Some people shy away from the mountains when the weather is anything less than immaculate. This is hardly an option, however, when you’re peak hunting in the secluded mountains of Kansai. Cloud marks dominated the weather forecast all day, but droplets had formed on the windows of the express train before it had even reached Wakayama city. I was en route to Kii-tanabe station for a long-awaited rendezvous with an obscure peak on the western edge of the Ootō mountains.
Ayako and Dewi were waiting upon my arrival, and we soon pointed the car to the north, following the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo for part of the way before ducking deeper into the mountains via route 371. Plum blossoms in full bloom provided dashes of color among the gray cloud as the rain held the cedar pollen at bay. After passing the maiden’s hot spring, the route followed a moss-laden stream through bear valley until leaving the watershed and climbing by way of steep switchbacks high up the valley towards Hansa pass. The forest road passed by a water source signposted at the maiden’s tears, the second such reference to the otome (乙女) in this region. There must be some kind of legend associated with our target peak, but with no villagers around to ask, we’d have to leave it up to the imagination for the time being.
Rain continued to fall in steady sheets upon reaching the trailhead. We all sorted through our kit in search of rain gear and other thermal wear that would keep up both dry and warm in the chilly March air. The forest canopy blocked most of the falling moisture as the trail meandered through the north facing slopes dotted with gigantic boulders caked in a verdant coating of mushy moss.
The cedar plantations gave way to natural vegetation upon reaching the ridge of the long Ootō range. Turn left here and there were two more unclimbed peaks on the dwindling Kansai 100 list, a mere 16 hours away on foot. The task at hand was fortunately much closer as we turned right towards the summit of Hansamine, my 92nd peak. The locals prefer the Chinese reading of the last character and call this summit Hansarei. Despite the naming discrepancies, the jagged ridge of the massif earned our respect. It was easy to see why this mountain made the final cut on the Kansai 100 list.
The route scaled up, in, and around some very impressive cliff formations that afford spectacular vistas in fair-weather conditions. The fog kept us focused at the task at hand, which mainly consisted of keeping our balance as the rain and gravity threatened to throw us off these lofty pinnacles. It took close to an hour to reach the high point, where a couple of brief summit photos were snapped before the three of us retreated back to the sheltered protection of the forest. This was one peak where taking a break was not an option.
The return trip wasn’t as exciting as the climb. For one, the rain had picked up pace, leaving our gear thoroughly drenched. Drenched clothing brought on the chill: we had to keep moving to stay warm, but the spirits weren’t dampened. The mind stayed focused on some of the hairier bits of the traverse, with ropes in place to slow the downward momentum. Eventually the ridge flattened out once again and the conversation could be a bit more relaxed, once again focusing on the remaining peaks at hand. Dewi was on her 43rd peak, and fortunately we still had a couple of mutual peaks between us that remained unclimbed.
Back at the car, we stripped off the wet gear and blasted the heat, chewing on our rations as Ayako drove towards Hyakken gorge. The road leading into the gorge was closed due to landslide damage from the notorious typhoon of 2011 that ravaged this entire area. Despite the massive amount of money Wakayama Prefecture spends on public works projects, this repair work falls by the wayside as government funding for new projects takes precedent over repair or upgrade to existing infrastructure. There was another way into the gorge, but it involved a 30-minute detour to the southeast. That route would actually take up directly past the trailhead to Mt. Houshi, a peak that was still left on the list. Since it was already past 2pm and the rain continued to fall, the hot spring baths of Shirahama won out over another soggy ascent.
It was only upon my return to Osaka that I found out about the origin of the maiden reference. To the north of Hansarei, along a section of route 371 that we had driven through earlier, lies a vantage point of the mountain. From here, the entire ridge looks like the profile of a sleeping maiden: the contours of Hansarei itself form the facial profile, while the rest of the ridge stretching out to Mt. Mitsumori represent the torso. Apparently this profile can also be seen along parts of the Kumano Kodo, leaving the mountain with the peculiar nickname of the sleeping maiden.