Posted tagged ‘Kansai hikes (関西地方)’

Odai-ga-hara (大台ヶ原)

July 4, 2008

Odai-ga-hara ranks up there with Utsukushi-ga-hara, Mt. Hachimantai and Kiri-ga-mine as the most accessible of the Hyakumeizan, as you can practically drive to the top. The views on a clear day are outstanding, but the entire place can be downright depressing when the cloud is in, which is more often than not.

The hike: This is a loop hike, so it can be done in either direction. From the enormous parking lot, follow the signs (and crowds) past the visitor’s center towards Hide-ga-take (日出ヶ岳), the true summit of Odai-ga-hara. It’s a mind-numbing 120m vertical ascent that can practically be done barefoot. The views are really nice on the rare occasion that it isn’t raining. From here, you could continue past the peak and descend into Osugi-dani (大杉谷), but I’m not sure if the trail has been re-opened yet (Editor’s note: It has been reopened). If the trail is open, then prepare yourself for one of the gnarliest, steepest drops in the Kansai area. If you’re just up for the day, then continue on the same trail for an easy 30-minute stroll over to Masaki-ga-hara (正木ヶ原). There are plenty of deer in this area, and the foliage and moss are wonderful. Soon after passing this area, a trail will come in from the right, but ignore it and follow the signs towards Daija-gura (大蛇嵓), an exposed rock formation with vertigo-inducing views of the valley below. This is the most famous (and popular) part of the hike, but only worth it on a clear day. Daija-gura is accessible via a dead-end spur trail branching off to the left. Retrace your steps back to the main trail and turn left for the 1 hour hike back to the parking lot. All together it’s a 9km hike, but because of the relative flatness of the mountain, it should only take about 2-1/2 hours to complete. Yet another peak where getting there will take much more time than the actual hike.

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to late November, when the bus to the summit is running. If you’re prepared for a long hike, then you can also do this during the winter, where you can avoid the crowds. Unfortunately you’ll need your own transport to get to the trailhead.

Access: From Abenobashi (阿倍野橋) station in Tennoji, take the Kintetsu Yoshino Line bound for Yoshino (吉野) and get off at Yamato-Kamiichi (大和上市) station. From there, change to a bus bound for Odai-ga-hara (大台ケ原) and get off at the last stop. The bus runs from late April to November 25th, and there are only 2 buses a day on weekends, and 1 bus a day on weekdays. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 0 out of 5 (elevation change ~120m).

Soni Kogen (曽爾高原)

May 14, 2008

Soni Kogen is a huge, open plateau renowned for its vast swaths of Japanese pampas grass, picturesque marshes, and stellar views.

The hike: From the parking lot, head up the windy, paved path behind the toilets. You’ll notice a metal basket and numbers at each switchback. Believe it or not, you’re actually walking up the middle of a frisbee golf course! Follow the path to the 18th hole and you’ll find the huge parking lot and start of the trail. Soni Kogen looks like someone came in with a pair of hedge clippers and never stopped, but really is a wonderful place if you ignore the fact that it was entirely man-made! Follow the trail that heads up to the ridge line, which should take about 20 minutes to reach. Once you hit the bare ridge, turn left and climb up towards Mt. Kuroso (倶留尊山). The trail will climb all the way to the end of the clear cut portion, with awesome views of Mie and Nara Prefectures. This is really as far as you need to go, because it’ll cost you 500 yen to climb to the top of Mt. Kuroso! I couldn’t believe it, either! Mt. Kuroso is one of the 300 famous mountains of Japan, and I thought it was worth the toll required to access it. If you’re keen on climbing it, then head up the trail past the clearing and keep climbing up. You’ll soon reach a small mountain hut which serves as the ticket gate. Once you pay your money, you’ll come to a huge rock outcrop with vertigo-inducing views of the valley below. You’ll also see a huge peak towering over you to the left. That’s the top of Mt. Kuroso, and you’ll have to drop down to a saddle before heading up to the high point. Take some photos when you get to the summit, and head back the way you came. Once you get back to Soni Kogen, you can either continue on the clear cut ridge line and descend via the marshlands, or make a dash for the hot spring, which is a 30-minute walk from the plateau, past the bus stop you came in on. If you decide to climb Mt. Kuroso and hit the hot spring, then you really need to hike quickly, because the last bus back to Nabari station is at 3:27pm! If you’ve come by car then you can have a more leisurely stroll among the grasses. Hitching from the hot spring is also a possibility.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you don’t mind walking an extra 4km out of season (as there are no direct buses). The area does get a fair amount of snow in the winter, and serious hikers come to practice their ice climbing and self-arrest skills. Autumn is the most popular time to come (because of the pampas grass), but April can be just as rewarding with far fewer hikers.

