Fureai VII: The Mountain Grass Path

Back on the Fureai Trail

Needless to say, after the blissful misery that I put myself through on my winter trip to Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park at the end of December 2017, I wasn’t in any particular hurry to get back on the trail. Yet, as one might have expected, the feeling was long gone by the latter half of January. Not having a vacation or even a full weekend off due to the split weekend (which isn’t really a weekend at all) that my company landed me with, I was back on the 1,799 km Fureai Trail ringing its way around the Kanto Plain. I had last hiked on the trail sometime back in November or December of the previous year, when I crossed over from Upper Fostermarsh to Mitake Station via Sunrise Mountain and the Venerable Peak on the Cedar Shade Path. This time, joined once more by Tianyu, I would continue hiking from Mitake across the border of Tokyo and into Saitama Prefecture, completing the full set of Tokyo sections. On this day we would complete not one, but two sections of the trail, the first of which was to be the Mountain Grass Path (Yamakusa-Michi, 山草道).

As usual I made an early start, departing home just as the sky was starting to lighten with the coming sunrise. I caught the train from Kinshichô (Brocade Village, 錦糸町) in Tokyo and, after some transfers, got on the JR Ôme Line (Blueplum Line, 青梅線) to Mitake Station, which was where I whiled away the afternoon at a 300 year old sake brewery last time I was there. I met Tianyu at the station and we set off.

The trail started its ascent just outside the station, passing steeply up a narrow paved road and then crossing the train tracks. The path turned to dirt just in front of Mercy Temple (Jion-ji, 慈恩寺), a decidedly modern and dare I say boring structure, and then ascended somewhat steeply through a cedar grove. The remnants of the last big snow covered the way, making what under ordinary circumstances would have been a simple and safe walk sometimes harrowing. Eventually we reached the summit of Allpeaks Mountain (Sôgaku-yama, 惣岳山; 756 m), where we found an old shrine protected by a wire fence that robbed it of its ambience.

Mercy Temple
Cedars line the trail.
A curious pattern in the partially melted snow.
A small shrine.
Aoi Shrine (青渭神社)

Beyond Allpeaks Mountain

The path beyond Allpeaks follows narrow ridges with occasional gaps in the trees for some decent views of the mountains beyond, but the real view becomes available when you reach Lichenstone Mountain (Iwatake-Ishi Mountain, 岩茸石山; 793 m) an hour or so further on.

Standing in a row with Allpeaks Mountain and Highwater Mountain (Takamizu-yama, 高水山), Lichenstone is the highest of what are called the Three Highwater Mountains (高水三山). The mountain itself is named for variety of edible lichen called iwatake (literally “rock mushroom”) that has been used in traditional medicines in Japan, Korea, and China for centuries. With a north and east face bereft of trees, the grassy summit of Lichenstone offers both excellent views of nearby mountains and also the Kanto Plain and Tokyo beyond. Tianyu and I took a break there for several minutes, and we saw many other hikers cooking ramen on their hiking stoves.

A steep descent from Allpeaks Mountain.
The mountains to the west glimpsed through a gap in the trees.
Approaching the summit of Lichenstone Mountain, views of begin to open.
A mountain shows bare patches of deciduous trees between the evergreens.
A path well-trod through the snow.
North, towards Saitama Prefecture.
A broad view from Lichenstone Mountain.
Some hikers cook ramen; Tokyo is in the distance.
More hikers cooking.


Towards the Peak of the Staff

At Lichenstone Mountain the trail splits in two, with one end descending toward Highwater Mountain and the other heading north towards Black Mountain (Kuroyama, 黒山); naturally, since the Fureai Trail follows the latter path, that’s the way we went. As we started to descend from the summit, however, an old Japanese gentlemen called out to us, thinking that we were going in the wrong direction. When we told him that we were fine and that we were hiking the Fureai Trail, he seemed somewhat impressed. We thanked him for his concern and continued on.

After a swift descent to Famous Hill Pass (名坂峠), this ridgeline path rolls along gently without any notably severe slopes through a forest that alternates between patches of cedar and deciduous trees. The slopes are well-shielded by trees most of the time, so there aren’t many great views, excepting one cliff face that the path passes directly above and also the summit of Black Mountain, which does offer a decent view back towards Lichenstone. However, don’t let that stop you from hiking this section: according to the pamphlet, this area is well-known for wildflowers in the spring (especially violets) as well as for its colorful leaves in the fall, so these seasons would be an ideal time to visit. It’s a shame that we missed out on it.


The Last Leg

Sometime in the mid-afternoon, perhaps around 2 pm, Tianyu and I arrived at Gonjiri Pass, which sits on the border of Saitama Prefecture and the Tokyo administrative district, marking a big milestone for me at least: at this point, I had walked nearly 100 km from the beginning of the trail back near Mt. Takao. The next step was to summit the Peak of the Staff (Bô-no-Mine, 棒の嶺), which at 969 m was the tallest point on our route.

The path up to the summit is fairly steep and direct, no switchbacks, and from there it descends steeply down the hillside through a man-made forest of cypress and cedar. Reaching the bottom, the trail crosses the Otanba River (大丹波川) before passing the 100 Eaves Teahouse (Hyaku-ken Chaya, 百軒茶屋). Beyond that you can find a bus stop to take you down to Sawai Station and from there back to Tokyo.

That, however, was not the way we went. Section 8 of the Fureai Trail starts down below at the teahouse and backtracks all the way to Gonjiri Pass before splitting off on its own. Tianyu and I therefore decided to cut this overlapping section and instead continue onward, marking the end of our trek through Tokyo’s peripheral mountains as we proceed onward to the mountains of western Saitama Prefecture. But more on that next time.

I guess some hiker made these.
The view from the top of a cliff.



Trail Name: The Mountain Grass Path (Yamakusa-no-Michi)
Click here
Access: Start: Mitake Station (御嶽駅) on the JR Ôme Line (JR青梅線); End: Kamihinata Bus Stop (上日向バス停) to Sawai Station (沢井駅)
Difficulty: Easy (sometimes steep slopes, but no major elevation changes)
Natural Beauty: Moderate (decent views of the Kanto and Tokyo)
Ideal Seasons: Spring (for flower viewing), Fall (for maple viewing)
Camping Locations:* The Peak of the Staff (Bo-no-Mine), Black Mountain (Kuro-yama), Lichenstone Mountain (Iwatake-ishi-yama), and Allpeaks Mountain (Sogaku-yama).
Length (distance): 13.1 km
Length (time): approx. 5 hours
Food access: Okuchaya Tea House and various shops and restaurants near Mitake Station; nothing on the trail

*Note that these are not officially designated camping locations but simply places that I judge would be nice to put down a tent. Camp at your own risk.

My Stats:

Distance traveled: 91.9 km (5.1%)
Courses completed: 7/160 (4.4%)
Days Spent: 5.5

© Brian Heise 2018

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