Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ishizuchisan

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 35.
Temples: None.
Distance: 9.8km (999.0km), time spent: 4:44.
Weather: Overcast and windy.


The weather looks promising when I look outside the window in the morning, but hold no guarantees that I will get views from the summit. As my original plan of getting to Ishizuchisan from Yokomineji was impossible to do, I settled for the easy way, by taking a bus from Saijō to the Ishizuchi ropeway. Maybe I should have walked, as my 'creed' tells me to do, but I fear that time will run out of hand if I do that. It necessitates an extra day, as I believe that walking up from Saijō, climb the mountain and then walk down again would be too long for one day. I need to take into account the invitation I got from Tomohiro-san earlier, and save time to visit him after I finish the pilgrimage.

The sun shines above the clouds over the mountains in the morning, view from Saijō.

Blue is the colour of the sky above as the bus drives up into the valley beneath the mountains, the bus ride is exciting and quite nice; but deeper into the mountains, clouds comes sailing in on the winds high above. On the bus are some other foreigners, as well as some Japanese, most of them having the same destination as me. Depending on the season, the ropeway run at twenty minute intervals, so I does not have to wait long to step into the cablecar and see the valley below me moving slowly away from me.

A collection of Buddhist status stands guarding the Ishizuchi ropeway, Kōbō Daishi obviously amongst them.

Stepping out of the ropeway terminal, I can still see the blue sky, but it does not take long time before I gradually disappear into the clouds. From the ropeway terminal there is about four to five kilometres up to the summit. The first part of the walk is not very steep, but I know that will change later, something about three climbing chains that I will have to negotiate (unless I opt for the longer detour).

Ishizuchi Jinja Jōjusha.

Ishizuchisan torii.

Coming to the Ishizuchi Jinja Jōjusha shrine is like coming to a misty and desolate ghost town, like something out of Silent Hill. A quietness is lying heavily on the shrine and buildings. Silent faces looking at me from inside the buildings. When rung, the sounds of the bells at the shrine becomes even more poignant and resonant in the now cool and eerie surroundings, leaving a deeper silence when the tone has faded. This is an experience I had not expected encountering on my climb of Ishizuchisan. I step out of the gate and onto the path leading up to the summit, covered by mist.

Looking down at the first climbing chains on the climb, these ones lead up to a cliff with a tiny shrine at the top.

To get up, you first have to get down, under leaves starting to change into its autumn garment. A torii stands solitary over the path, which is littered with fallen leaves. Then the climb properly begins, with just a few glimpses of the surrounding mountains visible through the trees. After hiking up on a variety of wooden stairs, steps and soft surface, I arrive at the first line of metal climbing chains of the day. Unlike the climbing chains I have encountered in other countries, the connected pieces or links of these are considerably larger and longer. The first chain is about 74 metres long, I have put on my gloves to improve the grip and to prevent my Raynaud from happening. The surface of the cliff I climb up using the chains are wet and slippery.

View down from the top of the small cliff, towards the valleys beneath the mountain.

At the end of the chains, I understand that what I have climbed up to is the top of a cliff, and that I have to climb down again almost immediately. Of course, not after I have spent some time looking out from the cliff. There is a tiny shrine with a small statue at the top, from where there is a great view of the mountain beneath me. Above me the mountains are still covered by a continous assault of clouds, but looking downward I can see a slightly undulating landscape of trees in various colours. The climb down from the cliff to the blue resthut below is even steeper than up. I think the original path actually goes around the cliff, but I would not be without the climb up.

A small statue at the top of the cliff, with Ishizuchisan obscured by clouds behind.

Looking down at a resthut from the small cliff, with a climbing chain visible at the bottom of the picture.

Climbing further upwards, I think I can forget about getting any views. It is a pity, for I believe they would be great, but the walk is still wonderful. Mysterious too in a way. In breaks between the climb up the numerous wooden steps, I walk over ridges with trees, like ghosts, suddenly appearing out of the clouds. I get to the second line of climbing chains, being 33 metres long. There is a detour route that is longer if you do not want to climb using the metal chains.

Ishizuchi ghost trees.