Access: From Uehommachi (上本町) station in Osaka, take a train bound for either Aoyamacho or Ise, and get off at Nabari station (名張駅). From there, change to a bus bound for Soni Kogen (曽爾高原) and get off at the last stop. The buses only run from October 1 to November 30, from the west exit of Nabari station. The first one departs at 9:35am and the second at 10:35am on weekends. In order to make the 10:35 bus, you should catch the train from Uehommachi at 8:53am. On weekdays there’s only 1 bus, leaving at 9:35am. If you want to go out of season, then take a bus bound for 山粕西 and get off at Tarouji (太郎路).  The only convenient buses leave at 8am and 10:05am. From Tarouji you’ve got a 4km walk to Soni Kogen.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~400m).

Mt. Hakkyō (八経ヶ岳)

April 23, 2008

Last updated: Nov. 4, 2018

Mt. Hakkyō (aka Mt. Hakken) is the highest point of the Omine mountain range, and the tallest peak in the Kansai area. It’s also situated along an ancient Okugakemichi pilgrimage route, offering some of the most unspoiled scenery in western Japan.


The hike:

From the trailhead, take the well-marked path on your right just before the route 309 tunnel. The route follows the left bank of the stream before crossing a cute wooden bridge, where the steep climb up the spur to the ridge commences. It’ll take an hour along an easy-to-follow path to reach the Deai (出会) junction on the main pilgrimage route. There’s a stone marker here indicating that it is a World Heritage site, and the flat area makes for a good place to rest and catch your breath. Turn right and follow the gentle slope up a short climb and descent, followed by another climb through an area of trees toppled from the Sept. 2018 typhoon. The track has recently been cleared of debris and at the top of the next rise you’ll reach Benten-no-mori (弁天の森) at an elevation of 1600m. There used to be a lodging here but now there’s nothing more than a flat place to take a break. Follow the signs to Misen (弥山) and lose altitude quickly down a broad track for 30 minutes to a pass placated with a large statue of En-no-gyōja. Rest here if necessary before the long, steep climb up to Misen. The path starts off on a gentle ascent before reaching a series of wooden stairs. It should take about 30 minutes of tough climbing to regain the ridge line, where it’s another 20 minutes on a narrow path and over a metal stair/ladder to arrive at Misen hut (弥山小屋). Most people overnight here by either staying at the large hut or camping in a broad meadow on an unmarked trail just before the hut. A path continues past the hut to a fork. Head straight to Tengawa or turn right for the short climb to the summit of Mt. Misen, which houses the mountain deity and affords stunning views across a col to the summit of Mt. Hakkyō. To get to the high point, retrace your steps back to the hut and veer right on the path at a stone marker reading 八剣山•前鬼 (Hakkenzan, Zenki). Drop steeply on a heavily eroded path to a col and then climb through two deer-proof gates erected to protect the Siebold’s magnolia flowers. It should take about 15 minutes to reach the summit, punctuated by a huge weathered-signpost in Japanese for 八経ヶ岳. Enjoy the splendid panoramic views on the rare occasion the peak isn’t enshrouded in cloud/mist. Retrace your steps back to the trailhead or turn left at Misen hut for an alternative finish at Tenkawa (a 5-hour descent along a steep trail).

