As I’m fortunate to have detailed instructions (shown below between inverted commas) I follow them to the letter, as best I can.
“From Kawaguchiko (河口湖) station, take a bus bound for Shin-fuji (新富士) station and get off at Motosu Iriguchi (本栖湖入り口). From the bus stop, cross the main road and head down the street that runs perpendicular to the main road (there’s a traffic light here). The road descends towards the lake and after 5 minutes, you’ll see a restaurant and gift shop called Motosu-kan (本栖館) on your left. Cut through the parking lot of the restaurant and head down the concrete stairs towards the lake. You’ll see a restroom and another parking lot. Head to the shore of the lake and take a left towards the “yellow submarine” called Moguran.”
“Once you reach the submarine-shaped tourist boat, turn left and head up to the paved forest road. Turn right on the road and walk about 200 meters until you reach the entrance for the campground (本栖湖キャンプ場). Turn left and enter the campground. During the winter this place is deserted, but it must be a hub of activity in the summer. Follow the white signs that say Ryūgatake Tozandou Iriguchi (竜ヶ岳登山道入口).”
I don’t know about the “hub of activity” despite this being summer but there are certainly plenty of campers on holiday.
“The path makes multiple turns through the campground, so make sure you follow the signs. Once you reach a forest road the path will appear on your left. Make a sharp 180º turn and start climbing through the forest.”
At this point I see a sign with a bear on it. Are there bears in these here hills or are they referring to wildlife in a generic sense? I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
“There are numerous switchbacks and if you imagine this peak as a dragon, it truly feels like you’re climbing on the tail of a dragon. The views down to Lake Motosu will quickly open up, and after about 20 minutes of steady climbing you should get your first views of Mt Fuji.”
“Once you reach the top of the ridge line you’ll find a wooden bench with a stellar view of Japan’s highest peak. Take a break here, as the bulk of the climbing is yet to come.”
At first there’s plenty of dappled shade. A variety of bamboo that grows quite low is everywhere.
The going is quite good. Soft clay that is not as rocky as previous hikes. Or nearly as steep.
“The trail veers towards the right and flattens out somewhat before climbing through bamboo grass towards a large clearing with a wooden, covered viewing platform. If climbing in the rain, you’ll appreciate the small break from the elements.”
It takes just 1 hour to reach the viewing platform. And what great views they are!
“Just in front of the platform, there’s a small wooden building housing several ancient stone Buddha statues. Say a quick prayer before starting the final push towards the summit. Again, imagine you’re climbing a dragon. You’ve already climbed up the tail and now you’re heading straight up the spine of the beast towards the head.”
Butterflies flitter between flowers: a burnt orange one with black spots; a clean white one with purple markings. I remember seeing two soft yellow ones dancing together earlier on beside the lake. It’s tricky but I manage to snap one. The others are too fast.
“There are numerous switchbacks that make the climbing easier and the unobstructed views of Mt Fuji directly behind you will quickly make you forget about the sweat wicking off your body. If it’s been raining or snowing recently, then the track will more than likely be one slippery, sloppy mess, so be prepared for muddy feet.”
“It should take about 40 minutes or so to reach the summit plateau, where you’ll have a view of not only all of Lake Motosu, but also the Aokigahara-Jukai forest, the western tip of Lake Kawaguchi, and Mitsutoge, with the mountains of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park rising behind. You’ll soon reach a junction on your right which is an alternative way back to the campground. You can take this path on the way down if running short on time.”
“Continue climbing on the ridge for 5 more minutes until reaching the high point of the peak. There’ll be a weathered signpost as well as a couple of picnic tables.”
A total of 1 1/2 hours and I am on the summit. A wide open expanse with little shade. Whilst it was cool amongst the trees out here in the full sun it’s a different story. Yet there’s a lovely breeze blowing that removes any feeling of tiredness allowing me to enjoy the moment.
“Take a break here and admire the million dollar views. If you’re lucky then you can see the Minami Alps and Yatsugatake rising up beyond Lake Motosu.”
