Posted tagged ‘Shikoku hikes (四国)’

Mt. Ishizuchi (石鎚山)

June 12, 2008

Mt. Ishizuchi is not only the highest peak in western Japan, but is also one of the 7 sacred peaks of Japan. Expect to run into a few Shingon pilgrims dressed in white, as well as the weekend crowds in autumn.

The hike: From the bus stop, hike along the road for a few minutes, and you’ll see some decrepit-looking buildings on your right. The trailhead is behind these buildings. It’s a little confusing at first because it feels like you’re hiking in someone’s yard. Click here to get an idea of what to look for. You’ll enter a dense cedar forest and soon come to your first junction. You can take either trail, but the one on the right is much steeper but shorter, with a lot of switchbacks. The trail to the left is more scenic, but crosses a mountain stream several times, so don’t take this trail if it’s been raining and the water levels are high. This trail is a more direct path to the summit. I’ll describe the other trail, however, because it’s the one I took. Head to the right and start climbing up the spur of the mountain, away from the water. It’ll take about 2 hours of pretty tough ascending before you reach the top of the gondola. You’ll find a junction and will see your first signs of development. Head left at this junction (turning right will take you to the top of the gondola), and you’ll arrive at the main shrine shortly. This is a popular place of worship for Shingon buddhists, and if you’ve come on the weekend you’ll find lots of people. The souvenir shops sell conch shells and other pilgrim accessories. I was lucky to witness a group of about 75 pilgrims, all blowing their shells in unison inside the main shrine! After saying a few prayers, turn left and cross through the large wooden gate. This is where the true climb begins, and the path is very well marked. The first 20 minutes is actually down, and you’ll reach a 4-way junction called Hacho (八丁). Ignore the trails off to the left, as they descend towards where you started the hike, and head straight. You should reach a place called Zenjamori (前社森) in about an hour or so, and Yoake-toge (夜明峠) a short time after that. Here you’ll find yet another junction (Ishizuchi has no shortage of hiking options), but ignore the trail to the left and head straight. Keep climbing up and up, and you’ll reach ajunction for the trail to Tsuchi-goya on your left. Ignore this and pass through the shrine gate and climb the concrete stairs to the toilets. The toilets are clean and require a 100 yen donation to use. Just above this toilet complex, the trail fork to the right. There’s a trail heading straight on that leads to a series of long chains that pilgrims and adventure seekers use to scale the mountain. The chains can get quite crowded and if you suffer from a fear of heights you’re much better off sticking to the main trail on your right. There are 3 sets of chains in all, and I would not advise using them to descend or in wet conditions. Continue climbing up the steel staircases built into the mountain and in about 20 minutes you’ll reach the summit of Misen (弥山), where you’ll find a large hut and small weather beaten shrine. The view of Tengu-dake (天狗岳), the high point, is impressive. It should take about 15 minutes of climbing on a precarious knife edge ridge to reach the summit, where you’ll have outstanding panoramic views of most of Shikoku. If the weather is bad then I don’t suggest trudging along to Tengu, as the views will be the same as from Misen. Anyway, retrace your steps back to the shrine gate at the saddle below the peak, where a choice will have to be made. If you turn right then you can descend down to the Tsuchigoya (土小屋) bus stop in about 90 minutes. Alternatively, you can descend all the way back you came by turning right at Yoake-toge and following the signs to Nishinokawa.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got the proper equipment for winter climbing. Otherwise, aim to go between April and late November. The gondola runs all year round because there’s a small ski resort on the mountain. Click here to see someone who climbed in January.

Access: From Matsuyama (松山) station in Ehime Prefecture, take the JR Limited Express ‘Shiokaze’ train and get off at Iyosaijo (伊予西条) station. The train takes about an hour and costs around 3000 yen. A local train takes twice the time but is half the price. From Saiyo, take a bus bound for Nishinokawa (西之川) and get off at the last stop. There are only 4 buses a day, so plan accordingly. Click here for the bus schedule. If you want to take the expensive gondola, then get off one stop earlier at Ishizuchi Ropeway Mae (石鎚ロープウエイ前)

Live Web Cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1500m).

