Lake Oze 尾瀬沼 – Mt. Hiuchigatake 燧ヶ岳 – Mt. Shibutsu 至仏山
|Duration: 3 days|
|Distance: 31.5 km|
|Elevation change: 1166 metres|
|Highest point: 2356 metres|
|Start: Oshimizu Bus Stop|
|Finish: Hatomachitoge Bus Stop|
|Map: Yama to Kogen Chizu 山と高原地図 ［No.14 尾瀬 OZE］|
Some of the Best Hiking out of Tokyo
Oze is without question one of best places to hike near Tokyo. It caters to both casual day hikers as well as more experienced adventure-seekers. Along with beautiful natural scenery its expansive marshlands are flanked at either end with 2,000 metre class mountains. In recent years it’s been a bit of an autumn pilgrimage. Two years ago I hiked the flat open Oze Marsh and last year it was a failed attempt to climb Mt. Hiuchi. This year I was determined to summit both Mt. Hiuchi the tallest mountain in the Tohoku region (it falls into Fukushima Prefecture) and Mt. Shibutsu which rises at the other end of the marshland. To avoid backtracking the hike starts out from Oshimizu thru to Hatomachitoge. Highlights include wild camping and near the summit of Mt. Hiuchi and taking a well-deserved bath at Yamanohana.
Day 1: Wild Camping at its Finest (12 km)
Getting to the trailhead requires taking a Kanetsu Kotsu bus from either Jomo-Kogen Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen or Numata Station. If you’re coming from Tokyo, the earliest possible bus you can catch to Oshimizu 大清水 departs Jomo-Kogen at 08:10 (2 hrs, 2,650 yen) and arriving at Numata at 08:40 (1 hr 30 mins, 2,250 yen). If you happen to arrive at Oshimizu later in the morning there is a mini bus which makes half hourly runs to Ichinose 一ノ瀬 otherwise it’s a relaxing 1-hour hike along a forestry road.
The first section of trail is picturesque especially in the autumn. After 30 minutes you’ll reach Iwashimizu 岩清水 a reliable waterhole. The trail continues to climb to Sanpei Toge 三平峠 (1,760 m) before descending to Lake Ozenuma 尾瀬沼. A nice spot to take lunch is on the plentiful benches outside Ozenuma Lodge. When you’re ready to head off continue around to the Ozenuma Visitor Center. Here you have a couple of options. One is to stay at the Ozenuma campsite (bookings necessary as sites are limited) and the other is to carry water and wild camp two-thirds the way up Mt. Hiuchi at a small plateau around 2,100 metres which I scouted last year. The big advantage of the latter is it shaves a good two hours off day two as well as being an awesome spot park yourself for the night.
From the lakeside the 4.5 km climb up to Mt. Hiuchigatake 燧ヶ岳 (2,356 m) follows along the Choei-shindo trail 長英新道. The first 30 minutes of trail meanders through lowland forests before arriving at the first of ten stations (10合目). The trail is rough with erosion having taken its toll. Along the way there are a couple of spots to glimpse Lake Ozenuma below. One hiking party I passed was rather perplexed why I had started so late in the day. Like clockwork I arrived at the plateau two hours from trail intersection. While wild camping is frowned upon, the area I spotted to set up my tent was hardly virgin ground with others having had the same idea. By 4 pm the temperature had dropped to 5 degrees, so I cooked an early dinner and headed for the warm confines of my sleeping bag.
Day 2: A 4 km Grind Through Mud (11.6 km)
Early morning mist had thankfully transformed into blue skies by the time I left camp at 6:00 am. The first target of the morning is Mt. Minobuchi ミノブチ岳 a barren lower peak with views of Mt. Nikko-Shirane. Next turn right and start climbing Manaitagura 俎嵓 (2,346 m) the shorter of Mt. Hiuchi two main peaks. The final push requires some minor rock scrambling. Staring in front of you is Shibayasugura 柴安嵓 (2,356 m) the highest point of Mt. Hiuchigatake which necessitates dropping into a saddle before reaching its lofty summit. Good weather offers a stunning panorama over the Oze Marsh and Mt. Shibutsu.
From here on things let’s just say get interesting. If it’s been relatively dry the Miharashi-shindo trail 見晴新道 down to Miharashi shouldn’t pose much of a problem however if it’s saturated as on this occasion it turns into a 4 km drudge through slippery ankle high mud. Going up I’d imagine is only marginally easier though I past only a handful of hikers even doing that and saw no indication of anyone following in my muddy footsteps. Ignore the map time as the 946-metre drop takes over 3 hours. Enjoy a well-deserved lunch over at the campsite. The afternoon mission is a 90-minute stroll across the always stunning Oze Marsh. Call by the Shibutsu sansou and book yourself into the pocket-sized campsite at Yamanohana 山ノ鼻 (800 yen). The lodge also has a bath (open 3:30-7 pm, 500 yen) to relax and soothe the muscles.
Day 3: Scaling a Second Hyakumeizan (7.9 km)
With rain forecast in the afternoon I wasted no time breaking camp, taking a few fleeting pics of the marsh before starting a longish climb. Note the trail from Yamanohana to Mt. Shibutsu 至仏山 (2,228 m) is for ascending only. I’ve read this is due to trail erosion I would also hazard that going downhill is risky especially in the wet as many of the wooden steps tilt at awkward angles. The elevation gain is over 800 metres and takes a little under 3 hours to reach the summit. A couple of slabs of precipice rock are fitted with chains and there are no issues with following the trail.
By the time I reached the summit the clouds had put paid to any choice views though the mountain’s rocky spine is nonetheless impressive. A little further along finds Koshibutsu 小至仏山 (2,162 m) and a trail branch at Oyamazawa-tashiro オヤマ沢田代 for Mt. Kasa 笠ヶ岳 but continue skirting around to the left. From here on the trail begins a slow and gradual descent to Hatomachitoge 鳩待峠 where you can pick up a shuttle bus to Tokura (20 mins, 980 yen) followed by a Kanetsu Kotsuto bus back to Numata Station.