Mt Nodake (543m) & Mt Yaeyama (531m), Uenohara City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Tuesday, December 24, 2019

This was a short hike – about 3 hours – I did along the Chuo line. I decided to add it for a couple of reasons. First the views, including Mt Fuji, were amazing. Second, the signs – in Japanese and English – were excellent, and made this an easy-to-follow hike. It had snowed in the area 3 days earlier, but it seemed that crampons wouldn’t be needed.

I took the train to Uenohara station, about an hour from Shinjuku, from where it was another hour of walking to the start of the trail. In reality it takes a bit longer, but I was able to catch a bus midway. The buses in the area are infrequent and hard to figure out so I was lucky to catch one near a bus stop. It’s another ten minutes from the last stop to the start of the trail.

Start of the hiking trail

Beautiful forest just around the corner

I started up the hiking trail just past 10am, and in less than ten minutes, I reached a viewpoint where I could see Mt Fuji. After taking a few pictures, I turned around, and saw that the path was covered in snow! However, I happened to be there at the same time as another hiker on his way down, and he assured me that there wasn’t much snow higher up.

Snow on the trail, but mostly on the North side

The path turned along the side of the mountain, and once it faced southwards, the snow did indeed disappear. It reappeared here and there further on, but it was never an issue. I was soon walking on the summit ridge, and after a couple of ups and downs, I reached the top of Mt Nodake 能岳 before 11am. The view of the Katsura river valley below with Mt Fuji in the background was outstanding.

View from the top of Mt Nodake

Closeup of Mt Fuji

After a quick bite, I set off again. It took me only ten minutes to reach the top of Mt Yaeyama 八重山. There was a small arbour, but the view was somewhat obstructed by trees. I started walking down, and less than ten minutes later I came to another arbour and lookout point. Here, the view was top notch; arguably one of the best in the Tokyo area. From left to right, I could see the Tanzawa mountains, Mt Fuji, Mitsutoge, Mt Ogiyama and Mt Gongen.

View to the West of Mt Ogiyama and Mt Gongen

View from the Mt Yaeyama observatory

I left the viewpoint at 11h30. There are several paths down the mountain, but they all meet up lower down; some were closed due to typhoon damage. Once I reached the base of the mountain, the path followed a stream through the forest. At times, the sunlight filtering through the trees was magical. Very soon, I reached a road, and it took me another 45 minutes to get back to Uenohara station.

Magical forest at the end of the hike

NEXT UP: Mt Bukka (Tanzawa Mountains) in Kanagawa

Mt Iwadono (634m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday December 8, 2019

Hiking from the Chuo Line 中央線

I’d been through Otsuki so many times, on my way to either the Mt Fuji Five lakes area, or Kofu city, and each time I saw this rocky hill jutting up behind the city. Since it’s not a very big mountain, I did it as a morning hike, returning to Tokyo around noon. At the moment, two out of the three hiking trails are closed, these closures predate typhoon Hagibis, but it’s still possible to hike up via the back of the mountain. After reaching the highest point, it’s possible to continue along the ridge westwards for another hour, and finally walk back to Otsuki station forming a loop; since it’s a popular hike, there are warning signs and maps about this right outside the station, and along the approach to the trailhead.

Autumn colours still on display in December

I used the convenient and comfortable Chuo line limited express to get to Otsuki station, only one hour from Shinjuku. It took me another hour to reach the start of the trail – Hatagura tozanguchi 畑倉登山口, just opposite a driving school. Although I had to walk on the road, there were good views of Katsura river (which later becomes Sagami river), Mt Momokura and Mt Gongen. The crisp autumn weather made all the surrounding mountains clearly visible. After crossing the river, I turned around, and I saw the snowy top of Mt Fuji rising behind Otsuki city.

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The hike follows the ridge from right to left

From the start of the hiking path, it took me just half an hour to reach the top of Mt Iwadono 岩殿山. It used to be the site of a castle, Iwadonojo 岩殿城 but there isn’t much left now. I was rewarded with an amazing aerial view of Otsuki town with Mt Fuji in the background. On the left, were the Doshi mountains, and on the right, were the Misaka Mountains. I was standing on top of the rocky face of the mountain, with nothing but a low fence and some bushes separating me from a hundred meter drop. My arrival at the top coincided with that of a rather large group, and I was asked to take their photo. One of the group members very kindly offered me some sweets in exchange. After they had moved on, I enjoyed an early lunch.