After a small shrine that also has room the hikers can use to rest in, I get to the third and fourth lines of chains, they comes successively after each other. These two are the longest chains you face on the climb up to Ishizuchisan, at 65 and 68 metres (remember that the first I climbed is just to get up to the small shrine at the top of a cliff), but there are detour paths available for both these two as well. Here the chains are even wetter than those before, and the wind blows the water from the cliff in my face, as it were raining.

A misty mountain path leads further up towards the mountain.

Finally I arrive at the top of the mountain, or I believe that I have. It is to a cold, windy and grey world that I have come. At the top, you find the Ishizuchi Jinja shrine and Chōjō-sansō. According to my guidebook, Chōjō-sansō offer accommodation and it also has a café that sells drinks and food to prices that are of course more expensive than usual (I was tempted to buy me a beer). With me I have carried my nōkyōchō-book, so I can get a stamp and calligraphy from the shrine at the top, Ishizuchi Jinja. That is a cool souvenir from the climb.

A torii stands watching over the beginning of the start of the two longest climbing chains.

I am however not at the top. To access the summit itself, I have to climb down a little, then climb up a precarious, exposed and narrow ridge. From where I stand and look at the stony ridge, I can see the clouds flowing over it like waves, I cannot see the summit itself. Climbing up the ridge, I sometimes stands looking down into a grey abyss, with a vertical wall of stone beneath me (do not worry too much, the actual path goes on slightly safer grounds, I just missed it). The wind makes it at times hard to stand on my feet. Then I stand at the summit of Ishizuchisan, at 1982m, only marked by a very tiny shrine. No views of course, but I am so satisfied anyway that I made the climb. Ishizuchisan is the highest mountain in the western part of Japan, considered to be one of the seven sacred mountains and where Kūkai also spent some time doing ascetic training.

View towards the summit of Ishizuchisan.

After climbing back down over the summit ridge, I join the other hikers around the shrine, where I sit down to eat my lunch. Some have brought with them small stoves on which they cook their food. Not surprisingly are there not that many people here, I guess it would be packed on a clear day. I go inside Chōjō-sansō for a quick warmer before I begin the climb down again.

At the summit of Ishizuchisan, at 1982m.

Climbing over the Ishizuchisan summit ridge, on one side of the ridge there is a sheer vertical drop.

On the way down I choose to walk the detours around the chains, so that I get to see what those routes look like. The detours are of course a lot easier, with several staircases for aid, but I would prefer using the chains as they are more fun to climb. There are tiny signs that the clouds are lifting a little when I am on my way down, making me think that if I had waited to later I would have gotten views. Thoughts like that is not helping, and is too late to climb back up again. The climb down is of course nice, I know that, having seen the scenery on the way up. I arrive back at the ropeway just in time for a fare down the mountain.

Ishizuchi Jinja at the top.

Down at the bottom, I find out that there is about an hour until I can get a bus back to Saijō. With the hope of getting down earlier, I kindly (hopefully) ask two young Japanese guys that I had met on the climb if I could get a lift down to Saijō or nearby. They gladly drives me down, setting me off not far from the train and bus station in the city.

On the climb down again, using staircases for aid.

Although the weather did not turn out as expected, with clouds instead of sun, the climb up to Ishizuchisan was fantastic and really cool. I am back in Saijō, and I still have some time left of the day. Now, what to do?

<- HōjujiIshizuchi Jinja ->

4 comments:

  1. Great climb you did! Thanks for the very well described hike to Ishizuchisan. (Reminds me of our climb to the summit of Fuji-san in Aug 2007: rain and mist and no sunrise �� view...)
    I hope the weather will be better when I try this in Fall (October). Anyway the detour wiil my choice. Better not to challenge myself to much...Grandma of 67 and so on...

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    1. Even in cloudy and windy conditions, the climb up was great, as I experienced. But I do hope that you will get better weather and so be able to see the views from the summit when you will do the climb. And the detours are not bad.

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  2. Thanks for sharing. Brings back fond memories. I ended up staying overnight at Chōjō-sansō. The weather was rainy and overcast like your trip. One day I hope to do it again when the weather is better.

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    1. I would like to hear how it was to stay at the Chōjō-sansō. As I hope to sometime return to the Shikoku Pilgrimage, I also hope to make a return climb of Ishizuchisan in better weather.

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