Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part IV : Jomo-Kogen, Echigo-Yuzawa & beyond

Here I will explore the stations on the Niigata/Joetsu line that are accessible with the pass.

JOMO-KOGEN 上毛高原

First up, a place I had never heard of till I first started using the pass: Jomo-Kogen.

A shinkansen only stop at the lowly altitude of 450 meters and 70 minutes from Tokyo station, it sits within striking distance of a number of mountains on the northern edge of the Kanto plain that are accessible thanks to the bus terminal just outside the station.

A word of caution: there is little in the way of restaurants and shops, the Newdays inside the station closes early and there usually isn’t a food cart on this line, so make sure you don’t come back hungry, and forget about that after-hike beer.

20150922_130617

Top of Mt Tanigawa

  • Mt Tanigawa 谷川岳 1977m (hundred famous mountain)

You can catch a bus to the ropeway (change at Minakami) and even do an onsen in Minakami if you come back early enough. Even if you don’t go all the way to the summit, the views from Mt Tenjin 天神山 just above the top of the ropeway are fantastic in clear weather.  

  • Mt Hotaka 武尊山 2158m (hundred famous mountain)

This is a tough one to do in a day trip without public transport. Unless you are a very fast walker, try to hitchhike while walking the road up to the campsite and make sure to bring a headlight for the descent – thankfully the last bus is relatively late. The famous Takaragawa onsen 宝川温泉 lies further down the valley.  

  • Mt Oku-Shirane 奥白根山 2578m (hundred famous mountain)

In theory it’s possible to reach the Nikko-Shiranesan ropeway with one bus change and that in turn will whisk you up to 2000m (still 3h from the summit though). I have climbed Mt Shirane but I haven’t done it yet with the pass from that side. The return could be done via the Nikko side.  

  • Mt Azumaya 吾妻耶山 1341m, Mt Mistumine 三峰山 1123m

I haven’t attempted these 2 yet as access is troublesome. Perhaps the easiest and fastest option is to take a taxi from Jomo-Kogen (15min) and return via Minakami or Kamikoku stations on the Joetsu line, or by bus from Sarugakyo Onsen (see below).

  • Mt Mikuni 三国山 1636m and Mt Inazutsumi 稲包山 1598m

More mountains I haven’t climbed yet. There is a bus heading east for Sarugakyo Onsen 猿ヶ京温泉 where you can change buses for Houshi Onsen 法師温泉. Combining both peaks in a one-day hike seems doable but tough and requires favourable bus times. Another option would be to start or end on the Niigata side and going through Echigo-Yuzawa (see below). 

 

ECHIGO-YUZAWA (and beyond)

A new addition since 2015 which I have yet to try out with the pass, Echigo-Yuzawa is well and truly beyond the mountains of northern Kanto, and sits in a pleasant valley firmly inside Niigata prefecture. Weather is notoriously bad here so check the forecast thoroughly and come prepared.

  • Mt Naeba 苗場山 2145m (hundred famous mountain)

Another tough day-trip since there is no bus to the trailhead. The bus for the Prince Hotel will get you to the access road and then try to hitchhike and make sure to have a headlight for the return. I went there in June and there was a lot of snow left (crampons weren’t required though).

There is also the option of using the Dragon Gondola from the Prince Hotel but it only runs for a short time in the autumn.  

  • Mt Sennokura 仙ノ倉山 2026m (two hundred famous mountain / not done)

The start of this hike also requires taking the bus for the Prince Hotel.

  • Mt Mikuni 三国山 1636m and Mt Inazutsumi 稲包山 1598m (not done yet)

This hike starts from the Prince hotel and can be done as a loop but can also finish or start from the Gunma side (see Jomon-Kogen above).

  • Mt Daigenta 大源太山 1598m (not done yet)

A bus going the opposite direction will take you to Daigenta Canyon where you can attempt to climb this non-famous matterhorn lookalike.

  • Mt Makihata 巻機山 1967m (hundred famous mountain)

A local train to Muikamachi (25min) will get you close enough to attempt this beautiful mountain. Totally doable in one day if you are motivated enough but bring a headlight for the return.

From Muikamachi one can also take a bus for the start of the trails for Mt Hakkai 八海山 1778m (200 hundred famous mountain) and Mt Kinjou 金城山 1369m but this is uncharted territory even for myself.

