The mountains of southern Wakayama are daunting, not only for their steep contours, but also for the challenging access by public transport. Hence my current predicament: the bus arrives at the trailhead at 1:35pm, departing for Koza station at 3:32pm. The map says to allow 2 hours and 35 minutes to complete the loop up and over the twin crags sitting on the summit of Dakenomori. I’d need to shave half an hour off the climb in order to make the last bus back to the station. It was just another mountain on the list where I would be very pressed for time.
The sun hung high over the mountain as I alighted the bus. Directly across the river from the bus stop sat an immense rock formation called Ichimai-iwa, Japan’s answer to Ayers rock if the tourist literature is to be trusted. I headed north on route 371, reaching the trailhead just before a tunnel in the road. The path immediately gained altitude, marked by a series of signs warning hikers to beware of bees. Apparently, the mountain is a habitat for the menacing giant hornet, whose powerful stings cause roughly two dozen deaths per year. Being early April, I knew the bees, if awake at all, would be woozy from their winter hibernation and hardly a threat. Still, I kept a vigilant eye for any airborne creatures.
The path rose above the tunnel, reaching a humongous slab of granite through which the trail ran directly through. Footwork was tricky on the rock face made slick by recent rains. Ruts in the slab indicated safe places for hikers to put their soles, and ropes in the steeper sections help aid the ascent as well. Just past this rock formation, the trail dove into a cedar forest before reaching the ridge line. From here, it was an incredibly steep climb to the upper reaches of the mountain, where even the cedar trees could not scale.
The first of Dakenomori’s twin summits was breached in only 45 minutes from the paved road below. I had cut the map time in half, but paid for it in sheer sweat and fatigue. I took a gulp from my sports drink while admiring the views from the lofty perch. Just to the north, the long flowing ridge of Mt. Otō came into view, followed by a handful of other mountains whose shape and name I could not discern. The route dropped to a saddle, followed by an even steeper, rope-lined ascent of the second peak. The views from here were not as impressive, but it would have been a waste to have skipped one of the peaks. I always make a concerted effort to climb both peaks if the mountain is indeed a twin – whether it be Mt. Shiomi in the Southern Alps, or Kashima-yari in the North, climbing both sets of twins offers a rare chance to look back on your target peak with envy, just as a jealous younger sister looks up to her older sibling.
Dropping back into the forest, the trail skirted along the edge of some more rock formations before looping back to the bus stop through yet another nondescript cedar plantation. I made it to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare before the last bus back to the station. The first of many Wakayama ‘toughies’ was now in the books. Tough not in the elevation gained, but in the kilometers traveled just to reach their forgotten depths.