Archive for the ‘Archive’ category

Hachijō-fuji (八丈富士山)

March 21, 2015

Hachijō-fuji is a dormant conical volcano that towers over Hachijō island in the southern part of the Izu island chain. The peak offers a rare chance to circumnavigate a volcanic crater while admiring the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean.

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Special Note: Although the trailhead starts at 500 vertical meters above the sea, the recommended way to do this hike is a ‘sea to summit’ traverse, from the ferry terminal to the top. That is the route described below.

The hike: From the ferry, walk up the main road and on your right you’ll see the ferry terminal in a nondescript concrete building. There’s a small tourist information counter there if you want some information about the island. Otherwise, keep walking away from the boat and you’ll soon see a diving shop called SEADIVE. Directly next to this shop is a cheap hostel called Hotchy Joes. It’s owned and managed by the people in the diving shop, so if you’ve booked a bed then you can drop your luggage off at the hostel first to lighten your load. Otherwise, continue on the main road away from the ferry terminal that starts slowly climbing towards the interior of the island. Believe it or not, this road will actually take you all the way to the trailhead of the mountain if you just continue to walk straight. At the first main intersection there is a small shop that sells basic supplies, but ignore this as there’s a bigger and better supermarket further up the road, near the airport and across the street from the baseball field. The supermarket is a low, one-story building with a bright orange roof. You can see Hachijō-fuji’s cone sticking up behind the building. Despite being a popular place for shopping, there is no sign indicating what the building is. Buy your lunch and water here, as there are no other facilities beyond this. Just past the supermarket, you’ll see an orange pachinko hall (パチンコ) and the island’s equivalent of the Hilton (in name only- it’s really just a tiny minshuku that has stolen the name of the successful hotel chain). Take the road between these two buildings (just continue straight on). Soon you’ll pass by a small concrete factory and reach an intersection marked Fujisando iriguchi (富士山道入口). Continue straight on and this road will start climbing up towards the trailhead. If you’re bored of walking on the concrete or just want to save some extra energy for the hike, then it’s pretty simple to hitch a lift on this road, since all cars are going the same place. Your first landmark will be a shrine gate on the right side of the road marked as 一の鳥居. A bit further up, you’ll see a sign pointing to the second gate (二の鳥居) but you can just skip that and continue on the asphalt. A few minutes later you’ll see a road branching off to the left marked for the airport (空港). You can consider descending via this route on the way down as it’s an alternative way off the mountain. Anyway, about half an hour later you’ll reach the top of the road and find a junction. Turn right here, following the sign that says Hachijō-fuji Tozanguchi (八丈富士登山口). You’ll reach the trailhead in about five minutes. Look for the parked cars if you’ve come on the weekend. The trail starts on the left side of the paved road, marked by a stone with the words 富士山頂への路 engraved in white letters. Turn left here on a paved road that soon turns into volcanic gravel. You’ll immediately see a green gate fastened across the path. Don’t worry, the trail isn’t closed: the gate is there to keep the cows inside (you’ll be passing through a cow pasture). Unlatch the gate and don’t forget to lock it again once you pass through. You’ll see a series of stone steps built out of the volcanic rock, with an easier (but narrow) concrete path that runs parallel. There are a total of 1285 steps between here and the crater rim, so make sure you pace yourself. I recommend alternating between the concrete path and the steps in order to give your legs a rest and to work out some different muscles. There are handrails in place in some of the steeper sections, but it really is easy hiking for the most part. Eventually you’ll reach another green gate, so pass through it by unlatching the lock and locking it again once you’re through. From here there are only 530 steps to go, so hang in there and enjoy the ride. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you’re a purist), the concrete continues over 190 of those steps, so once the concrete ends you’ve only got 340 steps to the crater rim. The angle will start to ease a bit the closer to the top you get, and at the top of the last step you’ll be on the edge of the crater rim, where the real fun (and the real hike) begins. You can go either direction, but I recommend going clockwise (just like the buddhists). At this junction, you’ll see a path that continues straight and drops into the crater floor. Ignore this trail for now and wait until you’ve done the full circumnavigation. Turn left on the ridge, following whatever path seems most logical. It’s a heavily eroded area with two or three different paths to choose from. In clear weather it’s easy to see where you need to go, but be careful in foggy weather because it can be easy to fall off a cliff if you’re not careful. Near the top of the first peak, you’ll pass by a small cave opening on your left. This was used during World War II for Japanese troops to spy the enemy aircraft (Hachijō island was a battleground apparently). Continue on for another 10 minutes or so and you’ll reach the summit of the mountain, marked by a concrete post. From here, it’s a matter of following the crater rim as best you can. It’s overgrown in places and can be incredibly muddy if it’s been raining recently. As you head north, you’ll soon start to see a conical island floating just off shore. This is called Hachijō kojima (little Hachijō island). The uninhabited island is only accessible by chartered boat, unless you want to swim 7.5km across the sea. Anyway, continue traversing around the crater, which has some amazing views in clear weather. It should take about an hour or so to circle the crater, so when you return back where you started take a break because things are about to become interesting. Instead of turning left and following the stone steps you ascended, turn right here and drop down into the crater itself. At first the trail is a heavily-eroded channel of scree but soon you’ll come to a junction. Turn right for the time being and follow the well-maintained path to Sengen Shrine, which sits on the edge of a smaller crater. There are colorful stones here in which visitors have written their wishes. After admiring the views, retrace your steps back to the stone marker, and this time continue to the right (instead of left up the trail that will take you back to the crater rim). This path will take you to the center of the crater itself, but be warned – it’s incredibly narrow and not well maintained. The path passes through some breathtaking jungle greenery. The trail can be hard to pick up, so when in doubt follow the route that has the most wear (and backtrack if you’ve made a mistake). After climbing a bit through a really dense area of brush (where you’ll likely be bending over like an old lady to fight your way through), you’ll see a concrete signpost that reads 中央火口丘. Turn right here and force your way through the overgrown trail and you’ll eventually reach an idyllic lake that makes the perfect place to contemplate life. Very few hikers actually make it this far, so consider the a solitude a justified reward for all of the hard work. After this, it’s simply a matter of retracing your steps all the way back to the ferry terminal. Again, if you’re exhausted, you can simply stick out your thumb and try to catch a ride.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but bring plenty of water if hiking in the warmer summer months. Late March is a great time to enjoy the cherry blossoms and more stable weather. Late autumn is also a splendid time, but make sure there are no typhoons passing through.

