Mt. Minago (皆子山)
Mt. Minago is the tallest peak in Kyoto Prefecture and one of the most secluded mountains in the Kitayama range. The views of Buna-ga-take and Mt. Horai as well as the lack of people make this a great getaway from the nearby urban Kyoto chaos.
The hike: From the bus stop, walk back up the road the bus just came down. You’ll see an old Japanese house on your right with a rather interesting cherry tree, which is a cross breed between two different species. The river will be on your left and soon you’ll reach the crest of the hill which intersects the main road. Cross the main road (watch out for traffic coming out of the tunnel). Don’t enter the tunnel, but continue on the small paved road on the other side of the road. Soon you’ll reach a concrete bridge. Look for the sign that says “あしびだにはし” on a concrete pedestal just on the right-hand side of the bridge. You’ll see a gravel road branching off to the right just before your cross the bridge. If you look on the electrical pole, you’ll see a sign for “Mt. Minago” spray-painted in red. This is your clue to follow the gravel road and not cross the concrete bridge. The old road follows the river before eventually turning into the trail, where you’ll reach your first set of river crossings. There are wooden planks built across the river to help aid in crossing, but please be careful in wet weather. All of the crossings are clearly marked and some of them have rope to assist you in the traverse. Continue following the river up the valley, paying attention to the blue arrows on the signposts and tape in the trees. Eventually the path will cut off towards the left, following a small mountain stream to its source. The path suddenly becomes quite steep, and your shins and calf muscles will get an unexpected workout. The forest here is really beautiful, and after a half an hour of sweaty climbing you’ll pop on directly on the summit! There’s no ridge hike in this no-nonsense approach. Take a break on top of Kyoto’s highest peak and admire the views across the valley. Buna-ga-take is the peak on the left, followed by Mt. Horai to the right of that. From the summit, the trail becomes a bit tricky to find. Continue on the path for about 20 meters and you’ll see a signpost and arrow for ヒノコ. This is not the trail you want to take, so be careful. Instead, look towards the left and you’ll see a sign marked 寺谷 on a tree. Just beyond this sign the trail will split. You can either go towards the left and descend through the cedar forest, or continue straight ahead on an unmarked trail with a piece of yellow tape. I’m told that the trail to the left is difficult to find and easy to get lost, so take the trail straight ahead. Soon you’ll enter a cedar forest with some really steep switchbacks and colored tape wrapped around most of the trees. This is the 寺谷 course, but you won’t see any signposts. Soon you will drop down to a stream and follow it for around 40 minutes or so, passing by an abandoned mountain hut. The trail will leave the forest, crossing a long wooden bridge made from an old cedar tree, where it meets up with a forest road. Turn left on the road and follow it out to the main road and bus stop at Taira (平). If you’ve got time to kill before the next bus, then there’s a really neat old farmhouse/cafe/shop that sells some organic tea and has light meals. If you don’t want to wait for the bus, then hitching is definitely an option, as I easily flagged down a ride back to Kyoto.
When to go: This hike can be done from March to early December, when most of the snow is gone. A winter hiking is also possible with snowshoes and a GPS device. Watch out for avalanches on the final summit approach. Also, beware of leeches between early June and early August.
Access: From Katata (堅田) station, take bus #50 bound for Hosokawa (細川) and get off at Sakashita (坂下) bus stop. The only convenient bus leaves Katata at 8:45am. Click here for the schedule. Katata is about 25 minutes by local train on the JR Kosei line from Kyoto station.
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~600m)
Distance: 8km (5 to 7 hours)