My latest Post.

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.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ikoma-sanke Hiking Course.

    Ikomayama, bordering the prefectures of Nara and Osaka, is the highest mountain in the Kongo-Ikoma-Kisen Quasi National Park (phew that's a mouthful), standing at 642m. The area is popular with hikers, picnickers, in fact anyone interested in the outdoors can be found in this area. Because of it's location, the range can be easily accessed via hundreds of thoroughfares, and regardless of mode. If you want to take the more leisurely way of experiencing the 'Park, then I suggest you use the "Shigi - Ikoma Skyline Road". 
   I have explored this area many times over the years - it is only a couple of kilometers from where I live - and have enjoyed the variety of scenery on display. It was on one such venture that, while checking-out a museum dedicated to the local wildlife, I discovered this map. The nice people who administer and maintain the park have created a series of tracks allowing the experienced, and the not-so-experienced, the opportunity to appreciate what lies just beyond the city boundaries. There are 24-tracks, ranging from a casual 4km hike up to the summit of Mt Ikoma, to the mammoth 39km hike that encompasses all twenty-three tracks. If one so wishes, they don't have to complete whatever track they are hiking and can create their own itinerary by mixing one-or-more tracks, like I have done on many an occasion. All tracks are well maintained and signposted, with facilities - toilets, shelters, vending machines - dotted throughout.
Map Location.
   There are many sights to attract your attention within the 'Park, like this settlement at Kuragari Pass on route-308 (regarded as the steepest road in Japan). At this point you are not far from Mt Ikoma. 
Map Location.
    Chogosonshi-ji Temple, founded by Prince Shotoku, an important politician who built the foundation of the state of Japan during the Asuka Period (592-710), is located in the grounds surrounding Mt Shigi. As you approach this complex, you will be greeted by the worlds largest paper-mache Tiger, as-well-as throughout the temple grounds; the temple is related to the tiger of the Chinese Zodiac, which is used for the calendar, time and direction.                                                                                                                                                              
    Map Location.
   There is also some important history attached to area. In 1536, during the Sengoku Period, a gentleman by the name of Kizawa Nagamasa, constructed Shigisan Castle on the summit of Mt Shigisan (437m). The castle was a  Yamajiro, or mountaintop castle, and afforded fine views

over Kawachi (present day Osaka Prefecture) and Yamato (present day Nara Prefecture) Provinces. The castle must have been enormous - 700m from north to south and 550m east to west - but, unfortunately, was destroyed in 1577 during the Siege of Shigisan, and all that remains today is this monument atop the summit.

    My plan, over the coming months, is to enter the National Park via one of the many entrances & tracks, and  explore and compose a blog of the days outing, then add it to this post. My first two posts will be of track-24, the track that encompasses all 23-tracks of the Ikoma-sanke Hiking Course.

                             Tsuda to Shijonawate.

     This segment is close to where I live so I was able to walk to the start. There is a bus-service into the area, departing to-and-from the J.R.Tsuda Station, but I think they are few-and-far between. If you are exiting the track at this end, just over the bypass is the Lohas Public Baths (map location) and the perfect way to end your perfect day. At the other end - route-8 at Shijonawate - there is a bus that will terminate it's route at the J.R.Suminodo Station.

                           Shijonawate to Sango.

    Unlike the previous segment, you don't have much, if any, contact with small settlements. Within 15-minutes of alighting the bus, you begin your ascent and, from there the track undulates until you commence your final descent into Sango. They are not difficult hill-climbs/descents, but I suggest you don't push yourself. There are views aplenty along this 24km stretch and, if you have packed a set of binoculars, all the better. Study your map before your departure and pay attention to the signs along the way. Your sign reads - "Ikoma Nature Walk" (orange). There are several shelters/rest-stops and many benches along the way for you to break for lunch. I think I noticed two vending machines, so make sure you pack an adequate amount of food & drink. The Kintetsu Bus company operate a service to & from the start of this segment, departing hourly from the J.R. Suminodo Station.

                                   Shijonawate Sta' to Ishikiri Sta'
                                     via Mt Ikomayama.

