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This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Return to Shizuhara - the obsession continues.

   It was a wrong turn at this junction that denied me my 4th summit of the day, the last time I was in this area (Return to Shizuhara). And, if I hadn't been so pigheaded, when I realized my mistake, I could have u-turned and easily got back on track.
   As I have an obsessive disposition, I wasn't going to let this rest and immediately put into plan my return. My research revealed another couple of summits that required my attention - Mt Ryuodake and Mt Amagadake - along with a couple of unnamed peaks. My course would also include a few previously conquered summits - Mt Suitaiyama, Mt Konpirayama and Mt Hyotankuzureyama. 

Map Location.
     I disembarked from my train at the Kibuneguchi Station, a popular destination for tourists and hikers, who come to check-out the settlement of Kibune, and it's many attractions, and also to hike the Kibune to Kurama Trail. My destination was in the other direction, a kilometer along route-38, where this collection of stone religious icons signified the commencement of my track.

    With the track just a few meters away, I couldn't help wondering if the icons had some attachment to the course I was about to endeavor. Well this section anyway.

   For the next 30-minutes the track would ascend 240 meters in a steep, zig-zagging fashion, on it's way to my first summit of the day - Mt Ryuodake. Having payed close attention to the weather forecast, and the predicted high temperatures, I had already worked-up a sweat and was looking forward to taking-on some cold water and my first banana of the day. It had been three hours since I consumed breakfast.
   From Ryuodake the track would follow a ridge-line for a few hundred meters before descending onto the Yakkouzaka-togi Pass.

Map Location.

                                                          The pass is part of the 'Tokaido Road' and the 'Kyoto Trail' and is very popular with members of the hiking community, having passed-through here three times myself in recent times. The most recent a month ago. 

   Thirty minutes after leaving Yakkouzaka-togi I arrived at my second summit, - Mt Toyamine (525m). This is the one I missed-out on conquering during my last outing into the area, so I felt some vindication for my pig-headiness upon my arrival. 

   And, 10-minutes further on, 'that' junction. The one where it all went wrong. I felt like giving the sign a kick but, as I still had a long way to go, I didn't want to risk injury to my foot. So instead I made a physical gesture to the sign and carried on my happy way. I was aware that my track was taking me along a ridge-line, at the same time gradually ascending. From Toyamine to my next summit - Mt Amagadake - was a difference of over 200m. All throughout from my departure from Yakkouzaka-togi, I was very impressed with how well signposted the track was and, looking at the condition of the track, a well beaten track at that.  

Map Location.
   Three hours after leaving Kibuneguchi Station, I had arrived at the highest point of my planned hike - Mt Amagadake (788m). And what a relief it was. I was knackered, hungry, and every stitch of clothing I was wearing, was soaked with sweat. But I was content. From here on it was all downhill, with a few undulations just to make the day interesting.
   Once the obligatory photo opps' had been gotten out of the way, I found a nice soft piece of ground to plant myself, take-out the flask and lunch-box and relax. Well, that was the idea. Just as I was about to take-off my boots I noticed a large red stain on my socks. Signs that a leech had been feeding on my blood supply. Thankfully he hadn't consumed too much and I was able to remove him before he became bloated. How-the-hell these worms manage to make their way to my ankle, while I am on the move, is a source of fascination for me. But, as I had a hot coffee waiting to be consumed, I wasn't going to dwell on it any longer.

   After leaving Amagadake, and a disappointing lunch - I say disappointing, as my bread-sticks were dry and stale, the bananas were soft & mushy - my track descended to this junction. At this point I could choose to cut my day short and emerge at the settlement of Ohara, and a bus back to Kyoto, or continue on. I chose to continue as I knew, just a way up ahead, was a fresh water spring where I could replenish my water supply. But, before that . . . .

