Today’s hike route was a lovely accident. I had the day off and could get an early start, the conditions were perfect for hiking, and being a weekday I expected a repeat of the very light hiking traffic that I had experienced the last time I went out on a weekday. Rolling all that together, I decided it was as good a day as any to go to Mitakesan (the “san” at the end indicates a mountain, hence Mitakesan could also be Mt. Mitake), stop by the famous shrine at it’s summit, and then meander my way back by a different path. Unfortunately I found myself in a standing-room only train of hikers as we entered the mountains, and I could sense that Mitakesan may well be a tour for another day. As expected, the train nearly emptied at the Mitake station, so I decided that since the next 4 stations all had easy trail access I would jump off at the first one that didn’t seem to have many other takers.
Easily done.. The next station was Kawai, and only 2 other people got off so I figured it was a good place to get off as well. The map showed a trail crossing the tracks just past the station following a river up it’s valley, and then heading uphill to Bonoorosan where there were several options to pick a return route from. When I looked at the terrain, though, I realized the river was in a gorge substantially below the level of the road skirting it’s edge, and though the map showed a path meandering between the road and the river, if there was one there was no way to get to it. A little further along I found a trail sign, and indeed the road was the trail.
Although a pleasant walk through a couple of villages along a lightly travelled road with nice views of the mountains above and the river below, I was hoping for something other than pavement under my feet. After nearly a hour the trail did break from the road and started really climbing. It was a fairly cool morning as I left my flat in Tokyo, and I had nearly gone back to change into my cool weather hiking pants, but a few minutes into the climb as I was shedding layers I was quite happy I had stuck with my regular weight pants. The trip up was a leg burning workout and while the trail was in relatively good shape, there were spots where it was somewhat technical. Just shy of an hour later I reached the summit and found an open area with expansive views, a storm shelter, and several benches – perfect for enjoying the view and taking a lunch break in the surprisingly warm sun – warm enough, in fact, that there was steam rising from my shirt.
After a break I looked at my watch and the map and decided I had enough daylight to head back to the train via a ridge that went most of the way to Mitake station and had a couple more peaks along it. Where the trip up had basically been through stands of cedar with only the rising ground to look at, this route led through mainly hardwoods in their autumn colors and offered several expansive views of the area…. Most of them from unnamed mini-peaks along the ridge that my map didn’t quite show. I was expecting a fairly gradual descent from Bonoorosan (969 meters) to Kuroyama (842 meters) to Iwatakeishiyama (793 meters) and then a fair bit of relative flat ridge until the final drop into Mitake, but it was a constant up and down for most of the way.
Nearing the end of the day I found myself at a fork in the trail with both signs pointing toward Mitake. One way was 1.5 km, one 1.8 km. The 1.8 km route went down the flank of the mountain and then wrapped around the base, where the 1.5 km route went straight along the ridge and then dropped down the face in a set of switchbacks. The straight route had a final climb of about 50 meters before it started down, and my legs turned of their own accord to the longer route that bypassed that rise.
All in all a good and rathar strenuous hike that took me about 5.5 hours from train to train with an hour of that being spent walking along the side of a road rathar than on a trail, and at least half an hour spent relaxing on Bonoorosan. The trail was generally in good shape, but with a number of steep sections without hard brace points, mossy rock crossings, and a large number of washed out wooden box steps I would be hesitant to do it in the damp.