When to go: This hike can be done all year round, but be prepared for lots of snow in the winter. Click here to see what you can expect in January. Please note that route 309 closes from mid-December to mid-April because of snow, so winter hikers will need to take the longer trail from Tenkawa village.

Access: From Abenobashi station (阿倍野橋駅)in Tennoji (天王時), take a Kintetsu train bound for Yoshino (吉野) and get off at Shimoichikuchi station (下市口). From there, take a bus bound for Dorogawa Onsen (泥川温泉) and get off at the Tenkawa-kawai (天川川合) bus stop. You have three options. Take a taxi for 30 minutes to the trailhead, hitch there, or start your hike from here. If you want to hitch, make sure you’re on route 309 and ask your ride to let you off just before you enter the tunnel. Click here for the bus schedule. The lack of buses from Shimoichiguchi make this almost  impossible to do as a day trip, but it definitely can be done if you are up to the challenge. If coming by car please note that there is now a 1000-yen parking fee at the western tunnel entrance parking lot.

Level of difficulty: 3.5 out of 5 (elevation change ~900m)

Kisen Alps (紀泉アルプス)

April 21, 2008

The Kisen Alps are a series of rolling peaks located on the Osaka-Wakayama prefectural border. Despite their close proximity to the big city, the mountains are relatively unspoiled and completely natural, without a single cedar tree in sight.

The hike: Go through the unmanned ticket gates, and turn right on the small paved road in front of the station. Turn right at the next street, where you’ll cross a small river and the railroad tracks. Follow the signs to Kisen Alps (記泉アルプス), turning left at the sign, and then right up a small dirt road. This road eventually becomes the trailhead, as you pass through a very funky entrance gate. The path climbs rather steeply at first, paralleling a large expressway. The traffic noise is pretty loud, but you’ll soon leave that all behind and enter a magical wonderland of beautiful flora. I have no idea why this area was spared of the post-war deforestation, but I’m so happy it was. As you hike, imagine how beautiful this country must’ve been hundreds of years ago, when every single forest looked just like this! Keep your eyes out for snakes and wild boar, as there are quite a few in this area. After about 30 minutes of climbing, you’ll reach the ridgeline and a trail junction. Head to the right for about 20 meters to reach a wonderful clearing with excellent views of Kansai airport and Osaka bay. Take some photos and head back to the junction. The trail follows the entire mountain ridge, and your target is the high point called Unzenbou (雲仙峰). There’s a considerable amount of up and down between here and the top, but it’s not too difficult. There are lots of places to take breaks and enjoy the outstanding scenery. You should reach the peak in about 2 hours or so. Just below the top, you’ll come across a 3-way junction with beautiful bilingual signposts. Yep, you’ve officially entered Wakayama prefecture, where they seem to have more money in their budget for trail maintenance. Continue on to the top of Unzenbou. There’s not much of a view from here, so after taking a break continue down the other side. In about 10 minutes, you’ll come across yet another trail junction, with magnificent views of Wakayama city and the Pacific Ocean. Turn left at the junction and you’ll reach a well-maintained public park with lots of benches and a gazebo. This is a great place for a picnic or a nap on a pleasant day. From here, trails split off in all directions, and you’ve got lots of options. I’d recommend following the signs to Kii station (紀伊駅). It should take about 90 minutes or so from the park to the station, and there are lots of different trails you have to take, so follow the signs carefully. Just before the trail dumps you out on a road, you’ll pass through a bamboo forest that is downright spooky at dusk. From Kii station, you can catch a JR train back to Tennoji.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but I’ve been told that autumn is the best time to see the virgin forests in all their glory. The mountains do get some snow in the winter, but it usually melts relatively quickly.

Access: From Tennoji station (天王時駅) take a train on the JR Wakayama line and get off at Yamanakadani (山中渓駅). An express train should take about 45 minutes or so. Please note that this is an unmanned station (hint, hint).

