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

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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!

Mt Ontake (230m) & Mt Amabiki (409m), Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sunday April 7, 2019

This is most likely my final Ibaraki hike till autumn. I purposely chose a low hike so that I could check out cherry blossoms trees on the way, and a shorter one since I had skipped the previous week due to Hanabi. The hike starts from Iwase station on the Mito line and follows the “Kanto Fureai no Michi”, a network of trails through the Kanto area (I followed another portion during my previous hike in Chiba). This is the last portion of the ridgeline stretching North of Mt Tsukuba and Mt Kaba (one can continue to Mt Kaba for a longer hike).

An example of the well-maintained trail on this hike

Outside the station there was a sign informing me that I was inside the Mt Tsukuba area Geopark. Apparently there are about 30 such geoparks in Japan. There is also a cycle rental shop near the station since the Tsukuba Ring Ring Cycling Road passes nearby, and the hike uses it to get back to the station. Around this time of the year it is lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

Outside the station I turned right, walked through the town for a short while before turning right again and crossing the railway track. The road than led straight up the hillside to the start of the trail with an information board. There are 2 trails but apparently they join up so I took the right one. Very soon I reached the top of Mt Ontake 御嶽山 where there is a nice little “azumaya” with a good view of the valley I just came up, framed with sakura. The top also has a small shinto shrine.

Mt Tomiya, not in my guidebook, but can be hiked

After a short break, I continued along a pretty path through the forest. At one point, a yellow-furred Japanese stoat or weasel “itachi” darted across the path and disappeared into the trees, only the third one I’ve ever seen while hiking. So far, all “Kanto Fureai” paths I have walked have always been well maintained and easy to walk, with nice surroundings. After a while, I reached a long staircase (just as I was attempting a timelapse video – see video below) and I reached the top of Mt Amabiki 雨引き slightly out of breath and ahead of schedule. The mountain name can be read as “rain pull” but fortunately the weather was sunny that day, although a bit hazy.

View of Mt Kaba from the top of Mt Amabiki

I had lunch on one of the benches around the summit and took in the view of Mt Kaba and Mt Tsukuba to the South, and the Kanto plain to the West. After I set off again, the path soon started to descend and I reached the junction with the trail to Mt Kaba. For some reason the sign for Mt Kaba hadn’t been repainted as the other ones had. Since I had already been up there, I turned right and proceeded further down the mountain.

Soon I took a left along a steep descending path, supposedly a shortcut for the Amabiki Kannon temple at the end of the hike. There were a lot of visitors, and it was an interesting place to explore, since I had enough time for once. The sakura in full bloom made the place especially beautiful. I then followed an old staircase that ran parallel to the car road to reach the base of the hill and the main road.

Early April is a good time of the year to do this hike

Here are I was supposed to rejoin the cycling road but I spotted a bus stop out of the corner of my eye. Although my guidebook stated that there was no public transport in the area, it seemed that amazingly there was a bus for Iwase station coming in just a few minutes. It was still mid-afternoon but the clouds had rolled in so I decided to take the opportunity and get back to Tokyo early for once. I will come back another spring and see the cherry blossoms along the Ring Ring road by bicycle!

Get a feel of the hike by watching the timelapse video

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 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