Mt Kumotori hike (Mitsumine to Okutama in one day)
Mount Kumotori (雲取山, Kumotori-yama, the ‘Cloud Catcher’) is located in the Okutama mountains in the far west of Tokyo, well out of the city proper but still officially located in Tokyo Metropolis and on the border with the neighbouring prefectures of Saitama and Yamanashi. At just over 2,000m it’s the highest point in the metropolitan area, and offers the most serious bit of hiking you can do in Tokyo. The northern approach to Mt Kumotori starts from Mitsumine Shrine (三峰神社) in Saitama prefecture, and the southern (Tokyo) approach is along the Ishione (石尾根) ridge from Okutama (奥多摩) station; you can walk the whole ridge, or the more direct (steeper) route to/from Kamosawa (鴨沢), located at the western end of Lake Okutama along route 411 and accessed by bus from Okutama (see bottom of page for bus details). The full route from Mitsumine to Okutama is about 32km long, with plenty of steep climbing and descending. It starts at 1,000m, climbs to 2,000m, and descends to 500m; but with lots of subsidiary peaks along both ridges, there is quite a lot of steep up & down terrain to deal with.
Mt Kumotori is usually tackled as a 2-day job, with a mountain hut providing accommodation near the summit. The typical itinerary is Mitsumine Shrine to the hut on day one, then on day two get up early to (hopefully!) see the views of elusive Mount Fuji and then descend either to Kamosawa for the bus, or all the way on foot down the ridge to Okutama. The same thing can be done in reverse, but the elevation difference is much greater on the Tokyo side meaning a lot more huffing and puffing to reach the top. See here, here, and of course the excellent Hiking in Japan, for detailed reports of this 2-day hike.
However, being the idiot that I am, I’m here to write a report on doing the full route from Mitsumine Shrine to Okutama in one day. I’m still not sure why I chose to do so… I think that while reading reports and looking at the map it just vaguely occurred to me that it would be possible to do it in one long day… and having had that initial thought, the thought then turned into a challenge I was setting myself, and having thrown down the gauntlet at my own feet I was thus forced to accept my own challenge. And while it did prove to be doable in one day, I can’t really say that it was a particularly good or enjoyable idea and in fact I got into a spot of trouble descending via Ishione ridge when the weather suddenly turned very nasty late in the day.
Mitsumine Shrine is accessed using the Seibu line from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu (西武秩父) station, and then a bus from there up to the shrine. If you catch the limited express train it takes about 90 minutes, and you need to be on the 7:30 train in order to make the first bus at 9:10 (details correct at time of writing, but of course make sure to check Hyperdia for the latest train details and here (Japanese only) for the bus; there’s a good explanation here for using Hyperdia). This bus arrives at the shrine at 10:25, which is a bit of a late start but that’s the best you can do if coming from Tokyo on public transport. There is a slightly earlier bus on certain days – for help with deciphering the bus timetable, scroll to the bottom of the page.
(Note that while the 2-day itinerary can be done in either direction, if you’re doing it in one day you should definitely go from north to south due to the transportation. If you do do it the other way, the last bus back down from the shrine leaves at 16:45 and missing it (which you likely would, unless running) would then mean an expensive night at the shrine’s lodgings or a very expensive taxi ride, unless you have a tent)
The bus ride to Mistumine shrine is quite long, but the second half of it is actually pretty interesting as the road climbs up to the shrine at over 1,000m. You drive up the valley towards the dam holding back Lake Chichibu, and directly in front of the dam the road does an amazing loop out on an alarmingly narrow viaduct across the valley and back again to the same side but having gained the required altitude to pass the dam – a great piece of engineering, and if you don’t like heights you’ll hate it! There are some nice views of (and a bridge over) the lake, and a series of switchback turns up to the shrine.
Anyway, once at the shrine you don’t want to dally – it’s a long way to Okutama! I did have a quick look around the shrine’s grounds and snapped a few photos but then got cracking along the trail. Even for those who may be a little ‘templed out’ when it comes to shrines & temples, Mitsumine is worth seeing – it’s one of the more atmospheric shrines I’ve visited, especially in the mist as it was that day, with the rows of stone lanterns fading into the gloom giving it quite a mysterious aspect. After a quick visit to the shrine (or not), the trail starts at the far end of the parking area from the main shrine buildings, is easy enough to follow, and has sign posts every so often at subsidiary peaks along the ridge and at turn-offs for other trails.