20151019_132058

Walking the top ridge of Mt Makihata


Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part III : Saku-Daira

This is the final post on hiking possibilities on the Nagano shinkansen line using the pass. The next stop after Karuizawa is the much smaller and less touristic town of Saku-daira. The main reason to come here is to catch a bus for Mt Asama which in addition to the main volcanic cone has a number of minor peaks stretching west.

DSC02218

Yunodaira Kogen nestled between Mt Asama and Mt Kurofu

Takamine Highland

A one-hour bus ride will get you to Takamine Kougen 高峰高原 at 1973m. There is a hotel, a hot spring open for day visitors and also a ski resort open in the winter. The bus runs year round. There are 3 hikes you can do from Takamine:

  • Mt Asamayama 浅間山 2568m, hundred famous mountain

Even though you can’t go right up to the crater because of the recent increase in volcanic activity, the views from the top area are beautiful in clear weather. An alternative way back is through Tengu onsen and get the bus back to Saku-daira lower down the mountain.

  • Mt Kurofuyama 黒斑山 2404m

This is a difficult but exciting loop hike along an outer crater rim, with great views of the volcanic peak and back through the hidden valley of Yunodaira Kogen 湯の平高原, between the crater and the slopes of Mt Asama. The climb back up the rim is steep and tough.  

  • Mt Kagonoto 篭ノ登山 2227m Mt Miharashi 見晴岳 2095m

These small peaks make for relatively easy high-altitude hiking through some beautiful nature and are also a chance to see the elusive Kamoshika or Japanese serow. The return to Takamine is along a slightly sloping dirt road along the base of Mt Kagonoto. You could also start or finish in Yunomaru (see below) depending on the season and bus times.

 

Yunomaru Highland

A second bus, also taking one hour, will take you to Yunomaru Kougen 湯の丸高原 1732m on the western edge of the Mt Asama range. The bus only runs weekends and holidays from June to August. If you are a member of Times car sharing, they have 2 cars at Saku-Daira station which is handy for driving up there during the low season. So far I’ve only done one hike but hope to return in the future to hike the other small peaks in the area:

  • Mt Yunomaru 湯の丸山 2101m Mt Eboshi 烏帽子山 2066m.

This a relatively easy hike with fantastic views of the North Alps to the west , Mt Azumaya and Kusatsu-Shirane to the north and Mt Fuji to the South. 

20151104_124148

North Alps panorama from the top of Mt Yunomaru

Beyond Saku-daira

Although Mt Asama has the potential to keep the average hiker busy, for those who want more, there are some additional options although the high travel time make them less attractive. I’ve listed them below but I haven’t tried any of these yet:

  • Kirigamine 霧ヶ峰 / Kurumayama 車山 1925m, hundred famous mountain

In theory it’s possible to get there by bus from Saku-daira, using Chikuma bus 千曲 but it requires a couple of transfers. Alternatively you could use Times car sharing and drive there in an hour. This is the northern part of the Yatsugatake range near lake Suwa.

  • Mt Ogura 御座山 2112m, two hundred famous mountain

The pass also includes the Koumi line 小海線 which connects Saku-daira with Kobuchizawa on the Chuo line. From Koumi station (50 min), a couple of buses (total travel time 30 min) will get you to the start of the trail. There seems to be another bus back on the other side.

  • Mt Arafune 荒船山1422m, 200 famous mountain

Getting off at Nakagomi 中込 station, only 14 minutes away, a 30-minute Chikuma bus can get you close to Mt Arafune and some other mountains in the area. Access from Shimonita may be easier though.

  • Mt Azumayasan 四阿山 2354m, hundred famous mountain

Here you’d have to pay extra to continue one stop further on the shinkansen line, to Ueda and from there take a  bus to the start of the trail. Using the local train takes too long.

Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part II : Karuizawa

In this post we shall explore the Karuizawa area on the Nagano shinkansen line beyond Takasaki. Unfortunately, since the start of the Hokuriku shinkansen in 2015, reserved seats tend to sell out quickly during holidays due to the continuing Kanazawa boom.