. . . . Mt Suitaiyama (577m). The track took me over the summit but, to get here, I had several undulations to contend myself with which left me feeling very parched. All I had left to drink was one more cup-of-coffee, but I was leaving that for my arrival at the Kotohira Shingu Shrine.
   Before that though, I had more undulations, then Mt Konpirasan. The track bypassed the summit - the summit is a 10-minute detour from the junction - and, as I have been here before, I wasn't going to tire myself by returning.

Kotohira Shingu Shrine was a welcome site.

   As it is here I could replenish my water supply from the small spring behind the shrine. It is reputed the water has special healing powers. But, before that, one last cafe au-lait and bread rolls. As the second flask was being filled, I managed to consume most of the first flask. I was that parched.

    Leaving Kotohira Shingu, my track emerged at this concrete Torii on the edge of route-40. Here I crossed the road and, a few meters on . . . .

. . . . my next junction. From this angle it looked very steep, and I began to question my decision as to whether I should continue. My map told me this next segment would take 90-minutes. I decided to stick with my plan. I was pleasantly surprised that the ascent was only a few minutes before arriving at another ridge-line.

   I was even more overjoyed when, just over an hour later, I arrived at the junction to Mt Hyotankuzureyama. Like Konpirasan, I decided to forgo returning to the summit and instead descended into the settlement of Iwakura.

   Soon after leaving the junction I encountered my first, and only, Jizo of the day. Although it looks quite large in the image, actually it is small and easily missed.

   With the sounds of the city ringing below me, I began to feel excited that my day was nearing it's end. How wrong I was. My descent was boring, and dangerous to say the least - 300m over 2km. Nearly 8-hours after arriving at the start, it took me the best part of an hour to reach this junction on the outskirts of Iwakura. I still had a good walk of about 3km before reaching a bus-stop and onto Demachiyanage Station. Followed by a train ride and ending with another bus ride before reaching home.

    As soon as I arrived home, and removed my boots & socks, I made a beeline to the fridge and opened a good cold can of beer. It was sooooo nice. I was tempted to open a second but I didn't want to tempt fate. Especially on an empty stomach.

   Looking back on the G.P.S. data, the course was just on 28km long. I wouldn't recommend doing this during the summer months, unless you had plenty of fluid. There were a couple of good views, but mostly I was surrounded by forest.

   Before I sign-off, I want to share some images of the many fungi I encountered along the way. Many I haven't seen before . . . .


So, until next time,


   Course details - I can't guarantee           the accuracy of the course due to the poor internet reception in some areas. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Return to Shizuhara.

   The original title for this post was going to be the names of the four mountains I planned to conquer on this trip, but only two of them had names (only one had a peg marking the summit), one I wasn't quiet sure whether I was at the summit (although it was confirmed once I downloaded the GPS data) and the fourth I missed due to me taking the wrong track (the story of my life). So the title 'Return to Shizuhara' is appropriate as I was to spend most of the day in the area.

Map Location.
   After a two-hour x two bus and one train ride, I arrived at the Hanajiri Bridge, on the outskirts of the settlement of Ohara. Five minutes was all the time I required to set-up my GPS recorder and camera and, as I wasn't sure how much time I needed to complete today's course, I was eager be on my way.

   After weaving my way through some residential lanes I soon arrived at the commencement of my track. A tall wire gate was my first obstacle but, after a gentle shove, I was through and on-my-way. Immediately after I was in for a shock - I was confronted by the ugly sight of a concrete lane and felled trees. My first thought was that my track would no longer exist and I would have to look for another destination to explore. But, a few hundred meters on, passing more felled trees and a couple of excavators, my track reappeared. Phew. 

   I was now back in my favorite environment and eager to put the past behind me and ascend my first summit. 

   A signpost, giving me directions, conformed I was on the right track - no pun intended. Although written in Kanji I was able to recognize the characters from my research.

   A little further-on I arrived at this junction. The track to my first summit was straight ahead, with the track to the right leading to the settlement of Iwakura, signifying I would be returning here.