What you’re looking for on the signs are the names of the various peaks you go up and down en route to Mt Kumotori itself – the main ones are Kirimogamine (1,523m, 霧藻ヶ峰), Maeshiraiwayama (1,776m, 前白岩山), and Shiraiwayama (1,921m, 白岩山). There are various rest stops and view points on these peaks – but the only thing I could see from them was mist and drizzle.
Really, when I woke up that morning and saw the gloomy weather I should’ve just gone back to bed, but having set my alarm so early and knowing it was getting too late in the year to put it off again as the days were growing shorter, I had a “fuck it” moment and decided to go anyway. This proved to be a poor decision! The weather wasn’t actually too bad on the way up though; while it obscured the views, the mist also made the forest feel more atmospheric, and I didn’t see another soul save for a deer and a monkey plus various birds.
I didn’t see any killer bees that day, but there were warning signs at one point about a bee nest – these ‘bees’ are Asian hornets, the world’s largest, and are actually very dangerous; swarming bees are responsible for occasional fatalities in Japan (a friend was once attacked by them while hiking in Wakayama; he managed to run far enough away before receiving enough toxin to take him down, but he was pretty sick afterwards and the stings left him with a dozen of what I can only describe as massive holes in his arms and legs). I’ve seen the odd giant hornet while hiking in Japan, and they’re seriously alarming. I kind of wished I couldn’t read the sign, and then sprinted through that area!
After around four hours of hiking, I reached the hut (which is apparently open year-round but looked closed when I passed it) and a short way beyond that the summit of Mt Kumotori. There was no view of Fuji, just a featureless grey void, and I was aware of the clock ticking so I didn’t hang around and pushed on down the other side.
The next subsidiary peak after Mt Kumotori is Nanatshuishi (七ツ石山), and this is where you make the choice between the bus or the ridge – going left (east) takes you along the ridge towards Okutama, and going right (south) takes you down towards the lake and the bus stop at Kamosawa.
Given the weather and the time pressure I should really have taken the latter option, but figured I had just about enough daylight left for the ridge and turned left. I soon regretted that; this report describes the ridge as gruelling, and I would concur!
It’s a pretty long stretch, there are quite a few steep ascents and descents due to the peaks along the ridge (like Takanosu, 鷹ノ巣, and Mutsuishi, 六ツ石山), and you’re surrounded by forest the whole time. To make things worse, as I was halfway along the ridge the mist suddenly thickened up into a dense fog (or rather, low-lying clouds) and it started absolutely pouring with rain. I could literally only see a couple of meters ahead and despite my rain gear was getting pretty damp and cold, and the dirt of the hiking trail turned to slick mud which became ever more slippery as the rain continued to fall. I was slowed to a snail’s pace, and that meant I was still inching my way along the ridge when darkness fell. Although I had a good flashlight (and a spare), with the visibility being so bad it didn’t help much, just illuminating a one-metre patch of greyness and mud in front of me. By now I was repeatedly losing my footing in the mud, and despite finding a good branch to use as a support I still fell a couple of times, and one time fell and slid a good few metres towards I knew not what – given that I couldn’t see what was on either side of the path, and could have been walking along the edge of a precipice, it was getting unacceptably dangerous to continue and so I started looking for a suitable shelter to bivouac for the night. I had my mountain kit with me, and it looked like my emergency bivvy bag was finally going to get used – it’s a waterproof insulating bag designed for just such a situation, but I was already a bit wet and the temperature had really dropped so even in the bag hypothermia would be a concern and I needed to find a properly sheltered spot under an overhanging rock or suchlike. I really wasn’t happy with myself at this point – I was weighing up the risk of developing hypothermia by bunking down against the risk of slipping and falling off a cliff, and was also shitting myself about the chance of a bear wandering along! But I’d put myself in that situation and now had to deal with it. And then, as I edged along what I hoped was still the trail, torch in one hand and staff in the other (and cursing myself for not having a headlamp), looking for a place I could shelter for the night, the fog suddenly lifted (or perhaps I jut re-emerged below the cloud-line) and I could see. And what a relief that was! A short time later the rain also stopped, and I was able to pick up the pace again and was at Okutama station an hour or so later. There was still time for one more scare – a warning sign on the path saying that a bear had been seen at that spot the week before and to take great care, use a bear-bell, or play music… so I finished my hike with Pink Floyd playing on full volume from the iPhone! It was a great relief to be back in the relative civilisation of Okutama, and two hours after that I was back in the neon of Ikebukuro, gorging myself on an immense meal of ramen, gyoza, rice, and beer. Never has a bowl of ramen so truly hit the spot.
