Miraculously, during the night my iPhone decided to turn back on. I woke a little earlier than normal (though, certainly not early. Returning to reality is going to hurt) and began to research about climbing Ishizuchi-san. It’s the highest peak in Shikoku/western Japan at a shade under 2,000m. It’s also one of seven holy mountains, with pilgrims coming to visit/climb it.
I’d first become interested in it after I saw a photo that a friend living in Matsuyama City (funny enough, she and I had our JET locations swapped) posted some photos of her climb. The peak looked amazing, and it was added to my list of places to visit.
There were two (or three) options to reach the summit, one was to catch a ropeway up to 1400m and walk from there and the other was to drive up to a similar height at the rear of the mountain and start the trail from there. Sadly, to get to the rear of the mountain wasn’t an easy task from where we were parked. We would have to backtrack nearly 30km, then follow 50km of winding mountain roads. The only realistic way was to use the (¥1900) ropeway as it was only a 20km drive from where we currently were in Saijo City. By the time we got to the (¥500) carpark, the clear-ish skies had become overcast. I’d actually considered not bothering with the hike, but I thought that the clouds would probably clear periodically.
Risa wasn’t too interested in physical exertion, so she remained in the car watching movies, reading, writing and sleeping until I returned. I didn’t mind doing it solo, as it meant that I could go at my own pace. I walked up to the ropeway station, through the winding maze of rusty (and shut) souvenir shops. Luckily, as I bought my ticket the call came over the P.A system that it was about to depart (it only went three times an hour). Inside the cabin were a few elderly Japanese couples, one of which were very chatty (in English!) asking about our travels, telling me about their travels (they just got back from the Dolomites in Italy). Before I knew it, we were at the top station where we parted ways.
The hike had finally started. From the ropeway there were two paths, one to Joju Shrine, and another to a chairlift (the area is a ski resort in winter). The chairlift was ¥350 and took you far past Joju Shrine, but you had to walk back down to it. From where I was it was a 15-minute walk up to Joju. Once here the path went downhill, all the way to 1300m, the lowest point on the trail. It was foggy/cloudy, cool and quite dark. I started the hike in silence, listening to what was around me, but there wasn’t much to hear. I put in my headphones (the new Interpol album) and powered on ahead. It wasn’t easy, but also not difficult.
After grinding up the trails for a while, I came to a junction. To the left was the normal path, to the right was a set of chains that I could climb. Of course I climbed the chains. It was quite steep, and the chains went beyond where I could see. The rocks were slippery from a small stream that was trickling down it, but generally my Nike skateboard/hiking boots had enough grip with me using the chains to pull myself up. Once I’d finally finished climbing the freezing chains (they felt like ice in my bare hands. I’d forgot gloves) I was on top of a small peak… and totally confused. Was I on the right trail? I couldn’t read the sign (properly, only generally) and didn’t understand why I would want to climb up here. Even more frustrating, I could see the regular path below me and some of the slow people that I’d passed a while back were now ahead of me. I walked around the peak for a few minutes, trying to work out how to get down, but the only thing that I could see was the trail climbed up. So, confused, I climbed back down the chains that I’d only just finished climbing up. It was so much more difficult to climb down (just like at Otta Shrine). I couldn’t see where to put my feet and they were slipping. It took twice as long to climb down than it did to climb up…
Back on the regular path, progress was rapid again, powering up as fast as I could, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to. It felt good to have my body working hard again.
The hike isn’t that natural/beautiful. Trees are covered in warning signs (about dangerous trees, be careful of your head), there are wooden steps (and steel ones) and coupled with the thick cloud there was no view. There were another two chain sections that could be climbed, but after my unpleasant experience the first time, I gave them a miss.
When I started getting near the summit, I started seeing the occasional tree that had changed colours already. They were few and far between, but some of them were stunningly vivid. Sadly, most of the trees just wither instead of turning yellow/orange/red on this mountain.
It took a little over two-hours from the top of the ropeway, but finally as I turned one last corner and was at the summit. And, it was the most amazing surprise. The clouds that I had been hiking in were only on the North side of the mountain, the rest of the mountain/sky was absolutely clear. I was exuberant. It was amazing, and I hadn’t even seen the actual main peak yet!
It got so much better after I walked a little past the shrine and saw across to Tengu Peak. Dark blue skies, fluffy white clouds, red/green/yellow trees and an amazing and aggressive rock formation. Pure bliss, I couldn’t believe it. I was grinning as wide as my face would allow.
Eventually, I calmed down and had a break to eat. I brought along a few onigiri that I’d bought at a convenience store on the way. But, the Japanese who were also on the summit were pulling out their gas burners and cooking ramen (and other elaborate things) making coffee/tea and having a big lunch party. I couldn’t believe that people would carry up that much stuff. I mean, it’d be nice to enjoy a nice meal up here, but not if I had to carry it all up (but, I guess I did carry my camera gear up…).
After lunch, I walked along the knife-edged path along Tengu Peak. It was amazing, looking to the right were cliffs (couldn’t see how far down due to the clouds) and to the right were… less steep cliffs. And trees. It was so dangerous, yet I felt absolutely secure. But, I bet in poor weather it’d be another story. I climbed all the way to the end, and was tempted to climb down/around the final peak. I must have spend nearly an hour and a half walking around (and talking to old ladies). It was such an amazing sight.
It was nearly 2PM, so I started to head back down to the car park where poor Risa was waiting. I started off in silence, but quickly put on some fast walking music (Tool’s Aenima) and powered my way down in about as much time as the album took.
I was lucky on the way too, arriving at the ropeway just as they were beginning to board. Back in the lower village, I was tired and sweaty. There were signs for an onsen, but when I tried to go I was given the big crossed dame arms. The guy was a douche.
We left, and while driving through Saiji, Risa was slightly sad about not eating more udon while in Shikoku (as tonight was our last night), so to keep her happy, we went to an udon restaurant. Risa ordered a mountain vegetable udon and I ordered a curry udon. They allow you to have double noodles for no extra price, so… I doubled mine up. Risa’s bowl was amazing. It was the size of a salad bowl, and although I had twice as much food as her, my bowl was just a regular size… The meal was good, not amazing, not bad, just good. We kept driving north for a short while to the next michi-no-eki in Imabari City. It was near an onsen area, so it killed two birds with the single stone. AND, the onsen here was cheaper than back at Ishizuchi.
明日は、いよいよ瀬戸内島めぐり☆ いえ〜い！！ ぐっな〜い☆☆