Map Location.
    Almost exactly an hour after stepping-off the bus at the Hanajiri Bridge, I had arrived at Mt Hyotankuzureyama, and my first summit of the day. Although the summit was surrounded by dense forest, I was able to catch glimpses of life 532m below. To the south was (Mt)Hieizan, towering over the settlement of Yase. To the north, Ohara and, to the west, the settlement of Iwakura.


   My descent back to the earlier junction only took 5-minutes and onto my next destination - Shizuhara. But first I had to pass through Iwakura.

   As I was about to emerge from the forest, my nose picked-up the smell of freshly-baked bread and, to my utter surprise, was this bakery. I have a weak constitution when it comes to freshly-baked bread so I needed to press-on before temptation got the better of me.

Map Location.
   My stroll through Iwakura was uneventful, except for an encounter I had with several kindergarten staff and their young charges, who were taking a walk into the rural outback to view the recently planted rice-fields. While I was taking this photo a fellow hiker approached with news that, just a few days ago, when he was hiking in this area, he encountered a mother and her two bear cubs, and warned me to be on the lookout for them. Great. That's all I needed.

   On the next section, I encountered these two interesting collections of Buddhist Icons. Always on the lookout for these, I am amazed at the isolated locations I stumble-across them.

   No sooner had I re-entered the forest, I was to emerge at this junction, and familiar terrain. It was about 6-weeks ago I passed-through this junction as I descended from Mt Minouragatake, on my four peaks hike.

Map Location.
   From the junction I made a beeline to the Shizuhara-jinja Shrine and, after 3-hours on the move, the opportunity for a bite-to-eat. I also wanted to use the opportunity to air my feet and check my map. From this point I had two options and I needed to choose which was the best. 

   I chose the nearer of the two, which took me past the Naritosan Amida Temple and around the rear of  Shizuhara-jinja. My information, for this next segment, and my second summit, would take about 40-minutes and, judging by the contours on my map, it was going to be steep. So, as the temperature was getting hotter, and I had a stomach full of food, I decided to slow my pace. I was doing good time and in no hurry. It was steep, but only took me 30-minutes.


   Summit number-2 of the day, if it was the summit - I took a look-around and found no marker-peg or notice - was to be an introduction into some local history. Mt Shirotaniyama (474m) was the location of Seihara-jo Castle, and home to Miyoshi Nagayoshi (1522-1564), a Japanese Samurai and Daimyo who was lord of the Miyoshi Clan during the Sengoku Period. It is not quite clear when the castle was established. Some say between 1469-to-1486, while others say between 1492-to-1501. 

   For the following 30-minutes my track would undulate along a ridge-line until I arrived at this junction. It was here I would detour to conquer my third summit, and unbeknown to me at the time, my last. 



   The track, if there was one, was sparsely marked with a variety of colors of tape which made it confusing. So I decided to head uphill in the hope of finding a marker. Reaching a plateau I came to the conclusion that this was a summit - later to be confirmed when I checked the GPS data - that was completely covered by trees. After the obligatory photo-opp I decided to descent to the junction and continue on my way. Easier said than done. Somehow I managed to head in the opposite direction and, after pausing to calculate where I was, I was soon back in familiar terrain.

  Another undulating plateau and, 30-minutes later, another junction. It was at this point where I made my mistake, denying me the opportunity to knock-off summit number-4. A sign, pointing to the Kurama Station, is the one I should have taken but, at the time, I felt it was too soon and proceeded straight ahead. 

Map Location.

   The result being, I completed a loop and emerged at the settlement of Shizuhara. Needless-to-say, I wasn't a happy-chappy. In front of me was the Yakkouzaka Pass and Kurama and,to add insult-to-injury, I had to pass the junction where I would have emerged, if I had taken the correct track.

   I was surprised, when I emerged at Kurama, how quiet the settlement was. With Kyoto City, and it's environs, becoming the top tourist destination in the world, normally this place is humming with people. I wasn't complaining. All I wanted to do was get to the station, hop-on a train, and relax for the 30-minute ride to Demachiyanagi. But, before then, I had to purchase the obligatory Omiyagi

   With the next train 20-minutes away, I had time to take one last photo with this giant Tengu (that's me on the left). Since my return I have perused my map of the area and have decided on a return visit to check-out the segment of track I missed, plus try my luck at another couple of mountains in the area. Mt Amagadake (map location) being one of them.

