Distance: 11.1 km
Elevation change: 1186 metres
Highest point: 2013 metres
Start: Kentokusan Tozanguchi Bus Stop
Finish: Kentokusan Tozanguchi Bus Stop
Spectacular 360-degree Panorama from Mount Kentoku
If there was ever a mountain sorely overlooked in Kyuya Fukada’s famous Japanese mountain list, it’s Mount Kentoku, as it includes some of the best mountain climbing near Tokyo. This hike is usually undertaken as a day trip from Tokyo, though spending an evening at the lovely Kougen Hut plateau is also a worthwhile option.
Day 1: Gradual Ascent to an Attractive Alpine Plateau (3.6 km)
This hike, like several others documented on this site, starts out from Enzan Station 塩山駅 on the Chuo Main Line, around 90 minutes by express train from Shinjuku Station or 2.5 hours by local. At Enzan Station head out the south exit and transfer to a bus bound for the Nishizawa Gorge and get off at the Kentokusan Tozanguchi Bus Stop (30 minutes, 660 yen). Note that this timetable is seasonal. From mid-April to the end of September, it runs only on weekends and public holidays. Exceptions to this rule include Golden Week, from July 9 to August 15, and October 1 to November 20, when it runs daily. If hiking on a weekday out of season you will need to alight two stations further along at Yamanashishi Station 山梨市駅 and take a bus from there. I recommend catching as early a bus as possible or shelling out for a taxi (approx. 4,000 yen) if there are two or more of you.
The previous evening, a sizeable thunderstorm passed through the Kanto region, which did a good job of blowing away the haze and delivered two days of clear skies in its wake. The friendly taxi driver at Enzan Station quickly whisked me to the trail entrance in seemingly record time while proudly pointing out some of the loftier nearby peaks. The taxi drops you off at the car park just above the bus stop. While two trails lead up to the Kougen Hut 高原ヒュッテ it’s recommended to track in a clockwise direction flanking the Tokuwagawa River up the main trail and return via the Douman Ridge 道満尾根 which is steeper.
Walking along the road for around 20 minutes brings you to the trail entrance proper, and so begins a two-hour hike to the Kougen Hut. While not particularly steep, it certainly gets the blood pumping if you intend on carrying all your gear. Along the route, there are two reliable water holes to fill up, with the latter one a five-minute walk from the unofficial Kougen Hut campsite.
Upon arrival, the plateau was pretty much deserted, with presumably most hikers already making their way around the course. The campsite is set gracefully amongst groves of Japanese white birch, and there is no shortage of wildlife, including plenty of curious Japanese sika deer. I even managed to spot a Japanese marten. While camping spots are not marked out, the large open area provides plenty of options for setting up a tent. Otherwise, if you decide not to bring your tent, the unsupervised Kougen Hut underwent a substantial renovation last autumn with sleeping space for 10–15 people and an adjacent public restroom.
Day 2: Steep Rock Ledge Wall not for the Faint Hearted (7.5 km)
Like the first day, the morning was greeted with blue skies and only the slightest breeze. The hike begins with a short walk up to Oogihira, another open plateau a few hundred metres above the campsite, which provides the first of several excellent views of Mount Fuji and the Minami Alps. From Oogihira, the trail enters a wooded area where the real scramble for the summit begins. Here you will need to negotiate a series of ladders and chains, with one section of chain halfway up forcing you outside your comfort zone as you clamber precariously over an exposed rock ledge. Just before the summit is a sheer rock precipice that can be tackled via a long chain, or alternatively, this wall can be sidestepped by taking an easier route to the summit on your right.
On clear days the craggy summit of Mt. Kentoku (2,031 m) delivers superb 360-degree views including the jutted Mount Kinpu bluff. Options from the summit include heading back the same route, continuing to Mt. Kurogane or sweeping around the rear side of the mountain using a lesser-travelled, though steeper, trail. I decided to play it safe and returned the same way to collect my belongings at the campsite. The route via the Douman Ridge trail over Mt. Douman 道満山 (1,314 m) back to the bus stop takes around 90 minutes.