Mt Tennyo (1528m), Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Hiking on Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I found out about the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo (八ヶ岳横断歩道 meaning “crossing path”) hiking down Mt Gongen. Looking at my hiking map it seemed like a mostly level path following the contour of the mountain. However, I wasn’t sure how well-maintained the hiking path would be, seeing that it didn’t lead to one of the popular summits in the area. Also, I was curious whether there would be any good views along the way. I decided to start from Kiyosato 清里 station, and finish at Kai-Koizumi 甲斐小泉 station, not to be confused with Kai-Oizumi 甲斐大泉, one station away. According to my map, the hike would take over 8 hours, but hopefully it could be done in less.

Hiking through the cow pastures

I left Tokyo under grey skies, but I wasn’t worried, since sunny weather was forecasted for Yamanashi; indeed, as soon as I reached Kofu city, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. I was more concerned about the train back being full as well, and I made sure to book my return seat as soon as I got off at Kobuchizawa. I was using the Tokyo Wide Pass which had gone through an upgrade since the last time I had used it. The fancy card format was out, replaced by a ticket similar to a shinkansen ticket, that could be put through the automatic ticket gates. I could also use it to reserve my seat in a ticket machine (I had one of the station staff show me how).

Hiking on the slopes of Yatsugatake

The Kawamata river valley

The Koumi line was also full so I had to stand for the short but exciting ride; the train went up the side of the valley, reaching Kiyosato – altitude 1274 meters – where I got off at 10am; the next stop on the line is Nobeyama 野辺山, the highest train station in Japan at 1345 meters. The air was definitely cooler here, and the village reminded me of Switzerland. To get to the start of the “ondanhodo” trail, I had to walk alongside a busy road for 45 minutes. Then, it was another half an hour of gentle climbing through forest before a short descent led me to Kawamata River. I took a short break here and had a late breakfast, enjoying the warm sun and the sound of the water.

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, in the clouds

Dragonfly taking a break on the top of a signpost

Setting off again, I soon reached wide pastures with a sweeping view of the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, and cows – it’s not often I get to see cows while hiking in Japan. It took me another hour to reach the top of Mt Tennyo (天女山 tennyosan meaning heavenly woman). The view, on the other hand, wasn’t so heavenly and didn’t detain me long. Since there is a bus route and a number of facilities in the area, there were many hikers. However, from then on I had the trail mostly to myself. After a few minutes of climbing I reached a sign for a viewpoint off the main trail. I decided to check it out, but ended up disappointed since trees blocked the view. Probably at one time in the past, it must have been quite spectacular. I retraced my steps, having lost five valuable minutes. The path continued to climb steadily with no end in sight. Since I wasn’t aiming to summit a peak, any meters gained would eventually have to be walked down. It was around this point, that the surrounding forest, a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, started to get really beautiful.

The Kofu valley with on the left Mt Mizugaki

The “ondanhodo” trail, a pleasant walk through the forest

Eventually I reached the highest point of today’s hike, 1791 meters according to my map, and after a short level bit, I started descending again. This pattern continued for the rest of the hike, although on a smaller scale, as the trail made its way along the natural folds of the mountain. It was tougher than I had imagined but the trail was well-maintained and enjoyable; there were frequent numbered signposts; It made me appreciate the size and complexity of the massive ancient volcano I was walking on. I saw no other hikers and it was very peaceful. There were few viewpoints; I passed another sign of an observatory up a path heading straight up, but decided to skip it since I was still behind (I found out later that there was indeed a view). 

The Minami Alps

Looking back at Yatsugatake

At 2h30, I reached a break in the trees with a nice view Eastwards of Kofu valley. I sat down on the side of the trail and had a late lunch. Mt Fuji was in the clouds with only a part of the summit – still free of snow – visible. Soon after lunch, I reached a detour sign; the trail had collapsed lower down. However, I was grateful for it, as it allowed to avoid one of the many “dips” in the path. At 4pm I reached Samisen Waterfall 三味線滝 (1550m). Here, I turned left, leaving the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo” path, and headed down. The trail soon turned into a narrow paved road with nice views of the South Alps in front, and (part of) Yatsugatake behind. After a good hour of road walking, I reached Kai-Koizumi station a little after 5pm, just in time for the local train back to Kobuchizawa, one stop away. After admiring the dusk view from the the top of Kobuchizawa station, I hopped on the limited express for the two-hour ride back to Tokyo.

Listen to the sounds of Yatsugatake

This section of the path across Yatsugatake turned out to be a beautiful and peaceful hike, even though all the ups and down made it tougher and longer than I had imagined. The second half of the hike had few views, but that’s to be expected when walking the side of the mountain. The trail continues all the way round Yatsugatake – I think this may have been one of the better bits, and the only one that can be done from station to station; I’ll find out by hiking more of it in the future! 