   This 22-kilometer course I would rate as one of my best hikes, and will remain that way for some years to come. It was a pity the day had to come to an end. But, in saying that, I am already planning my return (not the same course) to check-out sights & tracks I missed on this trip. 
   There is a bit of everything here - narrow urban lanes, mountain valleys, nature in all it's glory, and, not to forget, temples and shrines. If you are partial to a bit of hill-climbing, and don't mind getting your boots dirty, then this course is for you.
   Getting to-and-from this course is easy, with the J.R.Shijonawate and Kintetsu Ishikiri Stations your arrival and departure points. It is very well sign-posted, directing you to your next junction or point-of-interest  plus with maps along the way.   

Shijonawate to Sango.

   Ikomayama (642m) standing sentinel over Osaka & Nara Cities, is included in this segment of the Ikoma-sanke Hiking Course. Although my path skirts around the mountain summit, I am sure I will still be in for some great views, especially of Osaka City & environs. 
   In the above image, taken 6-days prior to my trip, Ikomayama is blanketed in snow. The day before, the Pacific Coast of Japan was struck by a record-breaking snowfall (Japan Times), so I was conscience of my safety and took the appropriate measures - adequate clothing, maps, food & drink, e.t.c. - when preparing my gear. Within minutes of setting-out from my arrival point, Tozanguchi in Shijonawata City (map location), I was greeted with a 2cm carpet of snow, and would remain that way for most of my trip.

       Because I didn't carry a pair of crampons, I wasn't going to take any risks and tread carefully - I am aware of the risks involved in walking on compacted snow, so, whenever I needed to, I walked in the loose snow on the side of the track. Having hiked in this area several times over the years, I was aware of the terrain ahead.
   The first segment skirts-around the outer greens of a local golf course, before commencing the first ascent of the day. I soon arrive at my first junction, where route-9 of the 'Course descends down into Hozan-ji Temple  (map location), and the Shigi-Ikoma Skyline Road, which runs parallel to my track.
   Also at this junction are two other tracks, albeit one a lane providing vehicular access to the area, and my course. I needed to pay attention here and take the track up the wooden steps in front of me - take the wrong track, and god-knows where I will end up. There is a picnic area here (above image) and, to mention also, a signpost giving directions; I found these 'posts located throughout the course and they are very helpful. Although there are many tracks in the area, the sign I am following reads, "Ikoma Nature Walk" (orange). 
     Throughout this segment are several picnic spots, allowing the hiker the opportunity to break for that long-overdue food & liquid intake and, in the image on the right, their first opportunity for a view of the sights below. And what a view it is. Osaka City, in all it's glory and size, is laid-out for all to see and spot the many landmarks engulfed within it's confines. It's also at this location I come in contact with the first, of the many, hikers that I meet during the course of my day.
Map Location.
  As my track undulates and I pass another couple of junctions, I soon emerge into a clearing, and my first secluded settlement since commencing my hike. I now know exactly where I am. A few hundred meters on and I arrive at route-308. This road connects Osaka with Nara, and has the distinction of being the steepest road in Japan and, having walked down it, I can confirm that. In the above image I am looking upwards towards the Kuragari Pass ( the lane on the left in the image is route-308, my lane is straight ahead on the right) and, in the coming weeks, I plan to hike through this area as part of another post for this series. It is here I meet another hiker who was proud to inform me that he has been to New-Zealand on two occasions, on one occasion he hiked the Milford Track. He also complemented me on how good our local wine was. Pity he was going in the opposite direction, I would have enjoyed his company.
    Leaving route-308 behind, I soon re-enter the forest and, before I know it, my first rest-stop and shelter, and the opportunity to relieve myself and do a map-check. My calculations lead me to the conclusion that I am about a third of my way along. 
    The facility is well appointed and offers the weary traveller a warm, dry environment to rest-up. Several tracks converge here and, with the help of the signs, one should have no problem knowing which way to head. My track, directly in front of the shelter, ascends up a steep hill, and . . . . 
Map Location.
 . . . . my next viewpoint. And what a view it is. Ikomayama is directly in front of me (to the North) and, to my left, is Osaka City. Behind me, in the far distance, is Kongo-san (1,125m) and, in the foreground, Shigi-san.  
   As I wander off, my attention was drawn to this interesting piece of artwork. Very impressive. At this point I can hear the sounds of traffic using the 'Skyline Road, which I am about to re-join, and also the bells of a nearby Temple.