Karuizawa (around 70 minutes from Tokyo station) has 3 things going for it:

1) It sits at the foot of the active volcano Mt Asamayama (current status: smoking)

2) John Lennon used to live there for a while with Yoko Ono

3) Situated at 940m above sea level, its a pleasant place to visit in the summer months.

20160110_123945

Asamayama from the Hanamagariyama hike

Below are some hiking suggestions (for Mt Asama see the post on Saku-Daira): 

 

  • Karuizawa station to Yokokawa station (Dentetstu main line, return via Takasaki)

This is a great hike on the old Nakasendo route connecting Takasaki to Karuizawa with great views of  Mt Asama, Mt Myougi and the Nishijoshuu area. There is an abandoned station and railway line at the end and monkeys can be seen in the warmer months. 

  • Mt Hanamagari 鼻曲山 1655m, Kanto 100 famous mountain

Access is by bus but you can walk back to the station. This hike is on the ridge opposite Mt Asama and has good views of Mt Asamakakushiyama (North) and the Kirizumi onsen area (East). It was a rather dull walk in the winter but should be nicer when greener. 

  • Mt Asamakakushi 浅間隠山 1756m, 200 famous mountain (not climbed yet)

It’s a long walk along a road from the closest bus stop in Kita-Karuizawa unless you can hitch a ride. There is an option to descend to Asamakakushi onsen and ride a bus to Nakanojo on the Agatsuma line (return via Takasaki) but buses only run on weekdays.  

  • Mt Happu ハ風山 1315m to Mt Arafune 荒船山 1423m, 200 famous mountain

This is a long hike for fast walkers connecting Minami-Karuizawa with the Nishijoushuu area. Access is by bus and ends at Arafune onsen (last bus to bus to Shimonita is at 15:46). The hike can be shortened by descending from the farm near Monomiyama 物見山 1375m.

  • Kirizumi onsen area 霧積温泉

I haven’t explored this area yet since access is only via car or taxi but it seems to have some interesting and exciting mountains.

  • Mt Kusatsu-Shirane 草津白根山 2171m, a hundred famous mountain

There is a bus from Karuizawa station which (with one change) will take you all the way to the pass below Mt Shirane (2010m) and beyond to Shiga kogen 志賀高原. I haven’t done this yet with the pass. Mt Shirane is currently active and some parts may be off-limits. 

  • Shiroito waterfall 白糸の滝

The waterfall is less than 30 minutes away by bus and you can walk back to the station in around 4 hours through beautiful woods. This is a relatively easy hike and beautiful in the autumn months.

20160110_145946

View of Nishijoushuu from the Nakasendo route

 

Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part I: Takasaki

So let’s see what can be done exactly with the Tokyo Wide pass. As I mentioned in the previous post, riding the shinkansen is the best way to go and first I’ll tackle Takasaki station since it’s a stop on both the Nagano and Niigata Shinkansen lines and has a myriad of hiking options. Just to be clear, the purpose here isn’t to give details on hikes for each place but simply to show all the different areas that can be reached within a day using the pass and inspire you to go and hike there.

Takasaki, the biggest city of Gunma prefecture, sits at the edge of the Kanto plain and is surrounded by mountains on nearly all sides which makes it an attractive hub for hiking. Since it takes less than 50 minutes to reach by shinkansen from Tokyo station this is ideal if you want a late start / early finish or the weather is dodgy. The main drawback is that you’ll need to take a local line to get to the mountains and some of them run infrequently.

Here is an incomplete list of hiking suggestions:

Mt Akagi 1828m (train to Maebashi, then a 90-minute bus to the visitor centre)

Mt Haruna 1449m (train to Shibukawa, then two buses to the lake, change at Ikaho)

Mt Myougi 1104m (train to Matsuida on the Dentetsu main line 電鉄本線)

These are the three famous mountains of Gunma, and should be a priority if you haven’t visited the area before. The first two are dormant volcanoes with easy hiking on numerous small peaks around a beautiful crater lake. Most hiking is between 1000 and 1500 meters, and late spring and early autumn are the best times to visit. Both areas get a lot of snow in winter and many visitors in the summer. A hike I did on Mt Akagi can be found here. More details for Akagi and Haruna hikes can also be found on hiking in Japan, a blog by Wes.

