I will admit that I never felt much of an inclination to visit Harunasan. Though it is one of the mountains visible from my area, one of the three Jomo Sanzan (上毛三山) mountains of Gunma Prefecture (along with Akagiyama and Myogisan) and a Nihyakumeizan (二百名山), there was nothing in particular about Haruna that called to me. So I finally had an excuse to visit the mountain when Wes (Tozan Tales and Hiking in Japan), who joined the discussion for Yama-to-Keikoku’s September issue last year, notified me of his winter holiday plan to visit Haruna with his wife and asked if I could join them for a day. Certainly I was pleased at the thought of a hike with good company and a day in the mountains is still a day of exercise, fresh air, and photography for fun. So there it was: I was going to visit Harunasan for a hike at last.
Wes’s plan included three full days of hiking around Haruna, from December 25th to the 27th. I chose to meet up with him and his wife on the 26th because the 25th was a family day for me and the 27th was his wife’s birthday and I didn’t want to intrude on her special day. As it turned out, in spite of fine weather lasting all three days, the 26th was the least favourable day to visit. First, there was a terrific cold Siberian wind blowing through that day and second, the visibility was poorest that day as many clouds obscured the mountain views. Wes and his wife had much more luck mountain spotting on the 25th and 27th and there was no bone-rattling wind howling through.
I drove up to Lake Haruna just around sunrise. The peaks were turning orange and I thought of where I could get a good photograph; however, once I passed the frozen side of the lake I was arrested by the orange reflections in the blue ice and stopped the car. I had brought my DSLR and just in case, my Pentax 6×7. I first grabbed just the digital and tripod and dashed across the street to capture some icy scenes. The wind quickly punished my foolishness of not having brought gloves. Before the first exposure I had to dig in my pockets and pull out a pair of mitts I had stuffed in there quite some time ago. The lure of the ice was too strong and before long I was down along the shore shooting ice abstracts and icy views across the lake.
At last, the call of nature sent me back to the car and driving to a public restroom that I had passed just a little down the road.
Back at the lakeshore, the sun had come up and was shining on the ice. I took my whole camera bag, thinking I was going to take out the 6×7. But the sunlit ice didn’t inspire as the shaded ice had and soon I decided it was time to go back to the car, eat something, and then find Wes’s hotel.
His description of the location was very good and it was easy to find. I tidied up my small car and put my son’s junior seat in the hatchback. I needed room for two adults and I couldn’t count on Wes’s wife, Kanako, being small enough for a child seat. I went into the hotel lobby and looked at a book about mountains of Gunma while I waited for the couple to come down. Soon we were ready to find the trailhead for our first hike.
The target was Haruna’s second highest peak, Soumasan – 1,411 metres (yes, I was a bit sad about no doing the highest peak but Wes and Kanako had done it the day before and Haruna is not far from my house with only just over two hours of driving between here and there). We passed Haruna Fuji and left the lakeside, driving past a moor and up a slope to reach the parking lot. We all bundled up in preparation for the wind, especially me as I had already shared some chill-inducing, blustery moments in it.
The hike was not to be long. With 1.6 km to the summit it was hardly a stroll to the corner store. The peak looked steep, rising up like a camel’s hump, but we only encountered one part with rusty iron ladders and chains.
The rest was rather easy, though the wind howled through like a bullet train at times. On the summit we were quite comfortable. A small structure for a shrine and several jizou kept the wind clear of us. The sun shone down and Wes checked the air temperature and found it was a balmy five degrees Celsius. We could see Fuji across the Chichibu Mountains and Asamayama’s white skirts hung below a gathering of clouds. Akagi was also being shy and the mountains of Nikko and Oze were not to be seen. In spots here and there, far and farther away, we were able to make out snowy flanks of mountains but no grand view presented itself other than the haze-enveloped Kanto Plains and the blue Chichibu Mountains.
From Soumasan we headed over to a large volcanic rock tower known as Surusu Iwa. Though it looked imposing – like a rotten molar jutting up from an otherwise toothless jaw bone – there was a steep gully on one side with a ladder near the top that we scaled. Surusu Iwa afforded up an inspiring view of Haruna Fuji and some lesser neighbouring mounds.
After some fun photos we descended and returned to the road to hike back to the car. Interestingly, we came back to the road right along the Melody Route. Parallel grooves have been etched into the asphalt with different groove spacing so that when a car drives over the grooves at a steady speed, the tune to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” can be heard. We played the tune ourselves as we drove back to the lake.
We stopped for a lunch of noodles near the Haruna Fuji cable car entrance. This was also where a great display had been set up for night time illumination. Wes showed me a photo he had taken the night before and also a snippet of a video he had captured of fireworks over the lake.
There was one more stop planned and that was at Haruna Shrine. For this we had to drive back down the mountain a couple of kilometres. Maps both new and old showed an exciting walk to various shrine structures through what appeared to be a forest of rock towers. Earlier at Surusu Iwa I had noticed that the rock was similar to the breccia that composes Myogisan, a mountain famous for its rock towers and pinnacles. Unbeknownst to me, Haruna apparently also had a rock tower area. I went up the trail with high hopes and soon we came across our first natural feature, a stone arch up on the cliff side opposite us.
We were in the late afternoon light as we stopped here and there to photograph the temples and occasional natural scenes as well. There were some very impressive cedars of noteworthy girth and ice in the ravine below. The rock towers, however, were not easy to appreciate because they loomed over the trees immediately behind the temples and at least one was cloaked in wire fence to prevent rocks from tumbling down. In the shade of the deep ravine there was no sunlit to illuminate the rock towers and against the bright blue sky they did not make for good photographs. At the end of the temple area there was a wall of concrete in the ravine serving to control the erosion of the ravine, and just beyond that I spied a pillar of rock reaching into the sunlight. This was the Rock of Nine Folds (九折岩), and indeed from a certain angle it looked as though it had been folded in zigzag fashion like origami. I managed a few shots before I had to dash to catch up with Wes and Kanako who were already on the way down the path that followed the water’s edge back to the entrance.
The final stops for the day were at a frozen waterfall and then at the arch again. There was a hasty pullover on the way back up to the lake as the moon rose up behind two peaks. After dropping off Wes and Kanako at their accommodation, I made another quick stop at the lakeside to shoot the twilight glow over the water. And then it was time to go back home.
Now that I know a little about Harunasan I think I will likely return sometime in the near future. I would like to see those rock towers in different light and hike up past the Rock of Nine Folds. I’d also like to get up to the highest summit. For now, I think it might be a nice place to visit with the kids when things warm up a bit.