I am fortunate that my career provides me with the opportunity to travel to various places around the world. Late last year, I found myself heading towards Japan, a beautiful country where I had never before visited. Immediately upon receiving this work assignment, I began to plot a big day of running in the mountains near Mt. Fuji. I had dreamt of seeing this majestic mountain for many years, and I had heard amazing stories of the picturesque and rugged trails of the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji course. I reached out to a friend in Japan for some local advice, and he immediately suggested finding a place to stay in the village of Hakone, as the surrounding ridges would provide spectacular views of Fuji-san. I was sold. After a half day of travel by train from Tokyo, a late-night arrival, and a sketchy night in a cheap hotel, I was ready for a day in the mountains.
From my hotel near the train station in the village of Hakone, it was a short 20 minute run to the nearest trailhead which would connect to the ridge I intended to run, filled with windy cobblestone streets and pretty views from the valley floor.
The trail started with a long, steep climb out of the valley to the ridgeline above, gaining 2500 feet in the first 4 miles.
Upon summiting Myojogatake, the first of several peaks I would reach this day, the voluptuous ridgeline I would be following came into full view. I would have to wait for views of Fuji-san, however, as she was still hiding herself behind the morning clouds.
The trail traverses the ridge, sometimes with gently rolling hills through bamboo forests, other times with hands-on-your-knees lung-searing steepness, all the while with breathtaking scenery. Descending the back side of the next summit, Myojingatake, views of the mighty Mt. Kintoki came into sight.
Kintoki is a popular destination, for both tourists and locals, as it offers some of the clearest views of Mt. Fuji in the region. It is relatively easily accessible from a nearby trailhead, so the crowds gather at the summit, where you can also find a small teahouse and tacky giftshop (I still haven’t figured out how they get everything up there…). Alas, from Kintoki, I would get my first glimpse of Mt. Fuji. It was even more spectacular than I had imagined.
About nine miles into my run at this point, and still relatively early in the day, I barreled down the other side of Kintoki, and continued along the rim of the caldera. This part of the trail was a little more heavily traveled, but the views were worth the dodging effort required to avoid the others on the trail. I came upon another ultra runner, easily identifiable by the goofy backpacks we all wear, signifying our membership in this niche club. Even with the language barrier, there was an immediate connection. We stopped to “chat,” albeit in two completely different languages. He conveyed the need to see a lake up ahead and led the way. I had seen Lake Ashi on the map ahead of time, and it was just as idealistic of a mountain lake as I had hoped.
After a steep descent towards the lake, I checked my GPS to discover that I had covered about 15 miles. Consulting a map, I could continue along the ridgeline for another 10ish miles, and then loop my way approximately another 10 miles on roads to return to my hotel, or I could simply turn back. Knowing how awesome the trail had already been this day, I opted to see it again in reverse.
After several hours of ups and downs, and more photo breaks than I care to admit, I made my way back to Myojogatake. I turned back for one last look at this glorious ridge, this time with Mt. Fuji standing proud in the background.
After the quad crushing descent back down the mountain, I made my way back to my hotel just before sunset. It was a full day on the trails, covering about 30 miles and 11,000 feet of vertical gain, and one of the most spectacularly enjoyable days of running in my memory.
Strava GPS Data: https://www.strava.com/activities/448588327