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Great Escapes Hiking Mt. Kumotori
(Entered May. 31, 2010)
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Japan's abundance of nature (once you get out of the cities of course), never ceases to surprise me. It doesn't seem possible that such a small country with such a large population could conceivably have any forests left. It does have them though, and in abundance, but with the condition that they are mostly located in the mountains, which are difficult to get to, and even more difficult to traverse. It's not that I dislike mountains; having grown up in a non-mountainous region of the world I find any view of a mountain range fascinating. Hiking over them however is a different matter. I'd much rather be hiking around the forests of Ontario, which compared to those of Japan, are viturally flat. With the exception of a few places like Oze National Park, there are no non-mountainous forests left in Japan. Still, needing to get away from the madness of Tokyo at regular intervals, I take what I can get.

mitsumine shrine

Mt. Kumotori is Tokyo's highest mountain at 2012 meters. The route Kumi and I took started from Mitsumine shrine (Chichibu), finished in Kamosawa (Okutama), and required an overnight stay in a mountain lodge called Kumotori Sanso.
The day started grey and overcast (as many Tokyo weekends are prone to do) but we decided to bite the bullet and just go, having planned this hike a number of weeks ago. We arrived at Mitsumine shrine (above photo) at around 11am (about 3.5 hours from our apartment) and took a quick look around the complex. Although the 2000 year old mountain shrine is supposedly worth a second look, we didn't stay long as it was already late in the morning and we had a 6 hour hike ahead of us. Although it wasn't raining, there was a dense mist surrounding everything.
Kumi registers us for our hike at the beginning of the trail (below shot), in case we get lost or eaten by bears.

kumotori kumi register

I checked a couple other Japan hiking websites before we left, and the acsent from Mitsumine shrine to Kumotori is described as a 2 out of 5 on a climbing difficulty scale. I didn't find it nearly that easy though, but I'd guess that's because I haven't hiked in months and I'm out of shape.
The climb up consisted of mist, light rain, mist, more mist, heavy rain, and really heavy rain. The mist was alright I suppose, and actually provided some atmospheric shots of sorts, but it has one glaring problem: It totally erases any and all majestic viewing points you might encounter, and Kumotori supposedly has many. Anytime we came to a lookout spot, all we could see was muted grey/white, which gave the impression the mountain and our immediate surroundings were all that existed in the whole world. If you've seen that episode of Star Trek:TNG where Beverly Crusher is trapped in that shrinking alternate universe you'll know what I mean. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Still, the trails were almost completely empty of people, the birds were singing, the deer were out, and despite the crappy weather my spirits remained high.

kumotori misty forest

That is until we reached our overnight destination of Kumotori Sanso, a massive mountain lodge located in the middle of nowhere, and absolutely packed with people, perhaps more than 200. I have no idea where they all came from but I suppose they must've started up the trail hours before us. I had made a reservation for one night without the knowledge that Kumi and I would have to share a tiny room with other people. Apparently (Kumi says) all mountain lodges follow this rule, but had I known before hand I might not have bothered with the hike at all. Luckily we were assigned a room with 2 elderly couples who didn't want to stay up late chatting, drinking beer, etc (other rooms had these people) but still, the snoring that went on in our room defies all description. I may have gotten 2 hours sleep but Kumi said she got none at all, and was in low spirits the next day. If you decide to follow in our footsteps, bring a tent!
Still, the morning dawned bright and clear as you can see in the below shot, and promised good views.

kumotori sanso

Well at least it started out that way. After a quick 30 minute climb to the peak of Kumotori, the mist and clouds were already rolling in en masse. I just managed to get this quick shot of Mt. Fuji before the view was snuffed out completely. Oh well, better than nothing I suppose.

view of fuji from kumotori

As we descended the mist got thicker and thicker until once again it started raining, lightly at first, but slowly becoming a downpour like yesterday.
You can see the clouds about to envelop our trail in the below shot, taken from the peak of Kumotori. I can only speculate how amazing the views would be on a clear day...

kumotori misty peak

Other hiking websites had written about the punishingly steep descent, and damn, they weren't kidding. My shins and toes were throbbing from the seemingly unending slope. The trails had all become mud and muck as well, definitely not helping us get down any easier.
Kumi and I had originally planned to finish up the hike at the town of Okutama, but we took a detour and went to the slightly closer option of Kamosawa instead due to the weather and our lack of sleep and hence, energy. It sure didn't SEEM closer though.

kumotori green trees

Near the bottom the weather once again cleared up a bit, and the sun very briefly came out. We took a bus to Okutama, headed to an onsen (the well known Moeginoyu, too well known perhaps as it was beyond crowded) before heading back to Tokyo, and a celebratory yakiniku dinner.
I'll be honest, this is definitely not one of the better hikes I've done, though a lot of the blame might fall on the weather and dreadful sleeping conditions. Next time (if it ever comes) I won't go in the rainy season and will be sure to bring camping gear.

kumotori hiking map

To do this hike, first you'll need to get to Seibu Chichibu station (Seibu Ikebukuro line), then take a bus for Mitsumine shrine (#5 I think). From here the trails are easy to follow and well marked, just make sure you know the kanji for the places you're going as there are no English signs. It is also possible to do this hike in reverse, starting from the Okutama area, though you'd better be in excellent physical condition as the incline is very steep, and interminable. Going down was bad enough, I can't imagine what going up would be like...



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Hiking Mt. Kumotori
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