The goal: Mt. Shibutsu (至仏山) in late July. The start time: 5:30 a.m. We got a jumpstart to hiking it after staying at a mountain inn the night before, just a few minutes from the mountain base. The climb to the top is 2228 meters and estimated to take about 3 hours. It took us, a group of four women, about three and half hours, with a few breaks.
Mount Shibutsu is located within Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture. A nature spot in the Kanto area, it's covered in preserved marshland areas with crystal-clear streams and a kilometers-long wooden walking path.
Hiking up Shibutsu starts off a bit crowded, but the summer weather couldn’t be more perfect. As we hike, the sun pokes out from behind the clouds and light illuminates the green space below.
The rocky path is easy to follow. It’s part wooden stairs, part wooden planks and part rocks, with the occasional chain to help climb up a large boulder. The path is lined with wild flowers and the occasional puddle from the rain the day before.
A majority of the hikers on the mountain are age 30-65. It was hard to justify being tired seeing the older folks going at a steady pace! But then again, it was only my third mountain, and it was 5:30 a.m. An early but quite necessary — and recommended — start time to avoid the hottest part of the day.
We hit the mountain top by 9 a.m., and it was still relatively cool.
Lots of hikers eat “lunch” at the top. We enjoy umeboshi onigiri (pickled plum rice ball) and a pickled egg. But the view is what makes it a lasting experience. Shibutsu did not disappoint. The scene included cascading rock formations and valleys viewed from above the cotton-like clouds to the backdrop of pure blue sky.
It was a sort of meditation, making it clear why a culture of devoted hikers line the mountains of Japan. But, all good things must end. So after about a 20-30 minute break, we were on our way down, which takes about 2 hours.
The descent features a wooden staircase which goes down the side of the mountain. Once you get about half way down, that's an easier hike than the rocky paths when you first descend.
The trees cleared at about noon, signaling our finish. We celebrated with soft cream ice cream and iced coffee from the mountain shops. Mt. Shibutsu is a challenging hike and beautiful experience that is only a few hours from Tokyo.
You can take a combination of trains to get to Numata station (沼田駅). Pick the route that suits your cash flow.
We bought the JR Kanto Area Pass, which is around ¥8,300, so it would cover the bullet train part of the way there. The pass is only open to people with a foreign passport. We bought ours at Ueno Station.
Once to Numata Station, take a bus bound for Hatomachi-toge (鳩待峠). You will transfer to a shuttle bus at Togura (戸倉). The total cost for the buses is around ¥4,000. The trip total time with the bullet train ride was about 3.5 hours.
There are two ways to climb Shibutsu. You can either climb/descend to Hatomachi-toge or climb from Yama-no-hana (山ノ鼻) and descend to Hatomachi-toge. The Yama-no-hana trail to the summit is for only climbing; you cannot descend that trail. It’s closed for people descending because of the rocks. The trails are marked well for those who can read Japanese.