Is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up a Book about Ultralight Backpacking?

While I was reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, I was frequently reminded of ideas from ultralight backpacking. And as I follow various discussions of the ‘KonMari’ method online (and offline – no, I didn’t bring it up, other people mentioned it first), a lot of it sounds very similar to the various (and eventually repetitive) discussions around ultralight backpacking.

Here is a quick overview of ultralight backpacking: carrying weight on a long journey on foot, especially if it involves mountains / rough terrain / stream crossings / etc. really sucks. It takes more energy, it makes bodies feel more sore, it reduces mobility/nimbleness, it reduces speed, and generally, nobody wants to carry weight. However, people who are going to spend multiple nights on a trail need to carry some things, such as food, something to keep them warm while they sleep, etc. and since these things generally will not fit into pockets, one needs a backpack to carry these things. In short, weight increases the physical costs of backpacking, and generally people want to only carry things which bring enough value to justify the physical cost.

(Bulk also imposes a cost by taking up more space in a pack, but backpackers are generally more interested in reducing weight than bulk, especially since bulk and weight are often correlated.)

The ‘ultralight’ movement in backpacking got started in the 1990s – the beginning of the movement is often attributed to Ray Jardine. It was possible to reduce the weight of backpacking gear partially because of technological advances, but the main change is that backpackers asked what was really necessary or only being used due to outdoor cultural conventions, and then they systematically went through their gear, asking themselves whether or not they needed everything, whether a lighter thing could serve the same function, and so forth.
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Hiking the Ohlone Trail in June, Day 3: Journey to Livermore

Sunrise the morning I left Boyd Camp

At Boyd Camp, I only had a few miles left of the official Ohlone Trail, and they were all downhill! After the work my legs did the previous day, this seemed pretty great.

On the left you can see Mount Diablo, and on the right you can see Del Valle Reservoir.

It turned out that it was a viciously steep downhill on a road. I suppose it was still easier than trying to go up than hill, but getting down still required an effort. And in contrast to the previous day when I practically saw no people, this morning I ran into a few people who were doing early morning exercise things. Continue reading

Hiking the Ohlone Trail in June, Day One: Into the Wilderness of the East Bay Hills

Under a blue sky, rolling hills are covered by yello dry grass with some patches of green oak trees.

This is what the East Bay (that is, the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay) looks like in summer. Even though Alameda county has a population of 1.6 million people, a lot of it is still like this.

This June, I hiked the entire length of the Ohlone Trail. I had several goals: 1) I did not distinctly remember staying overnight in Alameda County even though I know I’ve spent many nights there 2) I had just finished sewing my net-tent and I wanted to test it out before hiking a few hundred miles with it and 3) I wanted to prepare myself physically for hiking a few hundred miles.
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My Most Physically Demanding 27 Hours of Hiking Ever

That mountain with snow on it is San Jacinto, the second highest mountain in southern California.

During my 400+ mile (640+ km) long hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in southern California, I went south, which meant that I was hiking from Interstate 10 -> San Jacinto, rather than San Jacinto -> Interstate 10.

This may not seem like a big deal if you do not know the terrain. However, countless hikers told me that, when they were going north from San Jacinto to the Interstate 10 freeway, they thought to themselves “gee, I’m glad I’m going north and not south.” Then they met me, the hiker who was planning to go south. One hiker, once it dawned on him that I was going south into San Jacinto, immediately told me that he could put me in touch with people who could give me rides so that I could go north through San Jacinto instead of south. I rejected the offer. Though I sometimes go northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail, this was a ~southbound~ hike, and for the sake of continuity, I wanted to go south through San Jacinto too.

Hikers take a break under Interstate 10. The local trail angels left water, cold drinks, and some snacks under the bridge – but most importantly, the bridge was the only place a hiker could get shade for miles in either direction.

