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Monkeying Around on Myougi-san

Myougisan Climbing Japan Tony Grant

Myougisan Climbing Japan Tony Grant

They say that Gunma climbers are a bit special…brave, made of tougher stuff than most. After all, it was climbers from the Gunma Mountaineering Association that made the first winter ascent of the Southwest face of Mt Everest back in 1993.

The conglomerate spires of the 1,103-meter Mt. Myougi might be a mere footnote in Gunma climbing history compared to that towering accomplishment, but it’s no less true that the folk who first approached, with a view to climbing on them, were made of stern stuff.

Dominating the view from the car window on the Joshinetsu Expressway around the Matsuida-Myougi interchange (松井田妙義), the twin ridgelines of Omote-Myougi and Ura-Myougi look like an archetypal Chinese landscape painting: sheer faces, jagged spires, trees clinging in isolation to crumbling summits. It’s inspiring stuff, and in terms of pure adventure, it’s probably the most bang for your buck that hikers can find in the Kanto area.

Myougisan Climbing Japan Tony Grant

The two main ridgelines form two sides of an ancient volcanic caldera that has long-since collapsed. The hiking trails that thread their way along their crests appear as dotted lines on the hiking maps; a sure sign of excitement to come. There are long chains on all the steeper blank sections, without which these summits would be the exclusive preserve of, well, Gunma climbers!

For the trails on the southern Omote-Myougi, the michi-no-eki (道の駅 or roadside station), on Route 196, is a good place to base yourself, with easy access to the nearby onsen (with rotenburo) and the famous Myougi Shrine. And there are gentler, less vertiginous trails available at the midway level up the mountain too, for those with less of a head for heights.

For the more adventurous among you, I recommend the traverse of the Ura-Myougi Ridgeline. The highlight of the day will undoubtedly be the ascent of the slightly overhanging chains to the top of the famous Chōsu-no-kashira (丁須ノ頭). Like the Obelisk on Yamanashi’s Jizo-ga-take or the Tengu on the east side of Akadake, this large hammer-shaped rock is clearly visible from the expressway and train lines below, making for endless satisfaction every time you pass by the area.

As a cautionary note, I’d advise anybody wanting to hike or climb on Myougi to wear a helmet, and crucially, make sure you have a pair of fingerless cycling gloves or something similar. It gets sweaty in summer and autumn at these low elevations, and people have been known to slip off the chains, so leave your pride at home and take the standard precautions.

For the rock-climbers among you, don’t overlook the wonderful six-pitch “Migi-kante” route on the Kido Wall (木戸壁右カンテルート) of Ura-Myougi. It may only get a difficulty rating of 5.7, but as you get to know the rock of Mt Myougi you’ll quickly understand the world of adventure that can be contained within such a modest grade.

Myougisan Climbing Japan Tony Grant

On a final note, the trees on Mt Myougi are not the usual cedar monoculture that Tokyo inhabitants are used to. In the autumn kouyou season the flanks of Myougi explode in reds, browns and yellows. It’s the perfect time of the year to explore Kanto’s finest mountain!

Learn more about Tony Grant’s latest book in the Amazon Store, “10 Classic Alpine Climbs of Japan (Volume 2).” Tony’s newest book is packed with invaluable information for climbing enthusiasts.

Myougisan Climbing Japan Tony Grant

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