Friday, 21 December 2012

Autumn Colours 3 - North Takao Ridge

After the South Takao Ridge, we now have its counterpart on the north side. The photographs in here come from two separate December hikes, catching the back end of 2012's autumn.

Again, you can find instructions and details here if you'd like to attempt this one yourself. This is among the best so far for splendid views, as north Takao is packed with deciduous woodland with fewer of the south's evergreen plantations, and frequent openings provide panoramas in both directions. To the north, Tokyo's sprawl subsides into spreading Oku-Tama mountainscapes, while the south offers the main ridge's colourful slopes and some impressive views of Mt. Fuji.

Be warned. This is a serious trek, and a jump up in challenge from the south or main ridge. Though you will not go higher than 731m, almost the entire route consists in steep climbs or descents, alternating unrelenting. The ridge is far less travelled than Takao itself, and there are few escape routes should you run into trouble once on it. Treat this walk with respect: go at a decent level of fitness, and bring a map and a compass as well as sufficient food and water. There are no toilets, so be sure to bear a toilet roll. And especially in winter, start walking as early as possible, to make sure you make it down before darkness sets in around 4:30-5pm; a flashlight is recommended just in case.

The paths are in good condition, not too rocky and often soft. Signposting is good, despite a few spots of confusion.

North Takao Ridge
Length: Approx. 14km. However, it will feel like a lot longer.
Hiking Time: Allow at least 7-8 hours.
Height: After the first hour-and-a-half's ascent to 556m (starting at 211m), the main section is an arduous 6km up and down a long series of peaks. Eventually the ridge merges into the Takao-Jinba ridge at Mt. Dōdokoro (堂所山), the walk's highest point at 731m. From there a sustained descent returns you to the road at 237m, with a final half-hour of flat pavement to Sagami Lake.

1) Go to Takao Station (高尾) on the Chuo or Keio Line, and go out of the North Exit.
2) From the bus terminal there, many buses go to the Hachioji Cemetery entrance (Hachioji reien-mae, 八王子霊園前) where the walk starts, including buses 1, 2 and 11. It only takes about 6 minutes to get there.
3) The walk ends at Sagami Lake and Sagamiko Station (相模湖駅), one stop past Takao Station on the Chuo Line.

Ascent from Hachioji Castle Ruins to the shrine and Fuji Viewpoint
~2 hours, 3km

Get off the bus at the entrance to Hachioji Cemetery (Hachioji reien-mae, 八王子霊園前). Walk a few steps further to the map board, and as it indicates, turn left at the junction ahead. Follow this road west for about 15 minutes until you reach the visitor centre for the Hachioji Castle Ruins.

Follow the road along 'Shiroyama River', towards the interesting stuff in the bottom left.

The visitor centre (a white building) has maps available, and some helpful staff who will answer any questions about the route. There are toilets here you would do well to make use of.

If you have time to spare, the castle site is an easy few minutes through the woods beyond. Another of Japan's great 100 castles, Hachioji's has a bloodstained history on account of Hideyoshi's conquests that has kept its significance in the shadows. Now in ruins with a haunted reputation, it offers some reconstructed foundations and tranquil glades.

To begin the walk proper, the trail up the castle mountain (Hachioji Shiroyama, 八王子城山, not to be confused with Kobotoke Shiroyama begins at this gate behind the visitor centre. The sustained ascent is but a taste of what is to come, and the trail looks out across Tokyo, whose east side, Skytree and all, are apparent in the distance.

The top of Shiroyama is dotted with shrine buildings and stone monuments. Look for a short slope round the back to some haunted-looking toilets, which are the last ones you will see before sunset.

The path continues right of those toilets. At a fork shortly ahead, you will want to take the misleading-looking left path that arcs back around downhill (but there is another fork where you ignore the much steeper left path, and go right! A compass is useful here). You are on the right track when you pass a water pump on your right; some more uphill waits ahead. Your goal is the Fuji Viewpoint (Fujimidai, 富士見台).

Along the ridge, from Fuji Viewpoint to Mt. Dōdokoro
~3-4 hours, 6km
This is where it gets real. If you are worried about fitness, time or supplies, this is your last straightforward chance to get down: go across the peak past the picnic table for a path that eventually doubles back to Takao station. Otherwise, note the signpost above and follow the path on the right, towards Mt. Dōdokoro (堂所山) at 6.0km.

Now comes the fun part. From here to Dōdokoro, the ridge undulates up and down a good dozen peaks. Expect some slow and rigorous hours overcoming steep ascents, and coming down the other side only to find even rougher climbs in front of you. No rise or fall lasts more than a few minutes, but the sheer relentless rate at which they come is this hike's primary challenge. Pace yourself well.

It is hard to get lost: there is only one path, and signs reminding you of your goal are quite frequent. You will probably want to stop for lunch on the way. And whenever you stop for breath, do not forget to appreciate the peaceful tranquility, colours and views on both sides that you might overlook in exertion.

Eventually the path descends on a wider dirt road, with signs and a map to the left. The road trails away to the north side, so keep to the path along the left, as you want to stay on top of the ridge. After a few more peaks and burning calories, you will come a peak labelled “circle of cedar trees” (Sugi no maru, 杉の丸).

Path on left, road on right. Stay with the path.
Sugi no maru

Getting this far indicates good progress, but you're not there yet. A good hour or two more of the same remains before you finally reach Mt. Dōdokoro (Dōdokoro Yama,堂所山), the final significant uphill of this course.

For most of this section the views look north, towards the mountains of Oku-Tama, illuminated by the declining afternoon sun.

Down from Mt. Dōdokoro to Sagami Lake
~1.5-2 hours, 5km

From here you rejoin and cross the main Takao-Jinba ridge, and descend into Kanagawa prefecture. Turn right past Dōdokoro for an easy ten-minute stroll to Sokosawa Pass (Sokosawa Tōge, 底沢 峠). It is not labelled as such, but is not as far as Myōo Pass (明王峠) and has a left turning signposted to Sokosawa (底沢). From here it's downhill for almost all of the way, till you come to some houses (including an onsen), roads, and the towering Chuo Expressway far overhead.

You want to make it at least this far before it gets dark, lest you be stranded and freezing on pitch-black slopes overnight. If you've reached this point, congratulations: all the hard parts are done.

Bamboo after turning down off the main ridge

Follow the signs just a bit further to the Sokosawa bus stop, where if you're at your limit, you can wait for a bus to take you the last kilometre-and-a-half to Sagamiko Station (相模湖駅). Of course, walking it lets you fulfil a proper sense of completion, and it's only about 30-40 minutes further along well-lit pavement, with vending machines and food outlets along the way. Once in the village, follow the road signs for the train station; those masochistic enough can instead turn left and downhill (and thus up again after) for the lake, which though famous and beautiful, will be lost to sight in the darkness by the time you reach it.

The bus stop is right next to this bridge, across the road. From the direction you come, Sagamiko is to the right.

This may be about as challenging as Tokyo-area hikes get, short of 1000-2000m mountain territory, and provides a good test for anyone of average fitness. But so long as you go in decent condition with appropriate planning, clothing, food/drink and basic gear, it is definitely surmountable. The rewards of peace, satisfaction, good exercise and splendid scenery are well worth it.

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