If you are wondering what the fuss is about, let me explain. Interstate 10 is 1335 feet (407 meters) above seal level. Going south, the trail then dips down to 1251 feet (381 meters) above sea level over the next 2-3 miles, which is easy in terms of elevation, but it is through a hot sandy desert with no shade. Then, going south over the next 21 miles (34 km), the trail rises to 8947 feet (2727 meters) above sea level at the tributary of the San Jacinto river. That is a 7696 ft (2346 m) change in elevation. After taking into account the dips in the trail (because the trail is not entirely smooth), between Interstate 10 and the tributary of the San Jacinto river, I had 8883 ft (2708 m) of elevation gain in the space of 30 hours.

For those of you who do not hike, let me put that into perspective. Going from the 5th station on Mt. Fuji to the summit via the Yoshida trail (the most popular way to hike Mt. Fuji), there is an elevation gain of 4824 ft. (1471 m). Thus, going south from Interstate 10 to the tributary of the San Jacinto river is almost the equivalent of hiking up Mt. Fuji twice in a row – without going downhill. Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States (i.e. excluding Hawaii and Alaska). Hiking from Whitney Portal to the top of Mt. Whitney (the most popular route) takes 6,100 feet (1,860 m) of elevation gain. Thus, Interstate 10 -> tributary of San Jacinto river requires more uphill hiking than hiking to the top of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

And it gets worse better. There is a water source at 1721 ft (525 m) above sea level, and then there are no more water sources until the tributary of the San Jacinto river, which is 19.5 miles (31.2 km) south on the trail, and 8947 feet (2727 meters) above sea level. That means I had to carry enough water to get me through that stretch, including the 10 miles (16 km) where there was little shade and it was surprisingly warm. And this 19.5 waterless stretch also includes Fuller Ridge, one of the most notorious stretches of the entire Pacific Crest Trail, notorious because far more hikers have disappeared/died on these 4 miles (6.4 km) than any other 4 mile stretch of the entire 2650 mile trail (even Old Snowy/Knife Edge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, which is notorious for killing horses/mules, has had very few human deaths. Meanwhile, Fuller Ridge seems to kill a lot more humans than horses/mules). On top of all that, the risk of being stung by a bee or encountering rattlesnakes was very high, but since I did not have any adverse encounters with bees or rattlesnakes on this stretch, that was not a problem for me.

For a southbound hiker (like me), this faucet was the last water source before the 19.5 waterless stretch to the tributary of the San Jacinto river. That giant rock was pretty much the only source of shade in the area this hot afternoon, though one hiker (not in the photo) did something creative with an umbrella to make more shade.

The more water I carried, the more weight I would have to carry very far uphill. The less water I carried, the greater my risk of dehydration. It was a tough tradeoff.

I’ve heard from the local people that they hear rescue helicopters several times a day, and that at this time of year, helicopters are generally sent to rescue PCT hikers. I also kept on hearing stories about how such-and-such hiker had just been rescued. This is the only part of the Pacific Crest Trail where I heard about hikers needing rescue with such frequency.

I left Interstate 10 at around noon. I left that last water source before ascending San Jacinto at around 3pm. I reached the tributary of the San Jacinto river at around 6pm the following day. That meant it took me 27 hours to get from water source at the base of the mountain to the to the tributary of the San Jacinto river.

Looking down at the private community of Snow Creek (that’s where the trees are growing) and the valley where Interstate 10 runs.

Of course I camped overnight on the trail. I definitely was not going to do the entire ascent in a single day. I camped 4.6 trail miles (7.4 trail km) south of the water source, at 3339 ft (1018 m) above sea level. That meant my next day was going to be physically intense.

The first stretch hiking up San Jacinto was just about the hottest hiking I did during this entire trip. It was not fair that it was so hot when I was doing a steep uphill carrying so much water, and that there was so little shade, even though I had made a point of hiking this part in the evening/morning. On the other hand, I was very motivated to hike so I could get to a higher elevation. I could see there were trees on top of the mountain, and I was eager to get to an elevation that was high enough for trees to go.