Mt Myougi is the lowest mountain of the three but also the most dangerous, and its craggy peak is best enjoyed when viewed from below, by doing this hike. You can access Ura Myougi on foot or by taxi from Yokokawa, the next and final station on the line. Less dangerous than the top ridge, it also has its “exciting” bits (I have climbed neither).  More information on things to see and do in these 3 places can be had here.

All 3 would require long day trips or overnight stays if it weren’t for the Tokyo wide pass.

20150923_103852

Mt Kurobi, the highest point of Akagi and lake Ono.


Nishi joushuu area (one-hour train to Shimonita, then continue by bus or taxi)

Joushuu is the old name of Gunma prefecture so nishi joushuu (西上州) refers to it’s western area. After the pass made this area fairly easy to access from Tokyo, it has quickly become one of my favourite hiking spots. A fairly remote place with mountain ranges extending in all directions, most of the peaks are on the low side between 500 and 1500m which makes it suitable for Spring and autumn hiking. This site has a list of hikes. 

20160501_110448b

Panorama from the top of Mt Mitsuiwa in the Nishi Joushuu area.

Agatsuma line (吾妻線)

I’ve only just started exploring the possibilities of this line. So far I have been as far as Onogami 小野上 station, 3 stops beyond Shibukawa, in order to climb Onokoyama 小野子山. Nakanojo 中之条 station a further 3 stops seems to have some potential which I plan to investigate in the future. So far I haven’t been able to find a hiking map for the area which is good or bad depending on how adventurous you are. This is also the usual way to access the famous Kusatsu hot spring (a bus connection exists further down the line), but it’s faster to go there through Karuizawa when using the pass. .

20160109_143716

Perfect weather from the top of Mt Junigadake, the peak next to Mt Onoko


There are a bunch of other local lines heading East towards Tochigi but I haven’t explored those yet so I’ll leave them for a future update. If you have any good hiking suggestions please let me know. Renting a car in Takasaki is also another option if you have a driver’s license that’s valid in Japan. In the next posts I will talk other hiking options on the Nagano and Niigata Shinkansen lines as well as the Tohoku line.

The Tokyo Wide Pass – Why use it?

The JR Tokyo wide pass is arguably the best deal for hikers living in the Tokyo area. Unless you don’t mind shelling out a small fortune to ride the shinkansen or spending more time travelling to and from your destination than hiking there, the majority of your hikes will be limited to the Okutama, Tanzawa and Chichibu areas. That in itself is not such a bad thing – there are dozens and dozens  of excellent hikes in those areas and if you are just starting out you may not feel the urge to travel much further. However if you’ve been in Tokyo for several years and are yearning for something new, this pass will put dozens of new hikes in Gunma, Tochigi and even Niigata within striking distance.

View of Haruna lake - one example of a destination that can be reached as a daytrip using the Tokyo wide pass.

View of Haruna lake – one example of a destination that can be reached as a daytrip using the Tokyo wide pass.

 

BACKGROUND

The pass, first introduced in 2014, was originally called the Kanto 3 day pass and cost 8300 yen. However in December 2015 it was renamed the JR Tokyo wide pass and the price was increased to 10000 yen (a nice round figure for once) but now includes the Echigo-Yuzawa shinkansen station which gives access to multiple Niigata hikes – definitely worth the extra 1300 yen (also good for skiing in the winter).

THE PROS

You can get all the details on the pass on the website but the main attraction for hikers is  3 consecutive days of unlimited use of the shinkansen in the Kanto area. Even non-Japanese residing in in Japan can purchase it, unlike the JR Pass which is for tourists only – don’t forget to bring your passport when buying it. Japanese citizens can’t buy the pass (even if they live abroad) so unfortunately there is no affordable way for Japanese friends / family members to join you on this high-speed train binge. On the plus side, it includes reserved seating, a perk that won’t go unappreciated by tired hikers on the return leg. 

The original intent of the pass is the promotion of tourism in the Kanto area by having people go out there for 2 or 3-day trips using a variety of train lines. However I recommend hikers use it for two or three 1-day trips using the shinkansen every time – it is such a great deal that even if you only use it for 2 days you will be getting your money’s worth. Using other trains even limited express doesn’t really make sense in terms of time, money, comfort and convenience.  For example, a shinkansen round-trip from Tokyo to Karuizawa  costs about 10000 yen which is the cost of the pass so two 1-day trips is equivalent to a 50% discount and if you get lucky with the weather and can go all 3 days, you would only pay one third of the price – I’ve done this more than once. 

