The highest mountain in Western Japan, Mt. Ishizuchi in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku is one of the seven sacred peaks of Japan. Since ancient times, the entire mountain has been a sanctuary for ascetics, where gods dwell and, the mountain itself revered as a "god". Hence, the scenic adventure on this holy mountain isn’t a super-easy hike, but more training, if you choose to ascend with chains. However, there are longer routes to circumvent them and makes this mountain a popular hiking destination.
Detour Using Ropeway
There are various trails to ascend this mountain that meet all levels of hikers. However, the easiest is using the ropeway. From Iyo-Saijo Station on JR Yosan Line, there is a local bus directly to the ropeway terminal. Within just ten minutes, the ropeway will lift the hikers to the elevation of about 1,300meters where the trailhead is. If the weather is good, the islands of the Seto Inland Sea can be seen in the distance.
After getting off the lift and walking along the path for about 20 minutes, hikers will arrive at the Chugu Joju-sha Shrine which is about 70% of the way to the summit. This shrine is part of the four shrines of Ishizuchi Shrine with the main shrine at the foot of the mountain and the other at the summit. The view of Mt. Ishizuchi through the viewing window is stunningly divine and beautiful year-round, but especially during the autumn foliage. “Joju” means to fulfill and as its name implies, this is a shrine that cultivates an indomitable spirit, prays for the fulfillment of things, and is said to grant wishes. Hikers are recommended to bow to god to pray for their success for this hike and upon returning, thank the god for their safe return.
Chugu Joju-sha Shrine
Mt. Ishizuchi through the viewing window at Chugu Joju-sha Shrine
Passing through the Shinmon, literally translated as the “Gate of the God” on the left side of the shrine, the 3.5km of hiking begins.
Shinmon (Gate of the God)
In about 10 minutes of going down the trail, the first torii gate appears. This is as far as a hiker can go if their fitness level is not suitable for the hike to the summit or didn't bring the proper gear and hiking shoes.
Some may wonder if 3.5km hiking isn’t long. However, don’t be fooled by the elevation or even the distance. The ascending line graph which is located shortly after passing through the torii gate shows a rather sharp spike. And as it does, the heart attack hill hiking begins. From here onwards for about 3 hours, the trail is only ascending with no downhill and hikers will go from an elevation of 1300 meters to 2000 meters.
Just like the graph shows, the heart attack hill hiking awaits the hikers
The first part of the trail is through the forest with about 1,200 species of plants, including rare alpine flora. Most of the forest is protected to preserve the academically valuable flora and fauna and the wonderful scenery for future generations. Taking home the plants here is prohibited.
All Time Favorite Chain Climbing
There are several sets of long heavy iron chains to make a shortcut to the summit. It starts with the trial chains which are 65meters. Then goes on to the "First Chain" (33 meters), the "Second Chain" (65 meters), and finally the "Third Chain" (68 meters). However, the locals warn “these chains are super deadly”. Just like so, there are several helipad-like open areas for rescues as many fall off from these deadly iron chains and end up dying. Some locals joked that “If a hiker wants to be famous, then falling off from this chain will make them on the cover of a local newspaper, however, it also means that the hiker is lost”.
Ofcourse, there are longer routes to circumvent them so even if climbing up these chains is impossible or too scary, hikers can take a detour.
There are no reliable records of when the chains were placed on the rocks. However, there is a record that the chains were replaced in 1779. This indicates that the chains were first placed on these mountains before 1779.
Short Break From Hiking
Right before the deadly iron chain climbing or the detour heart attack hill walking, the Yoakashi-Toge Pass is a great place to take a break. From the ropeway, this pass is about a 2 hours walk. Literally translated as “Dawn Pass”, back in the days when the trail was hard to walk and not being maintenanced, people used to wait for dawn at this pass before continuing on the hike to the summit. At this pass, the forest opens up and hikers can see the peak of the mountain in front of them. The surrounding area offers a spectacular view of the Seto Inland Sea and the mountains of Shikoku on good sunny days.
Supverb View From The Summit
Only those who make it to the summit, get this rewarding view. The most popular time to climb the mountain is from mid to late October when the leaves turn into a beautiful carpet of red and orange. Since the mountain is covered in heavy snow, only experienced hikers with proper gears are permitted to climb this mountain.
The mountain opens to the public in July. Between July 1st to 10th every year, a ritual is held at the top of the mountain. On the first day of the ritual, three statues of the gods of wisdom, humanity, and courage, carried by white-robed believers, reach the top of the mountain. Then the worshippers rub their bodies against each other to pray for good health. However, there are still remnants of the mountain banning women from climbing so women are not allowed to enter the mountain on July 1st.
Ishizuchi Shrine at the summit
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