Mt. Tsurugi (剣山)

April 26, 2008

Last updated: November 16, 2021

Mt. Tsurugi (san), not to be confused with Mt. Tsurugi (dake) in the Kita Alps, is the 2nd tallest mountain in Western Japan, and well worth a visit if you find yourself in Tokushima Prefecture. Apart from the chair lift and a couple of buildings/antenna on the summit, the peak is wonderful, with a splendid sub-alpine forest and plenty of breathtaking views.

The hike: From the chair lift entrance, hike downhill for about 50 meters on Route 438 (don’t go through the tunnel) past a couple of restaurants to find a shrine gate on your right with a signpost for Tsurugi Tozanguchi (剣山登山口). Climb the concrete stairs under the shrine gate (and don’t forget to check out the temple just to the left in the grassy park for its collection of Buddhist statues). At the top of the stairs turn right and walk past the shrine buildings to find a shimenawa rope strung between two cedar trees and a wooden signpost reading Tsurugisan Sanchō 4000 m (剣山山頂へ 4,000m). Just before the signpost fill up your water bottles at the stainless steel sink and walk under the rope and past the Fudō Myō-ō statue and small shrine sanctuary on your left. Walk past a concrete water reservoir with rubber water pipes strung about and climb the crest of the hill to a larger shrine building on your left. Through a gap in the trees you can see Mt Tsurugi if you walk up to the building itself. Continue climbing on a gentle slope to reach a corrugated metal tunnel running directly under the chairlift. Pass through the tunnel and follow the well-worn path as it switchbacks and runs mostly parallel to the lift. You may want to bring some headphones to drown out the loudspeaker announcements emanating from the adjacent chair lift. The route doubles as a nature walk, with plenty of trees signposted in katakana, so amuse yourself by learning some Japanese tree names if you’d like. After 10 minutes you’ll see signpost indicating Nishijima Eki 400m (西島駅 400m), or 400 horizontal meters to the top of the chair lift. Continue climbing for a couple of hundred meters through a narrow section of trail to reach a rock formation with a corrugated metal building housing a buddhist sanctuary. Feel free to climb up on the side trail to view the statues, or simply ignore and continue on the main trail to your left and ascend around the rock to reach a junction above. Ignore this and keep to the main trail, which soon breaks out of the trees to reveal the first vistas of the summit plateau in front of you and the pyramidal peak of Jirōgyū to the right. There are a couple of flattened clearings among the bamboo grass which double as campsites. If camping here then bring plenty of water to sustain you and be warned that the toilets at the chair lift station have seen better days. Stick to the main path to ascend past the campsites to reach the a big junction near the top of the chairlift. There is a huge signboard with a detailed map of the summit area. Take a photo as it will prove handy as there are many different paths to choose from. There are two different options. Those short of time should turn left and take the trail just next to the chair lift, which will take you to the summit in about 40 minutes. Otherwise, follow my recommended loop below:

This is the beginning of the loop hike. You’ll climb via the shrine Torii path and finish on the trail just below. Pass through the wooden Torii gate marked in yellow paint as 四国つるぎ山. Climb a short distance and ignore the path on your left (which leads to a longer loop trail for Shugendō practitioners) and keep to the main track. After passing through a second wooden Torii gate, the route passes through a lush forest with intermittent vistas to your right. Keep an eye out for wildflowers lining the path including purple monkshood flowers in late August. The trail traverses along the side of the mountain before reaching Otsurugi shrine (大剣神社) at the base of its namesake rock formation. This ‘spearlike’ crag was used in ancient times by Shugendō monks, who chanted mantras under this rock formation. A trail left leads to Katanakake-no-matsu (刀掛の松), a large pine tree that sits along the main path converging from the chair lift. The path to the right passes right by the shrine before reaching a water source that is among the 100 best water sources in Japan. Unless you’re thirsty, ignore this path and stick to the main route, which starts switchbacking through a forest of Erman’s birch (dakekanba) that is usually found growing in the subalpine forests of Japan’s higher mountains. The trail turns east and traverses around the back side of the mountain towards the summit. You’ll soon see the blue roof of one of the mountain huts above you and just before reaching the mountain hut a path converges from the left. After reaching the buildings, admire the views towards the northeast, including views of Daisen on days with good visibility. Take the narrow trail between the mountain hut and shrine office to reach the summit plateau, which is lined with wooden walkways to help protect the vegetation. Gone are the days of the concrete paths and the restoration work has helped the greenery return to what was once a neglected mountain top. A wooden walkway leads left to a platform and ridge trail to Ni-no-mori and alternative loop around the mountain. The platform is a great place to take a break as the true summit area is narrow and cramped. After admiring the views return to to the junction. You can take either wooden walkway as both converge on the summit. The building just to the left is an eco toilet facility and a welcome replacement over the foul-smelling concrete restroom that used to sit on the summit. Take the right fork and climb the final few steps to the summit. The walkway splits right at the summit, with the triangulation point sitting between, wrapped in a shimenawa rope. After posing for summit photos, continue on the path to the south along the main ridge. You’ll see an attractive-looking peak jutting out just in front of you – that is Jirōgyū, your second target peak of the day. Drop down through the bamboo grass along the well-traveled path to descend to a junction. Ignore the first junction you reach (this will be your descent path after climbing Jirōgyū so you can drop off extra stuff here if you have a heavy pack). Continue on the undulating track to reach the bottom of the pass and start of the steep climb to the summit. Ignore the track to the right that bypasses the summit (unless you need water, as there’s a source on that track) and keep to the main ridge. It’s a 20-minute climb to the top depending on your speed, where there are spectacular views back towards Tsurugi and further afield to Miune and the rest of the main traverse route of the mountain range to the west. After enjoying the views retrace your steps back to the second junction and take the track to your left marked in Japanese for Mi-no-koshi (見の越へ 2770). The path is a lovely, relatively flat track that skirts under the side of Tsurugi before joining the main trail at the top of the chair lift. Lined by wildflowers and hemmed by hardwoods, the track is easily the most beautiful on the peak and pleasant way to round out your hike. Ignore all of the trails splitting off to the right – they all lead back to the summit of Tsurugi. Instead, continue straight, past an unmarked water source and wooden rest shelter to reach the top of the chair lift in about 50 minutes. From there, simply turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got your own transport. Winter is probably the best time for experienced mountaineers, since the lift won’t be running and the mountain hut will be closed. Click here to see the winter scenery. Otherwise, aim to go between April and November. Be warned that the peak is extremely popular during the autumn season, so schedule your visit on a quieter weekday if possible.

Access: Public transport access is limited, so a car is essential for enjoying this hike at your own pace. The trailhead starts at Mi-no-koshi (見の越) at the junction Routes 438 and 439 at the entrance to Iya Valley. Hitchhiking from Sadamitsu Station (貞光駅) certainly is possible if you walk over to Route 438 and ask the driver to take you to Tsurugisan. Otherwise, there is seasonal microbus service from both Sadamitsu and Anabuki stations on the JR Tokushima line. Click here to download the most recently updated PDF file. Here is English information about the bus from Sadamitsu station,

Map: Click here and scroll down to part 3 (主な配布場所). There you will find two pdf file downloads. Click on 広域登山道マップ(英語版).pdf to download the English version of the map.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 535m). If you take the chair lift then you’ll save 200 meters of vertical elevation gain and will be hiking with a lighter wallet.

Total Round-trip Distance: 9km (4-1/2 to 7 hours)