Finally, I reached a place where there were dead trees – the dead trees didn’t help me much, but at least I knew I was at a high enough elevation that I might find living trees too. And sure enough, shortly after I reached the dead trees, I reached a place which had living trees, and that meant I had REAL SHADE! Awesome! Also, the temperatures were significantly cooler around the trees, which was also very nice. I was still hiking uphill a lot, and had no water source, but at least I had shade, it was no longer hot, and my pack was less heavy because I had drunk quite a bit of water. Hiking became much more pleasant.

Trees! It’s amazing! I’ve never been so happy to be among trees in my life!

I reached the Fuller Ridge trailhead, which was the beginning of Fuller Ridge for me. And there was a water cache there! Usually, my policy is to disregard water caches. However, when I was at the faucet, I had to compromise between having more water and carrying less weight uphill, which meant I was rationing my water. I could have continued to ration my water all the way to the tributary, but that meant only drinking what I needed, not drinking enough to satisfy my thirst. Thus, I took some water (about 1.5 liters) from the water cache so that I would be able to drink as much as I wanted. It feels so good to be able to drink freely instead of just drinking the minimum to hold off dehydration. I also got to take a break at a picnic table in the shade and hang out with a couple of hikers.

Fuller Ridge sometimes holds snow well into May. When it is covered with snow/ice, a lot of people get injured, and some even disappear/die. Fortunately for me, even though it was April, Fuller Ridge was totally dry. The trail takes a bunch of weird little turns in the rocks in one part of Fuller Ridge, and I could totally imagine people getting lost in that stretch when it is covered with snow, or slipping off the rocks if it’s icy, but since it was dry, I could keep track of the trail as long as I paid attention, and I was at little risk of sliding down.

I’m surprised I don’t have any photos of Fuller Ridge. I guess I was too focused on hiking to take photos.

And then finally, I reached the promised land. Or rather, the promised tributary.

The tributary of the San Jacinto river.

I ran out of water just when I got to the tributary (though I had been drinking freely ever since I left the water cache – if I had continued rationing the water, I would have drunk less). The photo above does not do justice. This tributary was a series of little waterfalls cascading down the mountain and across the trail. It was a lot of water – a glorious sight for a hiker who had been worried about water for a day. There were a lot of hikers at the tributary who were busy filling up, since all of them were going north and thus would not have reliable water for 19.5 miles.

I was practically jumping for joy at the tributary. Reaching this water source was more exciting than reaching the Canadian border when I hiked the entire Washington PCT.

I would have liked to have gone to the summit of San Jacinto – but by the time I reached the turnoff (which was just pass the water source), I could feel that I had pushed my legs to the limit, and I was afraid that ascending an extra 2000 ft. (which does not seem like much after ascending 8500+ ft.) might push my legs past their limit, and I could get an overuse injury. I did not want to risk an overuse injury, so instead, I just hiked another two miles past the water source, and set up camp (though the fact that I was able to hike another two miles after all that shows you just how much energy I had).

This is where I camped in San Jacinto.

Strangely, though this was my most physically demanding day of hiking ever, it was also my giddiest. Here is my diary entry for the day I reached Fuller Ridge and the tributary (which I wrote at the campsite above):

This has been one of the most exhilarating days on the PCT ever. I made my legs do so much work, but they were up to the task. From hot exposed chaparral to cool pine forest. The views! And the knowledge that I did a mostly uphill 19.5 mile waterless stretch! (w/ a little help from a water cache).

Part of the euphoria was probably caused by endorphins flooding my body. It also helped that the worst part was the beginning, so it just kept getting better. And I think the fact that I was attempting something so ridiculous increased the giddiness.

I have no regrets about doing this segment of the trail southbound. Going south through here is definitely harder than going north, but I do not think I would have found it as memorable – or enjoyable – if I had gone north.

What the Shikoku 88 Temples Route and the Pacific Crest Trail Have in Common

I have read multiple books on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage and the Pacific Crest Trail. I have also walked short sections of both, and talked with people who were trying to complete one or the other.

