Mt Myougi, 1104m, Gunma area

Even though the title of this post mentions the height, I didn’t actually summit this mountain (I thought about it though). The reason being that despite its low altitude, this is a dangerous and difficult mountain to climb. I used to think that you could walk up every mountain in Japan (chains and ladders being placed in the more sketchy parts) and that Mt Tsurugi was the most difficult of the peaks. However Mt Myougi has proven me wrong. All the summit paths are marked with dotted lines which means “experts only” with multiple danger signs and worrying comments added into the mix (“50m chimney – a lot of people have died here”).

So I ended up doing the scenic and safe tour along of the base of the mountain – not only were the views fantastic but there were some thrilling parts as well. Let’s not forget to say that Mt Myougi is one of the 3 sacred mountains of Gunma prefecture (the other two being Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna) and belongs to the 200 famous Japanese mountains.

HOW TO GET THERE: I had been putting off going to Mt Myougi for a while, imagining that it was hard to get to. I first saw this mountain while staying overnight with friends in Tomioka and while it seemed exciting to climb because of its ragged peaks it also seemed quite remote. Nothing could be further from the truth. I managed to get there in just over 2 hours from Ikebukuro station. Take a train to Takasaki station (you could go by Shinkansen but the saved time is not really worth the extra money in this case), get on a train for Yokosawa and get off at Matsuida, about 25 minutes away.

The view from the station exit is stunning – there are no surrounding mountains and Mt Myougi is quite close. I could also see a snow covered peak just behind it, maybe Mt Asama. I didn’t take a photo unfortunately hoping to get a better view from the mountain but never did.

Also unfortunate is that there is no bus from the station to the start of the hiking trail. You could walk along the road or take a taxi to Myougijinja (Myougi shrine). It takes about 10 minutes and costs about 1400 yen. I’m not really sure about the exact price since I shared the taxi with 3 other people and we split the fare – I paid only 400 yen. There aren’t that many taxis and although there weren’t many people, we still had to wait for one taxi to do the round-trip. Still I was at the start of the trail just before 10 am – two hours and a half after leaving Ikebukuro station.

There is a bus running from Joshutomioka station on a different line running south of the mountain but not only does it take forty minutes to reach that station by train, the bus also takes forty minutes, basically adding one hour to the travel time so I wouldn’t recommend going this way.

THE ROUTE: From the taxi drop off point, I headed up the street on the right to the Myougi shrine and through to the start of the hiking trail beyond it. In some respects the base of this mountain is similar to Mt Tsukuba – many people visit it to see the shrine and pray. My original plan was to walk the Chukan Michi along the base of the mountain however I wanted to tag along a loop that would take me close to the easternmost summit and which had some good views according to the map. Since I would also return by taxi, for  once I had no concerns about having to hurry to catch a bus at the end of the hike, except maybe getting off the mountain trail before it gets pitch black (after 5pm in this season).

The first part of the route. Note the chains and the danger signs in red.

The first part of the route. Note the chains and the danger signs in red.

The 2nd part of the hike.

The 2nd part of the hike (my path is the upper blue one).

I left the sightseers behind once I exited the Shrine grounds and I soon encountered a beautiful momiji (maple leaf tree) displaying vibrant autumn colours (there were a couple in the shrine as well). Although the Kouyou season has already ended on the top parts of the mountain, it was now it full swing around the base of the mountain. The path soon started climbed and before long I was pulling myself up steep inclines with the aid of chains. Nothing dramatic though – you could easily walk it up but pulling yourself does take make it easier on the legs.

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Shrine surrounded by golden maple trees

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Sugi and Momiji (Cedar tree and Maple tree)

At one point I reached a huge boulder with chains that supposedly had a viewpoint on top. Thanks to my long legs and arms I clambered to the top in a matter of seconds. I was at the “Big” kanji that is on the mountain (the Kanji’s size is big and it is also the kanji for the word big). The view was really good, especially since it a blue skies type of day. In front of me, the Kanto plain. I couldn’t see all the way to Tokyo though since in truth I wasn’t very high, perhaps 800 meters. To the south was a mass of peaks that forms the Northern part of the Chichibu mountains. Apart from My Ryogami, most of this area is virgin territory for me. To the north I could clearly see Mt Haruna and Mt Akagi.  These mountains are so massive, I really must visit them more often. In the far distance I could make out the snow covered peaks of Mt Hotaka, Mt Tanigawa and various other connected peaks. Winter has arrived definitely to that part of Japan. And of course, just behind me, one of the steep and rocky peaks of Mt Myougi, Hakuunsan.

