Mt. Inamura clawed at my thoughts like a feral cat seeking attention. She needed to be summited soon, so these pangs of regret would dissipate. Late September, and a window of fair early autumn weather presented itself. The commute would be long. The hike even longer. With a wall of typhoons lined up in the Pacific ready to batter the Kii Peninsula, I took the bait and once again boarded that early morning bus from Shimoichi-guchi. This has become such a routine that I was beginning to wonder if the bus drivers would start to recognize me.
From the bus stop at Dorogawa, I marched through town alone, past the shops just beginning to awake from their quiet slumber. Old ladies milled about, sweeping the first remnants of autumn from the facades facing the shoulder-less street. After 10 minutes of steady marching, I found the trail to Inamura on my right, marked by that familiar rectangular box for hikers to fill out their climbing intentions. Ever since my near-death experience in January my faith in the authorities had fallen to record-low levels. Not that I ever filled out those forms before. I came armed with new back-up: my mountaineering insurance card, courtesy of the fine folks at jRO.
The route led through the unimpressive cedar forests and past an impressive cave before meandering along the edge of a collection of smaller peaks to the junction below Kannon-mine. From here, the trail continued blazing just below the ridge line across a series of wooden bridges built over the many streams flowing down from the heights above. The higher I climbed the less dense the cedars became, until they petered out completely into a field of ancient oak trees and thick bamboo grass. This is Omine as a last remembered, untouched by deforestation and only affected by the hands of time. Shortly before noon I reached the modest mountain hut set up on a saddle just below the final push to Inamura. Day hikers spread out on the picnic table, soaking in the rays while replenishing their lost abdominal reserves. A quick snickers bar did the trick for me, and I forged ahead into a fog bank licking the upper reaches of my target peak. By the time I arrived I was in a world of white, but breaks in the clouds revealed a glimpse of Mt. Sanjo across the steep valley. The serene silence was broken occasionally by the syncopated wailing of a conch shell: mountain priests hidden somewhere in the mystic murk engaged in a esoteric religious exercise. I sat back, soaking in the crisp air and dogmatic rhythms.
In the midst of my reverie, I leaned too far forward, knock my trekking pole off the edge of the summit viewing platform and down the side of a cliff. Coming to my senses, I gently climbed down the steps, slid under the platform and scooted to the edge of the abyss. My stick was caught in a tree that I somehow managed to kick free. Once safely retrieved, my next target peak was the impossibly steep rocky perch of Mt. Dainichi. The summit sat adjacent to Inamura, a treacherous cliff separating the two rocky spires as if split by a giant knife. I eased into the approach, crossing a metal bridge built over the gaping hole while trying my best not to look down. A few ladders and chains later, I sat on top of Dainichi’s exposed flank in a rare break in the cloud. The sun rained down on the bald summit as I dug into a rice ball. Two other men soon joined me on the summit. We shared stories about Omine before retreating in unison back to the hut.
From there, the two men headed towards Sanjo while I shot down the trail which I had blazed earlier in the day. At the Kannon junction, I rested on some exposed tree roots while chatting up an elderly duo resting nearby. I had an easy walk back to Dorogawa, but was interested in the longer route via Kannon-mine, and my new information source assured me that the route wasn’t too difficult. I needed a few minutes to psyche myself up for yet another big climb. I had already traversed nearly 15km and extra reserves of energy were needed. This was a two snickers kind of day.
The path climbed up an impossibly steep slope towards a series of false summits which grew longer in succession. What was I thinking? Well, at least the trail was deserted and the views back towards Inamura were pleasant enough. Kannon’s tree-smothered top eventually came into view, and down the far side I slid, nearly giving myself a heart attack by chancing upon two deer grazing in the woods next to the trail. Alarmed, they sprinted deeper inside, rustling leaves and toppling branches in their quest for protection. A few minutes later, the trees swiftly gave way to susuki grass, with a stone monument marking a scenic overlook. A group of several dozen hikers wearing orange t-shirts lay seize to the place. Two of the younger members slid over, made room for my slumped and beaten figure. They appeared to be participants of some strange religious group, but my inquiry as to their nature went unanswered.
The final descent awaited, and with aching knees I ducked back into the green canopy, arriving at the bus stop with only minutes to spare until the next bus. The grand peaks of Dorogawa were now off the list. It was time to turn my attention to further south along the Omine ridge, on the more remote peaks closer to Hongu shrine.