BEARINGS

OCTOBER, 2011

#004 – MITAKE-SAN

“Mitake?  Is it on the list?”  I asked her.

“Hai,” she replied in the affirmative, squinting at the computer screen.

“How about Shiraga?”

“Yes.”

“Atago must be for sure, right?”

“Mmm, and Minago.”

I leant back into the folds of my aging blue and beer stain sofa.  A relic from my days of bachelorhood.

“This is how obsessions begin you know,” I cautioned.

She smiled.  We’d inadvertently climbed three of the peaks on the list that year.  And there was the target of our next outing too, Mitake-san.  The hills they were a-calling.

“Print the damn thing then,” I sighed a sigh dripping with an over dramatic tone of resignation.  For a year or so I’d privately toyed with the idea of setting off on a new mountain adventure, but couldn’t bring myself to commit.  A thing called responsibility holding me in check.  Mountain larks had been consigned to the back burner.  An odd outing here and there was all I could hope for to ease the withdrawal.

But then, as the year began to draw to a close, an obvious solution arose.  A mountain challenge sat right on our doorstep!  How could I have overlooked it?  And there she came, issuing forth from my cantankerous old printer in smeary black on white: a list comprising the peaks of Kansai.

132 mountains spread across eight prefectures: from Mie in the east to the rugged outcrops of Hyogo in the west; stretching from the mysterious, mystical peaks of the Kii Peninsula and out beyond the urban wastelands of Osaka to the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto; from the shores of Biwa-ko, Japan’s largest freshwater lake to the pan handle of Fukui and the summits rising above the distant coastlines of the Sea of Japan.  That’s what would ease the pain.  Hold me over.

‘This could be a good thing,’ I said waggling the papers, hot off the press, at the Missus.

Just as clambering over the Hyakumeizan a few years earlier allowed me to take in the wonders of the Japanese archipelago, this new endeavour would allow us to explore more deeply our ‘home ground’ of Kansai; a region somewhat overlooked in Fukada-san’s list of Japan’s greatest mountains.  It was time to get those mountain legs going again.  Albeit, this time, at a rather more sedate pace.

So to Mitake-san we went, returning to that rugged western territory of Hyogo, a stone’s throw north of Shiraga-dake, the peak we’d topped out on the weekend before.  The Kid rejoined fray.  Drawn back into the fold by the lure of mantis season.  A few snapshots of the alienesque hexapods from Shiraga was enough to get the juices coursing through his veins and erase the torments of Minago from his mind.

In a tiny silver rental car we hurtled through rural Kyoto, through fog banks backed up against the hindquarters of Atago-san and the Hokusettsu Mountains of Northern Osaka.  The Kid watched for motorbikes.  Six legs or two wheels was all it took to get him lathered up into a frenzy.

Below Mitake, at a spot called Huichi-iwa, we pulled to the side of a quiet mountain road and climbed up through dew dampened vegetable plots into the dark cedar woods beyond.  On the ridge leading to Mitake-san the forests turned virgin and we met a elderly couple guzzling mandarins on a patch of rising ground just off the trail.  A piece of fruit was proffered on the tips of gnarled fingers.  The Kid hid behind his mum’s legs.  She took it for him and the old crone smiled as blackbirds wheeled and cawed above us beyond the yellowing canopy of leaves.

Climbing higher along the ridge we came to the buttress of Mitake rising in the woods before us and we entered the realm of long lost mystics.  At a signposted spot in a sun drenched glade a temple once stood – Mitake-ji.  A centuries old story told of a disagreement between religious sects that saw some three hundred men dispatched to Mitake with orders to annihilate the local brotherhood.  All temples in the Taki Mountains – of which Mitake stands highest – were burnt to the ground.

We climbed higher, over the the outcrops on which those long lost mountain men practiced their austerities and made, through a clutch of cedars, for the summit.  It was a spectacular day to be in the hills, a cloudless sky overhead and light breeze to keep us cool.  Fed and watered on top, there was still more to do.  Descending a trail to the east we luncheoned at the Ootawa Pass where to the giddy delight of the Kid praying mantis danced in the fresh autumnal air.

Crossing the highland road dissecting the mountains we tackled Mitake’s rocky spined neighbour Kogane-dake.  The Missus led the way and though the day was long the Kid was absorbed with the challenges of the chains that had been slung off Kogane’s jagged ramparts.

Turning south off the summit of Kogane we dropped near vertically into the forests via a knee knocking goat track of a trail.  The woods grew greener.  The forest floor more lush.  Sporadic traffic eventually sounded ahead of us as we regained sight of the forest road.  The Kid was beat.  I sung songs about his bottom crack and belly button just to rile him up as we strode the black top down to Huichi-iwa.  A bent and twisted, leathery skinned old farmer told us to come back in a couple of weeks when the mountains would be ablaze in their autumnal glory.  Another old bugger, a watery eyed, gap toothed coot came out of his house as we reached the car, “Otsukaresama,” he smiled quietly at the Kid, impressed with his efforts having seen us set off in the morning, then presented us with a bag of chestnuts and fresh mountain vegetables.

More days in the mountains beckoned and we wished for ones like that, but winter was upon us in no time.  The hurly-burly of life on the flats consumed the days like cheap coal in a furnace.  We had plenty to look forward to: an Antipodean Christmas and New Year, cricket on the radio and days at the beach were just around the corner.  There under the summer sun, we could dream of the sasa clad summits and rocky precipices of that far off land and plot new adventures to be had.

Sources:

Kansai Map:

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