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

Hyonosen (氷ノ山)

April 5, 2008

Last updated: Oct. 15, 2017

Hyonosen is the highest mountain in Hyogo Prefecture, and the only peak in the Kansai area where you can see the Juhyou (樹氷) phenomenon in the winter. It’s also one of the toughest day hikes in the region.


This post is currently undergoing editing to reflect current trail conditions. Please bear with us.

The hike: From the bus stop, walk a short way up the road and turn left on a small paved forest road marked for 氷ノ山登山口. Don’t descend to the parking lot or cross over to the ski lifts. I made that mistake and got a little lost on my first trip there. The forest road is pretty gentle, and after about 20 minutes you’ll reach the trailhead and campground. This place is called Fukusada-shisui-koen (福定親水公園). The trail starts behind the toilets (which are locked in the winter). The path passes through a park and campground before dropping down to a river bed. Follow the tape marks and cross the river to the base of the climb. After passing by a triangular distance marker (山頂まで4.5km) you will soon reach a junction for Nunotaki (布滝). Drop your pack here and head right to the wooden bridge overlooking the 65-meter high falls. Retreat back to the main trail and head up the steep slope towards the ridge. There is soon a white sign that reads 28曲り- this is the beginning of a series of 28 switchbacks that gain around 200 vertical meters of altitude. Along the route, you’ll pass by a buddhist statue overlooking Fudotaki (不動滝) which is difficult to see through the thick foliage. You’ll also climb higher above Nunotaki (布滝) and can get a glimpse back down to where you came. The other interesting sight on the route is the ‘connected tree’ (蓮樹), a series of 7 different trees all growing out of the stump of a larger tree. It’s on your right and the different trees are labeled with numbers 1 through 7. After about 20 minutes of climbing, the trail will start to ease and you’ll see a white sign pointing towards Jizōdō (地蔵堂) and a green sign that tells you the 28 turns have finished (曲がり坂終わり). It’s a short, flat walk to the blue corrugated-metal shack of Jizōdō, which houses a very old jizō statue inside. Take a break here if needed to prepare for the big climb ahead. The trail continues through a cedar forest before dropping down to a small stream. Fixed ladder have been installed to help with the steep drop and ascent. In winter and spring this river crossing can be dangerous, so bring ropes to help cross the snow-filled crevice in the snow season. Climb the ladder and continue traversing through the forest. On your left you’ll pass by the ruins of an old temple (木地屋跡) but there isn’t much to see here apart from the signpost. The path steepens and veers towards the right through a beautiful hardwood forest, past a sign indicating a 3.0km distance to the summit (山頂まで3.0km). From here, it’s a steep climb through an expansive forest of healthy beech trees as the views start to open up across the valley. After about 10 minutes you’ll reach a water source called Hienomizu (ひえの水), a fresh water stream providing drinking water. Fill up if necessary and continue climbing towards the ridge. Soon you’ll reach a viewpoint across the valley towards Tōrōiwa (とうろう岩). The rock formation in across the valley on your left, but it’s nearly impossible to see through the thick foliage. The next landmark is another water source named Guhōnomizu (弘法の水) and shortly after that you’ll see the green 2.5km signpost. Continue straight, past a white signpost pointing towards the ridge (氷ノ山越え). Just before reaching the ridge you’ll pass by one final water source (一口水) and a series of wooden log steps for the final climb to the junction. At the ridge you’ll find trilingual signposts (In Japanese, English, and Korean) marked for the summit. With so many signposts and large crowds of hikers, it’s pretty much impossible to get lost in the green season. Winter, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. Anyway, there’s an emergency hut and 4-way junction at the ridge along with a couple of benches which make for good places to rest. You can see the summit further along the ridge towards the west, marked by the triangular roof of the emergency hut. Turn left once you’ve reached the junction and follow the broad ridge lined with bamboo grass and large beech trees. You’ll soon see a brown signpost for the Hyonogoe Course with a number (5/10) marked below. These signposts are situated along the ridge, with 10/10 on the summit of the peak itself. They’re good to use to mark your progress. The hiking map says it’ll take 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach the summit, but you can do it in about 45 minutes if you’re fit. Along the route you’ll occasionally see brown posts wrapped with yellow tape reading 