Access: From Takeshiba ferry terminal (竹芝客船ターミナ) in Tokyo, take a ferry bound for Hachijōjima (八丈島) and get off at the last stop. During the high season in summer, an advance reservation is highly recommended. The ferry leaves nightly at 10:30pm, arriving on Hachijō island at 8:50am the following day. Click here for some English information about the ferry company.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 854 meters) (4 out of 5 if you descend into the crater floor)

Total round-trip distance: 14km (6 to 8 hours)

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Konze Alps (金勝アルプス)

September 9, 2014

Located near the shores of Lake Biwa in southern Shiga Prefecture, the Konze Alps offers a refreshing escape from the urban sprawl of Kansai. The hike features not only gigantic sandstone formations and ancient Buddhist carvings, but also a chance to experience a forest relatively untouched by human encroachment.

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The hike: From the bus stop, walk up the narrow paved road that runs upstream parallel to the river. The road will soon branch, so turn left and follow the sign to Mt. Tosaka (鶏冠山) and Tengu-iwa (天狗岩). Walk through the parking lot, past the toilets, and up the paved forest road that may or may not have a chain over it. You’ll soon pass by a small pond on your left, followed by another pond a little further along. The trailhead starts just after the second pond and is marked with a white sign reading  落ヶ滝線 1900m 50分. Turn right here and follow the gravel road. You’ll pass by a small lake and log cabin shack before entering the woods. You’ll soon see a small trail branching off to the right, marked by a corroding signpost. Ignore this trail and stay on the main path which will veer towards the left. The route runs next to a small stream that you will follow most of the way up. There are numerous crossings marked by colored tape on the trees. After about 10 minutes or so you’ll cross over a paved forest road, with a trail crossing a bridge on your left. Instead of crossing the bridge, continue straight on, following the sign to 落ヶ滝. After crossing the creek you’ll come to another junction with an trail branching off to your left for Mt. Tosaka (鶏冠山) and 北谷林道. Ignore this trail and follow the trail to 落ヶ滝 which crosses the creek straight ahead. The entire route is marked systematically with yellow metal signs bolted to the trees that read コールポイント. These signs are coded with a numerical system that is used to help with helicopter rescues. Every year, some hikers take a tumble and need to be airlifted out of the mountains, and these signs indicate places where rescuers can safely abseil from the helicopter. Anyway, the route continues weaving back and forth along both banks of the creek for about 15 more minutes until reaching another junction with a trail branching off to the right for 落ヶ滝. Drop your gear here and cross the creek for the short climb up to the waterfall. While the waterfall itself isn’t particularly big, the rock formations and peace of the narrow valley make it a good place to contemplate life. After enjoying the scenery, retrace your steps back to the junction and continue heading up the mountain. After passing by a couple of more rescue points, the views will start to open up towards lake Biwa and Hieizan as you climb towards the ridge. The route starts to flatten out, traversing through a large plateau flanked by massive undergrowth all around. It can be a bit tricky to find the trail in places, so make sure you follow the tape marks on the trees and any signage pointing towards 落ヶ谷 and for 天狗岩. There are several places with ropes to help you up the steeper sections of rock. Eventually you’ll pop out on the main ridge (rescue point #K-7), where a decision will have to be made. If you’re fit and energetic, then I recommend stashing your gear in the woods and turning left for the 20 minute climb to the summit of Mt. Tosaka. The trail is steep and will pass over three false summits before reaching the peak. While the summit is covered with trees, there are a couple of places along the way where you can get views down into the valley below. If that’s not your cup of tea, then you can skip the climb because the best part of the hike lies ahead. Turn right here and follow the signs towards Tengu-iwa (天狗岩), which will take anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour to reach. En route you’ll pass by several fascinating rock formations that offer splendid views into the valley below. Watch your footing in dry weather, as the sandstone offers little traction. Just before reaching Tengu, the path will drop down into the forest before climbing steeply up to the base of the rocks. Drop your pack here and follow the red arrows painted on the rocks to climb to the top. It’s an adrenaline-inducing climb with incredible panoramic views and most likely the highlight of the entire hike. When you’ve had enough fun, retrace your steps to the ridge and continue straight along, following the sign for Mimi-iwa 耳岩. You’ll soon find a junction on your left for 十九道ダム, but ignore this and continue straight on. You’ll start to get views back towards Tengu and you’ll also see a rock formation that looks like a giant ear (hence the name, Mimi-iwa). When you reach this rock formation you’ll find yet another junction (there are no shortage of trails in this area). Here another decision will have to be made. If you’re tired, then take the trail to the right marked for Kami-Kiryuu (上桐生). Otherwise, continue on the ridge towards 白石峰 for the climb to Mt. Ryuuou (竜王山), which will take about another half an hour to reach. The path will climb up a series of steps before reaching a junction marked by a giant brown signboard. There is also a box here for hikers to register their hiking plans. Usually these are found at the trailheads, so I have no idea why there is a box sitting here on the top of a mountain. Anyway, turn left here and follow the rolling ridge through an area of pine trees. Soon you’ll reach an ancient Kannon statue carved into a rock called 茶沸観音. After this the route strolls along a relatively flat ridge with nice views out to your right. After 10 minutes or so you’ll reach a clearing with a large flat rock and small shrine, as well as a spur trail to the right for the summit of Mt. Ryuuou (竜王山頂). The top itself has no views to speak of, so it’s better to take a break at this clearing. After this retrace your steps back to the big junction with the brown signboard. Here another decision will have to be made. If you turn left here you’ll follow a route on the spiny ridge that will take you past an ancient Buddhist rock carving. The route is marked as 狛坂線 and it should take you about 90 minutes to loop back to the bus stop. I haven’t done this route to be honest (I was torn between this one and the earlier escape route from Mimi-iwa), so I can’t give you a trail description at this time. What I did was to retrace my steps back to Mimi-iwa and turn left, following the signs to 上桐生. The trail drops steeply off the ridge, with ropes in place to help you down the slippery sandstone scree. After scurrying through the limestone maze, you’ll reach another junction marked 水晶谷 on your left. Ignore this and drop steeply to the right, following the tape marks and signs through yet more boulders. At rescue point T-3 the trail will drop off the ridge to the right and pass through an area of ferns before eventually dropping down to a creek bed. Follow the route as it crisscrosses the creek about a dozen times. Keep your eyes peeled for the tape marks when you’re not sure where the path goes. At rescue point T-6 you’ll reach a campground and then a gravel road. Turn left and cross the wooden bridge that will take you to a paved road. Follow this road for a few minutes until reaching a fork in the road marked by a bust of Johannis de Rijke, the guy who designed the aqueduct from Lake Biwa to Kyoto. The stone dam behind his statue was also designed by him in the Meiji era. Anyway, to get to the bus stop turn right, but if you’ve still got time and energy there’s still one little detour to make. Turn left, following the signs to さかさ観音. After walking about 5-minutes, you’ll see a paved trail on your left that crosses a bridge to a gazebo. Take this and you’ll find the rock carving next to the resthouse. This is unique because the statues were carved upside down. From here, retrace your steps back to the statue and turn left, where you’ll reach the bus stop in about 10 minutes. As you can see, the hike offers a number of different option and there are enough trails in the area to keep you occupied for a while.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you need to be wary of ice in the winter months, as the rock formations are slippery enough without the added challenge of frozen water. Summer is hot and humid with a lot of hornets, but the small river makes a good place to cool off the body. Parts of the trail are closed in early autumn (Sept. 19 to Nov. 10 to be exact) to prevent people from stealing matsutake mushrooms, a highly-prized delicacy. The locals are strict with trespassers, so please pay attention to the Do Not Enter signs reading 入山禁止. This is a very popular weekend destination, so try to go on a weekday if you want to photograph the wonderful rock formations without people in the way.