So, with all that said, Mt Kumotori is probably much more enjoyably done as a 2-day hike. If you do want to do a Mt Kumotori one day hike but don’t fancy the full route from Mitsumine, I would advise an early train to Okutama station and bus to Kamosawa (see below) and ascending from there, as this is the shortest route and you can reach that trailhead earlier than you can reach Mitsumine Shrine (you can then return the same way). If you want to do as I did, starting from Mitsumine, again I would advise descending to Kamosawa & the bus rather than taking the Ishione ridge… but if you really, really want to do Mitsumine to Okutama all the way on foot, you should only attempt it if you know you’re a fast walker and should plan to do it in late July or August in order to have long enough daylight hours (June and early July are rainy season, and I can attest to the fact that being out in those mountains in the rain is a bad idea). I did it in September and that was already too late in the year to be sure of enough daylight. You should also make sure you have good hiking gear and equipment, plenty of food and water, and a proper map. Most of the Japanese hikes I describe on this site can be done with just the Google maps and hike descriptions saved on your phone – but not this one. The Lonely Planet ‘Hiking in Japan’ book has a map, but to be honest I’d get the official Japanese ordnance survey map for the area from the bookstore. (Two good bookstores with map sections are Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and Junkudo in Ikebukuro)
Access information for Mt Kumotori
This page shows the bus timetables for Seibu-Chichibu – Mitsumine Jinja (and Okutama Station – Kamosawa):
Seibu-Chichibu to Mitsumine Shrine bus details
The top timetable is the Seibu-Chichibu – Mitsumine Jinja bus. On the left side you can see the bus times up to the shrine. In the left column, 西武秩父駅発 means ‘depart Seibu-Chichibu station’. In the right-most column, 三峯神社着 means ‘arrive Mitsumine Shrine’. The pink row at the top shows an earlier bus which only runs on weekends and national holidays between the dates indicated by the red asterisk.
To catch the 8:30 weekend / holiday bus, you need to take the 6:50 limited express Seibu line train from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu; to catch the 9:10 weekday bus you need to take the 7:30 limited express from Ikebukuro. In both cases, you have 18 minutes for the transfer at Seibu-Chichibu, and the bus leaves from in front of the station (there are a few numbered bus stands, ask the station staff which one); the extra 40 minutes of hiking time makes the early weekend bus a good idea, especially if you’re tackling the full walk to Okutama.
On the right side you can see the return journeys from the shrine back down to Seibu-Chichibu station, with the last departure at 16:35; as noted above, this is a bit too early to allow for doing the hike northbound in one day. At time of writing it’s 930 yen one way from Seibu Chichibu station to Mitsumine shrine.
The bottom timetable is the Okutama Station – Kamosawa bus, however I think the way this page displays it is easier to understand:
Okutama station to Kamosawa bus details
The top two boxes show weekdays (平日) in each direction, the bottom two show weekends and holidays. The 行き先 column shows the final destination, which will be displayed on the front of the bus. Okutama station is 奥多摩駅 (Okutama Eki), and Kamosawa is 鴨沢. If you’re descending to Kamosawa for the bus, you can see the last bus is at 18:38 every day; if you miss that, it’s a fairly pricey taxi ride of around 15km to Okutama. The bus is 630 yen (at time of writing).
If you want to climb from Kamosawa, on weekends you should take the 6:46 Chuo / Ome line special rapid service from JR Shinjuku (platform 11) – this particular train runs direct to Okutama with no transfer required, arriving at 8:21 in time for the 8:35 bus meaning you reach Kamosawa shortly after 9. This gives you plenty of time to get up and back down well before the last bus. On weekdays, you’ll need to catch the Chuo line local train from Tokyo Station (platform 1) at 5:43 or JR Shinjuku (platform 16) at 6:03 (changing to the Ome line at Tachikawa) if you want to make the 8:42 bus; if you’re happy to settle for the 9:30 bus, you can catch the Chuo line rapid train from Tokyo (platform 2) at 7:15 or JR Shinjuku (platform 12) at 7:31, changing to the Ome line at Tachikawa.
These times are correct as of late 2016; double-check the bus timetables still match my descriptions, and double-check the train times on Hyperdia (a hyphen is necessary for both Seibu-Chichibu and, for some reason, Okutama (i.e. Oku-tama) when searching on Hyperdia). See here for how to use Hyperdia.
Have you climbed Kumotoriyama? Which route did you take? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below!
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If you’re looking for something a bit more easygoing than Mt Kumotori, click here for some more hiking ideas in the Tokyo area. For further Japan hiking inspiration, check out my guide to hiking in Kyoto and see this great blog and this one (also see my pages on hiking in Taipei and hiking in Seoul)
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