Mt. Ishizuchi (石鎚山）
Mt. Ishizuchi is not only the highest peak in western Japan, but is also one of the 7 sacred peaks of Japan. Expect to run into a few Shingon pilgrims dressed in white, as well as the weekend crowds in autumn.
The hike: From the bus stop, hike along the road for a few minutes, and you’ll see some decrepit-looking buildings on your right. The trailhead is behind these buildings. It’s a little confusing at first because it feels like you’re hiking in someone’s yard. Click here to get an idea of what to look for. You’ll enter a dense cedar forest and soon come to your first junction. You can take either trail, but the one on the right is much steeper but shorter, with a lot of switchbacks. The trail to the left is more scenic, but crosses a mountain stream several times, so don’t take this trail if it’s been raining and the water levels are high. This trail is a more direct path to the summit. I’ll describe the other trail, however, because it’s the one I took. Head to the right and start climbing up the spur of the mountain, away from the water. It’ll take about 2 hours of pretty tough ascending before you reach the top of the gondola. You’ll find a junction and will see your first signs of development. Head left at this junction (turning right will take you to the top of the gondola), and you’ll arrive at the main shrine shortly. This is a popular place of worship for Shingon buddhists, and if you’ve come on the weekend you’ll find lots of people. The souvenir shops sell conch shells and other pilgrim accessories. I was lucky to witness a group of about 75 pilgrims, all blowing their shells in unison inside the main shrine! After saying a few prayers, turn left and cross through the large wooden gate. This is where the true climb begins, and the path is very well marked. The first 20 minutes is actually down, and you’ll reach a 4-way junction called Hacho (八丁). Ignore the trails off to the left, as they descend towards where you started the hike, and head straight. You should reach a place called Zenjamori (前社森) in about an hour or so, and Yoake-toge (夜明峠) a short time after that. Here you’ll find yet another junction (Ishizuchi has no shortage of hiking options), but ignore the trail to the left and head straight. Keep climbing up and up, and you’ll reach a small emergency hut and campground. Both are very small and there’s not much room for tents. The hut is called Ni-no-kusari (二の鎖小屋) and makes a good place to rest and escape the rain. The hut is pretty much closed for business and looks like it could fall down at any moment. Anyway, this is where the chains begin, but you can just ignore them and take the easy trail to the right with the wooden steps (unless you like climbing up chains). There are 3 sets of chains in all, and I would not advise using them to descend or in wet conditions. Continue climbing up the steep ridge line and eventually you’ll reach the summit of Misen (弥山), where you’ll find a large hut and small weather beaten shrine. The view of Tengu-dake (天狗岳), the high point, is impressive. It should take about 15 minutes of climbing on a precarious knife edge ridge to reach the summit, where you’ll have outstanding panoramic views of most of Shikoku. If the weather is bad then I don’t suggest trudging along to Tengu, as the views will be the same as from Misen. Anyway, retrace your steps back to Ni-no-kusari, where a choice will have to be made. If you turn right then you can descend down to the Tsuchigoya (土小屋) bus stop in about 90 minutes. Alternatively, you can descend all the way back you came by turning right at Yoake-toge and following the signs to Nishinokawa.
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got the proper equipment for winter climbing. Otherwise, aim to go between April and late November. The gondola runs all year round because there’s a small ski resort on the mountain. Click here to see someone who climbed in January.
Access: From Matsuyama (松山) station in Ehime Prefecture, take the JR Limited Express ‘Shiokaze’ train and get off at Iyosaijo (伊予西条) station. The train takes about an hour and costs around 3000 yen. A local train takes twice the time but is half the price. From Saiyo, take a bus bound for Nishinokawa (西之川) and get off at the last stop. There are only 4 buses a day, so plan accordingly. Click here for the bus schedule. If you want to take the expensive gondola, then get off one stop earlier at Ishizuchi Ropeway Mae (石鎚ロープウエイ前)
Live Web Cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~1500m).