Access: From Osaka or Kyoto stations, take the JR Shinkaisoku (新快速) either bound for Maibara (米原) or Nagahama (長浜) and get off at Kusatsu (草津) station. Go out the ticket gates and turn left towards the East Exit (東口). Go down the stairs on your left and you’ll find bus stop #4 directly in front of you. Take bus #153 bound for Kami-Kiryuu (上桐生) and get off at the final stop. Click here for the schedule.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~500 meters)

Total round-trip distance: 12km (5 to 7 hours)

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Anmon Falls (暗門の滝)

July 11, 2014

Anmon falls is part of Shirakami Sanchi, a World Heritage beech forest located in western Aomori Prefecture. The 3-tiered waterfall is well worth a visit if you’re looking for a quick half-day escape from the crowds in nearby Hirosaki city.

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The hike: From the bus stop, the trailhead is a bit tricky to find. Walk out to the main road and turn left, crossing the metal bridge that spans the river. Just after crossing, you’ll see signs pointing the way to 暗門の滝歩道 (Anmon no taki hodou) Turn right and follow the asphalt past a toilet and a concrete dam to the start of the trail. There’s a water source here, so fill up your water for the walk. You’ll see a trail leading into the forest directly to the left of the water source. Ignore this trail, as you’ll use it to complete your hike. Follow the concrete trail along the river instead, which will lead directly to the waterfalls. The initial part of the path climbs past a concrete dam, but don’t fret: the rest of the way, though on a concrete trail most of the time, follows a natural river. The route is incredibly easy to follow but can be incredibly slippery in wet weather, so use extra caution in the areas with metal staircases and wooden planks. The trail has been washed out in several places, so boardwalks have been installed, which make the area look like one big construction zone in parts. After a couple of minutes, you’ll cross the river a couple of times and see a junction with a trail leading off to the left. Ignore this trail for the time being and head to the right, following the sign reading 暗門の滝へ. The path alternates between the left and right banks of the river, with some areas that can become real traffic jams if hiking on the weekend. Follow the 順路 signs as much as you can, as they can help alleviate some of the tight spots. After about 40 minutes or so, you’ll reach the first of the 3 waterfalls. When you reach the junction, turn left and descend to the base of the falls (the sign says 第3の滝はこちら). The first fall makes a great place to take your first break and soak up the scenery. Once satisfied, retrace your steps and continue climbing towards the remaining two waterfalls. The path actually climbs up to the left and over the first fall before ascending to the second fall, which should take about 10 minutes or so. Just before reaching the second fall you’ll see a trail branching off on the left that climbs to a small shrine. The shrine itself isn’t much to look at but it might be worth a visit to pray to the mountain kami for good weather. Between the second and first falls you’ll pass through a tunnel burrowed into the rock before reaching the final fall and the end of the trail. After sufficient photography time, retrace your steps all the way back to that first junction. At the junction, instead of turning left to cross the river, head straight on the trail marked 散策道へ. The trail climbs into a wonderful virgin beech forest, which, unfortunately, has been victim to people scrawling graffiti in the bark of some of the trees. Regardless, it’s still a nice place for a stroll and a great way to end the hike. The route is very well-marked and about halfway on you’ll see a junction on your right that follows a small stream. Take this trail as it meanders through the forest. Eventually it’ll meet back up with the main trail. When it does, take a right and continue towards the start of the trail. A short while later, you’ll see another trail branching off to the right. This loop is shorter and somewhat diminished by the cedar trees planted along the route! You can take this trail if you’d like, or simply ignore it and continue on the trail back to the parking lot. At the parking lot you’ll find a restaurant, as well as a hot spring bath. Both make a great place to kill some time if you find yourself with extra time before the next bus.

When to go: This hike can be done between early July and early November, when the buses to the trailhead are running. If you have your own transport, then you can consider going a little earlier in the season. Just confirm that the road is open before you go, as the road is closed in the winter.

Access: From bus stop #6 at Hirosaki (弘前) station, take a bus bound for Tsugaru touge (津軽峠) and get off at Aqua Green Village Anmon (アクアグリーンビレッジANMON) bus stop. The buses only run from July 1 to November 4, and there are only two buses per day for the 70 minute journey to the trailhead. Click here for the bus schedule. The tourist information centers at both Aomori and Hirosaki stations have a flyer with the bus schedule and a simple map. Pick it up before getting on the bus, as it has the return bus times as well.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200m)

Total round-trip distance: 8km (2 to 3 hours)

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Mt. Ōe (大江山)

June 7, 2014

Mention Mt. Ōe to any Japanese person, and they’ll likely start indulging you in the legends of the many oni (demons) that roam the ridges of the hallowed peak. Despite the less than stellar image, a traverse along the entire mountain range in good weather is one of the best hikes in Kansai for panoramic views.