Spectacular view from the top of Mt Iwadono

Fortunately, my hike wasn’t over yet. From the summit, I continued along the ridge, first heading down for a short while before climbing again. I soon reached a fork where I had 2 choices – the forest path or the rock climbing path. Unfortunately, the group I had encountered at the summit, were now busy making their way up the rock climbing path – there was no way to get around them. Since I was on a schedule, I took the less exciting forest option. However, the paths merged soon after, and I found myself ahead of the large group, so in the end it was a blessing in disguise.

Last good view of Mt Fuji

I had some more excellent views of the valley below, and Mt Fuji, while hiking along a narrow, rocky ridge. I had imagined that this would be an easy hike, but it turned out to be quite exciting. It took me less than an hour to reach the top of the next summit, Mt Tenjin 天神山, surrounded by trees. A few minutes later, I reached an impressive rocky face called Chigo-otoshi 稚児落とし. The hiking path took me above it, where I had some more great views of the area. Standing on top of the highest boulder, I took in the last views of today’s hike. From there, the path descended steeply through forest to Asari 浅利 at the bottom of the valley, and it was another 30-minute walk along the road back to Otsuki station, which I reached just before noon, nearly four hours after setting out. I was glad to find a mountain that hadn’t been too affected by last year’s powerful typhoons. Apart from one fallen tree, the trail and the surrounding forest seemed in good shape. Hopefully the other trails will reopen sometime in the future.

Chigo-otoshi at the end of the hike – no safety fence here!

NEXT UP: Mt Hagaba in Tochigi Prefecture

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 Sanpobun (1422m) & Panoramadai (1300m), Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 30, 2019

Hiking in the Fuji Five Lakes Area

This is one of my favourite areas to hike in the late autumn and early winter since the views of Mt Fuji are so beautiful. Also, since April 2019, there is a direct limited express between Shinjuku and Kawaguchiko that I really wanted to try. It’s the same deal as the Chuo line limited express – all seats are reserved only. However, for the Fuji train, there were no seats to be had on the day itself, and I had to stand most of the way. Although it’s convenient, I probably won’t be using this train again.

View of Mt Fuji from Yamadaya Hotel

I got off at Fuji station, boarded the bus for Motosu lake, and got off at Yamadaya Hotel next to Shoji lake. The view of Mt Fuji rising from behind the lake was stunning. Originally I wanted to hike all the way to Mt Ou and end at lake Saiko, but considering the fresh layer of snow that covered the higher reaches of the mountain, I decided to shorten the hike, and make a loop back to my starting point. The fact that the Yamadaya hotel also allowed day-trippers to use their hot spring bath was also a factor in that decision.

Already hiking in the snow in November

I started up the hiking path quite late in the day – at 11h15. I had hiked up this path once before in February 2013 in the snow, and there was snow again this time. I met many people coming down – apparently this is a popular hike. I reached Panoramadai パノラマ大 one hour later, and had an early lunch. Six years ago I continued down to lake Motosu on the other side. This time, I retraced my steps to follow the ridgeline Northwards. There were less people, and the path went up and down more steeply. Fortunately, the snow layer was thin, but I had to be careful not to slip on the descending parts. I was glad I had chosen the shorter hike and that I didn’t have to rush!

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View of Shoji lake and Mt Ou in February 2013
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View of Mt Fuji and Aokigahara forest in February 2013

There was a great view of Mt Fuji and Shoji lake, a few meters to the right of the path, just before Shoji pass – I nearly missed it even though it was marked on my map. After that, the path climbed steadily. I reached an area with a small shrine that seemed like the top but wasn’t. It took another five minutes along a level path to reach the true summit of Mt Sanpobun 三方分山. It was surrounded by trees, but there was a nice view of Mt Fuji on the South side.

 

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The best view of the hike was near Shoji Pass
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View from the top of Mt Sanpobun

It was past 2pm and time to head down. On the way, I had some good views of the ridge leading up to Mt Ou – hopefully I can hike it another time. The whole mountainous area spreading North-East, and bound by the Fujikyuko and Chuo lines, is known as the Misaka mountain range. One hour later, I emerged from the forest near the base of the lake. There was an interesting shrine with a couple of very large cedar trees. According to the sign, they were 1200 years old, 10 meters in circumference, and 40m high! A short walk brought me back to my starting point where I was able to take a nice bath with a good view of Mt Fuji in the late afternoon light.

