Mt Kyogatake (633m), Mt Bukka (747m) & Mt Takatori (706m), Aikawa Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地

For my last hike of 2019, I chose 3 small peaks along a narrow mountain range, squeezed between the Tanzawa mountains and the urban sprawl of Tokyo. This hike is right next to the city, and it’s possible to get to the start of the trail in under two hours. I had been to the area a few years ago, but this time I used different routes up and down. From afar, these mountains can seem deceptively high, however the trail inclination is mostly slight to average.

The highest part of the hike follows a gentle ridgeline

I took the Romance car to Atsugi station, technically still within the Tokyo area, where I transferred to one of the frequent buses heading out to Miyagase Lake 宮ヶ瀬湖. At 10am, I was ready to start hiking under blue skies and near freezing temperatures. The first part followed a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi 関東ふれないの道. Like other portions of this long-distance trail, it was well-maintained and well-signposted; the surrounding forest was pretty and quiet, making this a good start to the last hike of the year.

I hope to hike more “Kanto no Fureai” trails in 2020

Soon, I was getting my first views of Tokyo. With the zoom of my smartphone camera, I could make out the row of skyscrapers in the city center, as well as the Skytree. Later on, I had glimpses of the ridges and peaks of the Tanzawa range in the opposite direction. I arrived at the top of Mt Kyogatake 経ヶ岳 at 11h30, where I had a magnificent view of Mt Oyama, Mt Tono and Mt Tanzawa, their peaks white with snow. A few minutes before the summit, there was a local trail heading left to the next mountain in the opposite direction – a hike for another day maybe.

Lunch with a view of the Tanzawa mountains

Mt Oyama, with its distinctive pyramidal summit

After a quick bite, I set off again. Some clouds had appeared over the Tanzawa mountains, but overall it remained a sunny day. The path descended steeply, crossed a road, and ascended steeply again. The climb was made easier thanks to steps built into the path, a common feature in the Tanzawa area. I reached a level section, soon merging with a path coming up from the left, the one I had used on my previous hike here.

The trail is well-maintained, as in the other parts of the Tanzawa mountains

The path immediately started rising again, via another series of steps, and turned into a narrow ridge with spectacular views of the Tokyo metropolis on the right, and Tanzawa mountains and Miyagase lake on the left. Up to this point, the hike had been relatively easy, but this section required some surefootedness. Although I had hiked this part before, it all seemed new to me, and I spent a lot of time taking photos. Enjoying the dual view of the mountains and the city from above is one of the aspects I like the most about hiking in the Kanto area.

In winter, the trail is often in the sun

Approaching the highest point of the hike

I reached the top of Mt Bukka 仏果山 just before 1h30 pm. The summit is completely in the trees, but someone thoughtfully built an observation tower so hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the entire area; the next peak has a similar tower. Despite being artificial structures, they make the hike worthwhile. They offer some of the best views in the Kanto area. I could see the entire Southern side of the Oku-chichibu mountains stretching from East to West, from Mt Takao to Mt Kinpu; in the foreground was Mt Sekiro. Unfortunately, Mt Fuji was hidden from sight, despite being quite close.

The observation tower rising above the trees…

…offers a great viewpoint of Tokyo

Without the protection of the trees from the icy wind, it was very cold at the top. I had left my backpack with my gloves at the base of the tower, so I soon went back down, and continued to the next peak. This section was short and easy, and I reached Mt Takatori 高取山 just fifteen minutes later. From the top of this second tower, the view was similar, except for a person dabbling in amateur radio; he had deployed quite a big antenna on one side.

Amateur radio antenna and Mt Oyama

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Panorama of Tanzawa and Miyagase lake

I had the second half of my lunch, and after I had my fill of food and views, I climbed down the tower, and started to descend towards Aikawa town. It was nearly 3pm and at this time of the year, it would be getting dark soon. The path down was easy to hike; there were a number of other trails, but I just followed the signs for Fureai no Mura ふれあいの村, and it took me less than an hour to reach the bus stop for Atsugi. It was a short ride back to the station. I hopped on the romance car back to Tokyo, and started to think of all the great hikes I would do in 2020.