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The hike: There’s a water source at the shrine so fill up your bottles before setting out and take a couple of minutes to admire the wonderful view of the valley below. The trail starts just to the left of this water fountain (on the right side of the road), but if you look across the road you’ll see a trail marked for the Oni’s cave (鬼の洞窟). You could consider taking this 10-minute detour to check out the cave (I didn’t have time when I went so I’d be curious to know what’s down there). Anyway, take the trail marked for Senjogatake (千丈ヶ嶽) which meanders through a beautiful forest on a series of wooden steps built into the hillside. It’s a steep climb at first but the grade flattens out a bit as you approach the ridge. After about 15-minutes you’ll reach a trail junction where you’ll turn right for the final climb up to the first of three summits. Shortly before the junction you’ll see a clearing on your left that has good views of the surrounding mountains. Continue the gentle ascent for another 10 minutes until arriving on a broad summit plateau. This is the official high point of Mt. Ōe, so pat yourself on the back and take a few minutes to take in the superb scenery. On a clear day you can see every mountain in Kyoto Prefecture as well as most of the peaks of Hyogo Prefecture. If the cloud is in (as it often is) then you’ll just have to use your imagination. The trail continues on the far side of the summit, so walk past the tall signpost and drop into the forest to the northwest. You’ll soon see signposts indicating a 500 meter horizontal distance to Hatogamine (鳩ヶ峰). Once you bottom out it’s a short but somewhat steep climb above the trees again to the top of the second peak, where there are even better panoramic views. This time you’ll be able to see the Sea of Japan and also see a mountain in front of your that resembles an inverted cooking pot. This is the final peak in the Ōe trilogy, aptly named Nabezuka (鍋塚 – Nabe pot mound). It’ll take about an hour to reach the summit of that mountain, so continue traversing along the trail directly in front of you. Again you’ll drop back down into the forest and descend to a saddle, where you’ll find a parking lot and toilet. This is an escape route if you don’t have the time or energy for the final peak. All you need to do is follow the forest road back down into the valley and you’ll arrive at the bus stop. Otherwise, continue on the trail just above the parking lot. It’s a long, gentle climb with views that open up the higher you go. After about 15 minutes you’ll reach a junction with a path shooting off to the right. The signpost is hand-written and hard to read, but this is the trail you want to take on the way down after visiting the summit of Nabezuka. It’s 500 horizontal meters to the top and it should take you about 10 minutes to reach it. There are a couple of benches you can use to take a rest and admire the scenery. Once satisfied, retrace your steps back to the junction and turn left, dropping through an area of ankle-turning rocks before reaching a forest road with a signpost that says Oeyama Green Lodge 3.5km. Turn left and walk on the flat gravel road, following the signs to the lodge as you wind your way though an area with blue netting set up to keep the deer from eating the tree bark. At the end of the road the trail will fork to the left, so follow the steep switchbacks for about 20 minutes until reaching a paved road. Walk down the road and turn left when you see the signpost that reads Viewpoint of the Senjougataki 150m. If you have extra time you could walk that extra 150 meters to see the waterfall, but keep the (limited) bus times in mind. From here it’s about a brisk 10-minute walk to the bus stop. Turn left when the road merges with the main road (there are a couple of colorful Oni statues here). The bus stop is just down from the entrance to the Oni museum, which makes for a great place to kill time if you’re stuck waiting for the 6:10pm bus.

When to go: This hike is best done from mid-April to late November, when the trails are clear from snow. The peak is also popular for snowshoeing from the ski resort, but you will need a lot of stamina and time to traverse all the way over to the high point.

Access:  Although best approached by car, relying on public transport, though inconvenient, allows you a chance to traverse the entire ridge without having to retrace your steps back to the car. From either Osaka or Kyoto, take a JR train to Fukuchiyama (福知山) station and change to a local train bound for Miyazu (宮津) on the Kita Kinki Tango Railway (北近畿タンゴ鉄道). Get off at Ōeyamaguchi-Naiku (大江山口内宮) station. The railway platform is actually inside of the JR station, so go downstairs and then up to the second floor and buy a separate ticket there. It costs 380 yen one-way from Fukuchiyama station. You might find it faster to take a limited express JR train to Fukuchiyama if you don’t want to leave at the crack of dawn. The first limited express train leaves Kyoto at 9:25am (9:10am from Osaka) on weekends, which allows you plenty of time to connect to the 11:07am train bound for Miyazu. That’ll get you to Ōeyamaguchi-Naiku at 11:36am. Go out the exit, down the stairs, and turn left on the main road when you get outside. Walk 100 meters down the road to the Tourist Information Center, marked by the colorful oni statue outside. The staff there will call a taxi for you (tell them you want to go to Oni-take Inari Jinja (鬼岳稲荷神社). The local taxi company is now bankrupt, so you’ll need to wait about 30 minutes for the taxi to come from Fukuchiyama to fetch you. The taxi will cost about 2500 yen for the 15-minute journey to the trailhead.

From the end of the hike at Ōeyama-no-ie, there is a cheap bus back to Ōe station, where you can take the train back to Fukuchiyama and transfer back to a JR train for Kyoto or Osaka. There are only 2 buses in the afternoon, so aim for the 3:50pm bus if you’re a fast hiker or the more leisurely 6:10pm bus. There’s a great museum at the bus stop dedicated to the Oni culture if you’ve got extra time to kill before the bus. The bus, if you can call it that, is nothing more than a minivan that seats 7 people. It only costs 200 yen to ride and the driver is friendly. Click here for the bus schedule.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200 meters)

Total Round-trip Distance: 10km (4 to 6 hours)

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Mt. Nanatsu (七っ岳)

May 10, 2014

Mt. Nanatsu is a series of craggy knobs situated in the middle of Fukue Island in the Goto Retto archipelago off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture. The unspoiled scenery, splendid ocean views, and relative lack of people make it a great weekend getaway for Kyushu residents and visitors alike.

