Mt. Shiraga (白髪岳)

Mt. Shiraga is a bald, rocky peak sandwiched between Sanda and Sasayama cities in central Hyogo Prefecture. The unspoilt panoramic views and tranquil forest make it one of Kansai’s hidden treasures.

The hike: Go out the only exit at Furuichi station and turn right on the road in front of you. Hang a quick left at the first road you come across, followed by a right on the main street through town shortly after that. You’ll pass by a few old houses before reaching the railroad tracks. After crossing the tracks, the road merges with route 372 and you’ll see an elevated walkway on the right side of the street. The walkway parallels the road and is about 1.5 meters above the street. The road bends to the right and the elevated walkway ends. As soon as it ends, take a right on the street running through the countryside. You should see a small sign white sign that says “白髪岳●松尾山 住山ルート”.  The road passes through a lot of fields and a few thatched farmhouses. There’s very little traffic, so it’s a nice taste of country life. Follow this road for roughly 45 minutes, and you’ll reach a fork in the road. Just before the fork, you’ll find a huge billboard-sized map (案内図). Turn left at the fork, following the sign that says “白髪岳方面”. The deserted forest road passes through an orchard before climbing up into the forest. It should take about a half-hour to reach the trailhead near the end of the forest road. If you’re coming by car, then you should be able to drive this far, though the road is rough and there’s not much parking here. Anyway, you’ll find a small gazebo and a water source here, so fill up your bottles. The path starts next to the gazebo and follows the stream for a short way before suddenly and quickly veering off towards the right, into a cedar forest. The path climbs quite steeply at first before reaching a junction. Turn left at this junction, traversing along the side of the mountain and into a beautiful virgin forest. The trail winds its way though the trees until reaching the ridge line. It’s a pretty short climb but somewhat steep. Once you hit the ridge, you’ll find a nice lookout with a wooden bench. Take a rest here, because things are about to get a little challenging. You can see the rocky summit of Shiraga in front of you, so keep climbing up the ridge until reaching your first set of rock formations. Ropes will assist in making the ascent somewhat easier, but be careful not to bang your knees on any boulders. After a series of false summits and narrow rock passages, you’ll pop out on the summit and be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of most of the mountains in Hyogo Prefecture. The top is surprisingly spacious, with lots of rock formations to relax and enjoy your lunch. If you’ve come during the week, you’ll more than likely have the entire place to yourself. After taking a rest, continue scrambling on the rocks away from the signpost and you’ll find a trail descending down the northern face of the mountain. This trail is quite tricky in the winter when there’s snow and ice, but otherwise manageable thanks in large part to the ropes tied to the trees. The knee-knocking descent is short but sweet and you’ll soon be sitting on a saddle. Take the trail to the right that skirts the large peak in front of you. This trail will meet up with the main ridge after about 10 minutes. Continue hiking on the ridge towards the east, following the signposts for “松尾山山頂”. You’ll be able to glimpse across the valley on your right towards the peak you just came from. The route will reach another saddle, with a trail branching off towards the left towards 文保寺. Ignore this trail, as well as the path to the right, and follow the steep path just to the right of the sign that says 鐘掛の辻. After a sweaty 10-minute slog, you’ll pop on on the summit of Mt. Matsuo. The views aren’t as great as on Mt. Shiraga, but the history makes up for it. There used to be an old castle up here, and you can still see some of the foundations in places. From the summit, head south, following the sign that says 卯塔群より住山. The path drops past a really old cedar tree before reaching a rock outcrop. The outcrop is a little off the trail to your left, so look out for it. There are really nice views into the valley below, so it’s a nice place for a break. Continue descending on the ridge and after 30 minutes or so you’ll reach a clearing with a lot of old jizo statues. Don’t take the trail that goes down the other side of the statues. Instead, take a sharp left turn on the path that is marked 高仙寺本堂跡より住山へ. The trail cuts through a dense forest before arriving at the temple ruins. There are two sets of ruins, and at the last one you’ll find a path on your right marked 不動の滝より住山へ. The route drops quickly to a beautiful moss covered waterfall. This is the perfect place to meditate and ponder about life. From here it’s an easy descent down to a forest road. Once you reach the tea fields on your left, the path meets up with the paved road again, which will take you all the way back to the station. If you’ve met any other hikers on the trip, then you might want to ask them for a lift to the station. All in all it should take about 6 hours to complete the loop, depending on your pace.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but bring a light pair of crampons in the winter, as the northern face of the peak can get quite icy. Autumn is the best time to view the foliage, but winter usually has the clearest skies.

Access: From Osaka  (大阪) station, take a kaisoku train on the JR Fukuchiyama line (福知山線) bound for Sasayama-guchi (笹山口) and get off at Furuichi (古市) station. The train ride takes about 1 hour. You can also take the JR Tozai (東西) line from Kyobashi (京橋) station if you’d like. Take note that Furuichi is an unmanned station.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~500m)

Distance: 12km (5 to 7 hours)

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