It’s mid-morning at Little Buddha Pass. The fall air in the mountains is crisp and cool. It feels good. Frost is visible in the shadows, a warning for the coming night. My pack is heavy, but my knees feel stronger. Ahead the path is pavement. I’m not sure how far until I reach the trail.
It’s late. Later than I planned to be on the trail, but I’m not worried that I won’t finish. Tonight is an overnighter and I don’t care where I stop because I don’t care too much where I’ll finish tomorrow. Loose plans will tighten up as circumstances become more clear.
There are several old people walking with me. I always keep such company when I hike in Japan. Hiking is a sport for the old here; people my age are seldom seen. Later, some distance up the trail to Mt. Kagenobu, one them will speak to me, ask me where I’m from, where I’m going. I tell I’m from the states. She tells me her son lives in Washington, tells me how beautiful the flowers are there in the summer. I tell her I’ve heard of their beauty, but I actually haven’t. Isn’t it all too often that fictions are more pleasing to the ear that the truth?
I reach the summit of Mt. Kagenobu. At some point on the ascent I realized I forgot to bring chopsticks. I approach the mountain hut only to find it closed. No chopsticks. I resolve to carve my own, silently praising myself for my grit, perhaps also to distract myself from acknowledging having forgotten to bring them in the first place.
My mind wanders as I walk. Thinking about carving leads to thoughts of knives and takes me back to a conversation from a year or two back. Sitting in some cafeteria at Washu, my friend has a package that she can’t open. I say not to worry and take my knife out of my bag and cut it open. She seemed appalled that I was carrying a weapon, to which I protested that a knife is a tool, not a weapon. I don’t remember her retort, only that I added that hammers are dangerous too, but if I happened to have been carrying a hammer in my bag she wouldn’t have had anything to say about it. Different cultures. She was a city girl and I was a country boy. Better than a decade living in cities can’t erase my comfort with knives.
The trail up until now far hasn’t been the Bird Path. The trail starts at the foot of Hightail Mountain and continues some 10 km or so to this point at Kagenobu. I walked that path some weeks ago and I prefer to not waste time walking the same trail twice. Every foot I step on the same path is one foot I’ll never place somewhere new. I have no time for repeats. But you? What do you find if you hike the whole path?
Imagine yourself on the train to Hightail Mountain. At some point you notice the large number of people wearing hiking gear. The train arrives and all the cars empty, even of those who aren’t dressed for hiking. The platform is packed and you realize these people are all going to climb the mountain. You take to the trail. It’s crowded. It feels like a theme park. The trail is even paved. Cable cars carry passengers up the mountainside, but it doesn’t seem to effect the number of people walking. You’re irritated. This isn’t what you came all the way out here fore. You could have stayed home and relaxed. Now you’re stuck on a mountain with thousands of chattering people, screaming kids. You resolve to climb to the top and then go straight home.
Multiple trails go to the top. You get off onto a side trail and the crowds thin a bit. This isn’t so bad, you think. But once you reach the top, the crowds reach their maximum. It’s liking walking through a rock concert. But you spot a map. The map shows the trail goes on. The map shows the kilometers of trail spreading on. You think, maybe if you go further the crowds will thin out and the day will turn out alright. So you go on. And you’re right. You might even notice trail markers for the Fureai Trail. You saw those same markers before in a place far away from here. It catches your interest. You decide to look into it when you get home. Maybe you’ll try to hike the whole trail.
You reach Castle Mountain. The view of the Kanto is spectacular. Far off in the distance you can see the Skytree, and below it you know is your home. And if you keep walking you’ll be where I now stand at the summit of Kagenobu, enjoying a view of Mt. Fuji on one side, the Kanto on the other. It’s refreshing. But it’s time to move on.
The trail is uneventful. I don’t take any pictures. One good picture is worth a thousand mediocre, and one perfect picture gets lost in a crowd of the average. I wait. As I walk, I scan the trail for good places to put a tent. Though I’m more than five hours away from where I will eventually camp, I’ve cultivated this habit from long experience. Determine the frequency with which you see good camp sites and you can estimate how long before sundown that you should start looking for your night’s abode.
Birds. This is the bird path. Why? Parus birds. They say that if you walk among the winter groves of this area, you’ll hear soft fluttering and of flocks of birds moving slowly about. If you look closely, you can see all kinds — mixed flocks of Parus birds. These birds live separately in the spring and summer breeding season and flock together in the winter. I guess I saw some these birds. I did see some birds anyway. Whether they were Parus birds or not I don’t know. Birdwatching was never an interest of mine.
After some hours, I arrive at Camp-horse Mountain and the end of the Bird path. This is what I was waiting for. The view at the top offers 360 degrees of view. I stay for a while taking shots.
Off across the Kanto, more than 100km away, I see the pale silhouette of Mt. Tsukuba through the haze and I think of someone I know there. I wonder what she’s doing right now.
Looking at the view, I know that I could get magnificent shots of Fuji at sunset and sunrise here, but I resolve to move on. The trail is steep down from the summit. The bird path comes to an end, but I still have three hours of daylight.
The bird path is a really great hiking course. It’s long enough to really be refreshing (almost 20km) and it has plenty of stunning views. It starts rough at Mt. Takao with all of it’s carnival-like attractions and crowds of people, but that makes the overall effect of the hike even better because you get to transition from that to the more beautiful and less crowded sections. The contrast it what does it.
As far as camping goes, this is a fairly popular section of trail, so again it’s not the best for camping, but there are many fairly good places to set up a tent. I personally recommend a spot between Shiroyama (Castle Mountain) and Jimba Mountain (Camp-horse Mountain), where there’s an abandoned mountain hut. The ground there is flat and soft and there isn’t anyone aren’t to complain about people setting up tents. The downside, though, is that the views aren’t that great. If you’re into mountain photography, do try to see the sunset from the summit of Jimba.
Kilometers hiked: 35.6 (2%)
Courses Completed: 2/160 (1.3%)
Days spent: 1.5
This post is part of an ongoing series on the Fureai Trail. To view all posts in this series, click here.
© 2017 Brian Heise