Musashi: the old province that encompassed the lands around what is now Tokyo. Though abolished in 1868 with the introduction of the prefecture system, the name was retained in many of its old districts, whether for memory, or prestige, or differentiation. To this day, consider all those train stations which bear Musashi in their names.
Oku-Musashi, or “Inner Musashi”, now refers to the mountains of western Saitama, the prefecture bordering Tokyo to the north, whose wilds represented the inner reaches of the old Musashi province. These peaks are relatively low, typically around 1000m or so, and stretch across the west flank of Hannō city as they rise, further west, into the great mountainscapes of Chichibu (contiguous with Oku-Tama to the south, some of whose mountains also feature in this blog).
This was my first hike in Saitama, and as with Oku-Tama and Tanzawa, these mountains have their own distinct character. Another level closer to Japan's central highlands, there is a certain Alpine something about Oku-Musashi. My route began at Shōmaru station on the Seibu-Chichibu Line – about an hour and a half from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo – and ascended to the summit of Izugatake (伊豆が岳), the high point of the walk at 851m. From there a long ridge with many sharp peaks trails south then east to Ne-no-Gongen temple (子の権現), then descends, gradually, back into the valley past the mines of Agano, finishing at Agano station. Though 851m might not sound like much, in a February of brutal snowstorms it was in fact quite satisfactory.
The result was an eight-hour slog through snow that reached a metre deep in places, up and down sinew-shredding gradients fit for a lunatic, along a course more properly popular for its thousands of colourful flowers and rich greenery at saner times of the year. As such I will not be presenting it here with the usual detailed instructions, for the magnitude of the snow meant I had next to no contact with the actual earth of the path at any point on the route, so I cannot purport to advise on it. If your idea of a hike is some pleasant exercise through bright and leafy nature, you might want to give Izugatake a miss until summer. However, if it is in fact a full-scale body-breaking, soul-wringing catharsis you actually want, or if you are struggling with emotional poisons only the cleansing force of the primal earth can purge, then by all means head for Izugatake right now, for you will find nothing better than these mighty snows to plough the toxins from your psyche.
|“Beware of forest fires.”|
If you attempt it, give yourself at least eight hours of daylight, bring plenty of food and water, and go with maximum respect for the challenge before you. Good shoes that can survive being under snow all day (i.e. underwater) are essential; crampons are strongly recommended. Izugatake is popular enough that you will run into other people – likely elderly Japanese super-hikers – on the mountain itself, but most of the ridge sees little traffic in these conditions, and there are no services until near the end.
The route is long and often steep – imagine the North Takao Ridge with fewer but higher peaks – but the biggest drain on your energy will be the snow itself. Expect most of your footsteps to immediately sink until your other foot is level with your thigh. Expect also to fall forwards a lot when this happens; the deep, soft snow makes this safe, but you still have to put the calories into pushing yourself up again, and after dozens of times they start to add up. Definitely not a place or season to faff around, then, but if you know it is what you need, then you will come out a better person than you went in.