                                                                  Until next time,


Course details and images -

Video -

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Minouragatake, Konpirasan, Suitaiyama & Yakisugiyama . . . .

. . . . are four mountains in close proximity to the settlement of Shizuhara, in the northern suburbs of Kyoto City. 
   Konpirasan's existance I discovered in 2003, in Lonely Planet's guide to Hiking in Japan - the chapter on the Kansai Area. There was something about the course that appealed to me and was placed on my 'must see' list. Minouragatake I learnt of very recently, when I was sitting at this Kagura-den at the Shizuhara-jinja Shrine, when a fellow hiker stopped by and, during the course of our conversation, he told me of his days hike. So, after a few hours of pouring-over maps, I devised a course - I would commence my hike at the Ichihara Station (map location) and, from there I would make my way to Minouragatake (432m), then onto Konpirasan (572m), Suitaiyama (577m), Yakisugiyama (717m) and finishing at Ohara.
   I decided on an early start so I wasn't putting myself under any pressure and could complete the course at my leisure. I stepped onto the platform at 8am, after a 90-minute journey to get to this point, in perfect hiking conditions. My track proper was located in the far corner of a residential estate, about 10-minutes from the station and, within 100m, I was in my favorite environment. I took the long route to Minouragatake, not out of any personal desire, as I took the wrong track that almost caused me to loop back to where I started. Once I realized my error, I gave my map a study and soon found my way back on course - when I checked my G.P.S. upload, I was only a few meters away from my planned turn-off. 
   My track soon became a forestry road, which made my ascent a little easier. If I hadn't been paying attention though, I would have missed this junction to Minouragatake, as the sign was lying on the ground behind a shrub. From this point, to the summit, was a bit-of-a-grunt that required me to slow my pace. Even after taking-off my jacket at the station, I was beginning to feel the heat and was wondering if I should have brought more water. Hopefully, if need be, I could top-up somewhere along the way.
Map Location.
    Two hours after leaving Ichihara Station, I had conquered my first summit of the day, and a well-deserved cold drink and banana. The summit was shrouded by trees and offered no view of the surrounding district below. But, it's always an exhilarating feeling when one reaches the summit of any mountain, regardless of it's height.
   During my descent to the settlement of Shuzhara I encountered a couple of track junctions - a later perusal of my map revealed a network of tracks in the area - which gave me the incentive to return and check-out more of this area (watch this space).

     As I emerged from the forest, and into rice-growing country,  I espied this interesting water-wheel. The rotating motion of the wheel generated electricity that, I assume, was used to electrify the surrounding fence. Quite ingenious. 

   Unlike the last time I was in the area, on this occasion I didn't stop at Shuzuhara, but concentrated my energies on reaching Konpirasan for a well deserved lunch-break. My next stop was at this concrete Torii, heralding the gateway to the Kotohira Shingu Shrine, further up the mountain.
   The 'Lonely Planet' article talked about a pilgrimage in this area and, judging by the state of the path - well beaten, concrete-slabs for steps - I was now part of this historical trail. 

   About 20-minutes after leaving the Torii, I arrived at Kotohira Shingu Shrine,which was located at the junction of two paths. Behind the shrine is a small spring that is reputed to have water with healing powers.
                                                                           A few hundred meters on from Kotohira Shingu, and still climbing, I turned a corner and, upon a ridge in front of me, was another concrete Torii, heralding my arrival at the Kotohiragu-jinja Shrine.