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The hike: The trail starts at the top of the mountain pass. There are a couple of high-tech environmentally friendly toilets at the trailhead and a small parking lot, but not much else. Pass through the shrine gate and into the forest. After passing by the box-like shrine, the path will climb up a series of stairs before turning left for the short but steep climb to the ridge. Once you hit the ridge, turn right and follow the gentle grade for about 20 minutes before the start of the climb begins. You’ll climb up sharply to the summit of a small peak before descending the other side for the final push toward the summit plateau. There are several tricky rock sections to traverse, so make sure you secure your footing and use your arms to help pull yourself up. There are no chains or ropes in place to help with the ascent, and it is a battle against gravity for most of the way. The rocky outcrops offer spectacular views toward Arakawa bay and the surrounding hills. After another 20 to 30 minutes of relentless scaling you’ll pop out on the summit of Mt. Nanatsu, marked by a small summit sign and 270-degree views all around. If short on time, you could descend back the way you came and hitch a ride back into town, but the best part of the hike is the traverse over 4 of Nanatsu’s rocky perches. Continue on the ridge on the opposite side of the Nanatsu summit post and you’ll soon work your way through a short section of knife-edge ridge with vertigo-inducing drops on your left. Once past this the route drops back into the forest and descends steeply to a saddle. The final rock formation can be tricky to descend, so if you look to your right you’ll see a safer alternative through the forest. Once at the saddle the path climbs steeply to the summit of peak #2 (no signpost), before dropping again to another saddle on the other side. Then it’s another sweat-inducing climb to the 3rd peak, where you’ll find views toward the exposed rocks of peak #4. Drop down to another saddle and brace yourself for the final push to summit #4, which has the best panoramic views of all. While there is no signpost on the summit, there is a long wooden pole with peeling red and white paint that serves as a landmark. If you look out to the sea, you can see a narrow valley in front of you. This is where the trail will spit you out if you continue along the ridge. I recommend retracing your steps all the way back to the parking lot, as it’ll be a lot less hassle trying to figure out how to get back into town. However, ff you want to try your luck, then it’s another half hour along the ridge until you reach the junction at Nanatsu pass. Turn left there and follow the signs to Nanatsu shrine. From there, you can follow the road through the valley until it connects with route 384 at the mouth of Arakawa bay. Turn left on the road and walk until you reach route 27, where you should find a bus stop back to Fukue port. If you’ve got the time and energy, I recommend you climb Mt. Tete (父ヶ岳), the highest peak on the island. When you reach the junction to head towards Nanatsu shrine, continue heading on the ridge for another 90 minutes or so until reaching the top. Supposedly there are amazing views towards the emerald green waters of Takahama from there. From Tete, retrace your steps back to the junction and then turn right for the short drop to Nanatsu shrine. Again, there’s no bus stop there, so you’ll need to walk to the coast or try to get a lift from another hiker. The scenery more than makes up for the effort it takes to get to this beautiful area of the island.

When to go: This hike can be done from March to December, when there is no snow on the peak. The rocky terrain and vertical cliff faces make it a precarious proposition during the snowy months. Spring and fall are the most comfortable times on the mountain, as the summer heat may drive you to leaping off the precipices.

Access:  Your first step is to get to Fukue island. There are a couple of regular ferries per day from Nagasaki port, along with a couple of high-speed jetfoils that’ll shuttle you across the sea in about 90 minutes. There’s also an overnight ferry from Fukuoka port. This site gives an overview of all the ferry options, along with links to the timetables. Once you arrive at Fukue port, you’ll need to take a bus bound for Arakawa (荒川) and get off at Nanatsu Tozanguchi (七っ岳登山口) bus stop. There are only 4 buses per day, so it might be faster and easier to take a taxi for the 40-minute journey to the trailhead. You could also try your luck hitching. Click here for the bus schedule.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~300 meters)

Distance: 3.5km (2 to 3 hours)

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Mt. Sanage (猿投山)

April 3, 2014

Located on the outskirts of Toyota city in Aichi Prefecture, Mt. Sanage is the local outdoor playground for Nagoya hikers, walkers, and trail runners. The peak features ancient temple buildings and fantastic views of the Minami Alps, The Chuo Alps, Mt. Ena, and Hakusan on clear days.

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The hike: After checking out the shrine, walk up the narrow paved road to the right of the shrine. After 200 meters you’ll see a parking lot on your left, which is designated for hikers who drove. The mountain has no shortage of walkers, and you’ll be sharing the trail with half of Nagoya if coming on a busy holiday weekend. The official trailhead starts at Gomon-sugi (御門杉), which is a 30-minute slog on the boring paved road. I recommend taking another path that is unmarked on the hiking maps. It can be a difficult to find, but keep your eyes peeled on the left side of the road and you’ll see a faint trail with a small wooden signpost with a red arrow painted on it. If you reach the watermill then you’ve gone too far. This path climbs steeply for 5 minutes before reaching a rolling ridge that runs parallel to Mt. Sanage. Even on weekends, very few people use this path, and it’s a great start to the hike through a beautiful hardwood forest. You’ll reach a junction in about 30 minutes or so. Turn right at the junction (there appears to be a trail that runs directly from Sanage shrine to this point, but I can’t confirm for sure). Anyway, you’ll now start a long climb towards the summit of Mt. Sanage. There are signposts pointing to 山頂 or for 東宮. As long as you follow those you’ll be ok. You’ll soon reach a junction with a signpost pointed for Shiro-ga-mine (城ヶ峰山頂). Drop your pack here and turn left for the steep 2-minute climb to the summit, where there’s a fantastic view of Nagoya city and the Suzuka mountains. After admiring the views, retrace your steps and continue the gentle ascent on the ridge. The views will open up every now and again through the trees. Your next landmark will be a paved forest road, which the trail cuts a path directly across (via a steep descent and climb up the other side). Shortly thereafter, you’ll reach a junction where the main trail coming up from Gomon-sugi on your right will join the main path. Here the crowds will increase tenfold. From here the path is marked as Tokai Shizen Hodo (東海自然歩道). The route is incredibly easy to follow and virtually impossible to get lost.  Continue climbing on the wide path towards 東宮, following the signs and the crowds. In a couple of minutes you’ll see a steep spur trail on your right which climbs to an observation point. This is definitely worth the detour for the view of the Minami Alps in good weather. The trail meets up with the main trail after passing by the lookout point. If you want to save a bit of energy then you can simply ignore the spur until it reconnects with the main trail and then backtrack (the lookout point is closer here). You could always hit it on the way back, since you’ve got to take this trail again anyway. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll see a trail on your left, but ignore this and keep following the signs to 東宮. The route will once again arrive at a paved forest road, where you’ll likely to find a few cars parked from very lazy hikers. Enter the stone shrine gate on the other side of the road and continue climbing towards 東宮, which should take about 15 minutes to reach. This is a great place to take a break among the giant cryptomeria trees. From here, the path continues on the ridge for about 20 minutes to the true summit of Mt. Sanage, where you’ll have an amazing view of the Chuo Alps, Mt. Ena, Ontake, and Hakusan if you’re lucky. Most people simply backtrack after reaching the summit, but I recommend continuing on the Tokai Shizen Hodo and looping back to the shrine. To do this, simply continue on the ridge in front of you, following the signs for 雲興寺. After 30 minutes or so, the path will descend to a mountain pass marked at Aka-saru touge (赤猿峠). Instead of continuing to 雲興寺, look for the path that hooks left. There used to be a signpost here but it’s gone. The trail follows a gentle stream before reaching a dirt forest road with incredible erosion problems due to the influx of 4WD ATV and dirt bikes. Turn left when you reach the road and follow it until you reach a paved road. Again turn left, climbing up for about 15 minutes until reaching the west shrine entrance (西宮). The shrine itself is a very steep 1o-minute climb up some stone stairs. It’s mildly interesting but definitely not a ‘must-see’. Only take the detour if you have the energy. Otherwise, continue climbing on the paved road for a few minutes until reaching a trail on your left. Take this trail and it will connect back with the Tokai Shizen Hodo. Turn right when you reach the main trail and descend back to the junction you saw earlier in the hike (near the lookout point). Turn left when you reach the sign that says 猿投神社 2.8km 55分. The path is easy to follow and descends via some wooden log stairs before passing through a small rest shelter. After this it’ll spit you out at Gomon-sugi. Turn right here and follow the road back to Sanage shrine, being sure not to miss the last bus into town. Hitchhiking is definitely a possibility if you make new friends on the mountain. Most people drive here, so I’m sure they’ll be happy to give you a ride to Toyota station if you explain you came by bus!

