Winter climb of snow-covered Mount Tsukuba (筑波山)

Deciduous trees near the peak, with their leafless branches covered in snow.

877-meter Mount Tsukuba (筑波山) in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the most well-known mountains of Japan, the highest protrusion of land in an otherwise flat Kantō Plain. Despite its modest height, mountaineer and author Kyūya Fukada included it in his 100 Famous Mountains of Japan.

Hiking Mount Tsukuba is a regular activity for us residents of Tsukuba City year after year after year. Sometimes when we want something different, we climb its nearby cousins like Mount Kaba (加波山) or Mount Hōkyō (宝篋山). But it’s always Mount Tsukuba that we come back to.

I’ve climbed Mount Tsukuba countless times, but one of the most memorable was when my friend came to visit from Tokyo one winter. A blanket of snow has just covered the mountain the previous day and although it was past noon, we decided to go for it.

Inside the woods, the rocks were not as slippery as we thought. It was especially cold under the shade of these big cedars.

Near the top, the brown of the tree trunks contrasts sharply with the thick white snow.

Trees and communication towers on the peak are covered with snow.

The view at the top: snow-covered landscape below. On clear winter mornings, snow-capped Mount Fuji to the south is easily visible, but not on this afternoon.

We shared the peak with a couple who asked us to take their photo (selfies were not a thing back then).

Communication towers on the other peak bathed in the glow of the setting sun.

One last photo before heading back down. It was getting dark fast.

On our way down, with the sun fast sinking, we met another couple on their way up from the cable car station. I remember them clearly because they seemed ill-prepared for the climb–they were wearing light clothing and the woman was on high-heels.

I always feel uneasy meeting people on the way up who seem not to take mountains seriously. I’ve climbed enough mountains to regard them with the respect they deserve and to know that climbing unprepared might easily end up in disaster, especially when climbing in cold weather.