Map Location.
   After a couple of ascents/descents, the track soon emerges at a clearing, and this structure. This is a viewing platform (one would be forgiven, on first sight, if they thought this a diving platform) that offers 360-degree 
views and, if the conditions are right, views for as far as the eye can see - Wakayama, Kobe, Awaji Island, Osaka, Nara, the list goes on-and-on. 
It's also an ideal location for me to break for lunch, climb the steps for my view and check-out the interesting collection of padlocks (image on the right). I get the distinct feeling that this is a tradition, when visiting this site, to bring a padlock, inscribe a message or name on it, and attach it to the wire. 
   Upon leaving the viewing platform, I discover the signage changes and I have to rely on instinct, and my maps. I am somewhat disappointed as to how this has happened and I come to the conclusion that, over time, they will eventually upgrade the signs. The track crosses the 'Skyline Road, via a bridge, and, soon after, I arrive at a junction where three tracks converge. Taking the time to admire this religious icon, and maps, I become confused as to what track is mine. So, not wanting to take to wrong track and end-up miles of course, I walk along the Road and, before long, my track re-emerges from the forest and I heave a sigh-of-relief. I reach a tunnel, that goes under the 'Skyline Road, and I know exactly where I am.
   This is confirmed soon after, when I reach this junction. It is here I say farewell to track-24 and join track-20 and descend towards Sango. While checking the map another hiker passed-by. I had seen this man earlier, at the junction where I wasn't quite sure what track to take,  confirming that my track did proceed from that point.

    As I make my descent, through the rural outback of Sango Town, my muddy track has now become a sealed lane, and the sounds of traffic are about, albeit farmers vehicles. I reach a junction that directs me to Shigi-san and Chogosonshi-ji Temple.
Map Location.
   My track soon emerges, albeit briefly, at this pond, and I take the time to envy the anglers relaxing in the warm sunshine trying to catch that evenings meal. In the distance, behind the trees, is a secluded temple, that I stop at briefly before my next destination . . . .
Map Location.

. . . . Chogosonshi-ji Temple. As I was hiking, and aware I still had some distance to cover, I didn't want to spend too much time here, so decided to place this complex on my "Must Return" list. It's a huge site and, I would say, requires some hours to take-in and explore the many buildings that are here. 
     Exiting the complex, I say farewell to track-20, and my friend the tiger-dragon (for want of a better name) and say hello to track-23, the final track
of the day. 
Map Location.
    Twenty-four kilometers x seven-hours after leaving Shijonawate, I arrive at this signpost, heralding the end of my hike. And what a hike it has been. In my video I use the "f" word to describe how I am feeling at this point. It has been an awesome outing and am excited to review the data collected and sharing my experience with others. I still have another 1km before I reach the Kintetsu Shigisanshita Station and, from there, a 4-connection x 90-minute train ride home. I was wise, when preparing my gear, to have packed a small bottle of red wine and, with a pack of current buns, I spent my home trip reviewing my day.
   From start to finish - Tsuda to Sango - the total distance covered is just short of 44km. I am very keen to return to the area and, on that occasion, I would plan to stay the night and check-out some of the other side-tracks that connect with track-24. So watch this space.


   Links: Full video of the days outing.
                Cateye Enou; Shijonawate to Sango - part-1 and part-2

                Ride With G.P.S.

Tsuda to Shijonawate.

