Even on moderately clear days in Tochigi prefecture, the northwestern sky is dominated by a line of volcanoes emerging above the touristy city of Nikko. Mt. Nyoho (女峰山) and Mt. Akanagi (赤薙山) are two peaks that make up the northern ridge. The ridge appears to be the flank remnants of a massive ancient stratovolcano that would have easily topped the tallest peak along the line, Mt. Nantai (男体山), and could have rivaled Mt. Fuji. The entire line of volcanoes is only about 10km long, but it towers above everything else in the area making it the most visible feature in the Tochigi sky. Nyoho lies near the center of these mountains and therefore is also the most difficult peak to reach. The view however is absolutely stunning.
Nyoho is not recommended for beginners. For the occasional hiker looking for a challenge, I recommend you prepare for a two-day trip. It's possible to complete the hike in one day assuming you have a high fitness level and you take the shorter but more treacherous route along the ridge rather than up the slopes from the city. The hike can be done with any combination of these paths. For the average hiker, the ridge way will take you 6 hours to go up, and 5 hours to come down. The slope way will take 8 hours to go up (6-7 to the rest house) and 5 hours to come down. This guide will cover going up the ridge path and down the slope back to the city with a distance of about 15km and an elevation gain of about 1100m. This is also the path I took for a one-day trip.
This path starts at Kirifuri Kogen (霧降高原). It is easily accessible from the nearby Tobu-Nikko train station. The earliest bus leaves at around 7:40am and can get you to Kirifuri Kogen at around 8:00am. Suica scan cards will work on these buses.
Early morning at the Kirifuri Kogen. If you take the bus, it will stop below where the stairs begin in the photo.
From the Kirifuri Kogen bus stop/parking lot, you'll need to climb a few very long sets of stairs up to the Ko-Maruyama observation deck (小丸山展望台).
This is the final set of stairs before reaching the Ko-Maruyama observation deck.
From the observation deck, follow the signs for Akanagi-san (赤薙山) which will be to your left.
View of the lush slopes of Akanagi before reaching it’s summit. Imaichi and Nikko are visible in the far background.
From Akanagi, follow the signs for either Nyoho-san (女峰山) or the Akanagi back-shrine (赤薙奥社跡). I can't remember exactly, but the signs throughout the trail seemed to switch between the two.
Akanagi at 2010 meters.
Once past the Akanagi back-shrine, follow signs towards Nyoho. The trails become less clear, so keep your eyes out for trail markers such as pink ribbons tied around tree branches. Go slow and steady, it can get quite dangerous here. Expect to climb with your hands several times, but full rock climbing gear isn't necessary. Remember that you are on a ridge and one slip on either side could be fatal. Go slow and don't panic. Take as many breaks as you need to.
The trail will take you behind the mountains a bit where you walk through a gorgeous section of the forest with many birch trees.
Before reaching Nyoho’s summit, the view back at Akanagi is simply stunning.
Once you've reached the top of Nyoho, know that you've climbed one of the toughest peaks around. Congratulate yourself by taking in the spectacular view. You can go back a few ways. If you go back the same way along the ridge, make sure you'll have enough time left for the last bus leaving Kirifuri Kogen at 4:55pm. Another way down is to go down the slope towards Nikko, straight back into the city. The rest of this guide will follow this path.
From Nyoho’s peak. Peaks in the foreground starting from the closest: Taishaku, Ko-Omanago, Omanago, Nantai, and Mt. Fuji. Fuji is visible as a tiny dark triangle in the upper left of the image.
Follow the sign south of the peak towards the Karasawa Hut (唐沢小屋). Be careful. This part of the hike is on a talus field with very sharp rocks. One slip could gash your shin. You could stay with the tree line on your right where there are less sharp rocks, but don't lose track of the trail markers painted onto the rocks. You'll have to eventually cross the talus field to get to the Karasawa Hut.
Talus field directly below Nyoho’s peak.
The Karasawa hut is basically a large empty house with two floors to aid climbers. Many climbers choose to stay here overnight and continue with their hike the next day. From the hut, there are two ways down. Looking down slope from where you came from, there are two ways back to Nikko.
The Karasawa Hut. It’s large enough to hold dozens of people, but it looks hardly comfortable.
The right path will take you down into a drainage area. I don't recommend this path. Although the terrain is much easier than the left way, this entire side of the mountain is literally blanketed with a thick layer of tall (up to 1.5m) shrubs that have grown over most trails making it extremely difficult to find your way. If you decide on this path, look out for trail signs posted on trees. This way will take you to the Urami Falls (裏見の滝) area. The closest bus stop is Uraminotakiiriguchi (裏見の滝入口). It's about a 30-minute walk from the trail's end.
The left path will take you down a ridge and up to another peak, Kurodake (黒岳). From Kurodake, follow signs down the mountain slope towards the city. You'll eventually come across a small road that will lead you to Shiraito Falls (白糸滝) and back to the city. The closest bus stop here is Hotel Sekoenmae (ホテル清晃苑前). It's about a 20-minute walk from Shiraito Falls.
Nyoho is a difficult but very rewarding climb. Few climbers attempt it, let alone reach the top. Like all intimidating climbs, it may look impossible from far away, but approaching it literally one step at a time reveals that it is indeed achievable. Nyoho is considered the preeminent climb of Tochigi by local mountaineers. It’s hard to disagree with this. The climb is thrilling and the view from Nyoho is nothing short of awe-inspiring.