Arriving on Shikoku we drive inland, as one of our main reasons to visit the island is to hike up the sacred Mount Ishizuchi. We pitch our tent on a completely lost campsite next to a beautiful river in the scenic Ogomei gorge, a perfect spot to start the ascent early the next day. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperative. After a soaking wet night and 24 hours of non-stop rainfalls with hardly any visibility, we have to renounce.
Luckily, a few days later when we are in Saijo, the weather clears up, offering perfect conditions for the hike. As it is one of the seven holy mountains of Japan, we decide to hike it from the start and ignore the cable car.
We start a steep climb up to the mid-slope shrine, devoted to seafarers of the Seto Inland Sea. Following workers in long-sleeves, pants and high boots, with machetes still working on the consequences of typhoon Nangka, we feel a bit unprepared in our shorts! After a 1h45-hike and about 4km and 850m of positive elevation on a narrow path through cedar forest, the trail becomes wider and merges with the one coming from the cable car at 1300m.
Disappointed at first by a few ugly buildings housing many pilgrim shops, we discover the beautiful shrine through which we can see the 1982m summit of the sacred Ishizuchi-san.
Easy at first the trail soon becomes very steep and continues with wooden stairs which never seem to end. We quickly gain elevation and the views around us become more spectacular with every step we take.
The real fun starts when we face a very steep part with big chains to assist us in our climb up the rocks. We practise our skills on the first set of chains which are about 30m long before taking the chains all the way to the top where we enjoy breath-taking views.
To get to the real summit we need to scramble the last 500m sideways over a steep set of rocks with lethal ravines on both sides. With clouds coming in around us, the sensation is surreal. Our descent is way quicker than our 4-hour way up, and we find that these ugly shops are not that bad after all, especially the ones selling well-deserved delicious matcha ice creams!!
Once at the car as we cool down our tired feet in the ice-cold river, we feel blessed that we could have done this beautiful hike up this sacred mount, the highest peak of Shikoku and Western Japan. On top of an outdoor adventure, Ishizuchi san remains a very important place of worship and one of the major centers of Shugendō, a sect in-between Shintoism and Buddhism: many pilgrims climb this mountain which was forbidden to women for centuries, and still is every year on July 1, the first day of the climbing season.
Marcella and Claire
- We used Hiking in Japan by the Lonely Planet to select the hike, but its details do not seem to be that accurate. If you plan on hiking it, we strongly recommend you to check out the excellent and very detailed blog written by Wes.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!