Mt Mino (587m), Minano Town, Saitama Prefecture (Utsukushii no Yama)

This was another short hike, about one hour up and one hour down, less than two hours by train from Tokyo. Once again, by studying the Chichibu hiking map, I found a way to extend it, through Eastern Chichibu and ending at Yorii station; I hoped it would make a great station to station hike. Also, the trails I had picked followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi for nearly the entire way, so I was almost certain that the path would be well signposted and easy to walk.

20150426_100306

Hiking up Utsukushii no yama or “Beautiful Mountain”

I got off the train at Oyahana station on the Chichibu line around 9 am on a beautiful spring morning. The walk up through the new green forest was one of the easiest I had ever done; it’s also possible to drive up. At the top of Mt Mino 蓑山 (Minoyama) there was a small observation tower with a 360 degree view. The view to the East of the nearby mountains of Higashi Chichibu was better than the view to the West of the much further Oku-Chichibu mountains, lost in the late morning haze. By the way, this mountain’s name means “straw raincoat”, but it’s also known as Utsukushii no Yama, or “Beautiful Mountain”.

20150426_105613

View of Eastern Chichibu from the summit of Mt Mino

After taking in the view, I started down on the opposite side. I saw no one on the way down; I even surprised some Japanese pheasants or “hiji”, which flew away in fright as I approached. I arrived at Asama Jinja Shrine around noon. The local priest was very friendly and offered me some cold tea, very welcome on this warm day. After reaching the base of the mountain, I crossed a busy road, walked up a smaller one with fields on either side, and arrived at the Chichibu Highland Farm or Chichibu Kogen Bokujo around 2pm. There, I had some of the best views of the hike.

20150426_153707

Hiking the seven peaks of outer Chichibu

The next part of the hike was quite easy, as it followed the wide ridgeline to the North. I passed by the minor peaks of Mt Atago 愛宕山 (Atagoyama) 655m and Mt Misuzu 皇鈴山 (Misuzuyama) 679m. A little beyond that last peak, I got some great views of the Kanto Plain to the East. By the way, this trail is known as the “Outer Chichibu 7 Peaks Traverse” (外秩父七峰縦走 – it is currently closed due to typhoon damage).

20150426_140100

View West from the Chichibu Highland Farm

At 4pm, I arrived at Mt Kamabuse 釜伏山 (Kamabuseyama) 582m, a short roundtrip off the main trail. Here, I left the Fureai no Michi, which went left towards Nagatoro, and headed right, along a road, the most direct route down the mountain. I reached Yorii station a little before 6pm, after nine hours of hiking, but not too exhausted since the hike consisted mostly of gentle slopes and flat ridges.

20150426_101851

The park at the top of Mt Mino has many cherry blossom trees

Koinobori at Chichibu Highland Farm

20150426_150631

 

Mt Hodo (497m), Nagatoro Town, Saitama Prefecture

At first, I wasn’t too excited about climbing this peak in the Chichibu area. It was a short hike accessible via a ropeway, so the trails and summit were bound to be crowded. However, it was a station to station hike and easily accessible from Ikebukuro via a direct train. I was also curious to see the views from the summit. By studying my hiking map, I saw that I could lengthen the hike by starting from Nogami station and following the Nagatoro Alps hiking trail (長瀞アルプス) so called because of its up and down nature.

20150412_144557

View from near the end of the hike

Since the direct train ended at Nagatoro station, one stop before Nogami, I had to walk a few kilometers along back roads to reach the start of the trail. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Spring was in full swing; there were many cherry blossom trees in full bloom, including a couple of cherry blossom tunnels, as well as all sorts of other colourful flowers. I had good views of the Arakawa river gorge, and even saw people doing kayaking and rafting. I took so much time taking photos that I arrived at the start of the hiking trail around 11h30, two full hours after getting off the train.

20150412_113236

Start of the Nagatoro Alps

The trail was straightforward and much easier to walk than the name would suggest. I saw few people as the trail headed Southwards while slowly rising. It was mostly in the forest and there were few views. After about an hour, I reached a short flat section along a forest road, followed by a series of log staircases heading straight up. This marked the final ascent, and at 1pm I was standing on the wide flat top of Mt Hodo 宝登山 hodosan. By the way, the name can be read as “Treasure Climb”. I found a free spot on one of the benches next to a big group, and settled down for lunch; later on one of the members kindly offered me some freshly brewed coffee.

20150412_121537

An easy and relaxing hike up Mt Hodo

The views were better than expected, even though the blue skies from the morning had been replaced by a thick white blanket. From East to West, I could see Mt Jomine, Mt Ryokami, Mt Hapu, Mt Buko and Mt Mino. At 2pm, I set off again. The top of the Hodosan Ropeway was a few minutes away, and from there it was possible to walk down along a wide dirt road that switched back and forth so that it never got too steep. This part of the hike was a pleasant surprise: there were great views of the Arakawa valley, and the side of the mountain had many cherry blossoms, all the way down to the bottom of the valley.

20150412_132708b

View South of Chichibu City and Mt Buko

It took me less than an hour to reach the base of the ropeway and a road. A little further on, I arrived at a small park filled with cherry blossom trees, with in the middle a small mountain called Mt Notsuchi (209m) 野土山. I reached my starting point of Nagatoro station after 3pm, six hours after setting off, just in time to catch the direct train back to Ikebukuro. It turned out to be a very satisfying hike, and I look forward to returning one day in a different season.