Mt Haruna, lots to explore

Mt Haruna, lots to explore

Mt Hakuun

Mt Hakuun

I had to wait a little to clamber down again since the only route down the boulder was being ascended by a much slower Japanese hiker. Finally I was able to get back onto the hiking trail. Very soon I reached a junction where the top route continued to the summit and the left train looped around down the mountain and connected with the Chuukan path. I decided to continue along the summit trail as far as possible.

Within minutes I was scrambling over rocks again and holding on to chains, but nothing I hadn’t done a hundred times before on other mountains. Finally a reached some steps leading to a ladder leading into a cave. I climbed into the cave which turned out to be a sort of shrine but couldn’t see the next part of the path. It was  a dead end. There was an opening above me but it was for Spiderman only.

I retraced my steps thinking that somehow I had overlooked the trail and found it to the right of the steps just beyond a towering cedar tree. I wasn’t surprised I had missed it since it wasn’t a path but a steep rocky incline with a chains and some footholds. Now I’ve done a few of these before but none quite as long or steep. I pulled myself up halfway but didn’t really feel all that safe – a fall would result in more than a few bruises – so I decided to go down again. I had no intention of completing this route, I was just curious to see what is was like and my curiosity was satisfied.

I went back down to the trail junction and started down the mountain. There were another passage with chains, a few nice sunny view points and I stopped at one of them to have lunch. Eventually I got to the Chuukan michi. It was a very pleasant up and down path (more up than down though) through the autumn foliage  There were some truly fantastic autumn colours along the way and I couldn’t believe how few people there were. I saw later on the web that there were thousands of people at Mount Takao the same day.

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Framed View

The Southern part of the Myougi range

The Southern part of the Myougi range

Autumn Colours galore

Autumn Colours galore

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Believe it or not, there is a ridge route following the top

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Myougi’s craggy peaks

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Sunny day, autumn colours: a great combination

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My destination: beyond those peaks

After a while I got to a series of steps that took me very close to the top of one of Mt Myougi’s peaks. I didn’t expect the trail to go that high, perhaps 1000m but hard to tell from the map. At this point the skies had clouded over a little but the views were still good. I ended walking along the base of a cliff just below a summit. At times the path was carved inside the cliff and I had to walk bent double. Quite a fantastic path and one of the highlights of the hike!

The long staircase

The long staircase

The low overhang

The low overhang

Getting cloudy

The highest point of the hike

Later on I got to a viewpoint that could be reached by a series of rocky up and downs fitted with chains. There were somewhat more people here since this spot is closer to the other end of the Myougi range that has another shrine and a car park. While waiting for my turn to go down the chains I took abundant photos of the mountains stretching away to the south. There was one especially that caught my eye – Mt Arafune. It had a very long flat top like a table, quite an intriguing sight.

The best panorama of the hike

The best panorama of the hike

Lots of hiking possibilities

Lots of hiking possibilities

Endless mountains

Endless mountains

On the right, Mt Arafune or tabletop mountain as I call it

On the right, Mt Arafune or tabletop mountain as I call it

When I reached the end of the path, I was also able to enjoy a great view of Mt Myougi to the North. The sun had come out again and the whole range was bathed in a late afternoon sunlight, perfect for taking pictures. After I while I headed back to the main path, went down some more, under a rocky bridge, through a picnic spot and then up to another viewpoint where I could admire the rocky crags I had clambered over just a few minutes before.

The northern part of the Myougi range

The northern part of the Myougi range

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End of the path

For once posing with a summit I didn't conquer

For once posing with a summit I didn’t conquer

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A great hike nonetheless

Not an easy path

Not an easy path

The view of the 1st viewpoint from the 2nd viewpoint

The view of the 1st viewpoint from the 2nd viewpoint

Typical Myougi landscape

Typical Myougi landscape

Mt Kondou the other main Myougi peak

Mt Kondou the other main Myougi peak

The sun was slowly but surely heading for the horizon so I continued my descent and very quickly reached the other shrine. There is something really nice about starting and ending at  a shrine. It feels like you are combining hiking and sightseeing and the feeling is very similar to the one you get in places like Mt Takao and Mt Tsukuba. However I couldn’t linger and hurriedly left the shrine and got back on to the road for the last part of the hike. I had to return to my starting point but fortunately the return path was more direct and easier, and I expected it to take less than a hour.

Along the road there were excellent views of some of Mt Myougi’s craggy peaks and of the mountains to the south. The blue skies had returned so even though the sun had already set it was still light. Soon I entered a hiking path that went down through a forest. That was really the only way back since the roads going by both shrines did not connect directly  It was slowly getting dark but I could still the see the way clearly. Very soon I was back on the road. At one point there, I took a right along a slowly rising curving road that took me to Momiji no Yu, a very conveniently located onsen. There are no buses going to the station after 5pm so I had to call a taxi afterwards. It was more expensive going back to the station, about 2300 yen but since I had paid peanuts on the way there I didn’t mind at all.

