a small river. Directly ahead, I could see rocky cliffs forming the summit of Mt Akaiwa (赤岩岳).

The ruins of the Nichitsu mine village

Mt Akaiwa from the approach to Hatcho pass

An hour after setting out, I passed the spooky, abandoned houses of the Nichitsu mine village (日窒鉱山), one of the many “haikyo” or urban ruin spots in Japan. I had heard about it before and was glad I had an opportunity to check it out in person. I found the start of the trail at a bend in the road and, just past noon, reached the top of Hactcho pass (八丁峠) and the start of the Hatcho Ridge route (八丁尾根コース).

First views from Hatcho ridge

The big dip between the Nishi and Higashi peaks

Before long, I was getting some fantastic views: northwards, I could see Nishi-joshu, the mountainous area of western Gunma; southwards I was looking at the highest peaks of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park; to the west was Yatsugatake, still covered in snow; straight ahead lay the impressive Hatcho ridgeline, leading to the summit. At 1h30, I reached the top of Nishi-dake (西岳 1613m).

Looking north towards the Nishi-Joshu area of Gunma

The steep climb up Nishi-dake, the rocky sections fitted with chains

From here, the trail made an huge dip and then rose again, passing numerous steep rocky sections, fitted with chains for safety. Since it was long hike, I tried to keep a good pace and was lucky that few people on the same route that day. A little before 2h30, I reached the top of Higashi-dake (東岳 1660m), only slightly higher than the previous peak, but quite demanding in effort.

Northwest, Yatsugatake and Asamayama visible in the distance

Looking back at the route hiked so far

Looking north, was like seeing the view from a plane: I could look down on the the rocky summit ridge of Mt Futago half a kilometer below; looking east was the pyramid top of Mt Buko, with Chichibu city spread out at its feet; looking up was blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Even though the elevation was only half of the highest peaks of the Japanese Alps, it felt like alpine trekking, an impression reinforced by the steep rocky slopes covered in pine trees.

A bird’s eye view from the top of Higashi-dake

The striking shape of Mt Daikigi

I took a short break at the sole bench and enjoyed the view of the nearby, pillar-shaped Daikigi (大キギ). I soon set off again, and at 3pm, I was standing on the top of Mt Ryokami (両神山 りょうかみさん ryokami-san), a 100 famous mountain of Japan. I was glad to be standing on the summit again, even more since the weather was even better than the first time.

On the left, the mountains of Okutama

Westward view from the top of Mt Ryokami

From the highest point, I now had great views to the south, including the massive Mt Wanakura; in the opposite direction, I could see the faint outline of Mt Asama, 50 kilometers away; much closer to me was the long ridgeline that had taken nearly 3 hours to traverse. I wanted to enjoy the views some more but I had to move on right away if I wanted to make my bus.

It was the perfect weather for this hike

A photo of the well-maintained shiroisazu route from the previous year

I descended the mountain at a swift pace along a familiar route and arrived at the bus stop a little after 5pm, just as the valley was being engulfed in shadows. I sat down on the bus seat, tired but relieved, and got off at the nearby Yakushi no yu hot spring for a quick bath. Refreshed, I then caught the last bus for Seibu-Chichibu station where I hopped on the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Ikebukuro.

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

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