20 – 21 October 2019
“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir.
We seem to have embodied this quote since moving to Japan. Perhaps it is the challenge that draws us, the nature break from city life or the allure of a different environment. Perhaps it is a combination of all. Nevertheless, we have now climbed 4 mountains in under 3 months and have no intentions of stopping anytime soon.
Japan has a list of the 100 most famous mountains in Japan called Hyakumeizan, as created by climber Kyuya Fukada. Mt. Odaigahara is one of the mountains on this list and for good reason.
I came across this mountain when researching things to do in Nara, as Mt. Odaigahara borders Nara and Mie prefectures. There is very little information on the mountain and it is rather difficult to reach via public transport, with only one bus in and out per day and a 3.5 hour trip from Nara City. Nevertheless, we were determined to visit this picturesque place.
Our friend Jasmin lives nearby and is a fellow hike-lover so we invited her to join our journey. She rented a car for us all to cut some time off the trip and give us more flexibility with arriving and departing. A mere 2.5 hour drive later (with some stops to admire the view) we had arrived. After quickly donning our hiking gear, we set off for a short afternoon hike before checking in at our inn for the night.
We were treated to the most spectacular sight that afternoon. We had hoped that the autumn leaves would have begun to turn and we were not disappointed. Hues of orange, brown and red greeted us with every step. In Japan they have a term for ‘forest bathing,’ shinrinyoku 森林浴 and we certainly got to experience it. Having come from QLD, the land of mild seasons, the beauty of autumn in Japan is such an experience.
Our afternoon hike took us to a few different spots along the trail where the coloured leaves were at their best. One particular spot offered views of the surrounding mountains that stretched on for what seemed like forever, framed by the autumn leaves with clouds hovering over their peaks.
We reached the statue of Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, had a trail snack and turned around to head back.
Our inn for the night was a traditional Japanese inn, with tatami floors and futons to sleep on. We began our night with a warm bath followed by the inn’s dinner of local produce.
We had hoped to go star gazing on the roof of the inn, but the session was cancelled due to cloudy weather, which was foreshadowing of the day to come.
We woke at 4:30am on Monday with the intention to pack up, load our gear into the car and hike to the peak for sunrise. We were successful at achieving most of these activities, minus the sunrise. When we woke, rain was pattering on the roof of the inn, however, having avidly checked the weather before the weekend, we were sure that the rain would blow over before the morning was out. So we set off with raincoats on, headlamps lit and spirits high, marching towards the Hidegatake peak.
We reached the peak just before sunrise where we met another hiker, the only other person on the trail we saw that day, who said zen zen minai which means you can’t see anything. He was right. It was blustery, misty and raining so we sought shelter in the lookout/storm shelter for a bento box breakfast that the inn had packed for us.
The rain could not dampen our spirits however, so after some brekky we set off for the rest of the 9km trail, hoping to see some of the sights Odaigahara is renowned for.
And see sights we did. Albeit not quite like the conditions we had intended to see them in, but there is a different kind of magic in the adventure of blustery mountain weather.
We saw Masakigahara, the ‘withered forest’ that was once a green, mossy forest but has fallen victim to destructive typhoons and deer.
We crossed a bridge to an outcrop and quickly made our way back over to the mountain after seeing the severe drop off.
Despite the weather, there were still some stunning autumn colours to enjoy.
We also got to test out our ‘real’ hiking skills with trails that more closely resembled rivers and sections where a chain fastened to the rock face was required to descend.
We crossed a suspension bridge over the fast-flowing river that offered views of the nearby mountains amongst the cloud cover.
Beyond the suspension bridge, it was a steep ascent to the finish.
After a very exciting morning of hiking we were pleased to jump into some dry clothes and the warm car before heading home down the mountain.