   A path, leading me behind the small shrine, took me to my next photo-stop....
                                                                                                                                           . . . . and, what I assume, is part of Kotohiragu-jinja. Unfortunately I can't provide any information regarding the monument inside the fenced enclosure.
   A path,leading from the enclosure, took me to a junction where a sign pointed me in the direction of Konpirasan. And lunch. The 'Lonely Planet' article mentioned the views to be had in this section of the course. Any they weren't wrong about that. At this point I was rewarded with breathtaking views overlooking Ohara, with Mt Hiei (Hieizan) in the distance. The article also mentioned the area was popular with members of the rock-climbing fraternity. I could see why. The guide also mentioned this was a popular area for hikers. To this point I hadn't met with any other hikers. The only two people I saw was at Kotohira Shingu Shrine and, judging by what they were there for, they weren't hikers.
   So, you can imagine the relief I felt, when I exited the forest, that there was not another soul in sight - some popular mountain-summits can be so crowded that it's standing-room only - and I could eat lunch with nothing but the sounds of the great outdoors as company.
Map Location.
   Two hours after leaving Minouragatake, I had arrived at Konpirasan. My head was in a spin with all I had encountered over those past 120-minutes and, after 14-years after first hearing of this mountain, I just sat down, poured myself a coffee, had some bread rolls and a banana, and absorbed the moment. As I was doing good time, I was in no hurry to move on.
   As I left the summit, to make my way to Suitaiyama, I passed this interesting set of monuments. My research revealed some interesting information about this area - It is said that previously there were natural pots of fire, wind and rain on the top of this mountain and the people of Ohara Village prayed to them whenever there was a natural disaster.
   From the next junction my path made a steep descent, which was followed by an equally-steep ascent. Which was followed by another steep descent, which was followed by another equally-steep ascent. Which was followed by . . . .  - I think you get my drift. 
     Suitaiyama, my third summit of the day, was less than a kilometer away and, after all the descents & ascents - four in all - I was ready to take on more water and boost my energy source with another banana. Thinking that was the end of the roller-coaster path, I was mistaken and, for the following 2km, until I reached Yakisugiyama, I had to get used to this type of terrain.
   At the base of one of my descents, at the junction of two paths, I stumbled-across this very friendly group of hikers. My first contact with other hikers of the day. We had a great chat about our days hike, and where we had been and were going to. As it turned-out, we were heading in the same direction, Ohara, albeit via different routes. 
    After parting company with my fellow outdoorholics, my path arrived at a plateau until I reached Yakisugiyama, my fourth and final peak of the day. I had done it, and the exhilaration I felt is indescribable. Another mouthful of water and a banana, and time to make my final descent of the day.
   The next kilometer my path took me along the ridge. Below me I began to hear the sounds of civilization - vehicles travelling along route-367 - when I emerged at this clearing. Below me was the village of Ohara, with the mountain range that separates the prefectures of Kyoto and Shiga behind. What I was about to experience I would rate as one of the most scariest moments of all my outdoor activities, in the forty years I have been doing this.
   From where I stood, to where I arrived at Ohara, my path would drop 273-meters, over a distance of 1-kilometer. The path, of loose stone and rock, zig-zagged in about 20-meter sections, with very little to grab hold of that was secure. One slip, and I would find myself surfing over the edge. One trip, and I would find myself rolling over the edge. There were a couple of respites though, like these power-pylons.
   So . . . .
Map Location.
. . . . as you can no-doubt guess, I was relieved when my track emerged onto the sealed lane that was the entrance to the Kochidaniamida-ji Temple. 
  From here, it was a 2.5km walk that followed Takanogawa River, through the settlement of Ohara, to a bus terminal, and a bus back to Kyoto. After having only encountered a handful of people during my hike, I was now amongst a throng of tourists who were waiting to catch the same bus.
   As I was in no hurry to catch that bus - it was only 3pm - I found a path that led to the river, where I sat-down, peeled-off my boots, and consumed any food and coffee left-over from my day. I also needed the time to chill-out, as I was on a high (no pun intended) after what I had achieved.

                                                              Until next time,


Course details and images - 

The attached video has no narration, I have relied on the sounds of the outdoors.