THE CONS

As much as I love the pass and rave about it to friends and acquaintances on every occasion there are a few points for improvement. First, the Tokaido line isn’t included. I hope they can make a deal with JR West since it’s only one hour away from Tokyo and there is a lot of great hiking in Shizuoka – Izu peninsula, Gotemba area near Mt Fuji, Minami Alps. The pass includes Shimoda at the tip of the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka  and also includes a ride on a private railway company to get you there so it wouldn’t be anything radical.

Next, buses aren’t included which is a shame since a lot of popular tourist destinations (such as Ikaho and Kusatsu hot springs) require a bus connection. A round-trip bus ride can tag on about 2000 to 4000 yen onto the total price. Since some buses are operated by JR that shouldn’t be a stretch. Finally you have to choose the start date when purchasing the pass. Since hiking is weather dependent I often buy the pass at the very last minute (the day before since the most sales locations don’t open till 10am) in order to get the latest weather forecast. If you can’t go on the chosen date for whatever reason (typhoon, sudden illness) you can’t get your money back.

Overall, I believe that the pros far outweigh the cons and in the next post I’ll give some suggestions on where to hike using the Tokyo wide pass.

Mt Nango 610m, Mt Maku 626m and Mt Shiro 563m, Hakone area

I felt like it was time to try something different, something more unique to Japan. I wanted to do a hike by the sea. Although the elevation of these three mountains is low, they seem quite impressive when seen from the sea-side town of Yugawara, famous for it’s hot springs and February plum blossoms. It is located in the prefecture of Kanagawa, not so far from the Hakone area. I had heard about Mt Maku before as a good place to do rock climbing near Tokyo, although today’s purpose was purely hiking.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Tokyo or Shinagawa station, catch the Tokaido line to Atami.  Yugawara is one stop before. Depending on the type of train you catch, it takes between one hour and an hour and a half, direct or with changes. This is not a line I take often so it was a pleasant change with lots of views of the sea (sit on the right side when heading out).

From the station there are frequent buses to “Kaiya” which is the last stop. Unfortunately I can’t write this one in Kanji but the last sound is the “ya” from Shop. Yet again I was the sole person on the bus for the last portion of the trip (and for the first part of the hike) – who said Japanese mountains were crowded?

THE ROUTE: The bus actually stops in front of a temple but the hike doesn’t go through it. There really wasn’t anybody around to ask but I found a sign for Mt Nango pointing along the road that continues up the mountain to the left of the temple. At this stage, I’d like to point out that the signposting was particularly bad on this hike and I often had to rely on guesswork to find my way especially since there was never anybody around to ask.

Anyway, by following the main road which curved to the right and then back to the left again with many minor roads bifurcating off it, I eventually reached another way overdue sign pointing right up a very steep slope. I swear this slope had an inclination of 45 degrees and it was paved for cars. I cannot imagine driving up here with ice or snow (although I guess that it practically never happens in this area – it felt pretty balmy for a December day).

Soon I was walking among mikan trees with their bright orange fruit and I was starting to get pretty views of Yugawara, the sea and the surrounding mountains. Again there were really no signs and I had to constantly guess what was the main road since the other roads that branched off seemed to be the same width (which was just wide enough for a small car). Instinct served me well for shortly after entering a forest section, I found another wooden sign for the summit. The problem was that this sign was ambiguously placed a few meters before another bifurcation so I shouted a few curses, hesitated a couple of minutes and continued in the most plausible direction which was straight ahead.

Mountain Mikans

Mountain Mikans

Since I was going up the sides of a steep mountain, taking the wrong way could have big consequences. Fortunately, as the path went around and then crested the top of the ridge, I came upon a third and better made sign at the start of a proper hiking trail.  From now, navigating this hike would be a piece of cake, or so I thought. The surrounding landscape had become quite fascinating, not because of its beauty but because of the sense of abandonment. This area had enjoyed a boom a few decades ago but was now in decline and there were a lot of abandoned houses and shacks that made it a little spooky.