Obviously, there are a lot of differences. The Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage tends to go through settled areas, whereas the Pacific Crest Trail tends to go through wilderness. Most people who do the temples pilgrimage have a roof over their heads most nights, whereas most people who do the Pacific Crest Trail for any length of time camp outside most nights. The temples pilgrimage is about 1,100 km (670 mi.) long whereas the Pacific Crest Trail is about 4,250 km (2650 mi.) long. The temples pilgrimage was created for religious reasons by grassroots level religious devotees, whereas the Pacific Crest Trail was created by the U.S. government because a group of dedicated citizens advocated for it.

However, for all of the differences, there are a lot of striking similarities, or at least parallels.

Both have their own associated culture and lore. For example, the Pacific Crest Trail has the tradition of ‘trail names’ – nicknames assigned to hikers by other people (supposedly, one is not supposed to pick one’s own trail name). The temples pilgrimage has many of its own traditions, such as the tradition of getting a stamp from every temple. Some of these traditions are very similar – for example, the Shikoku practice of settai (giving things to the pilgrims) is very similar to the Pacific Crest Trail practice of ‘trail magic’ (giving things to hikers – this tradition also lives on the Appalachian Trail and other long-distance trails in the United States).

Both have spawned memoirs of the loser woman who is a personal mess and totally unprepared for the long trek, yet they do it anyway and discover themselves. I am, of course, referring to the bestseller Wild by Cheryl Strayed about the Pacific Crest Trail, but also Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster about the temples pilgrimage.

Furthermore, both are treated as national trails – an experience which represents Japan / the United States. The Pacific Crest Trail is officially a National Scenic Trail. A lot of people attempt to complete the trails as a means of better connecting to their country. And these two routes do, in some way, represent the mythos of their respective nations. The temples pilgrimage represents a link with Japan’s cultural and historical past, in a region of Japan which supposedly has changed less over the past two centuries than the heavily populated metropolitan areas where most Japanese people live. The Pacific Crest Trail represents making forays into the ‘wilderness’, a pageant replaying the mythos of the United States of being a frontier nation where white people explore and settle areas which white people haven’t explored and settled before (yes, that is a colonialist view, but I am not going to unpack it right here). In short, I think it says something about Japan’s self-image that its great walk is centered on 500+ year old temples, and it says something about the United States’ self-image that all of it’s great walks, including the Pacific Crest Trail, center on great mountain ranges.

And though the Pacific Crest Trail is secular in nature, some people do use it for spiritual purposes, just as the temples pilgrimage is used for religious and/or spiritual purposes (I also would be unsurprised if people use the Pacific Crest Trail for religious purposes, but I do not have evidence of that).

I think the greatest thing in common between these two great walks is that many people use them to escape from ‘modern’ life. A lot of people who attempt both feel adrift – the ‘ordinary’ life of going to work every day is unfulfilling, or otherwise feel like their life is lacking in meaning – and they try to find this meaning by walking/hiking these routes. They go out to both learn about the world and to develop their own characters.

Of course, these are hardly the only two great walks in the world – actually, the most popular great walk nowadays in the Camino Santiago in Spain. I don’t know much about the Camino, but here is a comparison of the Shikoku Temple trail and the Camino and here is a comparison of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Camino.

Six Days in Shikoku: Summiting Tsurugi-san

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This is a continuation of my previous post, in which I describe how I got to Tsurugi-san.

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Near the summit is a complex of Shinto shrines.

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Practitioners of Shinto have a tendency to set up shrines on mountain tops, even in Taiwan, but this is by far the largest Shinto shrine complex I’ve seen on a mountain that is 1000+ meters above sea level.

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The fog reached the summit at the same time I did, obscuring the views.

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I rushed around with my camera, trying to catch views in all direction before everything was obscured with grey and white.

