Mt. Makihata (巻機山）
Mt. Makihata is a majestic, remote mountain located on the border of Niigata and Gunma Prefectures. The views are outstanding and it’s home to one of the cleanest emergency huts in all of Japan.
The hike: From the bus stop, hike up the small forest road directly in front of you. It winds its way toward the trailhead, passing a couple of huts along the way. It’s about 1km to the start so it should take you about a half hour or so. There’s a big parking lot at the trailhead, as well as a toilet and water source. After reaching the trailhead proper, hike about 2 or 3 minutes and you’ll come to an important junction. You have 2 choices. 1) Take the conservative route on the right or 2) Go left and take the ‘adventure course’. The hike described here is a loop, so you can make the decision based on your experience (and the weather). For the adventurous (and expereinced), take the left course. At first it’s easy going through some vegetable gardens and then you come to your first (of many) stream crossings. Basically, the trail follows a beautiful sawa (沢- mountain stream) all the way to the top. There are paint marks and arrows on all the rocks, and you’ll have to cross the stream about a half a dozen times before reaching another junction in about a half hour or so. Stay to the right, as the left trail isn’t well used. Both meet up again after about an hour or so. After crossing the stream yet again and climbing up some waterfalls, you’ll come to yet another junction. Basically, the stream splits in two, and you have the choice of going left or right. My advice is to go right, because I originally chose the left option but had to retreat because the course basically ran straight through the middle of the river! The right hand stream, otherwise known as the nukubi course (ヌクビ沢), is better marked and you won’t get as soaked crossing the stream. This section of the hike has a year round snow field, so you’ll spend most of your time sludging through the snow. Be careful of where you step because you’re basically walking on top of a river. You definitely don’t want to break through the snow! Anyway, depending on when you go will depend on how much snow there is. The trail climbs up and up, seemingly never-ending. After about 2-1/2 hours, you’ll reach the end of the stream (this is your last chance to get water, so fill up). The trail then climbs rather steeply, with lots of zig zags and some loose rock, but you’ll pop out on the ridge line in about 20 mintues or so. Once you hit the ridge, you can go left to reach the summit of Mt. Waremeki (割引岳). The views are wonderful, so take a well deserved snack break. Now, it’s time to reach the true summit of Mt. Makihata. Go back the way you came to the trail junction, but instead of descending the way you climbed up, continue straight ahead, passing scores of wonderful mountain flowers along the way. The signpost on the summit of Makihata can be reached in about 20 minutes or so. There are a couple of benches here, but the true summit is another 5 minutes away, on a completely unmarked set of rocks. Enjoy your lunch, and if the weather is good, you’ll have an excellent panorama of Mt. Tanigawa, Hotaka, Shibutsu, and even out to the peaks of Nikko. From the signpost, head down the only trail you haven’t taken yet, and you’ll reach an amazing mountain hut in about 20 minutes. There’s also a water source nearby. This hut is free, completely unmanned, and has one of the best toilets in all of Japan! After you do your business, sit on the adjacent exercise bike and start pedaling to flush the toilet! Anyway, if you want to stay here, then bring a sleeping bag and food. Otherwise, you’ve got a 3-1/2 to 4 hour knee knocking descent awaiting you. The trail back to civilization initially climbs steeply to Mt. Maemakihata (前巻機), and then briefly follows the ridge before shooting straight down the mountain. There are hundreds of wooden steps built into the mountainside and soon you’ll enter the forest. Keep climbing down, down, down until you eventually end up where you started. Oh, I must mention that it’s impossible to do this hike in reverse, because the nukubi course is designated for climbing only. Trying to descend on this trail will probably result in loss or life or serious injury. Also, if it’s been raining a lot and the rivers are swollen, DO NOT take the nukubi course. The river crossings are treacherous when the water level is normal!
When to go: This hike can be done from late April to November, but expect a lot of snow until at least the start of the rainy season. The fall colors are breathtaking.
Access: From Tokyo, take the Niigata Shinkansen and get off at Echigo-Yuzawa station. Transfer to a local train in the direction of Niigata (any train is ok, as long as it doesn’t go to Minakami). Go 2 or 3 stops and get off at Muikamachi. (六日町). From there, take a bus bound for Shimizu （清水) and get off at the last stop. The bus takes about 45 minutes and isn’t so frequent, so if you’re doing this as a day hike then consider taking a taxi to the trailhead. Click here for the bus schedule.
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change: 1377m).