Travel Day 26 of 2014 found me in Tokyo on a rainy Sunday morning. This was one of two rest days on this two-week trip. On my agenda today was a hike up Mt Takao (Mt. Takaosan) about 50km outside of Tokyo. My hosts earlier in the week suggested that hiking up Mt. Takao would have been better prior to the start of the rainy season. Unfortunately, I was there during the rainy season.
The early morning rain had me wondering if I should do something else this day, but anything else would have been a failure to do what I set out to. In my mind it was better to travel to Mt. Takao and to fail to climb it than to do anything else that Tokyo had to offer (I limit myself that way). Besides, as I had told people who I would be climbing Mt. Takao, to do otherwise, pardon the West Side Story reference, would label me, “lousy”.
Mt. Takao Sign at the Shinjuku Station on the Keio Line
I had seen a YouTube video describing how to get to Mt. Takao from Shinagawa station, near where I was staying. It was inaccurate. When I arrived in Shinagawa station, I found I had to go to Shinjuku station to catch the Keio train line. It turns out there are two ways to get from Shinjuku station to Mt. Takao train station. One can either take a local train to Kitano Station and then switch for Takaosanguchi station or if it’s running , there is a semi-express train to Takaosanguchi station. If you have the option, take the 50 minute semi-express train to and from Takaosanguchi. Even if you have to wait 20 or 30 extra minutes, take the semi-express instead of the local trains, they are much faster.
When I stepped off the train in Takaosanguchi, I was definitely no longer in Tokyo, the city was replaced by a small town surrounded by trees. I gained an immediate appreciation for the dense forest that Japan was a long time ago. The trees here are tall, narrow and centuries old you can feel it when you look at them.
Upon leaving the train station, one sees the sign from the internet that presents all the routes. One the top of the mountain, there is a statue of a white horse. It was my goal to try to make it to the horse, but I knew I only had at best a 25% chance given the rainy weather, the distance and the nature of the climb.
The Map of the Various Trails on Mt. Takao
The path up the hill starts immediately after the train station. After a few hundred meters, one has the option of paying 480 yen to take the cable car up first part of the mountain. Part of me wanted to take the hike up, but I also realized that I was about an hour behind where I wanted to be and a hike to the top of the mountain was going to be a draining climb in the rain. The cable car was the smarter choice to start the journey.
The Cable Car at Mt. Takao
The cable car took me up to about 1000ft. The air was clean, crisp and of course wet. The energy on the mountain was soothing. It was calm and serene. Later on that week someone I was meeting with compared it to Sedona. He was right. I felt peaceful there.
A Shinto temple sits about 3/4 of a mile out from the cable car. There is a grace and an elegance in the small shrines that line the way to the huge temple.
On the way to the Shinto Temple
I took way too many pictures and videos to post here, so I will leave you with this one.
Once you pass the shrines, the real hike begins. I brought my Garmin with me just so I could capture the elevation change over this hike. On these trails, you are either climbing or descending. There isn’t a whole lot of flat.
After the temple, I did not see another sign in English. You have to either have someone with you who speaks Japanese or be very well prepared. I had a huge case of neither. I found myself at one point at a juncture between three trails. I took one that I thought lead to the top. It dead-ended with a beautiful view of a nearby city. I enjoyed the scenery for a long time (for me) and then doubled back. I had to make a choice between two trails both clearly marked in Japanese. The path I took would not take me to the top of Mt. Takao.
The Last Sign with English
I climbed man, I climbed. At one point I got into this amazing rhythm going up the steps. I felt like I was born for this climb. Maybe it was that runner mentality, but I just wanted to keep going.
The path was nicely manicured, though muddy and slippery after several days of rain. I fell once and covered by jeans and water repellant jacked in red mud. The rain wasn’t as bad as the 94% humidity when it wasn’t raining. I was cold and then later once the rain stopped, I was warm. At one point I was climbing and drenched when I realized that it hadn’t rained in about an hour. Yep, this moisture soaking me, was all me.
I saw a little rest stop overlooking the valley and I decided to take a break. As I took my pack off, I realized how hard my heart was beating and how hard the blood was rushing through my body. I sat and looked out over trees.
The great thing about being alone is you can go whichever way you want to without asking anyone what they want to do. The downside is that there nobody to share it with. I checked my phone and found there was signal, so I Facetimed home so I could show Laura where I was. That call probably cost a fortune in roaming data fees, but it was worth it (we’ll see when the bill shows).
Eventually the path turned wooden. The planks above started for some reason in the middle of the trail, I don’t know why. They started at the exact point where I realized that it was time to turn back. I didn’t want to turn back, so I kept going a little bit longer.
The Turnaround Point
I came to the sign pictured above about 20 minutes after my turn around alarm went off. I was a little hungry (I had eaten most of my supplies), but I still had water and lots of energy and I was feeling strong and wanted to keep going up those stairs. It felt right to just keep going, but it was past time and a lot of things could go wrong so I headed back down the wooden stairs.
At one point, I was about to start a climb up a few hundred steps when another hiker came out of the woods to my right. There was a narrow trail that I figured would save me from having to make this climb. It was a great little path and I was doing fine, until it dead ended. I circled the area around the dead-end several times and checked everything that could have been a trail. I really didn’t want to double back and then take on that steep climb. I saw a small scramble up the side of the steep climb. It wasn’t frequently used, but it had been used. It was steep, muddy and required hands and feet to get up, but a good 150 feet or so later, I was back on the main trail and working my way back to the temple.
Despite the fact that I didn’t want to take the tram down, at 4pm, it seemed the smart choice. I bought my tram ticket and enjoyed my last moments on the mountain.
On a clear day, you can stand on Mt. Takao and see over Tokyo all the way to Mt. Fuji. After the clouds broke, this was the best view I was able to see. It was good enough.
The people who I met with the rest of the week were impressed with the fact that I climbed Mt. Takao, even if I didn’t get to the top. It was a great experience, one I hope to repeat one day soon.
And I want to get to the top.