119 on them. These are markers for helicopter rescue. If you do find yourself in trouble, walk to the nearest marker and supply the numbered code on the signpost when you call emergency services. The mountain does have its fair share of accidents, mostly due to elderly people who underestimate their abilities and stamina. If you’re fit and can avoid twisting an ankle on the exposed tree roots, then you should be ok. Carry a headlamp and emergency bivouac gear just in case you’re caught out after dark, however. It’s a long hike and the daylight hours in the autumn are shorter. Anyway, continue along the ridge, ignoring the junction on your left for a long steep climb to a false summit. Here, you’ll see the summit plateau directly in front of you, with a large rock formation between you and the summit. Drop down and along the narrow ridge to this rock outcrop named Koshiki-iwa (こしき岩). The trail skirts the rock formation on your left and that is the recommended path of travel. There is an unmarked route up and over the rock, but it is not used very much. It is terribly exposed and absolutely treacherous in wet weather. You can, however, climb about halfway up to a ledge which offers great views of the forest below. If you climb over the rock, you can follow a faint path that leads to the main trail again. My advice would be to just ignore the rock and stick to the main trail, which climbs via a series of long switchbacks and wooden stairs, to the summit of Hyonosen, the highest mountain in Hyogo Prefecture and only 200 meters lower than Daisen. The panoramic views are spectacular in clear weather, and if you climb the ladder on the side of the emergency hut, you can get even better views above the bamboo grass. After a well-deserved break, head down the trail to the right of the hut which leads to Higashi-one (東尾根) and Shindai Hyutte (神大ヒュッテ). The trail drops steeply off the eastern face of the mountain through an area of tall bamboo grass. Watch your footing if the trail is muddy, as it can get quite slippery. You’ll soon reach a junction on your right for Koseinuma (古生沼). It’s a short spur trail to a marsh hemmed on all sides by a tall deer-proof fence. It really isn’t worth the detour unless you like looking at grass. A little further down, there’s another junction on your left for Mitarashi-no-ike (みたらしの池). This trail dead ends after just a few meters and I couldn’t figure out where the pond lies. Better to ignore this one and just continue down the well-worn trail. Wooden planks line the trail through an area of giant cedar trees marked as Kosenbonsugi (古千本杉), the 100 old cedar trees. There are a few dozen giant cedar trees lining the trail and it’s a pleasant change from the bamboo grass that lies further ahead. After about 10 minutes of steep descending, you’ll reach a red-roofed hut and junction. This is the mountain hut for Kobe University and it’s closed to regular hikers. The porch out front makes for a great place to take a break. There’s a 3-way junction here. Turn left and follow the trail marked Higashi-one (東尾根). The route follows the ridge before detouring past a couple of water sources and a large rock formation (人面岩) until dropping along a beautiful ridge of large beech trees. The scenery reminds me of parts of Hokkaido, as you would expect a large bear to jump out at any minute and surprise. But don’t fear – you probably won’t encounter one, so just relax and enjoy the scenery. It’s a long traverse of about 40 minutes before the ridge narrows through an area of Dōdan-tsutsuji (ドウダンツツジ) trees and their beautiful white bell-shaped flowers. The path traverses the contours of the ridge with a cedar forest on your left. You’ll soon reach an unmarked junction with trails to the left and straight ahead along the ridge. You can take either but most people head to the left to avoid the short climb up and over the hump in front of you. A few minutes past this section you’ll reach the small shelter called the Higashione emergency hut (東尾根避難小屋). There is no water source at this hut, and you’re close to the ski lifts anyway, so there’s no reason to stay here (unless it’s an emergency of course!). Turn left at the junction just behind the hut, taking the trail marked for 親水公園. The path drops steeply through a cedar forest and ends up at a paved forest road. Turn left and follow this road all the way back to the bus stop. There is a shortcut trail down to the bus stop once you reach the main buildings of the ski resort. There is a path that cuts down through the ski lifts, but it may be overgrown depending on the season. At any rate, it’s a tough loop of about 6 to 7 hours to complete this beautiful hike. Since access by public transport is inconvenient, you may want to drive or to break up the hike by staying overnight in one of the emergency huts or in an inn near the trailhead.