Next up: Mt Iwadono in Yamanashi Prefecture

Mt Minobu (1153m), Minobu Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 16, 2019

Hiking in the Minobu Mountains 身延山地

This is another mountain that was on my must-climb list for ages, in an area relatively close to Tokyo that I had never been to before, between Mt Fuji and the Southern Alps. There is also a ropeway to the summit – I didn’t use it, but it’s nice to have the option. Finally, the temple area at the base of the mountain is the last resting place of the founder of Nichiren Buddhism – less interesting to me, but worth noting.

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Above: Summit framed between cedar trees and temple buildings

Below: Significantly less snow on the Western side of Mt Fuji

I rode the Chuo line to Kofu, then changed to the Fujikawa Limited Express to Minobu station, arriving just past 9h30. I hopped onto the bus for the short ride to Minobusan at the base of the mountain. A short walk up the main street brought me to San-Mon 三門, one of the three famous gates of Kanto, according to the information board. It was certainly one of the most impressive gates I’d ever seen. Beyond, was also one of the longest stone staircases I’d ever climbed – a good warm-up for the hike ahead. At the top, I took time to check out the temple area before heading up the narrow paved road to the right of the ropeway, a little after 11am.

(Top Left) San-Mon Gate (Top Right) Kuonji Temple (Bottom Left) Bell Tower (Bottom Right) Random temple building inside the forest

I followed the paved road as it zigzagged up through the forest. There were few views through the cedar trees, almost no signs for the hiking trail, and no people. Occasionally, I could hear buddhist chants drifting up from below. Half an hour later, I emerged onto a shoulder, clear of trees – there was a small temple complex and a view of the summit. The paved road continued into the cool shade of the forest; its condition started to deteriorate, before completely giving up turning into a dirt road. Here, I passed a few hikers (and a dog), but it seemed that the majority of visitors preferred the ropeway. Just before 1pm, I had my first glimpses of Mt Fuji through the trees. A few minutes later, I reached the top of the ropeway, and a fantastic view of Mt Fuji and the Fuji river valley heading Southwards.

(Above) Summit of Mt Fuji behind the Tenshi Mountains (Below) Fuji River flowing into Shizuoka Prefecture

After snapping some pictures, I walked past the summit temple to the other side, where there was the summit marker for Mt Minobu 身延山. I was able to enjoy a great close-up view of the Southern Alps, with the Arakawa-zansan on the left, and the Shirane-zansan on the right, with fresh layers of snow each. Further right was Yatsugatake, in the clouds, and the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, free of clouds. I also had a good view of Mt Shichimen and Mt Fujimi, two mountains I hope to climb next year. Just past the latter was Mt Kushigata which I climbed in June this year.

(Above) Mt Shichimen (Below) Mt Fujimi, two other peaks of the Minobu Mountains

After a short standing lunch – there were no benches – I started walking down. I was supposed to head down the other side of the ridge I had come up, but instead, I seemed to be going down the backside of the mountain. I was the only person hiking down, so there was no one to ask. After triple-checking my map, I decided I was on the right path after all. I was on a paved road again, but I didn’t mind since there were now some good views through a mix of trees. Facing the massive peaks of the South Alps, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

Soon I arrived at a temple manned by a solitary monk. There was an information board with a good map which I studied for a while. The monk hovered nearby. It seemed like he was eager for some conversation but didn’t dare, or wasn’t allowed to initiate it. I noticed Minobu Hot Spring written in English on the map so I asked: “are there any hot springs for day-trippers in Minobu?” “I don’t think so,” he replied. “Do you have to stay here all day?” I asked. “I Yes, but I go back down at nightfall.” He then pointed out the tip of Mt Fuji, above the ridgeline of the mountain behind me. Having run out of questions, I thanked him, snapped a few pictures, and continued along my way.