Trees pointing in the wrong direction

A view of Aikawa town through the trees

Panoramic view from the top of Mt Takatori (you can hear the amateur radio user in the background)

From the Archives: Tokyo Day Hikes, December 2017

Here are two hikes from a couple of years ago in December that had one thing in common: great views of snow-covered volcanoes, on opposite sides of the Kanto plain, separated by 120 kilometers. One was the famous Mt Fuji, and the other one was the lesser-known, but currently active, Mt Asama.

Mt Settou (1736m), Mt Junigadake (1683m) Kawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday December 3, 2017

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

Kawaguchiko City surrounded by nature

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

Kofu valley and beyond the Oku-chichibu mountains

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

Against the sun, looking back towards Minobu

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

 

Mt Asamakakushi (1757m), Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, Saturday December 9, 2017

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 Joshin-Estsu 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 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 Kinubari (122m) & Mt Omaru (157m), Kamakura and Yokohama Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, December 21, 2019

 

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Kamakura area is a great place for hiking, especially during the colder months. The trails are easy to walk, the surrounding nature is lush even in winter, and it’s just one hour from Tokyo by train. My previous visit was in February last year, when I hiked the Miura Alps. Since then, typhoon Hagibis had wrecked several of the trails in the area, and I was concerned whether I could complete my hike as planned. Fortunately, the path I had chosen was open from start to finish. On the other hand, the very popular Ten-en hiking trail 天園ハイキングコース, which I had done a few years earlier, was closed due to fallen trees. It’s supposed to reopen in June.

The Ten-en hiking trail is closed…

Since most hiking trails around Kamakura are quite short, I had to cobble together 3 of them to get a full day of hiking (about 6 hours). I arrived at Kamakura station around 10am, and walked to Hokokuji Temple 報国寺. It’s also possible to get there by bus. There is a beautiful bamboo forest inside, but I skipped it since I had been there before and it was getting late. I found the entrance of the hiking trail a few meters further up the street. It was already 11am and I was finally ready to start hiking!

A well-hidden hiking trail…

Almost immediately, I went from a suburban neighbourhood to thick forest – the transition always amazes me. After a short climb, the path became level for a while, before reaching a park bordering a suburban community on the border between Zushi and Kamakura cities. Even though it was a Saturday, the park was nearly deserted, probably due to the overcast weather, despite the sunny forecast.

Surrounded by nature only ten minutes from the start of the trail

The hiking trail resumed at the end of the park. After some up-and-down over a couple of minor peaks, I reached the top of Mt Kinubari 衣張山 just before noon. It’s a low mountain, but since it’s right next to the ocean, the view was quite spectacular. I could see the Miura Peninsula stretching away to the South, and Kamakura City opposite Sagami Bay to the West.

Miura Peninsula near the top of Mt Kinubari

Shortly after, a group of a about a dozens hikers arrived. They were on some kind of guided tour – I had encountered the same thing when hiking the Miura Alps. It seems like guided hikes are quite popular in the Kamakura / Zushi area. I finished my early lunch and took off quickly. The trail heading down was short and enjoyable, but there were many fallen trees lower down. It’s not often that I see multiple fallen trees blocking the trail…in succession. Hopefully the trail will get cleared up in the future.

Evidence of the destructive power of typhoons on the way down

The trail soon ended a short way from my starting point of Hokokuji Temple. From there, I walked along roads to the start of a minor trail leading to the Ten-en hiking course, which I would cross but not follow. Kamakura is pleasant and laid-back, and thus a nice city to stroll through – there are plenty of sights to check out. On the way, I decided I had enough time to pay a short visit to Sugimoto-dera Temple. According to the sign at the entrance, it was founded in the 8th century and is the oldest temple in Kamakura. It was a quick visit (costs 200 yen) but I was able to get some nice views and pictures. After that, I walked past Kamakura-gu shrine, turned left at Tsugen Bridge, then continued past Yofukuji ruins without visiting either since it was getting late. After 1pm, I was hiking on a trail and surrounded by nature again. It’s possible to skip Mt Kinubari and walk directly from Kamakura station (about 30 min)