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Several trails converge at Tsurugi-san – if I had time for a multi-day hike (or even a very long day hike) I would have taken one of the trails at the Tsurugi-san junction.

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I must catch that patch of blue sky with my camera!!!

I must catch that patch of blue sky with my camera!!!

There are a set of boardwalks at the summit, probably to prevent hikers’ boots from eroding the area.

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I am guessing that rope on the rock circle has some religious significance.

The sign says 'Tsurugi-san mountain summit' in Japanese, which conveniently is in kanji so I can readily understand it (I am one of few white people who while visiting Japan found hiragana/katakana to be more intimidating than kanji)

The sign says ‘Tsurugi-san mountain summit’ in Japanese, which conveniently is in kanji so I can readily understand it (I am one of few white people who while visiting Japan found hiragana/katakana to be more intimidating than kanji)

Above, there are white clouds swooping down.  In the background is a green mountain which is about to be obscured by white clouds moving in from the right.  In the foreground is a set of pine trees on the bottom left, bravely standing in the face of the cloudy onslaught

In addition to the shrine buildings, there is also a mountain hut where you can stay overnight (for 4,800 yen per night, more if you want meals), which has its own (Japanese-only) website.

In the background, there is a blanket of white cloud smothering green mountains.  In the foreground, on the right side, is the blue metal roof of a building, and there is a man sitting on the roof.  The man looks small compared to the roof, let alone the mountains.

The mountain hut seemed to be undergoing renovation when I was there.

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When I realized that the clouds weren’t going to part any time soon, I decided to descend.

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Of course, once I got lower, I was able to see a little blue sky.

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In the background are the forested slopes of a mountain.  In the foreground, large grey jagged rocks emerge.  There are two hikers passing by the rocks in the lower right corner, showing that the rocks are twice as tall as an adult human.

It’s those cool rocks again!

When I got back to Mi-no-koshi, I thanked the shopkeepers for watching my luggage, bought some snacks (it was the least I could do), and went to the road just next to the store, which happened to plunge straight into the Iya Valley.

The photo shows a bird with a blue-grey black gracefully bent over to pluck one of the few remaining sunflower seeds with its beak.

I saw the bird which finished the last of the sunflower seeds when I returned to Mi-no-koshi

This time, I only had to wait about 15 minutes before a young Japanese woman and young Japanese man agreed to take me in their car (they were heading into the Iya Valley anyway, and there’s only one thru road). They dropped me me off at Oku-iya-kazura-bashi (the Inner Iya Vine Bridges), which I will describe in my next post. However, I want to share some of my observations of the Iya Valley in this post.

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I had read that the Iya Valley was the Shangrila of Japan. I think that’s an exaggeration, at least nowadays. It reminded me a lot of mountain roads in Taiwan, The highest section of the road, from Mi-no-koshi to Inner-Iya-Vine-Bridge, had very, very, very little human settlement. However, past Inner-Iya-Vine-Bridge, there was more and more human settlement, more than I was expecting to be honest. It certainly seemed more settled than vast swaths of Hokkaido. Sure, all of the development in the valley is concentrated around the road, but you can go long distances on Hokkaido roads without seeing even 10% of the buildings that you’ll see on the road between Inner Iya Vine Bridge and Oboke. Of course, a lot of Hokkaido is much flatter than the Iya Valley, which is probably why the Iya Valley looks more like mountain roads in Taiwan.

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One glaring difference between the Iya Valley and mountain roads in Taiwan was all of the nice cars. Most people in the mountains of Taiwan can’t afford nice, shiny, clean cars, so they try to maintain the vehicles they already have and run them until they fall apart – and it shows. Residents of the Iya Valley probably have higher incomes, and cars are probably cheaper in Japan than in Taiwan. However, the buildings looked like they could have fit in many mountainous areas of Taiwan – basic concrete structures for people who ain’t rich.