Beautiful autumn colours in the afternoon light on the way down

The path had now turned nearly 180 degrees, and was finally heading the correct way. I soon reached a magical spot, called “senbon-sugi” 千本杉, meaning one thousand cedar trees (in reality just 260 according to the sign). I’ve seen many cedar trees in Japan – I’ve even seen the Yakusugi on Yakushima – but I thought these were really impressive. They went straight up to amazing heights – I estimated over 40 meters, but according to the signboard, some of them topped 60 meters. I spent some time gazing and photographing these awesome trees.

The Japanese Cedar (scientific name: Cryptomeria), also known as the Japanese Redwood, is related to the American Redwood or Sequoia

I finally managed to pull myself away, and continued to head down along the road, still paved. It was now 3pm and I had to speed up if I wanted to get down before dark. There were some good views of Mt Shichimen to the right, with the sun slowly dipping below the ridgeline. I soon reached a viewpoint of the valley below and the turnoff for a hiking trail – finally! The path took me straight down the side of the mountain, cutting across the forest road several times. At one point, I had an excellent view of Minobusan town, and the temple complex perched above. I could again hear the buddhist chants drifting up below, creating a special atmosphere unique to Japan. I hurried on, finally reaching the base of the mountain and Minobu town around 4pm, in the time to catch the bus back to the station. As I was told by the lone monk on the mountain, there were no hot springs for day-trippers anywhere in Minobu. However the town does have a very beautiful five o’clock chime (see Video below) which played while I was waiting for my train back to Tokyo.

Minobusan town and the temple where I started my hike five hours earlier

See the views and listen to the sounds of Minobu

rpt

NEXT UP: Mt Sanpobun (Fuji Five Lakes) in Yamanashi

 

Mt Gongen (1019m), Yamakita Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday, October 20, 2019

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地

This was my first hike since typhoon Hagibis, which hit the Kanto area the previous week. Not only did it flood many low-lying areas, but it also damaged mountain roads and hiking trails. According to the latest update from the Nishi-Tanzawa visitor center, all trails in their vicinity were open, but this was before the heavy rains that hit the Kanto area again two days before my hike.

The Sunday forecast was supposed to be good, but when I got to Shin-Matsuda station it was definitely overcast. Oddly enough I was the only person to board the bus for Nishi-Tanzawa, a popular hiking destination, especially in the Autumn season. The reason soon became clear – Friday’s rain had caused a landslide along the road, preventing the bus from reaching the visitor center, the starting point for most hikes. Fortunately for me, I was getting off before that, at Tanzawa Lake. The bus ride was along a river, and I noticed that the water was brown and muddy. Further upstream there was a sign saying that water was being released from the dam at Tanzawa lake.

Once, I got off the bus, I was shocked to see the amount of debris, mostly tree branches, floating on the lake. The lake colour was muddy-brown like the river; hopefully it will regain its normal colour soon. On the bright side, it seemed that my target mountain was just low enough to stay clear of the clouds. Before I set off, I dropped by Ochiaikan 落合館 a nice little hotel where I took a bath after hiking Mt Ono three years earlier, to confirm whether they still allowed daytrippers to take a bath (“higaeri nyuyoku” 日帰り入浴). I was told yes, and I said I would be back around 4pm.

Tanzawa lake: May 2016 (left) and Oct 2019 (right)

I had to walk counter-clockwise alongside the lake for about forty minutes to reach the start of the trail. Along the way, I saw a small parking area full of cars and cameras mounted on tripods nearby. I asked one person what they were hoping to photograph. He replied “taka” which according to my dictionary is a falcon or a hawk. Always curious about the local wildlife, I would have liked to stick around to catch a glimpse of the bird, but I was running late, so I had to move on.

Wood debris floating on Tanzawa lake

I reached the start of the trail a little before noon, and started climbing immediately. The trail climbed steeply through cedar forest. From the start it was hard to follow – this wasn’t a popular trail, and according to my guidebook, this hike is mainly done in the spring because of certain flowers that grow higher up. I got a nice surprise on the way – a small light-green frog hopped onto the path. Further up, it was the turn of a light-grey one. I have occasionally seen toads while hiking, but I had never seen a frog till this year. Earlier in the month I had also seen a couple of frogs along the Nakasendo in Nagano prefecture. I had read that the frog population was declining, but perhaps it’s making a rebound?