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but bring some simple 4-point crampons if going in the winter. The best time to view the Japan Alps are in the late spring and in autumn, when the air quality is good.

Access:  From Nagoya station, take a train on the Meitetsu line and get off at Toyota-shi (豊田市) station. You’ll need to change trains at Chiryu station to the Meitetsu-Mikawa line. Alternatively, you can take the subway to Akaike station and change to the Meitetsu line there. From Toyota-shi station, take a bus from Bus Stop #5 bound for Fujioka Shisho (藤岡支所) and get off at Sanage Jinja Mae (猿投神社前). Click here for the schedule.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~500 meters)

Distance: 10km (4 to 6 hours)

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Mt. Fujiwara (藤原岳)

March 1, 2014

Mt. Fujiwara is a rotund, boulder-dotted peak on the eastern cusp of the Suzuka mountains in northern Mie Prefecture. The rolling, grass-lined plains, unique alpine flora, and unobstructed panoramic views make it a popular year-round destination for serious outdoorsy Nagoyaites.

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The hike: When you exit Nishifujiwara station turn left and follow the paved road until it meets up with route 614. Cross over the small stream and take your second left (ignore the small street just after the creek). If you reach the elementary school then you’ve gone too far. After you turn, follow the road to the terminus and you’ll find a rest house with some restrooms and a parking lot most likely full of cars and hikers. The trail starts to the left of the building. Go under the shrine gate and head into the forest. You’ll soon pass by a shrine on your left and the real climb will begin. The route doesn’t waste any time gaining altitude, and the first third of the mountain is through a rather boring cedar forest. The path, like most big climbs in Japan, is divided into 10 stagepoints (known in Japanese as gōme). After reaching a fence, turn right following the arrow sign and you’ll soon reach a small rocky area known as the 2nd stagepoint (二合目). Take a quick break here if you need to, because the trail does anything but let up. Just past this the trail will veer towards the right, passing through an area with a metal handrail on the right side. There are a couple of nice beech trees in this area, and you can start to get a glimpse of the valley below in the gaps between the trees. Next it’s back into the cedar forest, past the 3rd stagepoint (三合目) and about twenty minutes further on you’ll reach a small plateau at stagepoint #4 (四合目). Luckily you’ll enter a beautiful area of deciduous trees and the contours will let up a bit. Enjoy this while you can as there’s still a lot of climbing left ahead. After a couple of switchbacks the course will veer left, following a ravine past the 5th stagepoint (五合目) before diving back into a cedar forest on the right. Here the angle steepens once again, and you’re faced with a sweat-inducing slog past the 6th (六合目) and 7th (七合目) stagepoints before reaching the crest of the ridge at the 8th stagepoint (八合目). This is a great place for a break because there is still more climbing yet to come. From here you’ll rid yourself of those pesky cedar trees for the remainder of the ascent. Turn left from the 8th stagepoint and you’ll soon see a junction on your right. This is an alternative way off the mountain that is currently (as of March 2014) closed to hikers. There was a lot of damage in a recent landslide and there’s no telling when the trail will be repaired. If it is open, then it’s an alternative way off the mountain and the path will loop back to Nishifujiwara station. Anyway, continue up the long switchbacks past the 9th stagepoint (九合目) and up a little further for about 20 more minutes until you break out of the forest and reach the summit plateau. You’ll find the mountain hut here nestled against a buffered hillside. It should have taken anywhere from 2-1/2 to 3 hours of tough climbing to reach this point, so reward yourself with a nice lunch or refreshing bottle of water that you should have packed with you.  The summit of Mt. Fujiwara is still about 20 minutes away, so turn left and descend away from the hut, following the sign for tenbōdai (展望台) and over two small rises before reaching the base of the final climb towards the tall point. In the green season there are two paths to choose from, but in winter you can pretty much kickstep your own path up the broad, bald knob, but be careful of avalanches, as they do sometimes occur in this area. The summit itself does not have a signpost marking the summit. Instead there’s a sign reading 展望台, so rest assured you are on the high point. After admiring the panoramic views, retrace your steps back to the hut, where a decision will have to be made. If you continue on the trail behind the hut for another half hour, you can reach a rock formation called Tengu-iwa (天狗岩). If the weather is good and you’ve still got energy I recommend the 1-hour round-trip jaunt, as it enters a beautiful grassy plateau with plenty of wildflowers and far-reaching views. After returning to the hut, simply retrace your steps all the way down the mountain, or consider staying the night in the hut to enjoy the stars and the sunset/sunrise (but bring plenty of water, as the hut has none). All in all it makes for a great alternative to the busier area Gozaisho to the west.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’ll need some 6-point crampons or snowshoes if hiking in January or February. The route is popular with hikers year round, and there’s a free emergency hut near the summit that is basically a floor with no supplies. Bring your own gear and plenty of water if you want to stay here (in winter it’s possible to melt snow). Spring and summer are famous for wildflowers while autumn brings the fall colors and immense crowds.

Access: This hike is best accessed from Nagoya, but if you get an early start or have your own transport then it’s possible to do as a day hike from Osaka. From Kintetsu Nagoya station, take an express train on the Kintetsu line bound for Yokkaichi and get off at Kintetsu-Tomida (近鉄富田) station. From here, change to a train on the Sangi Railway (三岐鉄道) bound for Nishifujiwara (西藤原) and get off at Nishifujiwara. Trains are infrequent, so make sure you check the train schedule before departing Nagoya. It takes about 90 minutes including connection times. From Osaka you’ll need to change trains 3 times and it’ll take around 3-1/2 hours to reach Nishifujiwara.

