With the heat of August behind me, I descend into the depths of Shikoku Island to explore the peaks towering over secluded Iya valley. My companion this time around was Bin-chan, a strong, witty Chinese girl who’d never been hiking in her life. Could she survive the 3-day, 25km journey unscathed?
As the bus rolled into Tokushima station, we searched for a safe place on the busy street to hitch. Four rides and 7 grueling hours later, we find ourselves standing at the Kubo bus stop, trying to make a crucial decision about where to go. “No signposts or trailheads here,” I admit. The map offered few clues, so we opted to walk along the forest road directly ahead. After some inquiry with a few locals, we realized we’d have to continue walking along the road for well over an hour. “Let’s see how far we can make it before dusk,” I suggested, as Bin nodded in agreement.
It was pushing 7pm when we finally found the trailhead proper, but without a flat place to pitch a tent, we ventured on. The orange glow on the horizon drew darker with each advancing step, but the headlamps soon made up for the lack of natural illumination. After an hour or so of heavy slogging through a cedar forest, we reached a trail junction, and the ridge which would be our home for the next two days. “Let’s camp here,” I suggested, pointing to a flat area right in the middle of the junction. We set up camp, ate a hastily prepared meal, and settled down to dream.
The next morning we were greeted with jaw-dropping panoramic views and a phenomenal sunrise. As we broke down camp, the early morning rays crept up directly behind our target peak, casting deep shadows in the serene valleys far below. Layer upon layer of endless peaks spread out in all directions, culminating with the towering edifice of Mt. Ishizuchi soaring above the clouds. We headed for Mt. Miune, reaching its exposed peak about 2 hours later. We were joined by a few other early risers who’d ventured up from the emergency hut nearby. While most were heading back down into the immense valley, Bin and I pushed on, for we still had a full day’s worth of slogging before reaching our home for the night. The endless array of rolling hills gradually gave way to bamboo grass so dense we had a difficult time picking up the trail. Getting lost was the last thing on my mind, however, as I was petrified of stepping on a snake in the maze of undergrowth. Fingers crossed.
After a long, hard battle, we finally reached the emergency hut just below Mt. Shiraga. Bin collapsed from exhaustion, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her we still had another 3 hours to go before reaching camp. “Wait here, and I’ll go get us some water”, I suggested, praying I’d be able to find the water source marked on the map. A half hour of frantic searching, followed by a steep trailblaze into a hidden ravine, and we were in business. I roused Bin from her slumber and we slowly vertured on, arriving at Maruishi hut shortly before dusk. The hut was in immaculate condition and completely deserted, so we didn’t even bother putting up the tent.
Early again we rose, blessed with yet another spectacular day. “Don’t worry,” I exclaimed, “Tsurugi is just over there”, pointing to the triangular peak on the horizon. Looks can definitely be deceiving, as we spent most of the morning on that all-too-familiar up/down monotony of ridge-walking in the hills. Our hard work eventually paid off, as we soon found ourselves on the final summit slog. The summit has definitely seen better days, and after 3 days of tough walking, both of us felt a tinge of disgust with all of the paved paths, shrines, and aesthetically-challenged structures. Quite a letdown after experiencing such pristine beauty.
Finishing the rest of our provision, Bin and I descended to the massive parking lot and immediately hitched a ride back to civilization. My trusty companion was sore for a few days and had a nasty blister, but otherwise came out alright. Peak #15 in my seemingly endless quest to conquer the 100 mountains was conquered and with so many ranges still left to explore, I set my sights on Hakuba in hopes of scaling Mt. Shirouma before the onset of the winter snows.