Day 15: Mt. Ishizuchi & Matsuyama

The precipitous third set of chains- don't fall!
Sunday, 20 July 2014

Continues from Day 14: Kotohira, Zentsuji, Marugame and Saijo
Today we’re going to tackle the climb up Shikoku’s Stone Hammer: Mount Ishizuchi!

This mountain is one of the Seven Holy Mountains and at 1982 metres tall is the tallest mountain in both Shikoku and Western Japan.

Naturally it makes the list of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains.

The mountain is named for its summit which resembles a stone hammer (Ishizuchi) and the climb is most well-known for containing a number of sets of heavy iron chains that climbers and pilgrims use to pull themselves up the steep and rocky pinnacle.

Sounds like fun!

After breakfast we checked out, left our luggage at reception, and walked across the road to the bus stop.

Iyo-Saijo is a small train station and there were not too many bus stops outside, so it was easy to find the right one.

It might be a good idea to bring along the name of the mountain in Japanese (石鎚山) though because I’m not sure how much English there was available.

Anyway we caught the 07:43am bus and arrived 50 minutes later, a quarter of the way up the mountain (455m to be precise), at the lower station of the Ishizuchi Tozan ropeway.

We then paid nearly 2,000 yen for a return ticket!


It certainly beat walking at least as the ropeway whisked us up another 845m, so we could start our climb at 1300m- over half way up!

We arrived at the upper station with a medium sized crowd of hikers at almost exactly 09:00 after only a short wait at the bottom.

The top station has lockets and a toilet, and I’d recommend using this toilet as it’s the last decent one.

There are some more at the shrine but they’re not so good.

The area up here is actually used for skiing in winter and there were a few other lifts in the area, including one which was currently opened for sightseeing.

We didn’t use this however and instead followed the signs to the mountain trail (登山道) which starts at the Jōju Shrine. We arrived at the decently sized shrine grounds after about a twenty minute walk from the ropeway station.

We then had quick look around and then started the hike!

Unfortunately the first part of the path is a decent down from 1450m at the shrine to a saddle located at 1300m!

We walked down and down and down!

There were frequent signposts with distances.

Along the way we saw some pilgrims hiking in all white robes.

I also talked to a friendly bunch of people in Japanese. They said something about being very international.

Once we got to the bottom of the decent (1300m) we then started climbing up many many little wooden stairs that were installed in the mountainside. We climbed back up far more than we climbed down.

First set of chains
The climb was hot work but not too bad because it was cooler up in the mountain.

After heaps of stairs we finally reached the Yoakashi Pass at 1600m.

However, the peak was still another 300m from here.

Along the way we passed a short set of chains you could use to see if you'd be able handle the real ones, but that otherwise didn't go anywhere. We didn't do this and kept climbing up.

Eventually we came to the first set of chains. It's actually possible to skip all the chains and just walk, though we wanted to try them.

These ones were 33m tall and were not too bad. Pretty steep but not completely vertical so it wasn't too tricky or scary to climb up.

There was actually a bit of a line.

The second set was 65m long as was pretty similar to the first set- just longer.

The third set of chains however were a completely different level.

Third set of chains, view from the bottom. The top is in the mist.
They’re actually are a bit easy to miss, but we had our eyes out.

These ones are 68m tall but almost completely vertical.

In many cases if you let go of the cliff/chains you'd fall straight down to the bottom and die.

No one was climbing it when we arrived- everyone going around the other way up the walking trail.

We and a few other hikers spent a long time looking at it.

Eventually I decided to climb up a bit and see how it was, and the others followed.

It was very steep as expected and quite scary. I said it might be too much for Kate to climb up and that I’d be worried about her if she came.

I felt alright as I’m not very afraid of heights, but Kate also decided she'd be alright and bravely made it up!

It was definitely the steepest cliff I have climbed without ropes.

The chains were very helpful- though they were shared and you had to be careful.

There wasn't much of a system to make sure too many people were not climbing at once, just a common sense approach.

Top of the third set of chains
I stopped half way (on an out of the way ledge) to have a Kit Kat and wait for Kate to climb up.

You were not able to climb back down these chains according to a sign at the top.

While climbing up, I did however climb back down a little of the way and can see why this wasn’t allowed as it was much trickier.

After this final chain climb we finally reached the top of the mountain!

We arrived at around 11:30am, so the climb up had taken us about two and a half hours.

Although it was quite chilly at the top it was refreshing as we were still hot from all the climbing.

The summit contained a lot of people, a view and a small shop.

You can actually spend the night here as there is also a small lodge.

Unfortunately it was a pretty cloudy day today for us so we couldn’t see too far.

Actually, technically speaking we were not at the summit yet, so we hiked a little more to a peak we could see a little ways away.

The route over followed a ridge which had a massive drop to oblivion on one side.

Once we got there we’d reached the summit at a height of 1982m!

There was a bit of a line to stand at the peak and when it was our turn someone took our photo for us.

After returning back to the main area, having a final look around, and eating our snacks, we made our way back down the mountainside.

Remember that walk down to the saddle from the Shrine at the start?

That became a cruel climb to have to suffer right at the end of our hike!

Anyway, from the shrine we walked back down to the ropeway and caught next one down and continued down to the bus stop. Unfortunately we arrived to discover that the next bus did not depart for ages; not until 3:17pm.

While I was reading the bus stop sign, some man told me I could just leave our bags at the front of the line, which I did. He was actually the owner of the ramshackle old shop next to the bus stop and sold us tickets for the trip back to Saijo.

He said we could wait inside the shop, we did so and I ended up buying an ice-cream.

The table we sat at in the shop was kinda like the dinner table. Some other Japanese people also sat in with us. They talked to each other and I talked to them a little.

On the TV in front of the table there was some detective drama playing that I also watched a little.

Eventually we went and sat outside for a change.

Unfortunately the bus was late, but it came eventually and took us back to Saijo.

From there we rushed to collect our bags from our hotel and rushed to make the next train to Matsuyama.

Our Matsuyama hotel wasn’t located very close to the station so we caught a tram down as we were very tired from our mountain climb. The hotel we stayed at was the JAL City Hotel (From Japan Airlines), which was fancy, but also quite old.

For dinner we went to check out a nice restaurant that was recommended to us, but we were too tired and I actually ended up just getting McDonalds instead!

Tomorrow we’ll be checking out Matsuyama Castle, one of Japans few remaining original castles, before taking a hire care through the Shikoku karst landscape and then down to stay a night in Uwajima.

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