Mt. Buna-ga-take (武奈ヶ岳）
photo and text by James McCrostie
The hike described here is an alternative, longer way to climb the Buna-ga-take hike listed in the Lonely Planet hiking guide. This hike begins from Shiga station (志賀駅) near the shores of Lake Biwa and requires one night’s camp in the mountains.
DAY ONE: (5-6 hours) Exit Shiga station by turning right to walk back along the tracks in the direction the train came into the station. When you come to the third road that crosses the tracks turn right, cross the tracks, and head up the hill towards Kinoshita Shrine (樹下神社). Turn right when you reach the shrine’s torii gate and follow the hiking course signs. After crossing highway 161 via a pedestrian tunnel you’ll come to a sign-posted path called Kitadaka-michi (キタダカ道) which heads up into the mountains. It takes about 40 minutes from the station to this start of the hiking trail proper. After crossing a small concrete bridge, the trail makes a slow and steady climb up, going around a pair of dams. There are plenty of switchbacks and after about two and a half hours you’ll reach a junction leading to Kido-touge (木戸峠) or to Biwako Alps lodge (びわ湖アルプス山荘) and Biwako valley ski area (びわ湖バレイ). Head towards Kido-touge and after about 20 minutes the trail reaches another junction. This time head towards the 1,051 meter Hira-dake (比良岳) and after about 20-30 minutes there is a stream marked on maps and with a small wooden sign as a water source but it should probably be filtered, boiled or treated before drinking. The rubbish pits around this stream raise the philosophical question when do discarded cans and bottles stop being garbage and start being historical artefacts? Depending on your answer, you might consider bringing an extra garbage bag with you on this hike to pack out some of the rubbish. After reaching Hira-dake continue on the trail to Karatoyama (烏谷山) then Arakawa-touge (荒川峠). Twenty minutes after Arakawa-touge the trail reaches Minami-hira-touge (南比良峠) where you should take the trail down to Kanakuso-touge (金糞峠). From Kanakuso-touge, ignore the trail leading to Kitahira-touge (北比良峠) and follow the trail down towards Yakumo-ga-hara (八雲ヶ原) and Naka-touge (中峠). From Kanakuso-touge you can hear the sound of rushing water and the trail soon begins to follow a stream. Beside this stream, where the trail splits towards Yakumo-ga-hara or Naka-touge, there is an unofficial campsite with several flat areas to pitch a tent. This is also the last good place to get water so make sure you fill all your canteens. There’s no reliable source of good water on day two so you’ll need two days worth. The lack of proper toilet facilities around this unofficial campsite also means you should filter, boil or otherwise treat the water.
DAY TWO:(9+ hours) Following the trail towards Yakumo-ga-hara you’ll crisscross the same stream several times, reaching Yakumo-ga-hara and the now abandoned Hira ski hill after about 40 minutes. Take some time to explore the Yakumo marsh; depending on the time of year you may spot flora such as white egret orchids or fauna including fire-bellied newts or forest green tree frogs. During rainy season these frogs lay large egg sacks in tree branches above ponds. After hatching, the tadpoles fall into the water below. Keep to the boardwalk to avoid damaging the delicate ecosystem and ponder how anyone got permission to build a ski resort essentially on top of it. From Yakumo-ga-hara, it’s nearly an hour and a half to the peak of Buna-ga-take. Initially, it’s a steep climb up to the top of an abandoned ski run, then the trail heads back into the forest. After 30-40 minutes in the forest you’ll pass through a section of the trail littered with old bottles and cans and, not long after, reach the 1,214 meter peak of Buna-ga-take. From the peak, take the Kita-ryou route (北稜) towards Hosokawagoe (細川越) and Tsurube-dake (釣瓶岳) and continue on to Ikuwata-touge-kita-mine (イクワタ峠北峰) which should take about an hour and a half. However, after descending from the top of Buna-ga-take and shortly after passing a rock cairn, avoid taking an unofficial trail that leads off to the left. There is no sign-post marking the start of this unofficial trail and it isn’t marked on the maps but it leads straight down the mountain, reaching highway 367 after 2-3 hours. Itﾕs poorly marked with red and silver or red-faded-to-pink tape tied to branches and isn’t nearly as well maintained as the main trail. From Ikuwata-touge, avoid the trail going down to Hotorayama (ホトラ山) and take the trail to Sugawa-touge (須川峠), which you should reach after about two hours. A little more than an hour walking will then bring you to the top of the 901-meter Jyatani-ga-mine (蛇谷ヶ峰). If the clouds cooperate you can enjoy views of Lake Biwa and Mount Ibuki. Keep to the trail leading down to Kutsuki-onsen-tenku (くつき温泉てんくう), which takes about an hour and forty minutes from the top of Jyatani-ga-mine. From Kutsuki-onsen-tenku there’s a shuttle bus leading to the Kutsuki-gakko-mae bus stop (朽木学校前) where buses run twice a day to Demachiyanagi bus stop in Kyoto (leaving at 9:30 and 17:00 and taking about 90 min.) and nine times a day to Adogawa station (安曇川) on the JR Kosei line (about 30 min.). Click here for the latest bus schedules and more information about the hot spring
When to go: The most picturesque, though busiest, time is during the autumn when the leaves have changed colour, usually from late October to early November. Only hikers with winter hiking experience and gear should even think about climbing Buna-ga-take in the winter.
Access: From Kyoto (京都) station, take a local (普通) JR Kosei line (湖西線) train bound for Ohmi-Imazu (近江今津) or Tsuruga (敦賀). Get off at Shiga Station, 36 minutes from Kyoto Station.
Map: Hira-Yama-Kei (比良山系) No. 45 in the Yama to Kogen Chizu (山と高原地図) series should definitely be carried by those attempting this hike. It has several alternative approaches and ways off the mountain in case of emergency.
Level of difficulty: 3.5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1000m). Being gradual, the climb to the top itself isn’t too strenuous. However, the second day is fairly long and made more difficult by the lack of water sources. While mountain huts are labelled on maps, most (if not all) are locked and/or abandoned so a tent and cooking gear are required for this hike.