When to go: This hike can be done all year if you’ve got the right experience and equipment for a winter ascent. The Juhyou (樹氷) in the winter are popular for experienced trekkers, but the hike is not easy. Expect snow all the way until Golden Week. I did this hike in early April and the entire trail was buried under 1.5m of snow. The fall colors reach their peak in mid-October, making it one of the best times to visit.

Access: From Osaka station, take the JR Limited Express KitaKinki train and get off at Yoka station (八鹿駅). From there, take a bus bound for Hachibuse (鉢伏) and get off at Hyonosen-Hachibuseguchi (氷ノ山鉢伏口). The first train departs Osaka station at 8:13am, arriving at Yoka at 10:27am. The bus conveniently departs at 10:40am, arriving at the trailhead at 11:23am. If you’re a slow hiker then consider breaking this hike up and staying at one of the many emergency huts on the mountain. Click here for the bus schedule.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 930m)

Mt. Yoshino (吉野山)

March 16, 2008

There’s no doubt about it. Mt. Yoshino is the most famous place in Japan for Yamazakura (mountain cherry blossoms), so expect huge crowds every day of the week, rain or shine, during the first few weeks of April. The beauty is well worth the elbow jostling though.

Mt. Yoshino

The hike: From the station, follow the crowds to the cable car station. This must be the short cable car in the world, as I swear you only gain about 50 meters of altitude, so I don’t recommend wasting your money. Instead, take the easy, paved path that switches back up to the main ridge (or take a taxi if you’re feeling lazy). Now, this hike is almost entirely on a paved road. I know it doesn’t sound much like hiking, but it really is beautiful. I only wish they would ban vehicular traffic! Anyway, turn left once you hit the main road, and go past all the souvenir stalls until reaching the first set of temples. The entire mountain is one big World Heritage site, and there’s so much to see. You have a lot of choices, depending on what you’re in the mood for. Personally, I’d recommend walking along the road as far as it will take you – to a place called Kinpu Shrine (金峰神社). From this shrine, there’s a proper hiking trail that starts to the right. At first it looks just like a regular forest road, but soon turns into a quiet scenic mountain path. This is what I call the “real” Yoshino, because hardly any people make it up this far. It’s also the start of the long Omine Pilgrimage route, and if you keep going for about 25km or so, you’ll reach Sanjogatake (山上ケ岳). Your goal on this hike is to make it to Aonegamine (青根ケ峰), the highest point of Mt. Yoshino. It’ll take about 2-1/2 to 3 hours from the train station to reach this point. Although there’s no view from the top, it is a refreshingly quiet place to contemplate life. There are also some “hidden” cherry blossoms on the other side of the ridge which are quite nice. The trail loops around back to Kimpu Shrine. and the trails are really well marked in English & Japanese. After completing the loop, head back down to reality and the crowds. The cherry blossoms are wonderful, but I must warn you that these are special types of trees which form leaves before the flowers! In addition, because of the altitude change, the blossoms will be at varying stages. If the blossoms have finished at the bottom of the mountain, then they’re probably just beginning at the top (and vice versa).

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but it’s most popular (and beautiful) during the cherry blossom season of early to mid April.