 

Mt Byobu (948m) & Mt Sengen (804m), Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hiking in the Hakone Mountains

My last visit to Hakone was in December 2014 when I hiked the mountains around Lake Ashi. The area is close to Tokyo, offers good hiking and sightseeing at the same time. However, like Mt Fuji and Nikko, it sits right on the tourist trail, so buses, and hot springs, are usually crowded. The recent, and unfortunate, drop in the number of tourists was a good chance to do some hiking there, as well as support the area. There was a hike in my “Mountains of Kanagawa” that I had been wanting to do for a while. However, it was a bit short (3 hours), so using my Hakone hiking map, I built a longer hike that would take me from Hakone Town on Lake Ashi, all the way down to Hakone-Yumoto station. There were few views, and no sun, so I wasn’t able to get many good pictures. Nevertheless it was a good ramble.

Shy Fuji on a grey day

I used the comfortable Romancecar from Shinjuku, but got off at Odawara, one stop before Hakone-Yumoto. Since most buses start from there, I thought I would have a better chance of getting a seat. To my surprise, the driver wouldn’t let me board till I told him my exact destination. I had memorised the kanji, but couldn’t recall how to say them, so I just said “Hakone”. The driver replied, in English, “Hakone is wide.” Suddenly the name popped into my head. “Sekisho-ato!” I blurted out; the driver acknowledged it as a valid bus stop, and I was finally allowed to board the completely empty bus.

Start of the trail among the bamboo bushes

The bus remained mostly empty, even after passing Hakone-Yumoto. I could see the usual line of sightseers at the bus stop, but for some mysterious reason they didn’t get on. The bus passed by the Yusaka trail 湯坂道, the starting point of the second part of today’s hike. As was established earlier, I got off at Sekisho-ato 関所跡, meaning “checkpoint ruins”, the start of the Hakone section of the Old Tokaido Road (more on that later), and popped into a nearby souvenir shop. On the other side, there was a view of Lake Ashi, with Mt Fuji partially hidden by Mt Mikuni.

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Steep climbing on Mt Byobu

At 10 o’clock I finally set off. I found the start of the trail indicated by a signpost near the bus stop. Very soon I reached some steps going straight up the mountain side. They were so steep that at one point it felt like a ladder would have been more appropriate. Thankfully it didn’t take long to reach the top of the ridge, after which it was pleasant stroll along a mostly level trail to the top of Mt Byobu 屛風山, part of the outer crater rim of Mt Hakone.

Walking through thick vegetation above Hakone Town

It was entirely surrounded by trees, so I didn’t linger, and followed the path down the other side. There were some glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the trees. Even though I was close to a major hot spring resort, I couldn’t see any buildings nor hear any noise. It felt like I was exploring a hidden valley. Less than thirty minutes later, I reached the Tokaido road, connecting Hakone-Yumoto with Hakone Town, and the Amazake-Chaya Teahouse. I decided to take a short break and have some of their famous non-alcoholic sweet sake with “chikara-mochi” meaning “power rice cake”. This was a welcome break, since I had forgotten half of my lunch at home.

Refueling with some sweet sake and power mochi

At noon, I was powered up and ready to continue hiking. I was now walking the Old Tokaido Road to Hatajuku 畑宿. I could have followed it all the way from Hakone Town, since it started near the bus stop I got off. However, it seemed that, apart from the historical aspect, it wouldn’t make for an interesting hike, so I preferred the detour through the mountains. The Tokaido used to connect Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. Most of it has disappeared, but some sections have been restored along the Hakone part.

An ancient road dating back to the 17th century

It’s stone-paved, so it was easy to mentally travel back in time, and imagine what it must have been like to walk this road 400 years ago. However, it wasn’t easy to walk on the stones. At first it ran parallel to the modern Tokaido road, so the noise of cars was never far away. When the modern road made a series of switchbacks down the side of the mountain, the ancient one descended directly via a series of stone steps, at the end of which was a short section of road-walking.

A not so old staircase on the Old Tokaido Road

At one point there was a view of the Shonan coast and Odawara city below, probably quite spectacular on days with better visibility. Half an hour later, I reached Hatajuku, a center for traditional handicrafts, and left the Old Tokaido Road. It continues all the way down to Hakone-Yumoto, but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are into Historical reenactment.