Frogs posing for pictures along the trail

I’m not sure whether it was because of the recent typhoon, but bright green cedar leaf branches were scattered all over the trail. I had never seen so many before, but they were effective at making the muddy trail underneath less slippery. As I gained altitude, the path became less steep, and the forest less dense, helping me spot two young deer dash away ahead of me. At times, the path was hard to follow, and I often had to rely on the “pink ribbons” to find the correct way.

The hiking path was covered with cedar leaf branches

I reached the flat top of Mt Mitsuba ミツバ山 (834m) just before 1pm. There was an opening in the trees a few meters to the South, but everything was in the clouds beyond the next ridge. In good weather, I imagine one could see Mt Fuji. After a quick break, I continued to climb along the ridgeline. Eventually, I saw mist to my right, so I figured that the top was in the cloud after all. Curiously enough, the left side remained clear for a while, before being engulfed in cloud as well.

This sign was kind of funny so I left it as it was

I reached the lonely summit of Mt Gongen 権現山 before 1pm. According to my map, there weren’t any views, just as well since there wouldn’t have been any because of the mist. This mountain’s name is fairly common: purely by coincidence, the next mountain I climbed, just 3 days later, had the same name. I didn’t even realise it until I went through my photos. After a quick lunch, I set off immediately. Since I had climbed fairly quickly, I hoped to descend equally quickly, and catch an earlier bus back, especially since the weather was poor.

Mysterious and quiet forest at the top

The path down (heading left – the path going past the top is a shortcut leading back down to Tanzawa lake) was as hard to follow as the one going up. There were steps built into the steep slope, but they lacked maintenance. It seems that this path has fallen out of favour among the hiking community, and I can’t recommend it, unless one is seeking absolute solitude. On the way down I had some glimpses of Nakagawa onsen 中川温泉 in the valley below, an aging hot spring town I had stayed at a couple of years ago.

I lost quite a bit of time looking for the trail, at one point heading down a steep valley by mistake and having to climb back up, and I ended up missing the earlier bus, as well as the next one, arriving at the bus stop just below Nakagawa Onsen, at around 4h30. Even though sunset was at 5pm, it got quite dark hiking in the forest after 4pm. I might even have spotted the elusive “taka” taking off from a branch at one one point, but it might have been just a crow.

I finally arrived back at Tanzawa lake just before 5pm, and was looking forward to a hot bath, only to discover that the hotel was closed! However, after knocking at the door, the owner arrived, and kindly let me have a quick bath – since they didn’t see me arrive at 4pm, they thought I had changed my plans, and decided to lock up for the day. After a quick bath, I caught the last bus back to Shin-Matsuda station.

NEXT UP: Mt Gongen in Yamanashi Pref. (Yatsugatake)

Karikomi Lake, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday, July 21, 2019

The very long rainy season had put a premature end to the first half of the 2019 hiking season…but I was determined to get one more hike in before the hot and busy (for me) summer arrived – my next chance would probably not be till September. Since I was a little out of shape, I chose a short and easy one in Nikko, hoping that the overcast skies, and voting for the national elections, would keep the crowds away. I was looking forward to visiting the Oku-Nikko area since I hadn’t been there since my climb of Mt Nyoho two years ago.

Lake Karikomi and Mt Taro in the background

I took advantage of the more expensive, but direct Tobu Nikko line train – being able to sit and sleep during the 2 hour trip was definitely worth the express surcharge. In Nikko there was a light drizzle. I didn’t fancy walking in the rain but I couldn’t turn back now. Going up “Irozaka slope”, the bus was enveloped in thick mist. Fortunately, once we emerged at Chuzenji lake, we were above the mist and I could see the lake and mountain sides – the sky overhead was overcast and the peaks were in the cloud though.

Today’s hike was through green mossy forest

I got off at the very last stop, Yumoto-onsen. This small, somewhat run-down, onsen town town seemed totally deserted, 11am on a Sunday morning. Was the town in decline or was my timing bad, I wondered to myself. I made my way to the start of the hiking path behind the town, also the source of it’s hot springs. There is a wooden observation path, and two small pools of bubbling water – not the most exciting tourist attraction but it’s always cool to see hot water coming out of the ground.

