Have I mentioned I like to drink when I go hiking?
This was definitely the case when my hiking buddy Joe and I climbed Mount Odake in western Tokyo last week.
Drinking and hiking isn’t uncommon and Japan. Maybe it is to the extent that Joe and I imbibe, but nevertheless, it is common tradition for hikers to pound an Asahi at the peak of Mount Fuji. Us gaijin tend to take everything a little too far.
Odake-san (1,267m) is the tallest mountain in Tokyo Prefecture. The hike begins at Mitake Station where a cable car takes most hikers to the summit of Mount Mitake. Joe and I hiked Mount Mitake in September and swung east to Mount Hinode. We wanted to challenge Otake this time and visit the renown rock garden as well.
Last Monday, Nov. 18, we got up early and didn’t miss our first train out of Nakano – which we did last time. We took the Chuo line to Tachikawa, which at 7:30 am was unbearably packed, and then we switched to the Oume Line, going to the end of the line and switching again to the local Okutama train.
Last Monday was a pleasant day and there was the usual gang of yamagarru (mountain girls) and obaasan in their bright jackets and lycra stretch pants out for a day stroll.
We caught the bus to Mitakesan Station where the cable car starts, and just like last time, Joe and I bypassed the funicular and made the 45-minute hike to the top of Mount Mitake on foot. It was a little more difficult than we remembered, but that is probably because we were both operating on 3 hours of sleep.
When we reached the top (929m) the autumn foliage was phenomenal. We didn’t linger at the Musashi-Mitake Shrine. We’d been there and done that. We bought two cans of Asahi each and sought out the path to the rock garden, which was located on the left side of the last stair case that leads up to the shrine. If you reach the horse statue you’ve gone too far.
On the way down to the rock garden we came to an intersection at a giant outcropping. You can climb up for a view, but we declined this time. The left path leads to Nanayo Falls (the opposite direction of Odake) and the other path leads to the rock garden – the direction we wanted. People with more time could hop on down to the Nanayo Falls or skip up to the top of the outcrop, but Joe and I had already getting winded and didn’t want to run out of daylight like we did last time.
So onward ho!
It took us only about half an hour to reach the valley. The natural “rock garden” is a 200-400m stretch of moss covered rocks that follow along a picturesque stream. The red, purple and brown fall leaves blanketing the scene made it that much more spectacular.
At the end of the rock garden is a large picnic area that was quite crowded on this Monday afternoon. Joe and I soldiered on, soon arriving at the Ayahiro Falls. About 30m tall, this thin stream of water dropped into a clear pool below. The water was surprisingly a little warm to the touch.
From here the trail led nowhere but up. We were never gasping for breath or leaning on our knees, but the hike was a bit strenuous from this point. It took us 45 minutes to reach an abandoned home for the tending monks, which is the last push to the summit of Odake.
We went through the torii and began the climb up. Rock steps led most of the way, and the steps became steeper and taller as we neared the top. There were some points where I had to use the guide rope for support and we passed a couple of city slickers who were sucking wind.
We reached the summit just before 2 p.m. From the cable car station the total hike to the top was about 2 1/2 hours. It was a nice clear sunny day and we had a nice view of the surrounding mountains.
Again, the summit was quite crowded with families and groups of yamagarru picnicking. Some had brought up their camp stoves and were cooking noodles. One of the ladies shared her crackers and cream cheese/jelly sandwiches with us. Mountain folk are so hospitable.
Mount Odake is known for its view of Mount Fuji, however, we had arrived too late in the afternoon. You really need to get to the top before noon if you want to see Fuji in all its glory. It wasn’t until we were ready to leave that Joe pointed in the horizon and proclaimed, “Is that it?”
“Or is it a cloud?” he asked.
Through the viewfinder of my camera I could make out the faint outline of Fuji through the wall of haze that covered the southern horizon. If we caught it on a clear day, it would have been downright magnificent.
As it was, we took a ridiculous amount of pictures of the clouds in hopes that something would turn out.
Joe and I polished off our two Asahis along with some snacks and made our descent. When we reached the abandoned shack, rather than follow the path back down to the rock garden we took a path along the western ridge.
On this route we happened to peak two more mountains (Mount Nabewari and Mount Okunoin – 4 mountains in one day!). The trail was relatively flat with a few spurts up, but nothing too harsh.
We cracked into the flask of Suntory whiskey and we slowly drained it. As we hiked, the trees became more and more beautiful with every sip. I ended up with about 50 semi-blurry pictures of leaves and trees.
We made it back to Mitake in decent time, probably just around an hour. It was reaching 4 and the place had nearly cleared out. We restocked on beer and again bypassed the cable car and hiked the road back down. We reached the bus station at 5:10. The bus left at 5:04 and wouldn’t return until 5:48.
According to google maps it was a 28 minute walk to the train station. We didn’t feel like sitting in the dark waiting for a bus, plus a chill started to settle in, so even though our dogs were barking pretty good we hiked the last 2.2km to the train station, reaching near 20km on the day.
This may have easily been my favorite hike in the Tokyo area I have done yet, and that’s not just the booze talking. I want to return with my wife, and reach the top a little earlier this time (probably taking the cable car), because the view of Fuji-san from the top of Odake looks to be something special.