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1000 meters)

Total round-trip distance: 9km (5 to 7 hours)

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Mt. Nosaka (野坂岳)

January 8, 2014

Mt. Nosaka is a bulbous peak sitting on the edge of Tsuruga city in Fukui Prefecture. The panoramic views on a rare clear-weather day are some of the best in the entire region.

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The hike: From Awano station, go out of the unmanned ticket gate and turn left, following the signs for 少年自然の家. Take a left at the first paved road you see. The road crosses under the train tracks and winds its way up towards the campground and youth center. The road passes by a few parking spaces and random buildings before head past some A-frame bungalows with colorful roofs. You can find the trailhead marked by the sign 野坂岳登山口 around a bend in the road just above the bungalows. The first part of the trail follows a dirt road through a rather boring cedar plantation. After a few minutes of climbing you’ll see a beat-up wooden sign reading 野坂岳山頂約2時間20分 (2 hours and 20 minutes to the summit). The route crosses a small stream two times before arriving at a small jizo statue just before the final crossing, which is marked by a metal staircase on the other side of the creek. This is your last place to get water on the entire trail, so fill up if you’re feeling thirsty. Cross the stream and climb the staircase, following the switchbacks as they wind up towards the ridge. The views towards Tsuruga city will open up behind you the higher you go. Just before you reach the ridge you’ll see a small path that leads off to the right for Gyoja rock (行者岩). The signpost and path will be buried under snow in the winter, and there are better views from the summit anyway, so feel free to skip the lookout point if you’re short on time or if visibility is bad. After a few more switchbacks you’ll reach the start of the ridge at Ichi-no-dake (一ノ岳). There’s a small jizo statue here and the views of Tsuruga city and Hakusan on a clear day make it a great place to take a quick break before the final push towards the summit. From here, the going gets a lot easier, as it’s only about 200 vertical meters to the summit. You can see the next two peaks off to your left that you will traverse up and over on your way to the summit. The trail blazes through a wonderful forest of beech trees up to the top of Ni-no-dake (二ノ岳). From here the route drops to a saddle before climbing rather steeply on the other side to the summit of San-no-dake (三ノ岳), where you can see the roof of the emergency hut at the top of the next rise. Drop down to the final saddle for the last push towards the peak. The top is just a few meters past the hut and in good weather the unobstructed panoramic views are incredible, as you can see not only Hakusan, but also most of the peaks of Gifu Prefecture and even some of the Japan Alps if the weather is really clear. You can also see Mt. Ibuki and the Hira Mountains surrounding Lake Biwa. If the winds are strong or the weather is bad you can take refuge in the small hut, which doubles as a mountain shrine. There’s room for about a dozen people or so and a good place to meet the locals who climb this peak nearly every day. After adequate rest, simply retrace your steps all the way back to Awano station, or try making a new friend who might offer you a free ride to Tsuruga station, which will make getting back to Kansai a bit faster.

When to go: This hike can easily be done between late March and early December, when the trail is clear of snow. If you’ve got crampons and/or snowshoes, then a winter ascent is possible as well. The locals climb the peak year round and keep very detailed blogs documenting current conditions. Be warned that the peak is a magnet for clouds and bad weather, so make sure you check the local forecasts before setting out to ensure an enjoyable hike.

Access: From Osaka or Kyoto stations, take the JR Limited Express Thunderbird train bound for either Kanazawa, Toyama, or Niigata and get off at Tsuruga (敦賀) station. Change to a local train on the Obama line bound for Higashi-Maizuru (東舞鶴) and get off at Awano (粟野) station (just 2 stops from Tsuruga.) If you want to save a bit of money, then instead of the Limited Express train, you can take a Shin-kaisoku train as far as Omi-shiotsu and change to a local train for Tsuruga, but it’ll take 2-1/2 hours from Osaka one-way and you’ll need to double check the train times on the Obama line to ensure a smooth connection, as the Higashi-maizuru trains only run once an hour at most.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~850 meters)

Distance: 11km (4 to 6 hours)

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Mt. Haruna-fuji (榛名富士山)

November 24, 2013

Just as the name implies, Haruna-fuji is a miniature version of Mt. Fuji, with views of the real Fuji from the summit on clear days. Although the top has been wrecked by the addition on a gondola and a TV antenna, the hike through the wonderful bamboo-grass lined deciduous forests is highly recommended.

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The hike: From the bus stop, be on the lookout for the visitor’s center, a long, low rectilinear building that has basic information about the mountain. To the left of the visitor’s center is Haruna Lodge, a good place to grab some lunchtime noodles. The trailhead starts just to the right of the visitor’s center, across the paved road. Look for the sign that says 榛名富士登山口. If you got off the stop in front of the gondola, then walk on the paved road to your left (towards the lake), and you’ll find the trailhead on your right. The route is incredibly easy to follow, and if you’ve gone during the week, you’ll likely have the place to yourself. Though the maps say to allow 1 hour to reach the top, if you’re quick and don’t take any breaks, then you can make it in about 40 minutes. The trail is lined with bamboo-grass and verdant foliage. The lack of cedar trees is will be refreshing to those of you used to hiking around the rest of Kanto. The views really open up once you hit the summit plateau, but unfortunately you’ll be staring right at the large building housing the machinery for the gondola. There’s a restroom and vending machine here. Walk past the gondola and turn left, climbing the wooden steps towards Haruna shrine, which sits on the true summit of the mountain. You’ll have wonderful views from here, even if you have to share it with heel-toting tourists who took the easy way up. From the summit, head down the path just to the left of the shrine.  The path is marked as Yusuge Motoyu (ゆうすげ・元湯. The route is incredibly steep, so be careful during the cooler months when there is ice and snow on the path. Despite the gradient, the trail is easy to follow, and it will spit you out behind Hotel Yuusuge in about 30 minutes or so. If you’re based at this hotel, then it’s a great place to end. If you’re heading back to Tokyo, then you can loop back around to where you started (or to the bus stop to Takasaki) by turning left when you hit pavement and turning left again. Descend to the lake and follow it clockwise. The trail follows the edge of the lake before skirting the edge of a small side vent emerging from Haruna’s western flank. All in all it should take about 3 hours to complete the entire loop, depending on how many breaks you have taken. You can also combine this hike with Mt. Eboshi if you’re looking for a bit more exercise. 