20150412_141853

The Nagatoro area of Chichibu

Rafting and boating on the Arakawa River

Riding the Chichibu Railway

DSC09212

Mt Kanetsukido (330m), Yorii Town, Saitama Prefecture

There were two good reasons for climbing this mountain: it was a kanto hundred famous mountain, and it was less than two hours from Tokyo. On the flip side, it was only a two hour hike. By looking at my Chichibu hiking map, I saw that I could extend it by following the ridge to the Southwest, above the Arakawa river valley.  I was curious whether it would make a satisfactory hike with good views.

20150228_101132

Today’s hike follows this ridge

I arrived at Yorii station at 9am, and from there walked about 30 minutes through the town to the start of the trail. The trail climbed gently through the forest, and was easy to walk, except just for the steep staircase below the summit. I reached the top of Mt Kanetsukido 鐘撞堂山 (Kanetsukido-zan) around 11am. The name means “bell tower”, and it was easy to understand why since there was a great view of the Kanto plan; apparently it’s a good spot for seeing the sunrise. I could also make out Mt Haruna, the top snow-covered crater of Mt Asama, as well as the other mountains from today’s hike.

Staircase before Mt Kanetsukido (left) and the one after (right)

To reach the next mountain, I had to hike back down the other side, cross a road, and walk up again. Another staircase took me to the top of the ridge; there was an arbour, but not much of a view. After that, the trail followed the ridge Westwards. Flat bits alternated with some ups and down, but overall it was an easy to follow trail. I reached the summit of Mt Jinmi 陣見山 (Jinmiyama) 531m, and a small TV antenna, at noon.

20150228_140855

A lot of the trail was like this: flat, easy walking

I quickly moved on. Half an hour later, I had some good views Southwards of the Arakawa river valley through the trees. The trail merged with a forest road for a while, and at 1h40, I reached the top of Mt Amagoi 雨乞山 (Amagoi-yama) 510m, no doubt the highlight of the hike. I didn’t expect such breathtaking views of the Arakawa river valley and the surrounding mountains. It was also a a jump-off spot for paragliding, although nothing was happening during my visit. By the way, the mountain name can translate as “praying for rain”; fortunately, there were no rain clouds in sight!

20150228_134616

The best view of the hike from Mt Amagoi: the Arakawa river valley

After admiring the views, I set off again. The path continued to be really easy to hike, with few steep or narrow sections. At 3pm, I reached the summit of Mt  Fudo 不動山 (Fudou-yama) 549m, meaning steadfast. There was another excellent viewpoint here, especially since around now the sun was behind my back. I could see Nagatoro town, Mt Buko, Mt Haruna and Mt Asama.

20150228_152233

View of the Chichibu mountains from Mt Fudo

It was 3h30 and time to start heading down. The last part of the hike took me past an interesting religious site, with many small wooden swords all over the place, something I had never seen before. On the most recent map, this path has become dotted, so I am not sure whether it can still be used. The last part was along a road, and I reached Nogami station around 5h30pm. I was quite pleased that I managed to turn a two-hour hike into eight-hour one, and I was satisfied with all the great views along the way.

20150228_153510

Wooden Swords at the mysterious religious site on the way down

20150228_152142

 

 

 

Mt Kurami (1256m), Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture

This was my first day hike of 2015, and since it was during the Japanese New Year or “shogatsu“, I wanted to have some good views of Mt Fuji, do a station to station hike (buses run on special schedules during that time), and, if it wasn’t too much to ask, end the hike at a nice onsen. I want all hikes to be good hikes, but the first one of the year should be special.

20150103_130713

The city of Kawaguchiko at the base of Mt Fuji

I took a train to Mitsutoge station: I hadn’t been there since I first climbed Mt Mitsutoge several years before, and I had completely forgotten that there was a fantastic view of Mt Fuji from just outside the station. This time, however, I was climbing a mountain on the other side of the railway line. The trail started next to Yaku Shrine, 15 minutes from the station. However, I accidentally went down another trail that was level instead of going up. Once I realised my mistake, I cut through the forest up the side of the mountain to reconnect with the correct trail.

20150103_130733

The Kawaguchi toll road snaking down the valley

I soon started getting some good views up and down the valley connecting Kawaguchiko and Otsuki cities. It was a fairly relaxing climb, the only steep bit came at the end, going up the small pyramidal summit. I reached the top of Mt Kurami  (Kuramiyama 倉見山) after about 90 minutes, around noon. There was an excellent view of Mt Fuji, resplendissant in its winter coat. I could also see Mt Mitsutoge, the cliffs below the summit area making it look like an impregnable fortress. Looking North, I could spot the peaks of the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Looking South, I could gaze on the vast urban sprawl of Kawaguchiko City. On this clear sunny day, the snowy peaks of the Minami Alps were clearly visible.

20150103_134200

Easy hiking on the way down

The descent, through a beautiful pine forest, took another ninety minutes. The trail was very easy to walk, and offered many good views along the way. It often felt like I was flying above the small houses in the valley below. The sun was now slightly behind Mt Fuji, so the side facing me was in the shadows, less good for taking photos. I reached the bottom of the valley just past 3pm. I then walked another 30 minutes to Yoshinoike Onsen 葭之池温泉 for a quick hot spring bath, before taking the train from the nearby station back to Tokyo.

DSC07472

 Mt Fuji view from Mitsutoge station (using camera zoom)

Honjagamaru (1631m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

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

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

Ask for a hiking plan for Honjagamaru

 

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

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

The beautiful ridge line path

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

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

Some autumn colours

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

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

More autumn colours

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

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

Mt Fuji in the autumn

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

View south from the top

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

Honjagamaru from near the end of the hike

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

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

Ask for a hiking plan for Honjagamaru