Mount Ashigara hike

To sum up your adversary you must first size it up, and Mount Ashigara aka Mount Kintoki is supposed to be one of the best places to view my next day’s challenge – the iconic Mount Fuji. If it weren’t for the clouds….

Of the four trails up Mount Fuji, Alex and Cath of KL Hiking had chosen the Gotemba trail for our climb. It’s the longest and least popular, starting much lower down the mountain at 1450 meters (the others start between 2000 and 2400 meters) and requiring an altitude gain of 1840 meters to get to the 7.9 station, where we would spend the night.

For that reason we would be based in Gotemba, a small city of 88,000 inhabitants, whose main attraction besides its Fuji view is its Premium Outlet village. I’m not a shopper but even I could see the attraction: 210 stores set across two zones – East and West, selling luxury and lifestyle brands like Alexander Wang, Burberry and Prada at ridiculous prices. Out of necessity I picked up a wooly hat at Columbia for RM50, while two hiking buddies picked up a backpack for RM250 a piece. Bargain.

Not to waste an opportunity, while we were here for 2 days and one night, a short, easy hike through the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to the peak of Mount Ashigara had been planned on the day of our arrival. Also known as Mount Kintoki, it’s reputed to be the  wilderness home of Kintaro aka Golden Boy, a  wildly popular Japanese folk hero with impressive strength and forest animals for mates.

One of the trails leading up KIntoki’s 1212 meter peak, passes a shrine to the young Kintaro, but our path would start further up the Hanoneura Highway, just next to a Lawsons.

The 1 hour 15 minutes leisure hike would take us through towering pine forest and tall bamboo groves, past hydrangeas in bloom and wild lilies heavy with fragrance. Muddy to begin with due to the summer rains, wooden stairs cut into the hill and ropes assist with the ascent, while closer to the peak the terrain becomes rockier.

Apart from the pretty flora and scenery, the reward of summiting Hakone’s parasitic cone would have been views of Mount Fuji were it not for the rain clouds that blocked our view. Still, we did enjoy panoramic vistas of Sengokuhara nestled in the valley below and Lake Ashinoko (or Lake Ashi for short) in the distance.

False starts enroute to Gotemba ruled out summiting nearby Mount Myojingatake, so our return journey took a direct route along a series of ridges before descending through forests until we exited at the entrance to Otome Pass, just before the Otome tunnel and about 100 meters short of Fujimi-Chaya tea house.

The tea house is frequented for its Fuji views and bronze statue of Kintoki wrestling a bear. Considered good luck to rub Kintoki’s shiny metal ass, I did, but not before smacking the tyke’s bare behind. No kid should be wrestling bears. Tsk.

Our hike up Mount Ashigara begins next to a Lawson store and takes us up a narrow tarmac road past holiday homes and gardens filled with flowers.
In less than 10 minutes we come to the trailhead.
Wide but muddy it winds its way through towering pine trees.

Within 15 minutes of entering the trailhead we come to a rest area which is closed. As per the directions indicated by the signs we took  a left.
The path ahead is a pretty one. Surrounded by rolling hills, the trail narrows as it winds its way through tall bamboo groves peppered with wild lilies, hydrangeas and cornflowers.

Hot and humid, the fragrance of lilies filled the air and were quite a sight to behold.
At 3pm, half an hour after starting out we came to a clearing with picturesque views of the valley below from atop a large boulder.
Some of my hiking buddies – wonder women all of them…..
The amazing Cath Puang, one half of the organising crew of KL Hiking’s amazing hikes and climbs.

Ducking into groves we would emerge from holes like this.
A network of trails crossed ours. Thankfully they were always clearly sign posted with average amount of time included, so chances of getting lost were slim.

The rocky terrain was a sure sign we were approaching the summit.
Each time we emerged along the ridge we were able to enjoys views of Sengokuhara in the valley below and Lake Ashinoko (or Lake Ashi for short) in the distance.
Hills for miles….
Ducking back into the forest….

There’s a bit of climbing involved but the presence of rope helps….
Just before we arrived at the peak, we passed a small weather station….
Go into the light! Because when you emerge….
1 hour and 15 minutes after setting off we arrived at the peak of Mount Ashigara aka Mount Kintoki. On a clear day we would have been able to see the imposing outline of Mount Fuji just behind the sign is, but sadly not today.
Me posing with Kintaro’s famous “axe”.
To our surprise, there are two shops at the peak although only one is open when we arrive.
Hiking up daily to tend shop, this obliging octogenarian calls herself “Miss Kintoki” and gladly took photos with us – but only after she could let her braids down.
The Kintoki peak guest book.
These shy cats didn’t show their faces until it was nearly time for us to leave. If they had said hi earlier, there would have been more sandwich for me to share.
The hills are alive with the sounds of Harry….
Our path down to Fujimi-Chaya included a number of wide flats.

40 minutes after leaving the peak we arrive at a T-junction marked by an abandoned rest stop. Time to turn right….
The terrain changes again. Our final leg has us wandering through tall pine trees. It’s my favourite part of the hike as the quality of light streaming through the canopy is just perfect.
I could easily imagine bears living here; and they probably do as the area is a wildlife protection zone.

At the exit we take a left and proceed down the tarmac road towards Hanoneura Highway.
Hanoneura Highway just before the Otome tunnel. The lucky Kintoki statue and Fujimi-Chaya tea house are just across the road.
The bear-wrestling Kintoki and his shiny metal ass, polished after years of rubbing by hopeful visitors.

Altitude 1212 meters.

Time 1 hours 15 minutes up, and an equivalent amount of time down.

Rating Easy with some rocky terrain towards the peak.

Facilities None, but there are restaurants, shops and rest stops along Hakoneura Highway where the trail starts and end.

Tip Winter is the best time to visit for the clearest blue skies and best views of Fuji-san. You can also view Japan’s most sacred mountain from these recommended spots here.

Getting there At the Fujiyama-Guchi side of Gotemba train station, we hopped on the free shuttle bus to Gotemba Premium Outlets, before catching the connecting Hakone-Tozan Kankone-Shisetsu-Meguri bus up Hanoneura Highway.

The bus winds its way up into the mountains past driving ranges and golf courses. In addition to the Ashigara trailhead, if you purchase the Hakone-Tozan 1-day free pass (Adults: 1,000 Yen; Kids: 500 Yen), you can also stop at the following attractions:

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