06 May 2013

Oku Nikko - May 3

This week's "Golden Week" holidays have really been two "Golden Weekends" -- the first a 3-day weekend (which included this year's Fleche), and the second a 4-day weekend.

On Tuesday through Thursday, I and many others worked as usual, except that on Thursday morning I needed to go to Tochigi for meetings.  I brought my bike on the shinkansen, and Jerome rode up the 135 km from Tokyo in the morning.  We visited a few potential sites for solar projects in the afternoon by bicycle, and made it to Nikko City (actually Imaichi, down the valley from the Nikko train station most tourists know).  For Jerome the day was more than 200kms, including much ugly sprawl, while even including my ride to Tokyo Station in the early morning, I logged less than 100kms -- enoug, as my body still felt the after-effects of the Fleche, and we had a big day planned for Friday.

We found a reasonably priced business hotel, ate a filling dinner at a local tonkatsu/yakuniku restaurant, and zonked out.
Ready for dinner
Up for 630AM breakfast and on our bikes by 730AM, we started out just below 400 meters elevation, heading west through Nikko and onto the climb up Iroha-zaka to Lake Chuzenji and beyond.

On the Iroha Zaka
We were early enough to beat most of the GW tourist traffic.  We were already nearly 700 meters elevation as we entered the one-way uphill segment of the Iroha-zaka, with the top somewhere around 1250~1275 meters.

Buuurrr -- a cold wind on Chuzenjiko
It was very cold and windy at Lake Chuzenji.  Very brisk -- I was glad to have brought some late-winter gear.  The only convenience store we could find was a Daily Yamazaki bread shop attached to a cafe, the shelves almost bare.  At around 1275 meters elevation, I asked if the pass ahead was over 2000 meters elevation, and how far it was.  The shopkeeper responded that it was only 10-12 kms to the "entrance" to the pass, and the top was only 1600 meters or so.

After a rest, we continued on Route 120, headed up the lakeside and into Oku Nikko.  The scenery was spectacular, and we were now beyond most of the tourist traffic.

Oku Nikko
We could see the road ahead as it climbed toward Kousei Toge (pass) -- NOT 1600 meters, but more like 1900.  After another climb, and an uphill tunnel, we started a great descent along the snow-lined highway.  The entire segment was just over 40 kms and took us from 400 to 1900 meters elevation.  Just as if we had done the first part of a Transalp day, a climb of truly Alpine duration and scenery.

Early on the climb to Kousei Toge -- looking back
The same view .. without panorama

The climb to Kousei Toge
On the descent, at one point we passed a ski area, open and with lots of snowboarders enjoying GW sunshine as they slid!  (No photos -- I did not want to stop).  After enjoying the first half (or more) of the descent, we stopped, drawn by signs advertising a free foot bath ... then buying udon as well.

We continued on, heading down, down, down into Gunma, eventually leaving Route 120 for quieter Gunma Route 62 and a climb back over 1000 meters elevation and down again to Mizunuma and Kiryu, where we hopped the train back to Tokyo.

At Sonohara Dam in Gunma
Spectacular weather and scenery, and a couple of roads and passes not previously traversed! 


SteveT said...

Hi David, my cycling attentions have been diverted as of late by a 10 month old baby ... now I've just rediscovered your blog and remembered what a good read it is ! I also cycled round Oku Nikko in Autumn last year and when I tried for the pass cars were coming down covered in snow... I only had summer gear and was so freakin cold I had to give up...

David L. said...

Thanks, Steve. I guess you will need to get a papa-chari soon, or a trailer, so you do Tokyo Itoigawa in a few years with your child. Glad you are well.