“From the summit, head past the signpost towards the west and not back the way you came.”
“The trail follows the bamboo grass a short distance before descending rather steeply through a beautiful forest. After a few minutes you’ll reach a clearing and the trail will veer off towards the right. You can see the mountain pass directly below you and if you look off in the brush to your left, you’ll see the remnants of the old trail with a lot of wooden steps. If the path is muddy then I recommend opting for the steps (but watch out for the bushes with thorns). Both paths meet at the bottom, so if you can’t find the steps then take the switchbacks.”
“Once you reach the saddle, the path continues climbing directly in front of you, with Mt Fuji on your left. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll see a small white signpost with the letters Hashita-touge (端足峠). Turn right here away from the ridge on what appears to be an old forest road. This trail will traverse along the edge of an adjacent peak before descending down to Lake Motosu.”
In some places it’s quite rocky coming back down making my footing difficult. It certainly slows me down but after about 1 hour I come to a sign.
“The trail is easy to follow and is stunningly beautiful during autumn. It should take about an hour or so to reach the shore of the lake. You’ll reach a junction, but ignore the trail to the left and follow the sign that says Motosuko-kohan (本栖湖湖畔).”
An unusual dry river bed of large, sharp grey rocks yet with trees growing through them. It’s like the rocks have been dumped here.
It would be easy to lose the track but someone has kindly marked the way with ribbons around many of the trees.
“After a few ups and downs, you’ll reach another junction, where you’ll have two options. You can either turn left here and descend to the paved forest road or stay on the more scenic (but more strenuous) trail in front of you. If you’ve got the energy, I recommend staying on the trail.”
“It should take another hour or so to reach the campground where you started. At one point, you’ll reach a junction which has a sign for Ryūgatake pointing directly in front of you and a set of stairs leading down to your left to the forest road. This is the place where you’ll want to drop down and take the road back to the bus stop where you started.”
It’s not too long before I can see the lake between the trees. And a road also comes into sight.
Lake Motosu is a kaleidescope of colours: shades of pale blue, aqua, turquoise, jade, and deep green.
I can see and hear a handful of 20-somethings in their kayaks. A few are diving from a rock eliciting laughter from the others.
I briefly contemplate joining them. The water certainly does beckon. The allure of its cool touch playfully tempting me.
However, I decide to push on.
On the road I spy a dead snake. It had crossed my mind during the hike that there may be snakes but I dismissed it as a silly concern. Perhaps it wasn’t unfounded?
“All in all, it should take about 6 hours to complete this strenuous but incredibly scenic loop.”
I complete the return trip in only 2 hours. I probably cut off a section of the recommended hike without realising given my fast time.
Stopping for an iced tea at the shop overlooking the lake, I’m in no hurry to leave this paradise. And they too have air-conditioning.
Compared to my last two hikes this one is surprisingly easy. Yes, it did have some steep parts on both the ascent and descent. But the path was a lot smoother and rocky only in parts.
What’s more, whilst it’s a very sunny day, it hasn’t been uncomfortably hot.
A pleasant hike all-round that I would highly recommend. It would probably work well if you were staying in the area a few days. Or as a preliminary climb before Mt Fuji that evening as its not as strenuous as the instructions would suggest. An early start would give you plenty of time to sleep before then going on to scale Mt Fuji.
When I return to the bus stop I see that buses to Kawaguchiko are infrequent with the next one in about an hour at 3.47pm so I decide I’ve got plenty of time to walk to Lake Shojiko.
As I arrive the lake is glistening with the afternoon sun and a nice breeze cools the place (and me) down. I could well imagine staying here on vacation.
From Lake Shojiko I catch the 4.11pm bus to Kawaguchiko Station.
I’ve timed it perfectly to then catch the 5.10pm Limited Express back to Ōtsuki followed by the Limited Express at 6.01pm to Shinjuku.
A wonderful day and experience. I look forward to returning soon to climb Mt Fuji.
level of difficulty : 9/20
duration : 4 – 5 hours (depending on route)