A proper sign at last

A proper sign at last

Now I was following a proper hiking path along the ridge, the views hidden by the surrounding vegetation. This was actually a good thing because since I reached the ridge it had become considerably windy. I was skirting a golf course to the right and it was surrounded by an electric fence to keep trespassers out. After a while I reached a road where there was a group of about half a dozen hikers debating the way, the first hikers I saw since the beginning of the hike.

I swiftly turned right along the road and tried to put as much distance as possible between me and them, After following the road for a few minutes, I reached a path on the left heading up to the top of Mt Nango which was only about ten minutes away. There were some nice views of the coastline a few meters below the summit, better than from the summit itself. Here I met some other hikers, as it usually happens at the tops of mountains, and was easily able to get someone to take my photo.

A cape jutting into Sagami bay

A cape jutting into Sagami bay

Towards Izu

Towards Izu

Mt Maku, I think

Mt Maku, I think

Summit photo

Summit photo

After a short rest I set out again for summit number two and the highest point of the hike, Mt Maku. Here the signposting let me down again. At the first intersection there were no signs for Mt Maku, only a sign going straight to some temple and a sign going left down back to the road that runs between the two mountains. I had to cross the road at one point but not before passing by a small lake according to my map. So I decided to continue straight. I passed by another bifurcation offering me another escape route down to the road but I persevered straight ahead.

This was a mistake as I soon found out. The path started curving to the right and towards the north which was the opposite direction from Mt Maku. I was hoping somehow that the path would self-correct but I had to face reality when the path started descending as well. Fortunately before that it had been mostly flat so I quickly retraced my steps and took the second path down to road (now going right). This was a pretty path zigzagging down through a pine wood before reaching a flat wooded area where I crossed what was presumably the other path that led down from Mt Nango. I really have no idea since all these paths are not on my hiking map.

Mountain scape near the coast

Mountain scape near the coast

Pine forest

Pine forest

Here I turned right and continued walking through some more delightful forest.  Of course it was only seconds after I confirmed the way with a solitary hiking going the opposite direction that I finally spotted the lake that I had been aiming for. It was a small and lonely lake resting peacefully in the middle of the forest. Just beyond it was the road which I crossed in order to re-enter the woods on the other side. This part was really pleasant and made me want to bring other people here. If only there wasn’t that insanely steep slope at the start.

A great forest path

A great forest path

The path to Mt Maku

The path to Mt Maku

After a few minutes I reached the path heading for the summit of Mt Maku which took me another fifteen minutes of gentle climbing. The summit was a little disappointing. I could see the sea and the surrounding mountains but I had to sit on the ground to have lunch and the view was obscured by the vegetation, mainly tall grass. In addition it was terribly windy. I guess the strong wind is due to the proximity of the sea. In any case I decided not to linger. However I needed a summit shot before departing. By pure chance the same people I had met on top of Mt Nango were now arriving at this summit as well so all I needed to do was catch their eye and they knew what to do. Of course I reciprocated the favour.

Nearing the top

Nearing the top

Thank you to the people who took my photo on two different summits

Thank you to the people who took my photo on two different summits

Upon heading down, I took yet another wrong turn, this time along the circular path around the summit. Once I realized my mistake I cut back through the woods to the head of the summit path. I was led into error due to the fact that the path initially goes north instead of south and the sign had another place name I couldn’t find on the map. However very soon the path turned south again and had some nice views of the sea and Mt Shiro opposite. I passed the group who took my photo on the summit which gave them a fright since they saw me leave ahead of them.

Great path going down

Great path going down

Nice ocean views

Nice ocean views

Enjoying the soft autumn sunshine

Enjoying the soft autumn sunshine

The ridge leading to Mt Shiro

The ridge leading to Mt Shiro

Eventually I got to the base of Mt Maku and it’s famous rock climbing cliffs. There were a few people practising their skill in the good weather. It was interesting to note that they place mattresses underneath in case they fall. That’s Japanese safety for you. This is where the famous Yugawara plum trees are located.

The rocky base of Mt Maku

The rocky base of Mt Maku

Rock Climbing part I

Rock Climbing part I

Rock Climbing Part II

Rock Climbing Part II

The plum tree orchard

The plum tree orchard

At the bottom, I reached a road which I followed up the valley between Mt Haku and Mt Shiro. It was starting to get late, that’s 3pm in the winter, and basically I was in a race with the shadows creeping up the valley behind me. I stopped to take photos of the beautiful colours of a maple tree and the shadows nearly overtook me. A little later I crossed a bridge and after going straight another hundred meters, I turned left up another smaller road, reaching small rocky hiking trail ten minutes later. The main path continues around Mt Maku and joins up where I started climbing the mountain on the other side.

