#033 – SEN-GA-DAKE
#034 – NYUDO-GA-TAKE
At the southern end of the Suzuka Mountains, a range straddling the border of Shiga and Mie Prefectures, rose a number of peaks included on our KINKAN hiking hitlist. Of course there was the all familiar Gozaisho-dake and the pyramid of Kama just to its south, but further still along that jagged spine, before the mountains fizzled out toward central Mie, a pair of lesser known peaks caught our attention: Sen and Nyudo as we affectionately called them. Always a pair. Linked by an intriguing twenty kilometres of boulder strewn trail. Too much for The Kid, we waited for a weekend he would spend at Grandma’s, rented a car and hit the road on a pleasant early autumn morning.
The first thing we noticed when we wound down the car window to pay our highway toll, before cruising into the Suzuka foothills, was the smell hanging in the air reminiscent of the feedlots around home in Australia. I pitied the poor blokes that manned the toll booths there and hoped that the stink remained in the flats and we’d be above it before we started the climb.
The road to the trailhead took us up into a narrowing valley and past a deserted campground perched above a rocky stream. When sign posts blocked the road we abandoned the car and took to the mountains on foot. The plan of action was to climb Sen-ga-dake and work around the ridge in a clockwise fashion and stroll over the rolling meadows of Nyudo, before descending back to the car in the valley. Ten hours give or take, according to the map. We were prepared to battle leeches. The Suzuka mountains have a reputation as a leech haven. Leeches were to be the least of our worries.
The trail up Sen quickly narrowed to inches, clinging to a steep-sided gully in the woods and then went vertical and we found ourselves scrambling up and over tree roots, loose dirt and rock. The views across to Nyudo opened up and it looked a hell of a lot further than ten hours away. Back into the woods we climbed a steep root strewn trail up to a ridge where the early autumn winds danced in the tree tops. Eventually things flattened out and we strolled past Sen’s landmark balancing rock before a short climb to the summit. It was a big climb but we were done by smoko and now it was just a matter of wandering the ridges over to Nyudo in the distance.
Oh what fools the mountains must have thought we were. There was no wandering to be had in those parts. Except for a brief reprieve across the glorious summit plateau of Kushiro-dake, the peak along the ridge beyond Sen, the hike was nothing less than a slugfest. Sen had already landed a few punches and the plunging and rising track to Kushiro, across washouts and up and down loose, gravelly inclines, had us wobbling.
Then, dropping off the north of Kushiro, something clicked in The Missus’ knee and her torment was suddenly doubled.
“I’ll be alright,” she said as we passed bail out routes down into the valley.
This is someone who has the guts of her teeth hollowed out and then filled, without anesthetic. Someone who went for days with a broken wrist before deciding to get it checked out. Someone who, on a daily basis, has to put up with a bloke like me.
At the junction where the trail turned east to Nyudo we sat down and munched on chocolates and guzzled water. It was a pleasently warm day, with a constant cooling breeze. At least we didn’t have to battle the heat. And we hadn’t seen a leech all hike. Though I think it was safe to assume no self-respecting leech would dare climb into those vicious hills. From the junction we were tossed down into another gaping notch. Missus and I grimacing with every loose gravelled footfall. I led the way, fully expecting to be collecting her as knee finally gave up the ghost and she plummeted into me. She held firm and at the bottom of that drop some pink tape tied to the trees indicated a final escape route down into the valley and the campground and the car and home.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she brushed away my concerns.
We climbed out of that first notch on the final approach to Nyudo and then the mountains tossed us down again. I was gaga. Cursing under my breath at the scenery. And then she started to blubber. The knee was giving her hell. The sun was on its way to the horizon, glinting through the trees.
“Good God,” I said to her slightly annoyed, “We could’ve headed down back there.”
“I thought I’d be okay but now…itai.”
“Well, it’s no use whingeing now, is it, for fuck’s sake!?!” I snapped. There wasn’t any time for this. Tears rolled through the dust on her cheeks. A bubble of snot popped on her upper lip. Silent sobs shook her body. “Fuck me, woman!” I was at wit’s end myself.
“Let’s get back to that escape trail, then,” I said exasperated.
“No way!” she said, wiping away the tears.
What did it matter? At that point it was going to hurt whichever way we went.
And so, resigned to our fate we climbed out of the second gap and down we plunged again into a third. A pit full of demons, it felt like the biggest drop of the day. We clambered out of that near bottomless maw with very little grip on our faculties. I, as has been wont to occur at times, was a fire-breathing, spit slavering mess. The Missus climbed in silent agony. You can take the girl out of Kyoto…
The trail did its best to level out.
And then we were out of the trees.
Views across to Kama-ga-take and Gozaisho opened up to the north and out to Nagoya Bay to the east.
We stumbled through copses of leafy stunted trees to the summit of Nyudo and collapsed onto the grass before the torii marking the apex. We made it. It had been an outrageous feat. Memories of days on Echigo-koma and Hira-ga-take danced in my static laced thoughts. I sucked down water. Touched The Missus’ knee and she yelped.
Beneath the torii gate we propped each other up and waited for the camera to fire off our summit photo and then steeled ourselves for the final descent of the day. It was a long, torturous, two and a half hour hobble in silence through darkening woods, along a trickling stream. “This had to be the place,” weakened the leeches would rise up out of the leaf matter and devour the sorry pair of snivelling souls passing through their lair. Nothing happened. If they were there, they took pity on us and let us pass unmolested – unmolested by them anyway.
The forest blocked out the waning sun and made it appear later than it really was. Patches of torikabuto blossomed here and there, but otherwise the forest floor was primarily dry leaf and rock. We came to an emergency hut halfway down the hill. From somewhere high above a boulder the size of a hippo had dislodged plunged into the hut’s roof, gouging out a sizeable section.
“Bit of a wake up call that would’ve been,” I thought as we clambered down through the firing line.
All good things must come to an end and as we toddled, completely spent over a boulder strewn trail, I spied a silver strip of tarmac shining in the last of the daylight below us. The road! We were out of the woods at last!
At the car we collapsed into the seats and although stunned, marvelled at the effort of the day.
Though we hadn’t taken on the big mountains of Kansai yet, we reckoned that must have been one of the toughest hikes in the region we’d staggered off that afternoon.