After getting in the car mid-afternoon on Saturday, we drove from Hiroshima to Matsuyama, the prefectural capital of Ehime. I had come here in the spring with Ryan and some others, but this time afforded us the opportunity to cross over via the Shimanami Kaido Expressway, a string of seven islands strung together by bridges. I figured the views out over the Seto Inland Sea would be stunning, but some poor planning had us crossing after sundown, on top of which my exhaustion knocked me out anyway.
Once in Matsuyama, we just checked into our meager business hotel and then went on a fruitless adventure to find the same yakitori restaurant that a strange man led us to a few months before. Our vague map and even the kind assistance of a parking attendant couldn’t locate the place. In the end, we gave up and just ate at some other chicken place on the main drag. It was still really good, but for visitor Jon to experience eating chicken hearts, kidneys, and gristle right from the skewer would have been nice too.
Here I requested a sexy pose of the birthday girl, Tomomi
It was already getting late, and despite some coffee none of us were really up for much fun, especially considering the day before and the next day’s plans. So, it was off to the hotel where Ryan and I bathed in the smallest tub possible for two straight men to do so. We did try to coax in too Jon by reciting a relevant nursery rhyme, to no effect.
The next morning we were able to give him a proper experience in the Dogo Onsen. Mentioned within Japan’s second oldest book back in 720, it is believed to be the oldest in Japan. We did the standard strip, scrubdown, and bask before redressing and walking the shopping arcade. After rejoining the girls, we got ourselves a good lunch before hitting the road once more. There are still a couple of small things that if I found myself back in Matsuyama I would want to see, but I didn’t mind leaving having seen and done so relatively little this time around.
The destination was Ishizuchisan, the largest mountain in Shiokoku and all of western Japan. The rock is just shy of 2000m is much smaller than Fuji, but I had really been wanting to hike it since I read about it last year. Besides being the largest mountain regionally, this one has a rather unique set of chains affixed to the near vertical rock at the top to climb. Of course falling would result in certain death, but I’ve made such wise decisions to conquer the walls of castles before, and besides, in pursuit of adventure anything can be justified!
When we arrived at ‘base camp’, a few members of the party were overly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to make it in time, or that things might get dangerous. Jon and I were poo pooing that notion and were mostly just antsy to get going. The man in the store added to the mounting fears by talking of how dark it would become. Finally, after some flashlights and a bit of wasted time we hit the trail.
The Summit Champions
In light of the approaching darkness, we selected the easier, shorter trail and hoped to make good time. The sign said it would take about four and a half hours round trip, but I knew from completing Fuji in only six that those estimates must also encompass the weak. The whole adventure took place in the shade of trees and through bamboo grass. Much of the trail would probably be considered dangerous by western standards, since a fall from the narrow boardwalk could have likely been fatal. Darwin kept us all safe though and we navigated the course without problem. As long as the trail remained flat, we did our best to maintain a grueling pace with meager rations. Unfortunately, Tomomi died of exhaustion. For much of the hike, we were among the haze of the clouds, though unlike Fuji we were actually able to enjoy the view.
With just four of us powering towards the top, we made great time. When we finally did come to the chains, the area was unfortunately due to construction. I was a bit disheartened by this, since it was the primary reason of my wanting to come, but I was able to climb a portion of it, and get the photo all the same. Just, don’t correct me should I ever choose to amend this story in any way…
For the last half kilometer, we had to march up some pretty demanding steps, precariously perched along the side of the rock. By this time the clouds were really getting thicker and we had to yield the view in order to press on. Throughout the hike, we exchanged ‘konnichiwa’ with all the passersby, but now as the only people still climbing the thing, people were surprised that we intended not to stay in the inn, but to climb down yet that night. At the top, we visited the temple, got a group shot, and peered over an eerie plunge. There was an area of the path that came right up to a sheer drop, though the clouds kept us from know how many hundreds of feet tall it might have been.
Once we had finished everything up, we blitzed back down the mountain in a race against the waning daylight. Of course it was a lot easier going down than up, and we made great time. At one point I demonstrated how best to descend the grade, and the rest poorly imitated.
In the end, we made it back just after Tomomi in a round trip time of about two and a half hours. It was absolutely a workout, but sometimes you just gotta make it happen. By this time is was completely dark outside and all but a few stragglers had left the parking area. From there, we spent an hour navigating one of the twistiest, turniest mountain roads on earth before finding any amount of civilization. For dinner we wrecked havoc at a conveyor belt sushi joint and then made the final push for home.
It was indeed a hectic weekend, but I was really happy that we could make the most of it. Of course these were largely things that I would have done anyway, but being able to have Jon along for the trip was definitely a bonus.