Distance: 16.8 km
Elevation change: 1401 metres
Highest point: 2231 metres
Start: Kentokusan Tozanguchi Bus Stop
Finish: Nishizawa keikoku iriguchi Bus Stop
Staying the Course: A Time-honoured Hiking Route
If I had to describe Mt. Kurogane using only one word it would be unspoiled. A rare distinction for a mountain in the western part of Tokyo. This is mostly credited to its seclusion. Up until May 2014 it was only accessible by either an out-and-back trail hike, or piston from the from either the Nishizawa Gorge or Mt. Kentoku trailhead both of which took upwards of 8 hours. With the extension of the Kentokusan Forestry Road 乾徳山林道 means it is now possible to reach the summit in about 1 hour and 40 minutes (note the forestry road is closed during the winter). This overnight hike is a mishmash of the former routes setting off from the Mt. Kentoku trailhead and finishing at Nishizawa Gorge.
Day 1: Long Climb to a Remote Okuchichibu Peak (8 km)
Getting to the Kentokusan Tozanguchi Bus Stop (30 mins, 660 yen) entails taking either a Limited Express or local train to Enzan Station 塩山駅 and transferring to a bus bound for the Nishizawa Gorge. Note 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, 9 July to 15 August and 1 October to November 20 where 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. As the first day is quite long, I recommend catching as early bus as possible or shelling out for a taxi (approx. 4,000 yen) if there is two or more of you.
From the bus stop cross the Tokuwa River and start heading up the road. Look for a signboard signalling 1,520 metres to the Kentoku trailhead 乾徳山登山口. After passing the Kentoku Shrine the road rounds a couple of bends before arriving at the trailhead proper. The trail starts off relatively benign as it crosses a forestry road before reaching the first of two water holes 銀晶水. Next up is the curiously named Komadome 駒止 and second water hole a few hundred metres shy of the snowy coloured Kougen Hut 高原ヒュッテ. Fill up to the brim here as it will be your last chance to collect water before finishing at the Nishizawa Gorge. Part of the reason I assigned the hike a five-star difficulty rating is because you need to carry water a good portion of the 1,400 metres in elevation gain on the first day.
Continue through the Kokushigatake 国師ヶ原 grassland with its plentiful deer and Mt. Kentoku looming in the backdrop. In fine weather enjoy views of Fujisan and the moon too apparently from Tsukimi-iwa 月見岩. Another hour of steady climbing and occasional chain use steers you to the summit of Mt. Kentoku (2,031 m). The peak is rightly bestowed as one of Japan’s 200 Famous Mountains attracting large numbers of weekend warriors on sun-drenched mornings.
After grabbing some summit pics go down a small ladder and head for Mizu notaru 水ノタル where a lesser used trail returns to the Kougen Hut. This is also the last spot you’ll likely see anyone until you arrive at the Nishizawa Gorge or it was for me even on a long weekend. The forest from this junction to Kuroganeyama has largely escaped the ravages of logging leaving it intact in contrast to extensive 1950 & 60s tree felling along the ridgeline on Day 2. It’s a real treat to hike through here especially after battling the masses on the way up. While at times the path is a little indistinct the hot pink tape keeps you on course though bring a handheld GPS for peace of mind. Also look out for numbered metal plates (1~15) nailed to trees sponsored by none other than Asahi Beer!
Halfway along finds Kasamoriyama 笠盛山 (2,072 m) and some fine views back towards Mt. Kentoku. From here it takes another hour to the rock-strewn summit of Mt. Kurogane (2,231 m) the highest point of the hike. The summit offers a 180-degree view of the main Okuchichibu ridgeline stretching from Karisaka Toge thru Kokushigatake in the north. The final mission of the day is hiking down to an improvised campsite at Ushikubi notaru 牛首ノタル or the Cow’s Neck. I selected this spot for its commanding views in the direction of Fujisan. The only flat spot I spied was smack bang in the middle of the trail, whilst not ideal ensured I wouldn’t leave any trace.
Day 2: Narrowly Avoiding Misadventure on the Home Stretch (8.8 km)
I slept like a log helped by the fact the deer around this neck of the
cow woods are more genial than their cousins back at the Kougen Hut. By sunrise, the overnight mist had vanished revealing a nice vista from the tent. From Ushikubi notaru the trail skirts behind 牛首 before rising and falling over a couple minor 2,000-metre plus peaks (no views). In a similar vein to the previous day the trail is adorned with pink tape intermixed with the occasional signpost. After 50 minutes you’ll find a trail branching off on the right but just ignore it and continue heading down.
Once you reach the Koyo-dai 紅葉台 the trail steepens as it approaches the far end of the Nishizawa Gorge. Since the lengthening of the Kentokusan Forestry Road it appears the trail maintenance hasn’t been a priority with most of the old steps gone to wrack and ruin. Take it slow and steady using the tree roots if need be to cope with the steeper bits.
Arriving at the Mt. Kurogane trailhead I gave myself a pat on the back for making it down safely. This might have been a little premature as an ominous 通行止め (tsukodome) trail closure sign awaited me. Before each hike I carefully research each route to avoid this exact predicament. The most recent YamaReco hiking report dated from late August didn’t mention this issue only that access after Mieno Falls on the north side of the ravine was impassable.
At least the trail wasn’t roped off. As you could imagine I wasn’t in the mood for dilly-dallying and hurriedly marched towards the exit. Fortunately, there was only one dodgy section that required using rope some workman had affixed to get past a road collapse. Needless to say, if I were coming from the opposite side, I would have called it quits. The unnecessary stress could have been avoided if one I had delved a little more before undertaking the hike and had a trail closure notice been placed at Ushikubi notaru. If you’re planning to try this hike hold off until Golden Week or instead loop back past the Kentokusan Forestry Road carpark and finish at the Amashina 天科 bus stop.
Under normal circumstances from the Mt. Kurogane trailhead it’s a pleasant 90-minute walk via the Nishizawa Ravine Path 西沢渓谷歩道 to the Nishizawa keikoku iriguchi bus stop for the return trip to Enzan Station (1 hr, 1,050 yen).