See the hot spring water bubbling up and hear the birds chirping near Karikomi lake

The path climbed for a few minutes, then crossed a road, before heading along the side of small forested valley. Despite being at 1500m, the air felt unpleasantly heavy – very different from my previous hike 2 weeks earlier, and one thousand meters lower. It took me less than an hour to reach a pass, where I took a short break. Afterwards, the hiking was mostly level and along a broad easy-to-walk path. I took off my bear bell so that I could enjoy the intense chirping of birds.

A signpost in the forest

After some descending along wooden staircases through a thick moss covered forest, I arrived at Karikomi Lake 刈り込み湖 just before one o’clock. After checking out the view and having a quick lunch, I set off along the path through beautiful forest, passing another small lake, and finally arriving in a wide grassy valley. Since I needed to catch the 3pm bus from the Astoria Hotel I couldn’t linger and I powered up the mountainside opposite and over another pass, with Mt Taro on my left, a 300 famous mountain that I have yet to climb.

A grassy field suddenly appeared

A hidden valley in the middle of the Nikko National Park

From there it was a quick and easy thirty minute descent to the hotel – I had to overtake a very big group of elementary school children on the way. I made the bus but had to forego the onsen, otherwise I would miss the last express train back, and that would mean getting to Tokyo really late. By the way, this place would have snagged fourth place on my list of places to go when it’s hot and humid, except that the traveling time is too long for a daytrip – seven hours for only four hours of hiking.

On the shore of Karikomi Lake

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

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

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

Smaller falls on the way to the main attraction

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

Entrance to the path to the waterfalls

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

The Minami Aki river after merging with the Kita Aki river

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

Not a real hiking trail but more of a walking path

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

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

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

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

Racing the stream on the return

Watch out for this interesting chap on the way back

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

The sign says “Have a seat!”

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

Careful not to take a tumble into the river!

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

I found this little fella along the path

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

Check out the power of water

Mt 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 Sengen (299m) & Ranzan River Valley, Ogawamachi City, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday April 20, 2019

I had been to Mt Sengen in May 2016 as a half day hike, and to Ranzan in December 2016 as a short bike ride. Since then, the hiking trail has been lengthened to connect both areas so it seemed like a good idea to return to there. I believe that Ogawamachi town makes an excellent base for hiking due to its close location to Tokyo (70 minutes by direct train from Ikebukuro) and proximity to the Higashi-Chichibu mountain area.

The hike starts from behind the Mt Sengen Miharashi no Oka Koen (view hill park) that is best reached by a short taxi ride (about 1200 yen) from the station. Otherwise it’s nearly a one hour hike. Before leaving, make sure to try a tofu donut from the small store opposite the station. The park has an observation tower with great views, and a roller slide.

View of Ogawamachi from Mt Sengen View Hill Park

The path to Mt Sengen 浅間山 follows the top ridge through beautiful forest with occasional views of Tsuki River on the left. The summit marker is reached soon after passing a jump off spot for paragliders. It’s a mostly flat place in the forest with an opening to the West. Afterwards the hike continues southwards with a number of small ups and downs. Along the way are the ruins of Aoyama castle – there isn’t much to see but you can imagine that a fine castle must have existed in such a good location.

Beautiful forest on the approach of Mt Sengen

The well-marked path first continues South, then bends to the East, passing several minor peaks along the way, eventually reaching Okura castle ruins. As before there isn’t much left to see, but there is a good lunch spot with log seats and an Eastward view, on top of the slight rise on the right side. Beyond that, the path gradually descends before reaching a road, where one needs to go left for the bridge over Tsuki river and the entrance path to the path for the Ranzan river valley.

Walking the path to Ranzan Keikoku

After crossing the bridge, there is a small trail that leads right down to the river on the right side. It’s worth heading over there since the views up and down the river are very pretty. However it’s a dead end so – the path to Ranzan is above, behind the parking area. It’s an easy-to-walk straight path that leads to the base of Mt Ohira, a short climb with a nice view. However it’s worth continuing straight along the path till reaching the river side – this is the highlight of the Ranzan river valley 嵐山渓谷. It’s a nice place to take a break.

A peaceful place to take a break

To finish the hike, take the path heading eastwards following the river downstream. Eventually it leads to a road – Musashi-Ranzan train station on the Tobu line is less than 30 minutes away. It’s also possible to catch a bus back (use Google maps).

 

See what it is like going down a roller slide with a view!