The shadows creeping up on me

The shadows creeping up on me

Orange Maple tree

Orange Maple tree

Short but nice river walk

Short but nice river walk

Turn left here

Turn left here

Here the race with the fading sunlight continued but I eventually lost out as the path twisted and turned under thick vegetation. There are a few ropes and chains but nothing challenging. It was tough to climb again after walking all the way down Mt Maku but it was too soon to head back. After about 30 minutes I reached a small shrine under a mini waterfall. Above it, there was a paved path going backwards and forwards up the mountain with stone lanterns along the way that gave it a holy atmosphere. I was the only person using the path.

The shrine

The shrine

The holy path

The holy path

Finally I reached a road that went into a tunnel just under the mountain ridge. What a windy tunnel that was! the other side was very sunny and the wind continued to blow. I followed the road one hundred meters or so to a lookout point and a bus stop. Behind the observation platform, there was again a hiking trail which double backed along the ridge and above the tunnel. This was again a very pleasant path despite the strong wind, going slightly downhill with occasional views of the adjacent ridges and the ocean.

Windy but nice view

Windy but nice view

The Izu peninsula

The Izu peninsula

A short while later I reached the final summit, Mt Shiro, the lowest of the three peaks. This one had by far the best view of the three. It had places to sit down and no obstructing vegetation. In addition there were toilets. The bonus was that there were no people at this late hour (the sun was still up though). You could see the Izu peninsula coastline to the south and the Shonan coastline to the North, as well as the tall building of Yokohama. To the west I had for the first time ever I clear view of Ooshima Island. I’ve been wanted to visit that island for a while but now I want to go more than ever. The most amazing thing about this summit was that it was right at the edge of the sea. I think it’s the first time I have stood about 500 meters above the coastline.

Ocean view

Ocean view

Self portrait

Self portrait

DSC06080b

Ooshima Island

I had to pull myself from this great view only fifteen minutes after arriving since I really wanted to get off the mountain before it got dark. I headed down at a fast pace, the path being relatively easy to walk along. There another good view of Ooshima island on the way. Very soon I reached a winding road. My map showed that there were a couple of shortcuts so that you didn’t to walk so much on the road. However I got tricked on the second one – it led basically nowhere and I had to climb five minutes back to the road. There was a Japanese sign at the entrance which I hadn’t bothered to read which explained exactly that.

Another view of Ooshima

Another view of Ooshima

Mt Maku ridge

Mt Maku ridge

When I got to the real short cut, I didn’t dare to take it so I jogged the wide bend along the road. Soon I started seeing signs of civilisation again (if you don’t count the road): telephone wires, houses and cars. There was again some confusion as to what was the right road down to the station. There were again no signs and more roads than were indicated on the map. Somehow my gut instinct was always right and I ended up at the station at dusk. One more great thing about Yugawara – there is an onsen five minutes down the road on the top floor of the hotel with an outdoor bath. Just ask the tourist office next to the station.

Final view of Ooshima

Final view of Ooshima

Mt Sekirou 694m, Takao area

This was my second visit to Mt Sekirou and the first time with a group – I discovered it last year in the autumn – and so the photos will be a combination of both trips. I feel that this mountain is really exceptional because not only is it close to Tokyo and easy to climb, it has beautiful nature, great views, including Mt Fuji on a clear day, a temple with local legends and the clincher – no crowds since it is not a famous mountain.

Mt Sekirou from Sagamiko Station

Mt Sekirou from Sagamiko Station

HOW TO GET THERE: Hop on the Chuo line to Takao station and switch to the Chuo line again by simply crossing the platform. Get off at Sagamiko station, the next stop. The only tricky part here is catching a bus to the start of the Sekirou trail. Departures normally coincide with some train arrivals but if the wait is too long, I believe it would be possible to take a taxi since it is only ten minutes away.

