Sunday morning. The trains in Tokyo aren’t as busy as they are on weekdays. I find a seat. I transfer in Ochanomizu to the Chuo Line, a direct shot to Mt. Takao. A little over an hour later I arrive at the station. I check in vain to see whether my web searches missed something, but it’s true: there’s no bus to the trail head at Plumtree Flat (梅ノ木平). I walk. The sun is bright, the sky clear. The autumn breeze is cool, not cold. The leaves of the maples tinted red but not yet in full color whisper. Cyclists passed on the road on their way into the mountains.
Arriving an Plumtree Flat, a picturesque Japanese countryside extends before my eyes, and a small wooden sign directs me down a dirt road, accompanied by a small stream joining the chorus of wind and branch. I feel, like I often do, that I’d rather be living in this kind of place than in Tokyo.
Ahead, the trail meets pavement and passes through a series of traditional buildings. I can hear the sound of a koto, but I can’t tell if it’s a recording or not.
I keep walking. The road turns to gravel as it enters the forest. Trail signs disappear. I see a pathway going up the mountain to my left. I can’t tell if it’s the right one or not, but I take it anyway. I meet the ridge and catch glimpses of the lakes that lend this trail it’s namesake.
A statue. Not uncommon for Japan.
Hours pass. The trail crosses over Highway 20, the same road I walked to reach Plumtree Flat.
Ascending back to the ridge, I reach the section of trail that I had hiked the previous week. Tired and hungry, I stop for lunch at the mountain hut at the top of Castle Mountain (城山).
I feel weak. I’m still recovering from a cold, one that only a day before had me considering cancelling the day’s hike. Knowing that I’d already hiked the trail in both directions from here, I decide to descend directly to Sagami Lake.
On the descent, I lay down next to the trail to take a nap. I hear people whispering about me as they pass by. I ignore them.
I reach the bottom faster than I expected. There’s a small shack from which an old man is selling beer and manju. I buy a beer and take a drink. The clouds above the village caught my attention.
The trail guiding me to the station took me into a deep valley where a river flows. It’s the Sagami River, the sign tells me. I recall years ago when I lived with a host family in Atsugi. The Sagami River flowed by the house. Each evening, I walked on it’s banks and looked out at the mountains, admiring their beauty without knowing that I’d be standing here today.
Goodbye, Sagami Lake. I’ll take the train home.
One thing you’ll note as soon as you start looking at the maps for the first few courses of the trail is that the first two are pretty long (around 15km) and that half of both of them are the same section of trail from Hightail Mountain (高尾山) to Castle Mountain (城山). If you’re loath to hike the same section of trail multiple times, then I recommend doing as I did and going straight down the mountain to Sagami Lake from Castle Mountain or alternatively hiking to Hightail and then starting section two walking from Sagami Station.
Also, if you don’t want to spend a half an hour walking by the road to Plumtree Flat, there’s actually a trail straight from the station that goes up the ridge to connect with the trail. It bypasses Plumtree Flat entirely, but it will ensure that you maximize your time on the actual trail. If you’re interested, look for the Takao-Oto Course (高尾・大戸コース).
Finally, for those who like overnight hiking, there are some decent places to pitch a tent along the route, though as the trails in this area are really popular, it might not be to your taste to plan an overnight on this section of trail. However, if I had to recommend a spot, it would be the top of Castle Mountain since the views there are really good and there’s plenty of flat space. Do note there that there’s also a mountain hut where you can buy meals there. I wouldn’t recommend pitching your tent until the workers clear out as it might be frowned upon to camp right there.
Kilometers Hiked: 16.2/1,799 (0.9%)
Courses Completed: 1/160 (0.6%)
Days spent: 1
This post is part of an ongoing series on the Fureai Trail. To view other posts in this series, click here.
© 2017 Brian Heise