Access: From Abenobashi station (in Tennoji), take either a Limited Express or Express train on the Kintetsu line to Yoshino station (吉野). The limited express train costs more, but saves about a half an hour of train time. This train departs twice an hour, at 10 past and 40 past. The Express train is cheaper but takes about 90 minutes or so. It also departs twice an hour, but at 20 past and 50 past. Click here for a complete schedule.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~400m)

Harima Alps (播磨アルプス)

March 11, 2008

The Harima Alps are a series of small rock formations on the border of Himeji and Kakogawa cities in Hyogo Prefecture. While not very Alpine in nature, the hike does feature some really nice species of native pine trees, wild boar, desert-like vegetation, and not a single cedar tree!

Harima alps

The hike: Head through the ticket gate at Sone station and turn right. Follow the road to the next intersection and turn left. Walk a few blocks, passing a small lake on the right, and you’ll come to a rather busy road. This is called Highway 2. Turn right and walk along highway 2 for about 1km or so. You’ll pass a couple of convenience stores on the right-hand side, so stock up on supplies (there’s no water on the hike). The mountains on your left side are the “Alps” and that’s what you’ll be traversing for the next 5 hours or so. Keep walking along highway 2 until coming to a small shrine on the left-hand side. The trail is directly behind this shrine. The path climbs steeply through a dense forest. Be on the lookout for wild boar in this area. A golf driving range will come into view on your right. Keep climbing up to the ridge line. You’ll know you hit the ridge when you find a gigantic electric tower standing right in the middle of the trail. This is a good place for a short break. The path continues straight ahead (ignore both of the trails branching off to the left and right). Basically, you’ll want to follow the contours of the ridge and the signs to Mt. Takamikura (高御位山). It should take an hour or so to reach the shrine and splendid rock formations here. If it’s a clear day without too much smog, you’ll be able to see Kobe & Osaka cities, Akashi Bridge, Himeji, Osaka bay, Awaji Island, and the peaks of northern Hyogo Pref. If you look straight down you’ll see a lot of small lakes used to irrigate the surrounding fields. There are a ton of escape routes to choose from, but your main goal should be to make it back to Sone station by traversing all of the peaks between this mountain and the station! The next peak along the ridge is called Takanosu (鷹ノ巣山). Ignore all of the small trails branching off the ridge. As long as you follow the signs you’ll be ok. Mt. Takanosu is actually 2 twin peaks, and both of them should be reached in about 45 min. or so. From here, the next target is an unnamed peak with a large microwave antenna on top (it looks like a billboard). Between here and the unnamed peak, you’ll probably hear some gunfire down in the valley. If you look down over the right side of the ridge, you’ll see a very large shooting range! Anyway, head up to the antenna. There’s a very promising looking trail heading off to the right, but stay to the left and head down a very steep rock formation. At the bottom of this rock, you’ll find a concrete bunker and a vast network of trails branching off in all directions. You’ll also find a sign leading to Kashima Shrine (鹿嶋神社). Feel free to descend to the shrine to have a look around, but you’ll have to climb back up to the ridge to complete the traverse. Continue on the same ridge line, and climb the steep mountain in front of you. This peak is called Ootani (大谷山). Keep going to the next small peak, where you’ll find a huge cave in the middle of the trail! This is the site of an ancient burial mound currently under excavation. From this hole, continue going straight and you’ll drop off the mountain very steeply and end up back in civilization. When you hit a small road, turn left and you’ll be back at highway 2. Turn left on highway 2 and cross over the overhead pedestrian bridge. Turn right at the next big street. This is the same street you took to get to highway 2 at the start of the hike. Turn right at the next intersection and you’ll be back at Sone station. This hike can be done in reverse but the trailhead is very difficult to find!

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but there’s a lot of climbing and descending on steep rock formations, so avoid this hike in wet weather.

Access: From either Osaka, Kyoto, or Sannomiya stations, take the JR Shikaisoku (新快速) train bound for Himeji (姫路). Get off at Kakogawa station (加古川) and change to a local train bound for Himeji. The stop closest to the trailhead is called Sone (曽根駅).

