Mt. Seppiko (雪彦山)
Mt. Seppiko is a collection of vertical crags located due north of Himeji city in Hyogo Prefecture. The cliff faces attract rock climbers from all over Japan, while the well-marked hiking path affords breathtaking views into the valley far below.
The hike: From the parking lot, head uphill, crossing the river on a metal bridge until reaching a collection of wooden bungalows. There’s a small campground on your left, and a shack on your right housing the caretaker of the facilities. There’s a box here where you can register your hiking intentions, which is an excellent idea if you’re out on your own. On the left side of the road, just adjacent to the bungalows, you’ll see a steep path heading into the forest via some wooden log steps. Take this trail and prepare yourself for a whirlwind of a climb up to the ridge. There’s really no place to go but up, following the switchbacks and fluorescent pink arrows up, over, and around some rock formations. After an hour of so you’ll reach Izumo Rock (出雲岩), an impressive mass of stone that is extremely popular with expert climbers. If you look up the rock face you’ll see countless rows of anchors bolted into the overhanging face. After passing by Izumo, the path becomes much tougher, as you nagivate through rock outcroppings with the assistance of ropes and chains. Your next rock formation is called Seri (せり岩), which has a jaw-dropping view of the southern half of Hyogo prefecture. The path here traverses through a tight gap in the rocks, and if you’re a bit muscular or heavy set, there’s a good chance you could become stuck. Take your day pack off and push it in front of you. This will make things a bit easier. If you can’t fit through this tight squeeze then simply walk over to the lookout point (見晴らしい岩) and head around to your left and you should find a trail that will bypass this rock. Once past Seri, it becomes a series of manageable rock climbs to the summit of Otenshou (大天井岳), the official target peak for the majority of hikers. Take a rest here and admire the views. From here, the trail drops off the back side of the peak, just behind the shrine. At first the going is easy but you’ll soon reach the top of a rock formation, where a chain will drape off the rocks to the right. Instead of taking the chain, head down the faint trail on the left, which is a much easier and safer alternative. Both trails meet up a little lower on the saddle, so take your pick. Once at the saddle, the path climbs and you’ll soon reach a junction, which is labeled with the signpost A-9. If you’re short on time, then take the trail to the right, which descends very steeply to the valley below. Otherwise, turn left here and stay on the ridge, following the sign that reads Shikagatsubo (鹿ヶ壷). The ridge is pretty gentle, especially considering what you’ve just been through. You next landmark will be at signpost B-4, where the trail splits towards 安富町. Instead of turning left here, go right, following the sign that says 三角点雪彦山. You’ll reach the top of the true summit of Mt. Seppiko in about 20 minutes, but there’s no view to speak of. Continue on the ridge, following the sign that says 峰山方面へ and you will arrive at another peak called Mt. Hokotate (鉾立山), which is the tallest peak on of Mt. Seppiko. Though the south is covered by trees, you’ll have an open view to the north, where you can see Mt. Hyonosen on a clear day. Take a breather here, because you’re about to descend very steeply to the valley below. 5 minutes after leaving the summit, you’ll reach a junction labeled B-8, where you should turn right. The path will ramble along the ridge before hanging a sharp turn at the next signpost (B-9), where it zigzags through a cedar forest to a stream far below. This stream will gradually grow in size the further down the gorge you get, and eventually you’ll reach a series of waterfalls (signpost B-13). The path becomes much more rockier, so be careful with your footing, especially if it’s been raining recently. A few minutes on, you’ll reach rainbow waterfall (虹ヶ滝), which is not signposted but makes a good place for a break. Soon after the waterfall you’ll reach a junction labeled A-14, where the trail from Mt. Otensho will come in from the right. This is where the path meets up from signpost A-9 high on the ridge. Ignore this path and drop down to the river, where you’ll need some creative footwork to cross over the river and climb steeply back up to a junction on the opposite bank of the stream. Follow the broad path that is signposted for 賀野神社, which passes through a beautiful section of deciduous forest that will surely be ablaze with color during the autumn. A few minutes on you’ll reach another junction called 大曲 (A-16). Turn right here and descend back to the river that you left earlier. The path can be difficult to pick up, so look for the pink arrows painted on the rocks and follow the faint outline of a path. A forest road used to come all the way up here a long time ago, and the last part of the path will follow the remainder of that road until reaching a huge concrete dam with some incredible pipework. This is what is known as an “open dam”, which was built not to contain the water but to save the valley from rocks and debris during a mudslide. I’m not sure if the dam could withstand an actual landslide, but you have to admit that it was a creative way for Hyogo Prefecture to use all that money from the central government. Anyway, go down the concrete stairs here and you’ll reach a paved road that will take you back to the parking lot where you started.
When to go: This hike can easily be done year round, but extra care should be taken in the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground. The rock faces can be incredibly slippery, so it’s best to avoid the place in wet weather. Autumn is probably the most scenic time to visit, but expect huge crowds if coming on a weekend.
Access: The bus to the trailhead was discontinued in 2010, so you really need your own transport to complete the hike. The bus, however, does run to within 5km of the start of the hike, so you could always try your luck hitching. From the north exit of Himeji station, take bus #51 bound for Yamanouchi (山之内) and get off at the last stop. There’s one bus at 7:40am, but the next one doesn’t depart until 12:35am, so you can see why having a car will give you a huge advantage. Click here for the Shinki bus website.
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 680m)
Distance: 6km (6 to 8 hours)