The Diamond Trail is a 45km-long path running along the mountain range separating Nara, Osaka and Wakayama Prefectures. The hiking path was established in 1969 as a joint effort between the prefectures in order to protect the forested areas of the popular peaks of Katsuragi, Kongo and Iwawaki. Unfortunately, this protective agreement came decades too late, as over 90% of the range has been clear-cut and replaced with monocultural cedar forests. Despite this devastating setback, I had my eye on this so-called long trail for quite a while now, and with the Kansai 100 now safely behind me, it was time to undertake the challenge.
Due to the short distance, the entire trail can be done in two very long days, or if you’re superhuman like Michal, in one fell marathon swoop. I, on the other hand, was looking to section hike the entire route, breaking it up into easier-to-swallow niblets that could be done as half-day excursions from my Osaka base. I set forth on a relatively balmy day in early February for the first section between Kamitaishi and Nijo.
Alighting at Kaminotaishi station, I followed route 703 as it ran parallel to the tracks of the Kintetsu Minami-Osaka line. It took the better part of 45 minutes along the clogged rural route before I reached the starting point of the Diamond Trail, at a geological anomaly otherwise known as Donzurubō. Formed by an ancient eruption of Mt. Nijō several millennia ago, the soft sandstone of the rocky outcrops is being eroded away by time, leaving an impressive collection of crafted natural sculptures that afford hours of rock hopping pleasure. I could have spent the entire day here, but knew the task at hand could not be put off any longer.
I retraced my steps back down route 703 until finding a junction for the roughly 3km tramp to Mt. Nijō, the first of the Diamond Trail’s five major peaks. The path rose gently at first until reaching the ridge line, where a series of wooden steps flowed up and down along the contours like a rowboat bobbing in a turbulent sea. At the top of the first rise, I gasped for air in the unexpected workout. With each subsequent rise and fall of the path, I grew more weary with fatigue. The stress from the impending birth of my first child had worn down my stamina and strength. I paused on a wooden bench under an electrical tower to catch my breath and refuel with some chocolate-covered almonds.
Eventually the maze of stairs subsided somewhat as I inched closer to my target. I reached a junction just below the saddle between Nijō’s twin-breasted peaks, and was alarmed to find that the Diamond Trail did not actually hit the summit of either peak. Instead, it skirted the southern edge of the female peak (like other twins in Japan, the peaks are delineated as male and female by their kanji characters) until arriving at Iwaya, a secluded grotto once lined with buddhist statues carved out of stone. All that remains now are a weather-beaten stupa and the niches that once held the sculptures that are probably collecting dust in the back room of the Nara National Museum.
From here, the trail continued onwards towards Mt. Katsuragi, but I was running out of both motivation and daylight. I turned my back on the trail, opting to climb both of Nijō’s identical peaks before descending to Nijō shrine and its accompanying train station. The female summit affords mesmerizing views into the Nara plains, but the late winter haze obscured the vistas and turned the air into a muted wall of yellow.
With the first section of the Diamond Trail now complete, I hoped to carve out the next section of the route between Nijō and Katsuragi before the onset of summer.