Deep in the Daiko mountain range of eastern Nara you’ll find an isolated peak with a peculiar appellation. Literally translating as ‘lost’, the word mayoi refers not only to getting physically lost as in losing one’s way, but also can be used in a spiritual sense as in an inability to receive enlightenment. The origins of the name of Mt. Mayoi are unknown except to the residents of the small cluster of houses situated around the trailhead on the southern foothills of the peak. Our approach, however, was from the east, along a narrow, winding gravel road that is slowly being consumed by nature.
My companion this time was fellow Hyakumeizan alumnus Nao Muto, who you might remember from an early morning ascent of Mt. Mitake a few winters ago. Nao had brought along an Indonesian friend named Dewi, a strong-willed graduate student with a thirst for adventure and a deep interest in the hidden ridges of Kansai. The duo picked me up at 7am for the long drive through the backwoods of Nara Prefecture. Mt. Mayoi sits on the eastern edge of the Daiko mountain range, a steep, spiny backbone of peaks connecting the highlands of Odai-ga-hara with the pyramidal flank of Mt. Takami some 60 kilometers to the north. A full traverse is possible, but requires a bit of advanced planning and a special skill for finding watersheds hidden off either side of the contorted ridge.
After a bit of a struggle finding the correct forest road to the start of the trail, we reached a fork in the gravel road with a weathered signpost pointing to our target peak. Even though access was easier from the east, we chose an alternative route from the southwest which left a modest 300 meter elevation gain to the ridge line. The eastern approach was a long slog, with nearly 1100 meters of vertical climbing and several hours of hard work. Despite the early departure, it was after 11am when we finally strapped on the packs and marched up the forest road in the brisk winds pushing in from the north. A typhoon was on the way, so our climbing window was short. Barometric pressure held steady, but the force of the gales gave ample warning that this was about to change.
The trail tucked into the forest on our right, leaving behind the cedar plantations and entering a serene world of hardwoods and conifers laying undisturbed for centuries. The scenery continued to improve with each rising step, crescendoing in a jaw-dropping collection of virgin beech trees grasping firmly to the spine of the mountain range.
Trees grew in bowed shapes on either side of the ridge, carved by the strong winds and deep snow drifts. The path was indiscernible among the thicket of fallen leaves and rhododendron bush, but the contours of the ridge would guide us safely to the summit as long as we didn’t take one of the tributaries leading off to ridges paralleling the main spine. The GPS was a big assistance in that matter, and with little else to follow other than the faint migratory patterns of passing fauna, it felt as if we were following the footsteps of Kojima Usui himself, albeit with more modern kit.
After several undulations of the contours, a signpost indicated the summit of Mt. Kuchi-Mayoi, the peak of the lost mouth. There must be some legend associated with this nomenclature. I like to think that perhaps an old Shugendo monk was silenced forever at the sight of the beauty of the forest. Or perhaps a pilgrim lost his voice completely by chanting in the shadows of a nearby rock outcrop.
From here to ridge dropped to a saddle and permeated through the dense forest of beech and other hardwoods swaying steadily in the fierce winds pushing in from the south. A lone doe pranced off toward the sheltered depths of the northern canopy, startled into action by our approaching footfalls. Bears that would usually forage the trees for nuts had also moved to lower ground in anticipation of the encroaching barometric inferno, though fortunately none of us were witness to such migrations.
The forest floor lay blanketed with a fine coating of fallen foliage that was slowly being turned into top soil by the weather patterns that frequent these secluded folds of the Daiko range.
Our progress was steady, thanks in large part to the hand-painted signs that poked up at irregular intervals. If you closed your eyes and someone spun you around a half a dozen times, you would literally be unable to distinguish the direction from which you had come and the way to safety. Indeed, Mt. Mayoi was starting to live up to its name. The GPS greatly assisted in pathfinding when the scenery offered few clues, and shortly after the farmers in the villages took rest from their harvesting for a midday snack we reached the high point, which sat at a 3-way junction at 1300 meters above the sea. The forest did little to buffer the wind, which whipped straight through our windbreakers and forced us into a hasty lunch. Few of us had expected the temperatures to drop so dramatically so early in October.
On the descent back to the car, I had a chance to speak with Dewi at length about her experiences in Japan’s mountains. She had just returned from a full east-to-west traverse of the Azuma mountain range in Tohoku. It’s not everyday that you see an Indonesian woman in headgear tramping up Japan’s summits. Overall her encounters with other hikers seemed to be positive, most likely due to her beaming enthusiasm and impeccable Japanese ability. We talked about her daily prayer rituals in addition to her future goal of being the first Indonesian person (and perhaps first Muslim?) to scale Japan’s 100 famous mountains.
In the late afternoon we reached the car and headed to the valley for a well-deserved hot spring bath. Our initial plan was to camp in the forest for an early morning ascent of Mt. Ikegoya, another of the Kansai 100 that remained on the dwindling list, but the threat of the typhoon forced a retreat. Back to Osaka we drove, fueled by the adrenaline of a successful ascent of one of Kansai’s most breathtaking areas. Three unscaled peaks remain in this range of pristine mountains, so perhaps they are an apt place to close the chapter in the Kansai 100 book. I could knock all 3 off in a weekend if I planned it right, and I know just who to turn to for partners.