Harima Alps (播磨アルプス)
The Harima Alps are a series of small rock formations on the border of Himeji and Kakogawa cities in Hyogo Prefecture. While not very Alpine in nature, the hike does feature some really nice species of native pine trees, wild boar, desert-like vegetation, and not a single cedar tree!
The hike: Head through the ticket gate at Sone station and turn right. Follow the road to the next intersection and turn left. Walk a few blocks, passing a small lake on the right, and you’ll come to a rather busy road. This is called Highway 2. Turn right and walk along highway 2 for about 1km or so. You’ll pass a couple of convenience stores on the right-hand side, so stock up on supplies (there’s no water on the hike). The mountains on your left side are the “Alps” and that’s what you’ll be traversing for the next 5 hours or so. Keep walking along highway 2 until coming to a small shrine on the left-hand side. The trail is directly behind this shrine. The path climbs steeply through a dense forest. Be on the lookout for wild boar in this area. A golf driving range will come into view on your right. Keep climbing up to the ridge line. You’ll know you hit the ridge when you find a gigantic electric tower standing right in the middle of the trail. This is a good place for a short break. The path continues straight ahead (ignore both of the trails branching off to the left and right). Basically, you’ll want to follow the contours of the ridge and the signs to Mt. Takamikura (高御位山). It should take an hour or so to reach the shrine and splendid rock formations here. If it’s a clear day without too much smog, you’ll be able to see Kobe & Osaka cities, Akashi Bridge, Himeji, Osaka bay, Awaji Island, and the peaks of northern Hyogo Pref. If you look straight down you’ll see a lot of small lakes used to irrigate the surrounding fields. There are a ton of escape routes to choose from, but your main goal should be to make it back to Sone station by traversing all of the peaks between this mountain and the station! The next peak along the ridge is called Takanosu (鷹ノ巣山). Ignore all of the small trails branching off the ridge. As long as you follow the signs you’ll be ok. Mt. Takanosu is actually 2 twin peaks, and both of them should be reached in about 45 min. or so. From here, the next target is an unnamed peak with a large microwave antenna on top (it looks like a billboard). Between here and the unnamed peak, you’ll probably hear some gunfire down in the valley. If you look down over the right side of the ridge, you’ll see a very large shooting range! Anyway, head up to the antenna. There’s a very promising looking trail heading off to the right, but stay to the left and head down a very steep rock formation. At the bottom of this rock, you’ll find a concrete bunker and a vast network of trails branching off in all directions. You’ll also find a sign leading to Kashima Shrine (鹿嶋神社). Feel free to descend to the shrine to have a look around, but you’ll have to climb back up to the ridge to complete the traverse. Continue on the same ridge line, and climb the steep mountain in front of you. This peak is called Ootani (大谷山). Keep going to the next small peak, where you’ll find a huge cave in the middle of the trail! This is the site of an ancient burial mound currently under excavation. From this hole, continue going straight and you’ll drop off the mountain very steeply and end up back in civilization. When you hit a small road, turn left and you’ll be back at highway 2. Turn left on highway 2 and cross over the overhead pedestrian bridge. Turn right at the next big street. This is the same street you took to get to highway 2 at the start of the hike. Turn right at the next intersection and you’ll be back at Sone station. This hike can be done in reverse but the trailhead is very difficult to find!
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but there’s a lot of climbing and descending on steep rock formations, so avoid this hike in wet weather.
Access: From either Osaka, Kyoto, or Sannomiya stations, take the JR Shikaisoku (新快速) train bound for Himeji (姫路). Get off at Kakogawa station (加古川) and change to a local train bound for Himeji. The stop closest to the trailhead is called Sone (曽根駅).
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change 200m)