View from the highest reaches of Sugimoto temple

First, the path followed a dramatic narrow gorge along a small stream, then climbed through some nice forest that still had some red and orange. Some steps brought me to the highest point: the intersection with the now-closed Ten-en hiking trail. It was 1h30, and I could hear many people talking and having lunch at the rest area just above, so I skipped it and continued in the direction of Kanazawa-Hakkei station 金沢八景 (not the final destination), through a short but beautiful bamboo forest. The trail was mostly level and thus easy to walk. It’s probably one of the flattest hikes I’ve ever done in the Kanto area. There was a fallen tree here and there, but it wasn’t too troublesome to get around. I was amazed that there were so few people hiking this great trail, but then it was a cold cloudy winter day.

Some minor obstacles on the way…

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…but mostly easy hiking

The path was now running alongside and above a huge cemetery. Later on, it passed above another suburban community. I could get occasional glimpses of both through the trees. On a clear sunny day I suppose you could see all the way to Yokohama city to the North. There were good information boards (with English) along the way, showing the extent of the local hiking trails: they connect several community woods, a nature sanctuary, and even a small zoo. There is also a pond in the middle of the forest, but trails leading to it were currently closed due to typhoon damage. I will certainly return in the future to hike more in the area since it’s so close to Tokyo. I couldn’t decide what was more amazing: that the city had penetrated nature so deeply, or whether nature had survived the invasion of the city.

Hiking a narrow green ridge…

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…at the edge of the city

I was now following the signs for Kanazawa Bunko 金沢文庫 (not the final destination either). At 2h30, I reached the Sekiyaoku viewpoint 関谷奥見晴台. There were some benches but not much of a view on this grey day. I had the rest of my lunch and moved on. At last, I was following signs for Konandai station 港南台, the end point of my hike. A little before 3pm, I reached the turn-off for a long staircase leading to the top of Mt Omaru 大丸山, the highest point of Yokohama city. There was a view to the South of Tokyo Bay and the Eastern end of the Miura Alps.

 

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Staircase to the top – one of the few climbs on the hike

I was starting to feel cold and since the sun was showing no sign of appearing, I didn’t linger. It took me another hour to reach Isshindo Plaza いっしんどう広場, a wide area where several trails intersect. Apparently you can see Mt Fuji from the West side in good weather. However the hiking trail wasn’t finished yet. It took me another fifteen minutes along a dirt trail through the countryside to get back to the busy city roads. There were some good views of the hills of Kamakura to the East. I finally reached Konandai station on the Negishi line station around 4h30, a short train ride from Yokohama and central Tokyo.

Looking back towards Kamakura on a gloomy day

 

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NEXT UP: Mt Yaeyama in Yamanashi

Mt Hagaba (775m), Kanuma City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, December 14, 2019

My last visit to this part of Tochigi was in December 2018. I was concerned about snow on the hiking trails in mid-December, so I chose a low mountain close to Kanuma station. The whole area has many mountains with lots of hiking trails, and so far I’ve only scratched the surface.

A hidden valley encircled by mountains

A short bus ride (the same one for Furumine Shrine) took me to the entrance of Choanji Temple 長安寺 a little before 9am. The start of the trail, to the right of the temple, had been washed away by typhoon Hagibis. Fortunately, wands with pink ribbons had been placed through the wreckage of fallen trees, allowing me to make my way to an undamaged forest road above, leading to a good view of the valley below.

It’s a scramble but the path is still climbable

I then left the forest road for a nice hiking trail taking me to the top of the ridge with even better views of the entire area. Westwards, I could see Kobugahara and Mt Yokone, which I had climbed last year. There was a power line that cut across the entire landscape; the pylons were placed at the top of each ridge, and the electrical wires spanned the valley in a spectacular manner.

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Bringing electricity to all villages in the mountains

After taking in the views, I continued along the ridge and soon entered a cedar forest with few views. This part was fairly easy, with some slight ups and downs. Suddenly the path started to climb steeply; rocky sections appeared, with rope on the side to help pull yourself up. The air also got colder – I could feel that the top was close. I reached the summit of Mt Hagaba 羽賀場山 completely in the trees just before 12h30. I found a small opening facing Southeast, and sat down to have lunch, with a view of the hills of Southern Tochigi stretching away into the distance.

