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Archive for December, 2018

The Suzuka mountains straddle the border of Shiga and Mie Prefectures, effectively creating a natural barrier between the chilly shores of Lake Biwa and the azure waters of Ise Bay. Mt. Ryōzen sits on the western edge of the massif, affording outstanding panoramic views on the rare cloud-free occasion in this surprisingly wet corner of Kansai.

There are approaches from nearly every direction to the broad grasslands flanking the summit plateau. My first trip there involved an exciting scramble up a steep gully, while a recent trip utilized the main route from the ghost village of Kurehata. Even though I have already been up this mountain twice, the outstanding panoramic views and distinctly Scottish terrain of the highlands have me yearning for a mid-winter visit to explore the hills on snowshoes.

Calendar girl Rika works for Finetrack, a Kobe upstart launched by an ex-Montbell employee wanting to place more emphasis on creating a functional layering system for outdoor activities. The product line continues to expand with each new product release and it’s only a matter of time before the market will expand overseas. One of the challenges with a new outdoor brand is to convince customers to abandon their loyalty to more established brands.

The photo on the calendar was actually taken in November 2016, but it seemed like the perfect photo to round out the year, to dream of those crisp winter days with clear visibility and deep blue skies. Those days on Ryozen are truly hard to come by as the Siberian winds flow over the massif like a raging torrent, dropping a meter of snow each season with regular consistency.

Those wanting to climb Ryozen may find it faster to take the Shinkansen as far as Maibara station before transferring to the local train to Samegai station. I must confess that whenever I head to this part of Shiga I usually opt for the extra expense of the bullet train, as it saves nearly an hour of train time, meaning you can get an extra hour of shut eye before heading out to the hills.

And speaking of shut eye, with this final blog post of 2018, it’s time to put this monthly calendar column to bed. Unfortunately there won’t be a 2019 Hiking in Japan calendar, but those looking for something to adorn their walls may want to choose from among the lovely options available over at Yama to Keikoku.

 

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Mt. Minetoko is Kyoto Prefecture’s 2nd highest mountain but only just barely loses out to neighboring Mt. Minago by about 140 centimeters or so.

There are several approaches to the summit but the most interesting one is via a narrow gully to the southwest from a hamlet called Nakamura. It was up this gully that poster girl Eri and I trekked in mid-November while the autumn foliage was already in wane.

The initial approach is along an ubiquitous forest road smothered with dense cedar and cypress trees, but once you get onto the path proper the native foliage takes over. During the wet summer months, leeches hide in the undergrowth, seeking fresh blood from those brave summer hikers, but in the cooler months we walk freely without worry of blood loss.

Minetoko’s bald summit affords spectacular views of the surrounding Kitayama mountains but it isn’t the view that most people come for. Nestled just below the summit is a broad plateau of wetlands, Kansai’s answer to Oze if you will. The area is called Hacchō-daira and has been designated one of Kyoto’s 200 most beautiful places of nature. The fact that Kyoto even has 200 places worth putting on the list in impressive in itself, but why this did not make the top 100 is truly mind-boggling.

To get to the plateau, you first need to climb up to the adjacent ridgline. It was here that Eri and I stopped for lunch under the wild mistletoe growing in the hardwoods above. Readers will find it comforting (if not disappointing) that we did not partake in any western traditions that involve embracing under these bulbous parasites. Those looking for an authentic touch to the holiday season could come here to take away the real deal instead of settling for the mundane plastic version at their local 100 yen shop.

From the ridge, a broad track drops abruptly to the plateau. The clear autumn air and verdant sky transform the wetlands into a true work of art.

The ferns and underbrush grow brown as the fastly encroaching winter settles in. Hacchō-daira is named after the Hacchō dragonfly that frequents these parts, but none of the unique insects could be found on this crisp autumn day.

Such was the beauty of the marshlands that Eri and I could hardly put our cameras down. This is truly one of those magical gems that is seldom documented even among the Japanese mountain press. Yama-to-keikoku chose Minago in favor of Minetoko when creating the list of Kansai Hyakumeizan, but the mountain is included as part of the Kinki Hyakumeizan. I guess when choosing between two peaks so close to one another, many people opt for height. Perhaps by failing to put Minetoko in the spotlight, the guidebook writers were purposely wanting to savor this mountain for themselves.

Hacchō-daira is definitely worth a visit in autumn, but I just can’t help wondering what the area would look like in winter. With a pair of shoeshoes and a newly-purchased pair of snow boots, I am ready to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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