JA/IB-003 Tsukubasan 筑波山
Given my last SOTA dinner had resulted in a nightmare hike the following day, it was a surprise to awake early but sober. I packed my bags up as I was due to fly out that evening to Korea, and checked out – laptop and usual backpack inside my suitcase, and SOTA backpack on my back. I headed into Terminal 1, left my luggage there, then caught the 0623 SkyAccess train via Minami-Nagareyama to Tsukuba station (on the Tsukuba Express line).
I met my friend and colleague Takumi, who was present on the last adventure around Takaosan, and we took the bus from Tsukuba Station to the Tsubukasan Ropeway – the last stop on the bus. This costs about $10 AUD one way, with the first bus around 8am. We made the first ropeway trip up, and from the top of the ropeway station to the summit is only about a 5 minute walk.
There are two peaks on Tsukubasan, Nantaisan and Nyotaisan. Nyotaisan is the SOTA peak, being higher by a few metres, and is closest to the ropeway station.
Whilst on the ropeway, Takumi had to take a photo of me. When asked why, he said it was to prove to his wife he was with me (and presumably not with some other lady or knee deep in Pachinko!). Satisfied he was just with some weirdo and a radio, we continued to the summit. This is hardly strenuous, but once you reach the top, you realise how difficult it would be to string out a dipole on HF.
I had suspected that HF from the top was going to be tough – Google Earth showed a rocky summit, and talking with a few of the SOTA Japan folks, it was strongly suggested that attempts to string a dipole would result in heading off the side of some quite steep cliffs. I opted against it in any case, and had only spotted on VHF. Even with the first ropeway trip of the day, there was quite a crowd at the top. By the time we finished, the crowd was becoming a throng.
I set up towards the Tokyo side of the mountain – there’s a small dip in the rocks, and I felt this would be perfect to be out of the way of the crowds. Equipment was the FT-857 and my 6m SOTA antenna based on Andrew VK1AD’s version of the VK2ZOI flowerpot antenna. This and its mast was rested against a convenient rock.
Phone coverage is good from the top, so I checked out SOTAWatch, and saw Jun JI1IHV operating on summit JA/KN-021 on 50.230. I moved to his frequency, and after hearing him wrap up a few QSOs, called in for a Summit to Summit. The QSO was completed easily, 59s in both directions, and 857 to 857. This was an important QSO for me: it was association 17 activated, it was 1000 summit to summit points, and it was my first JA summit chased. The greatest aspect was that I’d had dinner with Jun the night before, and it was great to get an RF contact to “complete” the circle!
The view from the top would be fine on a clear day: we instead had a lot of cloud haze around, making Tokyo all but invisible from the top. Still, a mountain view is a mountain view, and when my wife texted me asking me what I was doing this fine day, I felt obliged to send her a selfie from the top of the summit. A phone call later from the airport closed that particular circle too!
We operated for about 30 minutes in total. I had 4 contacts fairly quickly by that point for the 6 points – JP1QEC portable in Saitama being number 4 in the log, and I told Takumi about my theory that if you are low on contacts, simply call “Final call”. This never fails to work, and this time another 3 contacts were made in quick succession. Nobi JA1JCF emailed me later to suggest that my phonetics were perhaps a bit difficult to understand for Japanese, with the India of my callsign sound more like a Kilo. Who said the International Phonetic Alphabet improves readability?
There was plenty of insect life at the top of the summit; a spider on my neck being close to the final straw, but I survived biteless. A pretty lizard with iridescent blue markings on its tail also came out for a look; I don’t feel the picture below really captured its colours.
After a quick pack up, we headed back via the shrine atop Tsukubasan and walked over to the Cable car station. This is a separate method of reaching the top of the mountain, and is about 15 minutes from the summit of Tsukubasan and much closer to Nantaisan.
Having reached the cable car station, there are a number of souvenir places and restaurants. We stopped to grab some lunch and beer. The local ramen style was recommended by the lady running the restaurant, and it was very nice. The beer went down well too!
We took the cable car down to the second bus stop, walking past another shrine at the base of the mountain. Takumi stopped to pay his respects. We then descended, Takumi politely telling me off for walking too close to the center of the path (being reserved for the god of the shrine to walk up). Won’t do that again.
The bus stop was another 5-10 minute walk, but we’d just missed one, so I bought us both ice creams and we ate those as the day heated up. It was probably about 30 degrees by that stage, but around 80% humidity. We also got a summit map for free from the information centre – perhaps a little late, but I do like my maps. It was a copy of the map that was on several signs along the mountain, which I had already photographed.
The bus trip back to Tsukuba station was marked by both of us trying hard not to fall asleep. I think I managed to, but I did notice Takumi drop off for a while. From there I reversed my morning travel, getting back into Terminal 1 at Narita, fetching my suitcase, swapping radio backpack for laptop backpack, and jetting off for Korea.
Tsukubasan is an easy summit for folks visiting Tokyo, although it’s not exactly “close”. It is however, a Hyakumeizan – one of the 100 beautiful mountains – and one of the most easily accessible. The saying goes, “Fujisan in the west, Tsukubasan in the east”, and I can attest the mountain is very pretty. Being a Hyakumeizan it is of course very busy, but a VHF activation is easily done here, and I imagine you might even get away with a HT.
Tsukuba also has the JAXA (Japan’s NASA) space museum, which I didn’t get a chance to visit due to time, so if you’re looking for an excuse to head out there, that’s a gilt edged one right there!