Turn right here to return to the paved road

I walked up the Hakone Shindo Road for a few minutes till the start of the trail for the Hiryu falls 飛龍の滝 up the other side of the mountain. The first part was punishingly steep. The next part, following a rushing stream, was more level but surprisingly rocky at times, especially for regular sightseers who just wanted to see the falls, not experience a full-blown hike. I got to the observation platform base of the falls at 1h30, and was underwhelmed by what I observed. The water rushing down the rocky side of the mountains never really “fell”, but I figured it would look more impressive after a big rainfall. However, the picturesque Hiryu river made the climb worthwhile.

Hiryu river valley, just below the falls

The next part of the trail was badly damaged, probably due to last year’s typhoons. A little higher up were signs that the trail was being repaired, and the next part was a lot better. The trail climbed steadily through thick forest along steps built into the gentle slope. I was now all alone as most people turn back at the waterfalls.

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Trail after the waterfall

At 2pm, I reached the Yusaka hiking trail. To the left was the road I had taken earlier by bus. Turning around, I saw a sign on the trail I had just come up, reminding me that I was inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. I headed right along a wide path, doubling as a firebreak. I soon reached a table on top of a grassy mound. According to my map, this was the top of Mt Takanosu 鷹ノ巣山 (834m). There was no summit marker, but instead there was a sign saying this was the location of the ruins of Takanosu castle. A little further was a steep and short descent, followed by a gentle climb. I had some views of the Gora area of Hakone (cable car service should resume on March 20) and Mt Kintoki in the background (Mt Ashigara on some maps). Before I knew it, I was at the top of Mt Sengen 浅間山. There was another table, but no view.

A glimpse of Gora with Mt Kintoki in the background

The final section of the hike followed the firebreak along a ridge, all the way back down to Hakone-Yumoto. I am sure this would be a nice hike on a sunny spring or autumn day, but today under a grey sky and surrounded by leafless trees, it felt rather bleak. However it was quite warm for the time of the year, around 15 degrees, so it was odd walking in a winter landscape in spring-like temperatures. I reached the ruins of Yusaka castle a little before 4pm. Apart from a signboard there wasn’t much to see. A few minutes later, I popped out onto the main road next to a river. I had a hot spring bath at nearby Izumi, before walking the 5 minutes back to the train station, where I caught the Romancecar back to Tokyo.

NEXT UP: Mt Ushibuse in Gunma

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 Omuro (1587m) & Mt Kanyudo (1418m), Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

These mountains are located in the Western half of the Tanzawa mountains, and harder to access than those in the Eastern half like Mt Tanzawa and Mt Oyama. I  rode the bus from Shin-Matsuda station for over an hour, past Tanzawa lake, all the way to the last stop, the Nishi-Tanzawa Visitor Center 西丹沢ビジターセンター, a great starting or ending point for hikes in the area. It was the second week of November, which was rather late in the season; the autumn colours had already crept down the mountain sides into the valley. I was told by the staff at the visitor center to start heading down by 1pm at the latest, to avoid getting caught in the dark.

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains

丹沢山地

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Omuro

 

In the back hidden in the clouds is Mt Fuji

I set off at 10am under blue skies. The first part of the hike was along a small road that followed the river valley past a couple of camping sites. At the first junction, I headed right – I would be descending via the left junction. Here I finally entered the hiking trail proper, also part of the Tokai Nature Trail 東海自然歩道. I followed a narrow valley alongside a rocky river. Looking up, I could admire autumn colours in all directions. After an hour of climbing, I reached a pass, an Emergency hut, and the first views. However by now, grey clouds had rolled in hiding the ridgelines.

The brilliant red of the “momiji” tree

Climbing up through a “koyo” tunnel

I still needed another hour an hour of tough climbing to reach the summit of Mt Omuro (大室山 oomuroyama), a 100-famous mountain of Yamanashi and the 3rd highest peak of the Tanzawa mountains. Here, the trees were already bare of leaves, a strong hint that winter was just around the corner. I was now mostly above the clouds that had gathered on the Southern side, with just a few milky strands of mist left. I had great views North of Doshi Valley and the Doshi Sankai mountains. Since it was nearly 1pm, I had a quick lunch, and made my way Westwards along the ridgeline to the next peak Mt Kanyudo (加入道山 kanyuudouyama).

Mist and leafless trees near the summit

Doshi valley and Doshi mountains

There was another emergency hut here, but fortunately I still had enough time to descend safely.  Soon, I was walking on a wooden path alongside a beautiful mountain stream with a carpet of colourful fallen leaves on both sides. Suddenly the path and the stream parted ways. A few minutes later, I caught a glimpse of an impressive waterfall to my right. By now the clouds had disappeared and the blue skies were back. The sun had already disappeared behind the mountain ridge behind me. I emerged into a river valley with rocky banks, which I crossed several times on small wooden bridges, and finally got back to the visitor center by 4pm.

Easy walking on the way down

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Omuro