By the way, all of these photos were taken during the descent from Tsurugi-san - I won't reveal any photos from the Iya Valley itself until the next post

By the way, all of these photos were taken during the descent from Tsurugi-san – I won’t reveal any photos from the Iya Valley itself until the next post

I’ve read that you shouldn’t try to compare different places you’ve travelled to – that you’ll get more out of travel if you experience everything for what it is, and don’t try to decide which one is better, and which one is worse. I think that’s good advice. I also couldn’t help feeling that, after building up all of this anticipation for seeing the Iya Valley, from guidebooks, and then from seeing the road from Sadamitsu to Mi-no-koshi, that the Iya Valley was a bit of a letdown. For all that it reminded me of Taiwanese mountain roads – possibly more than any other road in Japan – it doesn’t have the stunning scenery of the more remote parts of Taiwan’s Northern, Central, and Southern Cross-Island Highways, let alone Highway 14 + the Dayuling-Hualien section of the Central Cross, which is the most beautiful long-distance road in Taiwan.

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I did, however, notice some guò​dù​ kāi​fā​ – that is, over-development (I think the fact that the Mandarin word comes to my mind faster than the English word says something about my experiences in Taiwan). Too much of the forest has become a cedar monoculture (I finally learned what was up with the cedar monocultures during my evening in Oboke – but that’s for an upcoming post). Too much concrete has been poured. The mountain slopes are being destabilized, which aside from the aesthetic problem, means high landslide risk. That’s a big problem because Taiwan gets hit by a lot of earthquakes and typhoons which can bury entire villages alive, but luckily there are never large earthquakes or typhoons in Jap- oh. Oh. Crap.

A set of beautiful flowers, which are facing downwards with their petals elegantly curled upwards, and their stamens hanging down.  The flower petals are white on the edges, and have a profusion of hot pink dots in the center.

Here are some beautiful flowers from the slopes of Tsurugi-san to balance out the negativity of this post

Based on this, you might think that my trip to the Iya Valley was a downer, but it wasn’t. I want to concentrate most of my negative thoughts in this post so that my next post will have a happier tone. I do think one of the most important things I do during travel is learning, and if I shut the bad things I observe out of my mind I won’t learn as much.

Next post: the Inner Iya Vine Bridges, which are very cool.

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Six Days in Shikoku: Going up Tsurugi-san

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Tsurugi-san is one of the two hyakumeizan in Shikoku, and at 1955 meters, the highest mountain overlooking the Iya Valley. There is quite a network of trails through the mountains on the south side of the Iya Valley, and I am sure they are worth exploring, but due to my limited time I picked Tsurugi-san which, in spite of being the tallest, is also the quickest to summit and descend.

The blue shows the route I went by train; the green shows the route I took with the old Japanese man, and the red indicates the location of Tsurugi-san itself

The blue shows the route I went by train; the green shows the route I took with the old Japanese man, and the red indicates the location of Tsurugi-san itself

There was a problem. 1) I did not have a motor vehicle, nor could I rent one due to my lack of an international driver’s license 2) there is no public transit to Mi-no-koshi (where the trailhead is) outside of July/August 3) it was not July/August.

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What I did is I took a train from Tokushima City to JR Sadamitsu station, which just happens to be a few minutes’ walk away from a road which goes straight to Mi-no-koshi. And I stuck out my thumb.

Above is a blue sky with little white puffs of clouds.  Below is a valley, flanked by green mountains on both sides, heading straight into another green mountain in the distance.  Above the distant green mountain is a blanket of white clouds

Looking down at the Iya Valley, from near Mi-no-koshi

There were a couple of young guys who stopped. I asked if they were going to Mi-no-koshi. They said, nope, they were going to ‘Tsurugi-san’, and then left before I could explain that Mi-no-koshi was the trailhead for Tsurugi-san. I’m guessing that they were not locals. I waited for over 40 minutes, and aside from those two young guys, nobody else was going in the right direction.

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I was beginning to lose hope, and considering taking a train out of Sadamitsu, when an old man stopped, and agreed to take me to Mi-no-koshi.

