Mt. Shirane is the crown jewel of the Nikko area. Situated on the Gunma/Tochigi prefectural border and just north of Lake Shuzenji, the peak offers beautiful volcanic lakes, stunning views all the way out to Mt. Fuji, and eye-catching rock formations.
The hike: From the parking lot at Sugenuma, take the forest road directly in front of you. Fill up on water and use the facilities before departing. The path is relatively flat at first, and then climbs up the spine of the mountain. You’ll reach a small, beautiful lake in about 2 hours. The rocky peak of Oku-shirane will be visible directly above you, and the reflections of the peak in the lake are mesmerizing. At the far end of the lake, the trail will split in two, but take the right path for the steep climb to the summit. It’s pretty steep and rocky, but the path is well-marked and easy to follow. If you’re hiking in the autumn, there might be some ice, especially if it has rained recently, so a light pair of crampons will make things much safer. I was hiking in snow and ice in mid-October! You should reach the summit of Oku-shirane in after about an hour. The views are truly amazing if the weather is co-operating, with a bird’s eye view of Mt. Nantai, Mt. Hiuchi, Mt. Shibutsu, Mt. Sukai, and even out to Mt. Fuji! From the summit, continue on to a small shrine, and then turn left to head down the peak toward Goshikinuma (五色沼). The trail drops steeply at first, before flattening out at an emergency hut. You could consider staying here, but the lack of water and toilets doesn’t make for a comfy stay. Instead, continue for another 10 minutes to the lake. The reflections of Oku-shirane are wonderful, and there are plenty of places to sit, relax, and take in the scenery. From here you have a couple of options. You could head to the left to complete a loop back to the small lake in which you started, or you could traverse over to Yumoto Hot Spring. The traverse will take about 3 or 4 hours, so make the decision based on the time and weather. From lake Goshiki, take the trail leading off to the right. It’ll climb steeply up a spur before reaching the ridge line. There’s a water source about halfway up the climb, so fill up your bottles there. Turn left once you hit the ridge and you’ll be sitting on top of Mt. Maeshirane (前白根山) in about 30 minutes. From this peak, simply follow the signposts to Yumoto Hot Spring. The descent from the ridge line to the hot spring is one of the steepest I’ve ever encountered, so be especially careful in wet weather or anytime there’s snow on the ground.
When to go: This hike can be done between late April and early December. A winter hike is also possible if you approach from the top of the ski lifts at Marunuma Kogen. Click here to see a report of a winter ascent of the peak. Click here for an English account of an ascent in March.
Access: From Nikko station (日光駅), take a bus to Yumoto Hot Spring (湯元温泉). From there, you’ll either have to start your hike from here, or hitch to the trailhead at Sugenuma (菅沼). I stayed at a cheap minshuku in Yumoto, and the owner gave me a free ride early the next day to Sugenuma, so that’s an option as well. Alternatively, you could approach from Marunuma Kogen ski resort (丸沼高原スキー場), where the gondola will whisk you halfway up the mountain in next to no time. Click here for the bus schedule from Nikko station to Yumoto Hot Spring.
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 848m)