Weekend a Hiking Adventure: Oze (尾瀬), 2 of Japan’s famous Mountains: Shibutsu-san (至仏山) and Hiuchi-ga-take (燧ヶ岳).

Another great experience in the mountains.

Planning
It took me most of the Sunday afternoon the weekend before to plan this past weekend. It started off badly as due to Obon holiday (see separate post) every place I thought about going had no hotel availability – at least on the sites in English! My original plan was to get out if Tokyo on Friday night stay in a hotel somewhere closer to the walk and then do a two day walk returning on Sunday and staying in a mountain hut but without a hotel on Friday most of the walks were just too far away. I kept looking determined to go away as there are not so many summer weekends (Summer is only 2 months here and then there are fewer buses to the trail heads).

Eventually I settled on a different idea to visit Oze, famous for it’s marsh and wild flowers with 2 famous mountains possible with the same walk. The difference here was I needed an overnight bus but to organise that I need the help of the concierge where I live. It took about 45 minutes for the concierge to organise my trip – it should have been 2 simple telephone calls, one to book the mountain hut and one to book the bus but both were much more complicated!

The person at the mountain hut was very concerned about having a gaijin (foreigner) stay especially if my Japanese wasn’t good so I wouldn’t be able to understand all their rules! The discussion went on for a long time with discussion on what I could eat (not helped by my not eating meat) whether I could share a room (in a mountain hut!) and that they couldn’t take my booking if I was planning to break a rule about one way traffic on one of the mountains I was planning to climb – no intention of breaking the rule! I was at the point if giving up and taking my tent when I decided just to go for it and see what happened – it was about a 15 minute call!

The bus was fairly straight forward to organise on the telephone but to actually get the tickets I had to go to the 7Eleven. The manager came with me as he and the person on the phone thought I wouldn’t manage on my own and they were correct! The bus company had logged an incorrect phone number for me so the photocopier where you had to input your detail and answer several questions in Japanese wouldn’t accept my details. Another quick phone call and I had my tickets! I’m lucky to have the support of the people where I live otherwise this trip would have been close to impossible.

 

The weekend

This time I took an overnight bus from Tokyo to Tokura arriving at 0400 in the morning in the dark and rain. I was not alone, there were a number of other hikers and we all waited at the bus stop for the first bus to the trail head at 0440! Japanese hikers like to start early!

It was dark, warm and wet! Only a light drizzle so difficult to decide whether just to wear my shorts or waterproof trousers.

The bus driver from the overnight bus kindly got off the bus and took me to the stop, pointed at the desk with it’s shutters down and told me they would open at 0420 to sell me a ticket to the trail head. On the dot they did!

The bus was the first up the hill, I know because we had to stop at 0459 to wait for someone to open the barrier at 0500 when the road opened. I’ve seen that a few times in a Japan where the road to the trail head is privately owned. What was amazing was that seconds after we arrived another 5-6 small buses arrived and about 100 people crossed the car park to the cafe that opened its door spot in time – all at just after 0500 in the morning on a damp day!

I decided to avoid the crowds and head for my hill straight away. It was one if Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains: Shibutsu-san (至仏山) I was first up it seeing no one on the walk up and summitting just after 0700! It was a lovely peak, less wooded so good views. The weather was a little wet with cloud coming and going but I got some nice views including a view down onto the Oze marshes. The weather was actually really nice for walking, a lot cooler than it’s been, more like mid 20s and I managed the walk in shorts and t-shirt with my waterproof jacket on and off as the level of rain determined!

I retraced my steps as this is the only way you are allowed to come down. The walking was really nice, mostly steps and board walk although the top was rugged with less of a defined path.

Next was the reason that most people come to Oze – the marsh. It’s famous for it’s flowers particularly it’s skunk cabbage flowers in late May and June and has board walks all across making it really good to see. Before I hit the marsh proper there was a walk down through some lovely woods with a great mix of trees.

It was funny, I’d heard it can be very busy and not that nice experience due to huge numbers of people. I started like that walking in a big group wanting to go slightly faster but not sure how to overtake without causing offence, looking around but having to watch my step when suddenly I saw a butterfly on some flowers and just stepped to the side to photograph it and then I had the walk almost to myself – it was like stepping off a tread mill.

Now I took lots of photographs and started to really enjoy it.

I arrived at the hut at around 1100, it’s hard with these very early starts not to finish exceptionally early! It didn’t officially open until 1400 but fortunately had a shelter where I could relax and have a snooze while waiting. It’s typical I have time to relax but am so shattered by the lack of sleep and early start that I didn’t even do my Japanese with my usual enthusiasm! The rain had just started to get heavy and after arriving it just continued. I did get the best weather of the day.

They were friendly although I did have the rules explained twice by two different people and broke the rules (not one they explained) almost immediately by wearing my hut slippers into the tatami room – fortunately I quickly realised and no one saw me! I was put into a room by myself – luxury although it did mean I needed an alarm – I normally just relay on everyone else.

They had a really nice tatami relaxing social room and I spent most of the afternoon there, reading and writing my blog.

The mountain hut had an Onsen/Sento (hot bath)! I wasn’t expecting that at all – 15 minutes for women and then 15 minutes for men all controlled through announcements. After my very hot bath I felt warm and awake and decided to treat myself to a beer. Coolish as the electricity had only been on for about 1 hour but tasted great!

More relaxation, writing mainly while I waited for tea at 1730.  Dinner was delicious and after I went pretty much straight to bed getting to sleep about 1830 after being up most of the night before!

 

I woke early the next day after a long sleep ready for breakfast at 0500.  After another delicious Japanese meal I headed off for my second day of walking.  The rain had stopped but before I headed out the hut owner advised me not to walk up the mountain as it was very difficult.  I headed off and the walking was fine.  Quite steep but much easier than a lot of trails I’ve been on – no chains or steps cut here.  The views were great as I climbed – I got above the cloud and then it cleared giving good views back down to the lake.

I walked back down and around the lake before heading out of the park and walking down to Oshimuzu and catching the bus back to Tokyo.

 

 

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