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’ll need some 6-point crampons if hiking in January or February. Try to go on a sunny day with clean air and good visibility, as the views are superb. If you visit in mid-December, then you can see the lakeside illumination and fireworks. This is the only time of year where the gondola runs at night. It’s a cheeky way to get to the summit, but it’s really beautiful if you can stand the arctic temperatures. Head up the gondola just before sunset and watch the lights come on from the summit. The night view of Kanto is eye-popping as well.

Access: From Tokyo, take a train to Shibukawa (渋川), and transfer to a bus bound for either Ikaho hot spring (伊香保温泉) or Ikaho-Harunaguchi (伊香保榛名口) and get off at Ikaho Bus Terminal. From here, you can catch a bus bound for Haruna-ko Onsen Yuusuge (榛名湖温泉ゆうすげ). Get off at either in front of the Ropeway (ロップウェイ前) or Lojji Mae (ロッヂ), the next stop.  The buses are poorly-timed, so double-check both schedules before you set off, or consider breaking up the trip by staying at the hot spring. Click here for the bus from Shibukawa, and here for the bus that runs between Lake Haruna and Ikaho hot spring. Alternatively, if you’re staying in the area for a few days, then you can simply just stay at the Kokumin-shukusha (recommended), or the more expensive Hotel Yuusuge, which is more convenient for the hike. Either place will pick you up from the bus stop if you’ve taken the bus from Takasaki (see Mt. Kamon hike for a description of that bus route). From the Kokumin-shukusha, you’ll need to walk clockwise around half of the lake to reach the trailhead.

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~300 meters)

Distance: 3.5km (2 to 3 hours)

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Mt. Kurikoma (栗駒山)

November 8, 2013

Mt. Kurikoma is an active volcano straddling the border of Iwate and Akita Prefectures in northeastern Honshu. The views of Mt. Chokai, the spectacular volcanic scenery, and the soothing hot springs make it a great place for a weekend getaway.

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The hike: When you get off the bus, walk a few meters to the hot spring river that runs between the red-roofed hotel and the outdoor bath (露天風呂). Believe it or not, the path actually runs right by this steaming water source. As you walk up the path, you’ll see a small shrine on your right, across the small steam. Since this is an active volcano, it might be a good idea to pay your respects to the mountain gods before commencing the hike. Follow the concrete path past the stream and into the forest. You’ll soon find a path on your right. Ignore this and continue on the concrete trail, climbing to a small series of rock formations. If the weather is good then you can climb these rocks for a good view of the hot spring hotel.  Soon after, you’ll reach another junction with a trail heading off to the left. Ignore this spur trail and continue on, past a small hut and the ruins of an old bathhouse.  After a short climb, you’ll drop down to a meadow and reach yet another junction. Turn left here and follow the wooden boardwalk across a scenic, grassy area of the volcano. At the next junction, you’ll see a huge wooden signboard with a giant map of the mountain. Turn right here and climb a short distance to Taikadai (苔花台), where you’ll find a trail heading off to the left. Ignore this path, as you’ll use this route on the descent, creating a really nice loop hike. Continue straight on, being careful not to stray into the hot spring river running along the left side of the trail. Although tempting, the area is full of poisonous gases, so stay on the path. The route runs parallel to the river, climbing higher and higher towards the summit plateau before flattening out and reaching a beautiful lime-colored caldera lake named Showako (昭和湖). Just before the lake, the trail will split to the left. You can take either trail, since they meet up a short distance later at the shores of the lake. Here you’ll find a toilet hut on your right, which is well worth checking out for the foot pump flushing mechanism. Take a break on the benches in front of the lake, as the steepest part of the climb awaits. On the left side of the lake, the stair-infested trail once again darts back into the forest, increasing in steepness the higher you climb. Hang in there because the views awaiting you are well worth the sweat-inducing effort. It should take about 45 minutes of steady hoofing to reach the ridgeline at Tengu Daira (天狗平), where the panoramic views will start to emerge. You should see all of the mountains of southern Tohoku rising out in front of you. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Chokai as well. Turn left once you reach this lookout point, and you will reach the high point in about 15 minutes or so. Besides the giantic signpost, you’ll find a small shrine which makes a great backdrop for photos. There is a flat area just before the summit which would make an incredible place for a bivy (you just need to bring enough water and pack out your fecal waste). Sunrise from the summit on a clear day may very well be one of your highlights in Japan if you can time it correctly. Anyway, to complete the loop, take the trail from the top marked for Ubunuma (産沼). The path is easy to follow and lined with a plethora of wildflowers in bloom. When you reach the small pond, you’ll find a path on your right leading to 笊森. This route was only recently reopened after being damaged in the 2008 Iwate earthquake. Ignore this path and follow the signs towards Sukawa Onsen (須川温泉). The trail meanders through the forest before crossing a small stream, followed by a bigger river. This river can be tricky to ford when the river is swollen due to heavy rain or snowmelt, so take care. There’s a signpost here marking the way back to Taikadai (苔花台). Just before you reach that point, you’ll drop down to yet another river that needs to be crossed. Just after crossing, you’l reach the junction. Turn right here and retrace your steps back to the next junction. Instead of turning left here, keep heading straight through a scenic marshland comparable to what you would find at Oze National Park. At your next junction, you can take your pick of trails, as both lead back to the starting point. I headed left, following the easy-to-follow path until it reached the back of the hot spring hotel. From there, navigate your way through the hot spring river maze to the bus stop. Be sure to allow enough time to have a bath at the hot spring there. The outdoor bath (露天風呂) costs 650 yen and is worth every penny.

When to go: This hike can be done from early May  to early November, when the road to the trailhead is open. The mountain is famous for fall colors, so expect crowds if you go in October. Bring light crampons if you’re hiking anytime before July.

Access: From Tokyo, take a Shinkansen train bound for Hachinohe or Morioka and get off at Ichinoseki (一ノ関). Not all trains stop at this station, so double-check before boarding. From there, take a bus from bus stop #9 bound for Sukawa Onsen (須川温泉) and get off at the final stop. Please note that there are only two buses per day, (leaving at 9am and 2:30pm) making it tricky to do as a day hike. You can either stay at a hotel near Ishinoseki station, or stay at Kurikoma Sansou (highly recommended) at the trailhead. This hotel has an incredible outdoor bath with views of Mt. Chokai. Click here for the bus schedule.

Map: You can pick up a free full-color map from the tourist information center at Ishinoseki station. The office is directly in front of Bus stop #9 (the bus stop you’ll use to get to the trailhead)

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~500m)

Distance: 〜9km (3-1/2 to 5 hours)

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