Mt. Kuro (黒岳)

Mt. Kuro is the highest mountain in the Misaka mountain range running along the southern shores of Lake Kawaguchi. It’s also about 100 times less crowded than neighboring Mitsutoge, and the scenery is just as good. The hot spring bath at the end of the hike is an added bonus.

The hike: From the bus stop, cross the main road running through the tunnel (don’t go in the tunnel) and head up the small forest road running perpendicular to the main road. After 5 meters you’ll see a road/path on your left signposted for Misaka-toge (御坂峠). Turn left here and head up the road to a large signboard with a map that says Kawaguchi-no-mori (河口の森). There’s a faint trail on your left but do not take this. Instead head up the forest road. The road meanders up into the mountains before passing by a couple of concrete dams. The road eventually turns into the trail and becomes quite nice, rising through beautiful virgin forest with views of Mt. Fuji through the trees. The path is easy to follow, and after 80 minutes of climbing you’ll reach the mountain pass and the main ridgeline for the Misaka range. You’ll find a sheet metal hut and some bilingual signposts. There’s plenty of open space to sit here, as well as a toilet behind the boarded up hut. Turn left on the ridge line, climbing past the mountain hut. The path starts off pretty gentle before reaching the start of a rather steep and somewhat rocky climb. This is in fact the final climb to the summit, so push ahead steadily and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. The maps say to allow an hour from the pass to the summit, but I did it in about 35 minutes. Just before the top, you’ll see a signposted trail on your right. Ignore this and continue straight ahead for about 50 meters before reaching the top of Mt. Kuro. You’re about 10 meters higher than Mitsutoge and will more than likely have the place to yourself. On the summit, you’ll see a small sign that says 富士山、河口湖が一望できる場所あり pointing to the left. Take this small trail running away from the ridge for 5 minutes and you’ll reach a rock outcrop with fantastic views of all of Lake Kawaguchi and Mt. Fuji. You can even see the Minami Alps if you look to the left. While the views are not panoramic, they sure beat the antenna-filled carnage of Mitsutoge. Take a break here, because your knees are about the get an unforgettable workout. You’ll see an unmarked trail running just to the left of the rock outcrop, so take this trail for about 25 meters and you’ll see a small signpost nailed to a tree that says Eboshi-iwa (烏帽子岩). If you see this, you know you’re on the right trail. The path descends very steeply. If there’s any snow then the crampons will come in quite handy. Despite the lack of crowds, the route is pretty well-maintained. Every so often you’ll see a green signpost reading Hirose (至広瀬), so just follow the signs. There are plenty of fixed ropes to help in the steeper areas and after about 40 minutes of descending, you’ll reach a junction with a small sign that says Misaka tunnel (御坂トンネル). This trail will take you back to the bus stop where you started. If you’re not comfortable with the descent so far, then this is a viable escape route. Otherwise, turn right here and continue following the green Hirose signs. There’s one tricky part in the descent, where you’ll reach a rock traverse. The path is eroded below the rocks and there are no ropes here to help you. Instead of trying to risk traversing the slippery-looking rock, try climbing towards your left to the top of the rock formation. From here, you’ll find some fixed ropes to help you through the section. It’s the only dodgy part of the hike, but once you’re past it then it’s smooth sailing. As you drop closer and closer to the lake, the trail becomes a bit straighter and steeper, but there are ropes here to help you. The final 100 meters down to the end of the trail is quite amusing, especially in late autumn or winter when the foliage had fallen. The leaves are nearly waist-deep in places, and you’ll spend more time on your butt than on your feet, but just keep holding onto the ropes and let gravity take its toll. I know it sounds dangerous but it’s actually quite enjoyable. Anyway, once you reach the bottom, turn right and cross the creek over to the paved road. Turn left on the road and the first building you come to on your right is the hot spring! After a therapeutic soak, head down the paved road to the bus stop, where you can catch a bus back to Kawaguchiko station.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you bring some crampons. Winter is indeed the best time to view Mt. Fuji, but if there’s any snow then be careful on the incredibly steep descent down to Hirose (広瀬)

Access: From Kawaguchiko (河口湖) station, take a bus bound for Kofu (甲府駅) station and get off 三ツ峠入り口 (Mitsutoge-Iriguchi). Alternatively, you can take a bus bound for Tenkachaya (天下茶屋) and get off at the Mitsutoge-Iriguchi stop. The Tenkachaya bus runs from April to November (weekends only), so if you’re hiking in the winter, go for the Kofu bus. Pick up a handy bilingual bus schedule from the tourist information center. Click here for the Kofu bus schedule and here for the Tenkachaya schedule.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 783m)

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