THE ROUTE: From the bus stop, we crossed the road and headed up the road that leads away from it as a straight angle. There is a sign saying Sekirousan iriguchi 石老山入口 or entrance to Mt Sekirou and also a big rough panel showing the route. Additionally there are toilets and a vending machine. After walking along the road for about twenty minutes we reached the start of the trail behind a hospital. The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t matter so much since we were inside a forest and it was autumn colour season.

Huge map at the trailhead

Huge map at the trailhead

The highlight of the first part of the hike were the ancient massive boulders lying left and right of the path which climbed steadily through the forest of tall cedar trees alongside a small stream. Most of the mossy, vegetation-covered boulders had small signs with Japanese explanations on their legendary origins.

The road to the temple

The road to the temple

Huge moss covered boulders

Huge moss covered boulders

Autumn colours were in full swing

Autumn colours were in full swing

We reached a temple perched on the lower reaches of the mountain in less than half an hour and took a photo break since it had some impressive autumn colours. Since there are no other mountains standing in the way, there was also a view west towards Tokyo but clouds and smog meant that the visibility was limited. On the left we could see the Takao ridge which of all mountains makes the deepest push into the Tokyo area.

DSC05797

The path continued from behind the temple, winding back and forth until we reached a fork that I couldn’t remember from the previous time and was not marked on the map. We asked a small family on their way down and they confirmed that the paths connected further up and that the right one was easier to walk. We decided to go right and we were rewarded with some more nice westward vistas as the path curved around the side of the mountain.

A nice gentle slope

A nice gentle slope

Barely half an hour later we joined up with the left path. From then on it was a gentle climbing slope through very nice forest till we got to a fantastic viewpoint of Lake Sagami. The weather being as cloudy as it was, we couldn’t really see much of the mountains beyond that form the Tama-Kai national park. We continued to proceed up the mountain at a good pace meeting few people. The path was a series of short steep climbs followed by a flat or slightly downhill section, typical of most ridges in the Japanese mountains.

We reached the summit after two hours. There are a number of tables where you can have a picnic while admiring the view of Mt Fuji. Unfortunately today the weather had steadily been getting worse and there was absolutely no hope of seeing the majestic giant today. We repaired to a table under a tree out of the cold wind that had suddenly started blowing after we reached the summit, and started preparing our ramen lunch.

Cooking lunch in the freezing cold

Cooking lunch in the freezing cold

View from the top last year with Mt Omuro in the centre.

View from the top last year with Mt Omuro in the centre.

Even though it was the first of December the temperature had been warmer than expected   at the base of the mountain and on the way up. However it got seriously cold on the top and the clouds got greyer and more menacing. Suddenly I saw white specks on the table. I couldn’t believe my eyes – it had started snowing! in truth it wasn’t the beautiful snowflake type of snow – this was the hard granular kind that became more like sleet when it got more intense, forcing us to gulp down our lunch, pack and leave as quickly as possible. By that time my fingers were feeling pretty numb.

I decided we should head down the same way since I felt it would be safer in this freak snowstorm. However as soon as we were twenty meters from the summit, the snow stopped falling and it felt noticeably warmer. Ten minutes later we had blue skies above our head and the sun was shining. The storm was over.

At first I felt it was shame to go down the same way but in the end it turned out to be a good thing. It was after all a very pleasant mountain path and it looked quite different going down especially now that the weather was so good. The view of lake Sagami was completely different and we could see the green mountain ranges beyond.

First glimpse of the lake on the way down

First glimpse of the lake on the way down

DSC05820

The Sagami Lake view point after the storm

The Sagami Lake view point after the storm

Further down we took the other path so as to complete the loop. Just a little below the junction there is a good view of Mt Sekirou as well as a view to the west. The path winds down the mountain through some more huge boulders but wasn’t particularly difficult.

Sunny woods

Sunny woods

View towards Tokyo

View towards Tokyo

The Takao range seen from the temple

The Takao range seen from the temple

We got down in barely an hour and a half, and after a twenty minute wait we were able to hop onto a bus back to the station. My original plan was to take another path from the summit that would have made a loop back to the start of the hike arriving at the bus stop. I guess that will be for another time.

CONCLUSION: Great hike for late autumn early winter because of it’s short length and relatively low altitude. It can be combined with some neighbouring mountains if you are a fast hiker and I shall make a separate post for them in the future.