A waterfall cascades in fine silver threads down a stony hill, surrounded by green leaves and bare tree branches

白岩の滝

White Stone Falls

I found this waterfall via Google Maps last year when I was looking for alternative routes to the northwest of Tokyo. It leaves the Tamagawa cycling course near the Hamura end, and winds through urban traffic and then a mountain road for 14km. I’ve been putting it off since then out of fear the climbing would be too much, with a starting point nearly 50km from home, but this morning I woke up knowing this would be the day to try my best.

A pink-orange moon against a dark blue sky. A line of snow-frosted mountains stretches horizontally across the bottom of the picture, just below the moon.
No time to set up the tripod

The day had an auspicious beginning, with a pink-orange full moon hovering over a line of snow-dusted blue mountains to the west of Tokyo. Our flat was comfortable without any heat, but it was cold outside: 3C at most. Nana got up by herself at 6:30 and got to work on her world-famous onigiri, while I languished over my keyboard, not eager to rush out into the cold.

I finally suited up and collected all the bits ‘n’ bobs about 8 a.m. Then I took a few minutes to get the GoPro mounted on the bike and to struggle into my shoe covers. I only realized after the fight was done that I should have stepped over to the nearby park and sat on a bench.

The ride down to Tamagawa was uneventful apart from a section of very badly patched pavement which forced me out into the flow of traffic. Fortunately it was on a downhill so I was pacing traffic at that point anyway. After a brief rest in a park I joined the cycling course. With clear weather and very little wind, the course was crowded with joggers and cyclists.

I reached Persimmon Park after exactly two hours of riding and sat down to eat a couple onigiri. I was back on the road within 15 minutes, but suddenly I was facing a headwind. Although I’d sat in the sun while enjoying the onigiri, I’d got chilled with the lack of exertion, and now the headwind was only making that worse. It was another 15 or 20 minutes before I started to warm up again.

Now the climbing starts

Following a short detour, I left the cycling course at 11 a.m. and crossed Nagata Bridge. Immediately after the bridge is a rather challenging climb. The road has been narrowed by construction here and has absolutely no shoulder, so I stuck to the sidewalk to avoid cars squeezing past me as I inched my way up to the top of the hill.

There are a couple of more ups and downs here as I passed through Akirunoshi, but the road overall trended upwards along the Hirai river towards Hinode. I stopped at a convenience store at Hinode for a hot coffee and a muffin before continuing upwards along the Hirai river. The gradient ticked up a bit here and I got on the smaller chainring, but the traffic had fallen off to a trickle and I could just take my time without worrying about large trucks squeezing me onto the shoulder.

With about 2km to go, I rounded a turn and suddenly the pavement was fresh and wider, with a divider between the lanes. This continued for about another kilometer and then I turned off the main road onto a one-lane mountain road with broken pavement. I had my lights on and I flipped up my shades when the road passed through dense woods. The ground was wet, covered with pine needles, and speckled with potholes. And it was sloping increasingly upwards.

With just 300m to go I came to a wider section of road in the sun, and I could see an even steeper climb ahead. I stopped and pulled off the road for a brief rest before continuing. After the rest I made it up the first lump, constantly worried I would have a slip on the wet needles and broken pavement, and then I stopped for another breather. Finally I mounted up the last portion, where the going was even more treacherous, and emerged from the trees into a flat spot of gravel where the road came to an end.

I changed from my cleats to a pair of lightweight shoes before continuing on foot. The path was stony and wet, very slippery and treacherous. I crossed one footbridge and continued upwards. The second footbridge was covered in snow, but the goal was just beyond that.

It was a gorgeous and peaceful bit of nature, and I’d have loved to take a longer break and eat the rest of the onigiri on the spot. But it was already 1 p.m. It had taken me nearly 5 hours to reach the falls. I knew I could expect a quicker return, downhill and hopefully with the wind, but it would still be a race to get home before the sun set.

Flying homewards

After changing back to my cleats and struggling again with the zippers on the shoe covers, I gingerly descended the worst bits of broken pavement and wet pine needles. I didn’t really open up until I reached the good pavement beyond that, and then I merely coasted along — albeit at speeds of more than 40km/h — to save my thighs for the return trip. It’s been a few months since I’ve done 100km, and now I was looking at 120km, and I’d already used up my thighs getting to the falls.

Back on the Tamagawa, I was making pretty good time. My hands and bum were sore, and I was shifting positions often so I could keep going without taking too many rests. I stopped in a small park by a playing field and finished up the onigiri before continuing.

It was now 3 o’clock and I had at least 30km yet to go. The last 15km would be in traffic and would take an hour, and there was no changing that, so I did my best to pour on the coal while I was still on the Tamagawa cycling course. Unfortunately the wind was very changeable, and at times I was fighting off crosswinds. And I was exhausted. It wasn’t just a matter of shifting my butt further back on the seat and shaking the numbness out of my hands — I was out of steam. It was taking longer and longer to get back to speed after each switchback on the course.

The onigiri kick in

Coming off a traffic light before the last 5km of the Tamagawa course, I felt a surge of power. At last, the onigiri were kicking in! I rode that wave of power all the way back to the park where I’d had my first rest of the day, and arrived at 3:50. I messaged Nana I’d be home about 5, maybe, turned on my lights and lit into the traffic.

GPS record of bicycle ride
白岩の滝

Traffic was traffic. On the two lumps on Setagaya Dori that bring me up out of the Tamagawa valley, I dropped to the lowest gear and soldiered onwards. I encountered the usual number of idiots, on both two wheels and four. But mostly, I kept in mind that I was tired and I didn’t push my luck. I got a green light at the bottom of the hill by Central Park, and I stopped the clock at 4:58.

On a moving time of 6:33:31, I averaged 18.5km/h. Given I was keeping it in reserve on the outward leg, and the slower pace as I was climbing up towards Hinode and the falls, I’m pleased with this result.

It took 4 hours 30 minutes to reach the falls, including the breaks for onigiri and cupcakes and the resting on the final ascent. I spent 26 minutes changing shoes, hiking to the falls, and changing shoes again before starting the descent. The return trip took 3 hours 47 minutes, including another stop for onigiri and a few rest breaks.

Strava awarded me the Gran Fondo stamp for the ride, and Garmin gave me one of their surprise stamps: Lantern Festival 2024, for an activity completed on 24 February.

A trophy stamp showing a cartoon biker, with the legend 100K
Gran Fondo
A hexagonal trophy stamp with a large paper lantern against a backdrop of cherry blossoms, with the legend 2024
Lantern Festival

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2 responses to “白岩の滝”

  1. Joe Lejog Avatar
    Joe Lejog

    Brilliant. Now _that_ was an adventure! I could probably do without the inner-city riding, but the rest sounded grand. Would love to do it.

    1. Guy Jean Avatar
      Guy Jean

      We’ll put it on the list.

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