In spite of the excessive and unseasonable rain these days, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy autumn leaves, especially in the clear skies immediately after a storm. A mountain with a cable car to whisk you much of the way up, enjoying the leaves beneath you as you climb, and nice trails once you’re closer to the top, seems just the ticket. For that kind of fun, I can recommend Mt. Nikko-Shirane and Marunuma Kogen in northeast Gumma, near the border with Tochigi.
The mountain’s peak, known as Mt. Oku-Shirane (2,578 m.), stands on the prefectural border. In geological terms, Oku-Shirane is an “ultra-prominent peak”, meaning the summit is more than 1,500 meters above the lowest point surrounding it. Indeed, with three little peaks on its andesite lava dome (its last eruption was in 1952), it is the dominant feature of the area. Somehow Oku-Shirane attracts and repels clouds in such a way that one could simply sit and watch it for hours and see an ever-changing view.
The Marunuma Kogen Resort is predominately a ski resort, but like many ski resorts these days, it also offers non-winter activities, including using the ropeway (roundtrip ticket: JPY2,000) to give hikers a “leg up”. The 15 minute trip covers a distance of 2.5 kilometers and climbs 600 meters, carrying visitors to “Peak Station” at 2,000 meters.
Here one can enjoy expansive views and relax over refreshments from the small cafeteria. This is also the staging point for several hiking courses, including one leading to the summit of Mr. Oku-Shirane.
Just before the trail head is a satellite shrine of Futara-san Jinja, where hikers can offer prayers, for safety on their upcoming trek or thanks for a safe journey just completed.
At the trail head, one sees that the entire area around Peak Station had been fenced off–to keep bears out. With so much food around the area, the bears would be tempted, but people and bears really don’t mix very well. At the same time, all the bear warning signs at the gate are a bit disconcerting. Are the bears lurking just beyond, waiting to attack?
Hiking up here is glorious. At an altitude over 2,000 meters, your lungs won’t know what to do with so much clean, crisp air! The trail is well established in places, and nearly invisible in others, but generally well enough signposted to keep hikers on track. There are also flags for snowshoe trails (note to self: come back in winter).
And there are plenty of hikers about enjoying the mountain!
Might this be the bear’s den? If so, she’s either out to lunch or fast asleep.
While this is the season to enjoy the leaves, Marunuma Kogen is definitely a place to enjoy in all seasons. There is also accommodation and a hot springs at the lower level.
Highway 120 beyond Marunuma Kogen resort in the direction of Tochigi is closed during the winter months, making the area accessible only from the west. To reach Marunuma Kogen via public transportion, take the Shinkansen to Jomo Kogen and catch the Marunuma Kogen shuttle bus for the 52 kilometer ride to the resort.