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

Mt. Ibuki (伊吹山)

February 18, 2008

Mt. Ibuki is a bald turtle-shell shaped peak located near the city of Maibara on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest fresh water lake. It’s famous for wildflowers, and the panoramic view from the summit is nothing short of spectacular, if you are lucky enough to have a cloud-free day.

Hakusan, as seen from Mt. Ibuki

The hike: From the bus stop, walk up the road past the shrine, and you’ll see the trail leading into the forest. The trail starts off steep for the first 20 minutes or so, and then flattens out as you approach the top of the first ski lift. There are lots of run down buildings here that function as restaurants and ski rental shops during the short ski season. There’s a public toilet a short distance up the ski field, which is open all-year round. The water in the sink is safe to drink, and it’s your last chance for water before the summit. This is where the real hike begins, as the trail heads straight up through the resort. No switchbacks here. If the weather is good you might share the resort with a few para-gliders. After about and hour of steep climbing, you’ll reach the mid-point of the ski resort (and the top of the gondola). The trail will probably start to become more crowded, as the majority of hikers skip this first step and start the hike from here. Take a quick break, because you’ve still got over 600 vertical meters to climb before reaching the summit plateau. At first the hiking is quite gentle to the end of the ski lifts, where you’ll reach a hut selling refreshments. This is the 5th station (五合目). A little further up, you’ll find an immaculate emergency hut at the 6th station (六合目), which is free to stay in (but has no toilet or drinking water). From here until the top, it’s a series of never-ending switchbacks, but it really is enjoyable if the weather cooperates. You’ll have a panoramic view of Lake Biwa, and the views keep opening up as you get higher and higher. After a seemingly endless ascent, you’ll finally come to the summit plateau, and you might be a bit disappointed depending on when you come. During the week it can be quite deserted, but on weekends in the spring the top fills with flower enthusiasts, many of which DROVE to the top! You see, there’s a toll road and parking lot only 20 minutes from the summit. Actually, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds because the road is on the other side of the mountain and doesn’t spoil the view at all. The one thing that does spoil the view, however, is the row of souvenir shops and microwave relay tower. Auggghhh! Why can’t Japan just leave the mountains to their natural beauty?! I must say, however, it pails in comparison to what’s been done on top of Mt. Fuji. Anyway, if the weather is clear then you can forget about all of the ugly buildings and enjoy one of the greatest panoramic views in Japan! (No lie). All of Lake Biwa stretches out to the west, as Hakusan dominates the northern horizon. The endless stretch of the Japan Alps are visible to the east, and the skyscrapers of Nagoya glitter to the southeast. Due south, the rolling sea of mountain ranges in Mie Prefecture majestically overlap themselves. If you need a can of soda or a toilet break, then knock yourself out. Take in the views, or shelter in the shops if the cloud is in. If you do this hike in the winter, then you can find yourself in complete solitude. Plus, the decrepit buildings are transformed into a weird sci-fi movie set when the cloud and snow come in. Anyway, head back down the same way you came up and don’t forget to check the bus schedule before you start your hike. I missed the last bus and had to hike over an hour back to the station!

When to go: This hike can be done from March to November. A winter ascent is only recommended for those with winter climbing experience, avalanche training, and the right equipment. However, thanks to global warming, the summit doesn’t receive quite nearly as much snow as in decades past, so you should be ok with just a light pair or crampons, even in February. (The ski resort is permanently closed now, due to lack of snow).

Access: From Kyoto, take the JR Tokai line to Maibara station, changing to a local train bound for Ogaki. Get off at Omi-nagaoka (近江長岡) and change to a bus bound for Ibukiyamatozanguchi. (伊吹山登山口). You can also approach from Nagoya. Click here for the bus schedule. You can also reach the trailhead by bus from Nagahama (長浜) station, but it’ll take a bit longer than the other bus. Click here for that bus schedule.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change: 1143m). If you drive to the top, then it’s a 0 out of 5 and you should be ashamed of yourself!