Nearly full moon tonight

Nearly full moon tonight

Great views on the walk back as well

Great views on the walk back as well

Myougi #1

Myougi #1

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Mt Jingasa (1486m), Mt Yakushi (1528m), Mt Debari (1475m) and Mt Miharashi (1458), Gunma area

This is a string of small peaks along the caldera that surrounds lake Ono, the main peak being Mt Akagi which I won’t discuss here since it’s part of the hundred famous mountains and is well documented. I only decided to climb them after I got down from Mt Akagi  well ahead of schedule. It was so unplanned in fact that I didn’t even had a map and I had to reply on a photo of a schematic area map. On the map you can see there are a number of minor other peaks that can be done to complete the tour of the caldera so I definitely plan to return one day.

The crude map that was my guide

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the train to Maebashi (I took the shinkansen to save time) then a bus to the Akagi visitor centre. Some guy was handing out brochures about Mt Akagi to every person on the bus and after we departed, was giving explanations about Mt Akagi (I presume since I couldn’t really follow) through a microphone nearly the whole way. Slightly annoying but I still managed to doze off eventually.

The bus was pretty full and everybody got off one stop before the end. This was the closest stop to the lake. However the start of the Mt Akagi hiking path is between the 2 last stops so it doesn’t really matter which one you get off.

THE ROUTE: As I said above I shall pick up this account after the descent of Mt Akagi. Once you hit the main road, instead of turning left along the road back to the visitor’s centre, take the road opposite you leading to the camp site following the lake (don’t go right, up the mountain). The start of the hike is tricky to find – according the to the crude map at the camping, the trail starts before the camp site when actually it starts from within, just behind the toilets. I had actually given up after walking up and down the road looking for any trace of a trail and finally saw it when I decided to go to the bathroom.

It’s a nice signposted trail that quickly heads up past a few holiday houses and up the mountain. The lake is already at 1350m so there really isn’t much climbing to do to get to the caldera ridge. The path turns left towards Mt Jingasa but I walked about 50 meters to the right and got to a small rise called Mt Ashigara 1474m according to the map but without a summit marker.

After that I continued to Mt Jingasa which did have a summit marker and views of Mt Akagi. A little further on I reached the summit marker for Mt Yakushi. There was really no one on the ridge which was amazing considering the amount of people on Mt Akagi. After Mt Yakushi the path changed direction and seemed to go over the ridge and down the other side, and was at times a little hard to follow. I became concerned about ending up in the totally wrong place seeing that I didn’t have a map. The southern part of the Mt Akagi area has a number of peaks and it can be a little disorientating. However very soon the path turned again into the right direction and before I knew it I was on the top of Mt Debari.

Mt Debari was the most attractive summit by far with lots of sitting spots and some very nice views of Mt Akagi and Lake Ono. After spending some time there I moved on and slowly started going down the caldera back to lake level. There are a number of paths going down to the left signposted to some nature house but the correct path is straight ahead until you get to a clear T junction. At this stage, I turned right towards the lake (the other path is signposted 20 km to some far away destination).

Mt Debari

View of Mt Akagi and Lake Ono

Eventually I reached the lake and walked along the road for a short time.  With the sun in your back it’s a good place to take photos of Mt Akagi with Lake Ono. After passing a bunch of houses there is a sign for an observation platform going up a steep field on the right. After the steep climb the path becomes reasonably flatter, and after going through some forest, takes you over the treeless summit of Mt Miharashi. The observation platform is just a little down the path on the other side also you will not observe anything here that you haven’t observed before. The platform is for motorists and the road is not far away.

Lake side view

After crossing the road I had to decide whether or not to climb one last mounain. Mt Jizoh at 1673 m was significantly higher than the other peaks and had been looming in the distance for a while. In the end I decided against it since I couldn’t afford to miss the bus back. I ended up taking a nice wide mostly flat path going around the base and ending up on the main road again. From there its straight back to the bus stop.

A few meters before the Akagi visitor centre there is a nice wooden cottage that doubles as a restaurant. I popped in to get a snack and I was very warmly welcomed.  I was invited to sit in front of the fire and offered hot tea.  A nice place to wait if there is some time before the bus leaves.

CONCLUSION: An easy but fun hike up and down some relatively obscure peaks with nice lake views, this will suit anyone who wants to get away from the crowds. The main drawback is that unless you climb Mt Akagi as well (or have your own car) you will have to walk along the road to reach the start of the hike.