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Traffic jam to the mountaintop

I’m sure many people could smugly tell me that a sunny Sunday in the peak of autumn is NOT the right day to visit Hakone for solitude.  I should have known that I’d spend the entire day in one form of traffic jam or another.  But I nonetheless made the mistake of choosing Kintokiyama (金時山), a mountain in the Hakone area, as the destination for a walk and opportunity for my friends to test out their new camera.

More crowds on Kintokiyama

My Swedish friends have been in Japan for the better part of this year, but every time they’ve been near Fuji-san, it clouds over.  Determined to prove that Fuji-san is not just something made up for postcards, and wanting to go somewhere accessible from Tokyo, Kintokiyama seemed ideal.

But it was a “never again” experience.  From the time we left Shibuya, whether on rails, road or foot, there was a constant queue all the way to the summit.  And back again.  The number of people was extraordinary.

First, getting onto a local bus at Hakone Yumoto Station took over 35 minutes.  Just getting within sight of the bus stop was hard enough.

The queue at Yumoto Station bus stop

Then, because of the traffic jam up the mountainside, the bus took about an hour instead of the scheduled 24 minutes.  We got off the bus at Sengoku, after riding the bus past a number of very nice looking high quality hotels and onsen resorts, as well as a fair few kitsch tourist attractions.  If my head wasn’t jammed up against the ceiling of the bus, I might have enjoyed the view of the cascading river in the gorge down the steep slope from the road, or the autumn colours in the trees.

There was a golf driving range at the bottom of the mountain, which we quickly walked past, and then headed up the slope.

Kintokiyama from the carpark

Up the mountain we went, but ran into queues of people trying to get to the top as well.  At first, we passed one or two groups all bunched together.

The queue of hikers at the bottom of the mountain

A little way up the hill was a big boulder with a split down the middle.  It is called Kintoki-yadori no Iwa.

Kintoki-yadori Rock

Ivan started putting his new camera to good use as we climbed up through the cedar forest.

Who's photographing who? Ivan tests his new camera

It was clear that this track was very well travelled.  The eroded tree routes, and the sunken path, showed that many a walker had come up this way before.  When we got to the top, we understood why.

Eroded tree roots weathered by the crowds up Kintokiyama

The views opened up the higher we went, offering more photo opportunities.

Taking photos of the hills

We came across lots of people.  At one bottle neck on the track, we noticed that some people had also brought their pet along.  Except the dog didn’t have to walk like humans do.  He seemed happy enough.

Pets don't have to exercise in Japan - their owners just carry them

But by the time we reached the last steep section to the summit, we encountered groups that seemed to have over 100 people, causing bottlenecks at narrow points on the track.

The crowds on the mountain were unbelieveable

Finally, after being stuck for quite a while within only a short distance from the summit, we emerged to a glorious view of Fuji-san.

Fuji-san from Kintokiyama summit

All the queuing had made us lose a lot of time, and instead of enjoying the beautiful view of Fuji-san from the top, we knew that if we didn’t get a hurry on, we’d struggle to catch our train back to Tokyo.  Those reserved seats became very precious, when we realised that they were our lifeline to get out of here!  We had no time to linger and enjoy the view, but managed to shove down a few onigiri, and take a few photos.

Me and all the others on Kintokiyama

Fuji-san from Kintokiyama summit

We came down a different path, and had a better view of the mountain we’d climbed.  If you look at the next photo, you can see several groups of people up the track.  Not much serenity down here either.

Kintokiyama

The track continued along the ridge, but we needed to descend back to Sengoku to try and find a bus back to Yumoto.

Along the ridge from Kintokiyama

When we could hear traffic sounds through the trees, we knew we weren’t far away from a traffic jam.  The trip back was worse than the ride up the hill.  We only had to contend with day trippers on the way there.  On the way back, we had to jostle with not only the Sunday day trippers, but also the weekenders, all wanting to get back to the city on Sunday afternoon.  If only those beautiful autumn trees knew the stress that everyone was going through to try and enjoy them.

Traffic jam back to akone Yumoto

Thank goodness there was no major earthquake to close the road.  We would have been stuck out there forever.

I love wacky signs - catfish predict earthquakes, even in the mountains, right?

The driver of the bus back towards Yumoto suggested that the road was so jammed down the hill that passengers should get off and catch the Hakone Tozan Testudo railway.  So all the sardines on the bus disgorged at Miyanoshita station, jostled their way up to the narrow platform, and tried to get on a train.  We managed to squish onto the second one that arrived, and then somehow balanced our way back down to Yumoto.

On the platform at Miyanoshita station was a sign warning of wild boar stampedes.  I was more worried about being trampled by humans.

Beware of wild boar

The train back to Tokyo couldn’t depart quickly enough for me.  I’d never been to Hakone before.  Now I know why.

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