Mt. Nantai (男体山）
Mt. Nantai is the Mt. Fuji of the Nikko area. Its easy access makes it one of the most popular hikes in the Kanto area, so be prepared for crowds during weekends and national holidays.
The hike: From the bus stop, head up the stairs to the shrine. The trail starts directly behind the shrine, and you’re supposed to pay 300 yen for the privilege of climbing to the summit, but I just hiked without paying and no one stopped me (but the deities got revenge by dumping freezing rain on me!) The path is very well-trodden and oh so steep. It’s less than 5km from the shrine to the summit, but you’re climbing over 1200 vertical meters! During the first hour or so, you’ll cross over a forest road several times, and part of the path actually follows the road for a short while. Once you leave the road, it’s no turning back and there are very few places to rest. You’ll come across 2 different emergency huts, neither of which are in very good condition. The course is very rocky, so use care on the descent, especially if the rocks are wet. Every year, people have to be airlifted out due to nasty falls. Anyway, after what seems like an eternity, you’ll finally reach the summit ridge above the tree line. The last 20 minutes of hiking is through reddish-brown volcanic strata, bringing images of Mt. Fuji to mind. There’s a shrine and emergency hut on the summit itself, but no water source, so unless you fancy lugging up a ton of water, you should accept this as a day trip. The hut has definitely seen better days, and can fit about 2 or 3 people comfortably. If the weather is good, then you’ll have an excellent birds-eye view of Lake Chuzenji. Either head back the same way you came, or traverse down the other side of the mountain. I’m told the trail on the back side isn’t used very much and is much, much longer (you’ll have to hike on a forest road for about 8 or 9km in order to get back to civilization).
When to go: This hike can be done between late April and early December. A winter hike is also possible, depending on the year. The peak is prone to avalanches during periods of heavy snowfall, so use caution and common sense if climbing in the winter.
Access: From Nikko station (日光駅), take a bus bound for Yumoto Hot Spring (湯元温泉) and get off at the Futarasan Jinjamae (二荒山神社前) bus stop. Click here for the bus schedule.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1212m)