A Snowy Climb Up Mount Mitsutoge
There’s no shortage of mountains to explore in and around Tokyo. And when you live in a metropolitan area home to more than 37 million, sometimes you just want to get away - even if that means getting on a train with plenty others in the same frame of mind. Feeling ambitious this past weekend, I skipped the worthy but well-trodden Takao, Mitake, and Oyama, venturing instead into the neighboring Yamanashi prefecture for a hike up the picturesque Mount Mitsutoge.
A little more than two hours from Shinjuku, Mitsutoge Station is located just before the Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes) area. The hike begins after a walk through the sleepy town, with a steady climb alongside a river more accurately described as a stream. This paved road lasts about an hour, immediately testing my calves and making me regret waking up at the crack of dawn. Finally, the forest trail begins, helpfully marked by a big, round stone. Unfortunately, the climb continues.
The path is well-maintained and the terrain reasonable, though the February cold makes crampons a necessity. A couple of benches offer brief respites and decent spots for a breakfast break. The next progress marker comes 90 minutes later in the form of 88 Buddha statues (I didn’t count). The trail both flattens and narrows subsequently, culminating in a section ripe for rock climbing, if you’re so inclined and readily equipped. I’m neither, so I hike another 20 minutes, past a mountain hut or two.
Reaching the top of Mount Mitsutoge (1786 meters) is a genuine rush. The peak offers spectacular views of Mount Fuji and about half of a perfect panorama. The rest is unfortunately obscured by a couple of antennas… on the plus side, my cell phone signal is fantastic. Despite heavy snow accumulation, the peak is calm and relatively warm, offering a perfect lunch locale. After, it’s back down to the mountain huts. I would recommend taking advantage of the amenities (including a beer vending machine!).
Rather than return from whence I came, I continue the trail towards Kawaguchiko. The ridgeline path to Tenjo-zan is a mostly easy two-hour stroll, with manageable descents and ascents. However, a couple of short narrow sections are rather precarious thanks to the presence of mud: caution recommended. Speaking of warnings, there are neither any resting areas nor bathrooms in this two hour stretch. The views of the Fujiyoshida landscape and Lake Kawaguchi are tantalizing though partially obstructed by surrounding forestry.
After a final climb up to Tenjo-zan, the trail opens up into the area right above the Kachi Kachi Ropeway. There, more views of Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi await, as does civilization: the throngs of visitors at the observatory deck a startling sight. As matter of principle and also cheapness, I skip the Ropeway and opt for the 30 minute walk back down the hill. I complete the entire hike in about six and a half hours, walking to Kawaguchiko Station for the long ride back to Tokyo, weary but satisfied.