Map Location.
   I have commenced this segment at an industrial park in the rural outskirts of Hirakata City. The course proper (track-4) commences at the J.R.Tsuda Station, but I walked here from home, a distance of about 3km. 
   Within minutes the track leaves the sounds of civilization behind, and is replaced by the sounds of the wildlife that reside within the confines of the forest. The track is well maintained and signposted and, if you so desire, you can explore the many side trails that branch-off the main track, some returning you to the nearby residential estates that border the park.
Map Location.
   About 30-minutes in, you reach this map and set of log-steps that take you to Mt Kunimiyama and some awesome 180-degree views. To your left is the vast expanse of Osaka City, and the concrete monstrosities erected within. In front, and below you, is Hirakata City. Then, as you pan to your right, is Kyoto City (On a clear day you can see the Kyoto Tower, Hieizan and Atagosan).  
   From here, after your ascent to Kunimiyama, your track traverses a plateau through some picturesque scenery when, before long, you arrive 
at your first track junction. Here track-1, that commences at route-71, merges, albeit for a few hundred meters, and accompanies you to your next point-of-interest....
Map Location.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     "The Katano Nature & Wildlife Museum". The planners couldn't have found a more suitable location to erect an exhibition center dedicated to the local wildlife. If you have walked here, there are plenty of benches & tables to enjoy that picnic you brought. Don't be in a hurry to move on, there is plenty to see & experience. 
   Soon after leaving the museum, your track passes over a dam where you may get a closer look at some of the wildlife that reside on the pond. From here your track emerges onto a lane that allows access to a nearby golf-course. Crossing the lane the track then makes a steep ascent up some log steps. If it is hot I recommend you pace yourself accordingly as you may experience problems.
Then, just as you are catching your breath, this rock, with an inscription carved into it, appears, heralding your arrival at Kounosen. 
Map Location.
                                                                                                                                     Like Mt Kunimiyama earlier, the views from here are just as spectacular. But I need to warn you, take care when climbing to the top. If it's cold and wet, there might be some ice on the surface.
 The descent from Kounosen is steeper that the ascent and more trickier, so care is required. A minute-or-so later, set in amongst the bush, is this Torii and small Shrine. What intrigued me about this shrine is that it is dedicated to cooks. Interesting, to say the least.
Map Location.
Route-7 is the next junction you encounter, albeit for about 100m, before re-entering the forest and soon emerging at the settlement of Hoji. Turning left here the track now takes you to the entrance of the Osaka Midori Park. This is a huge recreation park, comprising of two locations (the other we pass by a little later) with a network of tracks resembling the vascular system of the human body. A word of caution, pay attention as one can easily take the wrong turn-off and end-up god-knows-where (like I did). 
Map Location.
   The tracks throughout the park are a combination of sealed, unsealed and wooden-planked. The sign-posts are a bit suspect, due to age, with some in English (Romaji). You reach a junction (image on the left) with a building that supplies information, along with toilet facilities and vending machines. It is a nice spot to picnic. From here the track leads up the right side of the center and winds it's way up a hill and exits onto the Kisaichi Country Club. The driveway from the club exits onto route-168, a very-busy inter-prefecture highway. So, when crossing the road to the bridge on the other side, take care.
Map Location.
   Once across the bridge the course follows the road, past a couple of cafes, and disappears into the other half of the Osaka Midori Park. Because the track emerges, and passes-through, a crematorium and cemetery, something I feel is inappropriate, I decide to take an alternative route, and go through the settlement of  Shimotawara. But, before I reach the settlement, there is Iwafune-jinja Shrine I am keen to visit, again. This is a quaint wee shrine that is built around, and into, some very large boulders with a small stream running through it. If you are there at the opportune moment, the grotto may be open for you to experience. Of all the times I have visited this complex, the grotto has been closed.
   From here I follow a path, that follows a stream, that eventually leads me to the intersection with route-163, another very-busy thoroughfare. Crossing the intersection, and reconnecting with my stream, I soon re-enter the forest and leave the residential community behind.
Map Location.
   A few minutes in and my attention is drawn to the sound of a waterfall. Upon closer inspection I discover....
....these two small religious icons close by. I suspect this site may be used for a religious ritual known as Misogi, or be part of a pilgrimage where the waterfall has some spiritual significance. 

Map Location.
    Leaving the waterfall, my track circumnavigates a large reservoir and re-enters the forest, emerging onto a narrow, and at times busy, lane. A hundred meters up the road, the track crosses a wooden bridge and enters Midori-no Bunkoen Park, the third, and final, recreation park of this segment of the course. Like the other two parks, this too has many tracks and is also well signposted, with maps in appropriate places. That's not to say you won't wander-off your designated course and end-up some distance away from where you are suppose to be (like I did, again).
Map Location.
 This is a nice park, with some of the paths on wooden walkways (like in the image on the right) passing through several inlets of a reservoir.
    As I press on, I reach another junction and check-out the map to confirm I am going in the right direction. By now the sounds of civilization are becoming louder and warning me that my day is about to conclude.  
Map Location.
   Then, quite suddenly, and unexpectedly, I arrive at my destination; route-8, Shijonawate. As I have about an hour to wait for my bus to Suminodo Station, I take the time for another photo-opportunity, and a long overdue lunch-break.
   It's been another great hike (I say that about all my hikes) and, all going well, I shall be returning here in the not-too-distant-future to complete this course. On that occasion I shall be hiking through to the town of Sango, in Nara Prefecture. On this segment I will be circumnavigating the eastern suburbs of Osaka City and, I am certain, some awesome views.
                                                So, until then, Sayonara.

   Links: Full video of the days outing.

                 Cateye Enou; Tsuda to Shijonawate.

                Full course details & images: