Mt. Ibuki is a bald turtle-shell shaped peak located near the city of Maibara on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest fresh water lake. It’s famous for wildflowers, and the panoramic view from the summit is nothing short of spectacular, if you are lucky enough to have a cloud-free day.
The hike: From the bus stop, walk up the road past the shrine, and you’ll see the trail leading into the forest. The trail starts off steep for the first 20 minutes or so, and then flattens out as you approach the top of the first ski lift. There are lots of run down buildings here that function as restaurants and ski rental shops during the short ski season. There’s a public toilet a short distance up the ski field, which is open all-year round. The water in the sink is safe to drink, and it’s your last chance for water before the summit. This is where the real hike begins, as the trail heads straight up through the resort. No switchbacks here. If the weather is good you might share the resort with a few para-gliders. After about and hour of steep climbing, you’ll reach the mid-point of the ski resort (and the top of the gondola). The trail will probably start to become more crowded, as the majority of hikers skip this first step and start the hike from here. Take a quick break, because you’ve still got over 600 vertical meters to climb before reaching the summit plateau. At first the hiking is quite gentle to the end of the ski lifts, where you’ll reach a hut selling refreshments. This is the 5th station (五合目). A little further up, you’ll find an immaculate emergency hut at the 6th station (六合目), which is free to stay in (but has no toilet or drinking water). From here until the top, it’s a series of never-ending switchbacks, but it really is enjoyable if the weather cooperates. You’ll have a panoramic view of Lake Biwa, and the views keep opening up as you get higher and higher. After a seemingly endless ascent, you’ll finally come to the summit plateau, and you might be a bit disappointed depending on when you come. During the week it can be quite deserted, but on weekends in the spring the top fills with flower enthusiasts, many of which DROVE to the top! You see, there’s a toll road and parking lot only 20 minutes from the summit. Actually, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds because the road is on the other side of the mountain and doesn’t spoil the view at all. The one thing that does spoil the view, however, is the row of souvenir shops and microwave relay tower. Auggghhh! Why can’t Japan just leave the mountains to their natural beauty?! I must say, however, it pails in comparison to what’s been done on top of Mt. Fuji. Anyway, if the weather is clear then you can forget about all of the ugly buildings and enjoy one of the greatest panoramic views in Japan! (No lie). All of Lake Biwa stretches out to the west, as Hakusan dominates the northern horizon. The endless stretch of the Japan Alps are visible to the east, and the skyscrapers of Nagoya glitter to the southeast. Due south, the rolling sea of mountain ranges in Mie Prefecture majestically overlap themselves. If you need a can of soda or a toilet break, then knock yourself out. Take in the views, or shelter in the shops if the cloud is in. If you do this hike in the winter, then you can find yourself in complete solitude. Plus, the decrepit buildings are transformed into a weird sci-fi movie set when the cloud and snow come in. Anyway, head back down the same way you came up and don’t forget to check the bus schedule before you start your hike. I missed the last bus and had to hike over an hour back to the station!
When to go: This hike can be done from March to November. A winter ascent is only recommended for those with winter climbing experience, avalanche training, and the right equipment. However, thanks to global warming, the summit doesn’t receive quite nearly as much snow as in decades past, so you should be ok with just a light pair or crampons, even in February. (The ski resort is permanently closed now, due to lack of snow).
Access: From Kyoto, take the JR Tokai line to Maibara station, changing to a local train bound for Ogaki. Get off at Omi-nagaoka (近江長岡) and change to a bus bound for Ibukiyamatozanguchi. (伊吹山登山口). You can also approach from Nagoya. Click here for the bus schedule. When accessing this page click on 平日 for weekdays, 土曜 for Saturdays, 日曜 for Sundays, and 祝日for National holidays. You can also reach the trailhead by bus from Nagahama (長浜) station, but it’ll take a bit longer than the other bus. Click here for that bus schedule.
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change: 1143m). If you drive to the top, then it’s a 0 out of 5 and you should be ashamed of yourself!