Two weeks ago, I headed up to Nikkō, in Tochigi Prefecture, for what I suspect may be my last mountain hike before autumn. While it’s possible that the weather might cooperate long enough for me to sneak in another ascent before September, I’m not a fan of climbing in the extreme heat and humidity of Japanese summers (read: I hate it), and since the rainy season is already under way, this hike was probably the swan song for spring 2022.
That said . . . if it was the last, it was a perfect day to go out on.
I caught an early train to Nikkō, which arrived just after 8 a.m., and hopped a bus for the thirty minute ride to the Akechidaira Ropeway–a short but pretty ropeway I’d heard about but hadn’t made the time to ride before. Since the trailhead for Mt. Mujina begins at the ropeway’s upper station, I got to check another Japanese ropeway off my list into the bargain.
I’ll blog more about the ropeway in another post.
At the top, I took a short detour up a flight of stairs to the Akechidaira Observation Platform. I’d heard that on a clear day it was possible to see Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls from the platform.
I’d heard correctly.
The view also explained why the ropeway exists, and why so many people choose to ride it.
After enjoying the view, I headed back down the stairs and hit the trail–which starts at the upper ropeway station and wastes no time heading uphill into the trees.
However, about five minutes into the hike, I was treated to yet another delightful view of Kegon Falls through the trees.
The trail was in great condition, despite a couple of fallen trees early on the hike.
The path itself carved a narrow, curling route up and over several slopes, and along some lovely forested ridges. The trees were showing off new foliage, and it was clear why this part of the year is sometimes called “the season of fresh green leaves” in Japan.
Initially, I followed the trail to Chanodaira, a forested plateau in the mountains above Lake Chuzenji, where several trails converge. En route, the tail emerged on a ridge and treated me to a beautiful view of Mt. Nantai (which I climbed in 2019 and wrote about as part of an article for Matcha travel ‘zine) as well as the snow-capped peaks beyond the lake.
Beyond the ridge, the trail led up another slope and into the relatively flat, forested plateau. A nice breeze was blowing through the mountains that morning, but the air went almost completely still when I entered the plateau. The temperature also climbed by almost ten degrees, and the first cicadas of the year were raising a racket in the trees.
Even so, the forest was lovely, and the temperature, though a reminder that “real summer” was just around the corner, stayed (barely) cool enough to be comfortable. The air smelled fresh and clean, and I couldn’t hear any hint of cars or other engines. In fact, there were so few hikers on the trail that for much of the route, I felt entirely alone except for the birds that sang and called in the trees.
A few minutes later, I passed a trail sign that reminded me being alone except for the birds was a particularly good thing, given the other residents of these mountains…
After passing through Chanodaira, I took a fork in the trail that led downhill, across a ridge (and a road) and through the forest.
As I passed along the ridge, I noticed a spur trail leading to an overlook that I suspected had an excellent view of Lake Chuzenji.
I wasn’t wrong:
A little farther down the trail, the view opened up on the opposite side, where the mountains rolled away like waves on a deep green sea:
About two and a half hours after leaving the observatory platform, I reached the summit of Mt. Mujina (1,622 meters). For many hikers, Mujina-san (which translates “Badger Mountain”) is a secondary goal, climbed as part of a longer hike to neighboring Hangetsusan (1,753 m). Eventually, I hope to head back and hike them both myself. On this particular day, though, I had other plans; I needed to get to the bus stop at Chuzenji Onsen, and then back to lower Nikkō, in time for dinner with my friends Liz and Satoshi, who own Gableview Forest Inn.*
So after shooting some summit photos (as you can see, there’s really no view) I turned around and retraced my steps back down, up, across, and over, until I reached Chanodaira.
At Chanodaira, I took a branch trail that led down the side of a mountain toward Lake Chuzenji, where I planned to catch the bus.
While descending, I noticed movement on the trail ahead, and reached for my camera in time to snap some shots of the meter-long brown rat snake that was sunning on the trail. In the shot below, he’s hustling into the trees . . . can you spot him?
Hint: look to the left of the “Y” shaped stick near the center of the photo.
The trees blocked most of the views of Chuzenjiko, but I did catch a few more glimpses of the still-snowy mountains in the distance.
I reached the bus stop ten minutes before the bus departed for lower Nikkō, and in plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon visit with my friends, as well as a delicious homemade dinner! The meals at Gableview can be quite elaborate (as I can attest from past experience!) but I’d asked them just to let me share whatever they were having . . . which still turned out to be a spectacular four-course feast of sautéed vegetables, larb gai, homemade beef stew, roasted nasu (eggplant) with miso, and steamed rice.
Every bite was absolutely delicious . . . all the more so, after a day on the trail — and the view couldn’t be beat!
I love hiking in Nikkō – it’s fairly easily accessible as a day trip or an overnight from Tokyo, tends to be slightly cooler in the warmer months, and although the trails do get snowy (and some are closed) in midwinter, there are a huge number of great trails to choose from–Mujina among them.
One more crossed off the to-do list!
Access/Trailhead: Bus from Tobu Nikkō (or JR Nikkō) Station to Akechidaira Ropeway; Ropeway to Akechidaira Observatory Platform. The trail starts to the left of the stairs that lead to the viewing platform, and is well-marked all the way. Return: Bus from Chuzenji Onsen to Tobu-Nikkō or JR Nikkō Station.
Total distance: 6 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: 529m ascent / 402m descent (i.e., “mostly flat”)
Time Spent: 4 hours, 33 minutes (Including a 25-minute lunch stop. YMMV)
Gableview Forest Inn: Reservations available via Expedia, Booking.com and other booking sites.*
* Disclosure: the owners of Gableview are my friends, but they neither ask for, nor give me anything of value in exchange for, this mention or my recommendation of their inn. I simply love the place and think a lot of my readers would love it too.