Looking back towards Kanuma

Since I had barely completed half of the hike, I couldn’t spend too much time at the top. After setting off again, the path started to descend quite steeply – too much in fact. I realised that I may have lost the trail. I retraced my steps. Suddenly I heard some voices to my right. The ridge on that side didn’t descend quite so much, so I found what seemed like a path and crossed over. Once I was off the steep slope, I was more confident I was on the right path. I then encountered a group of three hikers – the only people I saw on the entire hike, and the sources of the voices I had heard earlier.

As the hike progressed, the ridge got narrower

From this point, the path went up and down more steeply. There were more and more rocky sections – it was starting to turn into an exciting hike. At one high point I had a glimpse of the Nikko mountain range through the trees. After one final steep climb, I reached the top of Mt Otenki お天気 (777m) at 2pm. It was an unusual summit in that there were at least five different summit markers! A few meters beyond the summit, there was a magnificent view of Mt Nikko-Shirane, Mt Nantai and Mt Nyoho. To the left and right were countless other mountains and ridges, mostly snow-free.

The Nikko mountain range

I would have spent an hour gazing at the view, but according to my guidebook, another 90 minutes were needed for the descent, and my return bus was at 4pm. I reluctantly started going down at 2h30. The path was very steep. It split into two and I took the left path following the ridge (both paths take the same time). I reached the bottom of the valley as the sun was starting to get low, creating some nice effects in the forest.

Late afternoon sun filtering through the forest

I arrived back the road and the bus stop after only one hour, one of the rare times I’ve ended a hike way ahead of schedule. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to do in the neighborhood, but I was able to use the time to get ready for the two hour trip back to Tokyo.

Sunset on Mt Hagaba

NEXT UP: Mt Omaru in Kamakura, Kanagawa

Hikes Around Tokyo in 2019

Since I made blog entries for nearly all my hikes in the Tokyo area in 2019 – there are some December ones left that I’ll write up soon – I won’t do a summary like last year. Instead, I’ll share some numbers for the past year.

Total Number of Hikes

In 2019, I had 46 outings that resulted in some form of hiking (ten more than in 2018). “Hiking only” trips within the Tokyo area, totaled 40 (also ten more than the previous year). I’m glad I achieved my personal goal of surpassing the number of hikes in 2018, and equaling that of 2017, (although 2019 had more short hikes), despite tendinitis in my left ankle that has been bothering me since the summer. The hikes were evenly divided between Saturday and Sunday, an improvement from last year when most hikes fell on a Sunday.

Hikes per Prefecture

The prefecture where I did the most hikes was Yamanashi (11) – a bit surprising since I had already done many hikes in that area, but then Yamanashi has many mountains. Gunma (8) ranked high up because half the hikes bordered on other prefectures. I was also surprised that Kanagawa (5) did well. I really thought I had exhausted that area in previous years. I was glad I was able to do several hikes in Ibaraki (4), an area I started to explore only last year. I also managed more hikes in Shizuoka (4) that weren’t on, or close to, Mt Fuji, and I hope to explore that prefecture more in 2020.

One of my goals for 2019 was to do more hikes in Tokyo (3), and although the result isn’t great, it’s honorable. I had really wanted to go to Tochigi (3) more often, but I often found myself canceling my plans there because of the weather. My biggest regret is not hiking more in Chiba (2). Many trails were severely damaged due to last year’s powerful typhoons, and it’s unlikely I will be able to go there this year. I was kind of shocked to see how little I had hiked in Saitama (2). However, this is one area I had extensively explored in previous years.

Hikes by Means of Transport

I wasn’t surprised that so hikes many hikes required access by bus (23). However, I still managed to find many station to station hikes (11), although road walking was required for a few of them. Occasionally, I opted to go by rental car (7) or by taxi (3), since there was either no bus or the times weren’t convenient.

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