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The road between Sadamitsu and Mi-no-koshi follows the Sadamitsu river. In my diary I wrote that it’s “a beautiful deep valley with a river and green hills soaring above”. It whetted my appetite for reaching the Iya Valley (the Iya Valley starts at Mi-no-koshi). We passed through the one significant village between Sadamitsu and Mi-no-koshi, called Ichiu, and the old man said that he lived there. When I realized he was going out of his way to drop me off at Mi-no-koshi, I said that he needed have done that for me, but he insisted that it was his pleasure.

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The old man is not originally from Shikoku. He grew up in Akita in the Tohoku region – i.e. the other side of Japan. I would have been interested in learning more about him, but alas, my Japanese was not that good.

By the way, none of the photos in this post show the route between Sadamitsu and Mi-no-koshi since I didn't take any photos in the car

By the way, none of the photos in this post show the route between Sadamitsu and Mi-no-koshi since I didn’t take any photos in the car

When we arrived at Mi-no-koshi, the man insisted on buying me something to drink. I tried to refuse, and I tried to buy something for him too, but he refused my gift and insisted that I accept his. And then he left. The storekeepers agreed to watch my luggage while I went hiking up Tsurugi-san (this is another reason why I couldn’t do more extensive hiking – I’d have to find a place to store and then pick up my luggage).

A grey-and-rust-colored bird with a cream colored neck and face, with black on its crown and like a scarf around its neck, is eating sunflower seeds

This little bird was snacking on sunflower seeds in Mi-no-koshi

Mi-no-koshi has a temple, a few stores (only one was open), and I think there’s a minshuku or two, and possibly one or two other buildings, and that’s it. Oh, and of course, there is the Tsurugi-san ropeway, but I’d read it was a waste of yen, so instead I started hiking up on foot.

We look up at a really, really, really tall cedar tree

The first part of the hike passed through some forest.

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However, it only took about 45 minutes to get to the top of the ropeway, and the views started to open up.

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It seems most people take the ropeway after all, because once I passed it there were a lot more hikers around (to be fair, some of them were young children).

This is much like the previous photo looking into the Iya Valey, but with some stunted pine trees in the foreground at the bottom of the picture

Looking down into the Iya Valley again, from a higher location

Of course, the views over the mountains bordering the Iya Valley weren’t the only thing worth looking at.

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But there were also plenty of lovely views.

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In the foreground, on the right, is the shadow of a dead tree, with a single truncated branch extending to the left.  In the background there is a blue sky which is about to be swarmed by white clouds, with a green mountain peak below.  The top of the peak is still in the sun, but it's clear that the shadows of the clouds will soon thrust the entire mountain into darkness.

There are three routes from the top of the ropeway to the summit of Tsurugi-san. I picked the route which passed by a small Shinto shrine, Otsurugi-jinja, shown in the photo below.

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The reason I picked this route is that it passes by a little mineral spring which is one of the 100 Famous Water Sources of Japan, so of course I had to fill up my water bottle here (I had previously drank the water from the Kanrosen spring, which is another of the 100 Famous Waters, as well as well water from Matsumoto, which I think is also one of the 100 Famous Waters).

The srping is that rectangular dark hole in the ground, and that dipper helps people get the water out.

The srping is that rectangular dark hole in the ground, and that dipper helps people get the water out.

I then passed by this place with some really interesting rocks as well as a … temple? shrine? I’m not sure whether it’s Buddhist or Shinto, though I’m guessing Shinto since this mountain is primarily considered a sacred Shinto area.

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In addition to being a place of worship, it also has very basic quarters where someone can spend the night, and it seemed there was a woman (who seemed to be affiliated with the religious order which maintains this structure) who was overnighting there.

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In the next post, I will describe the summit of Tsurugi-san itself.

In the foreground, we see two grey, jagged rocks rise up, one on the left, one on the right.  In the background, we see the green mountains of the Iya Valley right before they get smothered with clouds.