It was National Foundation Day (February 11th) and I found myself leaving home while it was still dark. Oddly enough, the temperature was slightly higher than an hour later the previous day.
I was heading to Tachikawa where I would meet up with Ian and Y for a climb up Mt. Mito. (Mitosan 三頭山. literally “Three Head Mountain”), a mountain with three peaks, the highest being 1531 m. It also has the distinction of being the highest of the “three famous mountains of Okutama”, the other two being Mt. Otake and Mt. Gozen. (The Japanese make a big thing of the “three famous ________”.)
We would get the bus from Okutama Station to the Ogouchi Jinja bus stop on Lake Okutama and start our hike from there. We would be passing through sections of beech and oak forest, and the chances of us encountering some real wildlife seemed reasonable.
Almost 100 km from the sea, and an elevation of 530 m.
The floating bridge. It was not the most stable of structures.
The first stage of the hike was crossing the lake by floating bridge. The wind blowing over the lake was chilly, but once we entered the forest we didn’t really feel the cold.
This particular route required us to climb two other mountains before reaching Mt. Mito; Mt. Iyo (イヨ山) and Mt. Nukazasu (ヌカザス山).
Mt. Iyo, at less than 1000 m – and therefore technically not a mountain – was standard fare for mountain hikes in Okutama: a mixture of gradients, with trees ranging from cryptomeria or cypress plantations to groves of red pine to mixed broadleaf forests. There were only a few other hikers on the trail, meaning we were out of sight of other people for most of the hike.
Going up… there were lots of cryptomeria and cypress trees here.
Mountains viewed through a patch of red pine.
In fact, Mt. Iyo was so unremarkable that I didn’t even bother getting a photo of the summit marker.
Looking back at Lake Okutama.
Mt. Nukazasu was a somewhat different story. This involved going along a fairly steep and narrow ridge, and offered few options to rest.
A rough sign noting the peak of Mt. Nukazasu. Here it is written in the unofficial kanji. I had ventured that the name had its roots in the word “unpassable”. Further research says that it comes from an old dialectal word and so is typically written in katakana.
The real climb, however, was yet to begin.
We, foolishly, had not considered the possibility of the white death.
We soon found ourselves on a steep slope with the trail covered with snow in many places. We had to keep our wits about us since the trail markers also disappeared and our only way of being sure we were still on the trail was to find the occasional footprint or the imprint of crampons in the ice. Crampons! I was going to regret not bringing my 12 spike crampons with me on this trip…
I think it took over half an hour to move just 300 metres forward through the worst point.
The view was spectacular, but we were very tired and hungry… and still nearly 2 km from the summit.
By the time we reached the summit I was starving. I ignored the summit marker and headed straight for the clearing. I saw a sign on my left and went to see what it was about, and walked right past a magnificent view of Mt. Fuji.
The position of the sun made for less than optimum contrast, but I think this will give you an idea.
You can see a dot of light about halfway between the summit and the bottom of the snowline. We suspect that is the sun reflecting off the window of a mountain hut.
Looking the other way into the mountains of the Chichibu-Okutama-Kai National Park. We could see both Mt. Kumotori and Mt. Gozen.
I missed the fact that this is not the summit marker. I was too busy with coffee and lunch.
Coffee and lunch and taking up the view while soaking up the sun.
From there, it would be a minor detour to a hut for the toilet break, then a half hour descent to the waterfalls before heading along a paved road to a bus stop.
Or so we thought.
The downward trail toward the waterfalls is on the northern side of the mountain… which means it is in almost permanent shade at this time of year… which means that snow remains on the trail. People walking on the snow compact it. It partially thaws during the day and then refreezes overnight, leading to a trail covered in slippery ice.
We gingerly picked out way along the trail, trying to find bare rocks, relatively soft snow or handholds, and occasionally just leaving the trail altogether for the safety of snow as opposed to ice. We still all fell over numerous times, and the going was painfully slow.
I was cursing not bringing my crampons the whole way down.
The remains of an old charcoal pit. Making charcoal was once a staple of mountain life.
Well over an hour had passed by the time we reached the waterfalls, and we were going to miss our bus.
The waterfalls, however, did provide a lovely distraction.
These are a tourist attraction in this village.
From there, it was a walkway covered in woodchips, then a very fast walk along the road for about 3.7 km to catch the 5:30 bus.
My first real winter walk in years. I had forgotten how much fun it can be. I had also forgotten just how hard it can be.