Hiking Mt. Daisen
Guys, when a mountain's name literally means "Big Mountain," do yourself a favor and don't underestimate it. When the information center tells you it's going to take four and a half hours to complete a trail, don't laugh it off and insist that's the grandmas' pace. And when you see people coming down the mountain with full packs, hiking sticks, hats, gloves, and serious outerwear, don't just marvel to yourself about how the locals really go all out for everything.
This weekend, a friend and I decided to pop on over to Tottori Prefecture (right next to Hyogo) to hike Mt. Daisen. And although we did not heed the directions above, we thankfully made it out (relatively) unscathed. Our first mistake, though, was getting to the area at 2 p.m. when the sun sets at 5 and assuming we would be able to make it to the summit and back in time. Really, we probably should have realized our blunder as soon as we got off the expressway and could very easily see snow at the peak despite it being 60ºF where we were near sea level.
Brushing past our naiveté, our journey began at the information center at the base of the mountain, adjacent to the parking lot (which offers free parking from March-December!). There, we picked up a map, decided on a route (there are several of varying lengths), and began our ascent. The two paths to the summit begin from the same point at the bottom of a hill lined with ryokan (traditional inns), restaurants, and shops.
Where the town ends are several temples and shrines (the most prominent of which is Daisen-ji, the temple dedicated to the worship of the mountain itself), which mark the beginning of the trails. At first, the ascent was slow and gradual, winding through tunnels of trees aflame in the reds, oranges, and yellows of Mid-Autumn.
Very suddenly, however, the path turned into a series of steep, wooden steps that did not relent for the remainder of the hike, quickly calling our attention to our grave miscalculation. We pushed on, though, marveling every time we came to a distance marker at how much physical exertion it took to move such a short distance. From where the trail began to the summit is only 3 km (just under 2 miles for my American friends), but after an hour and a half of climbing and only having traveled 1.5 km, we decided to make the next rest stop our final point before turning around.
Just as we reached the rest stop, we began to see ice on the ground. We were actually pretty high up, and it must have been pretty cold even though the two of us were hot, sweaty messes!
And I must stay, all that hard work was definitely worth it. The view from that final clearing was absolutely breathtaking. Although we didn't reach the summit, we still managed to hit the ridge, which provided us views of not just the valleys below, but all the way out to the coast of the Sea of Japan, too!
As always, the way down was much easier (if you can discount the fact that our legs were jelly!), and we pulled out of the parking lot just as the sun set at 5 pm. By the time 5:30 rolled around, it was already pitch black, and we were incredibly grateful that we realized how dumb it would have been to try to actually go for that final leg.
Although this was the first time I'd been here, I can say with confidence that I highly recommend coming in the Fall. The foliage is beyond gorgeous, the temperature is perfect, and there were actually relatively few people on the trail.
Mt. Daisen is on the Sea of Japan side of Tottori Prefecture, which is a bit out of the way from the normal tourist spots, but if you ever find yourself in Japan with a JR Rail Pass and an itch to climb a beautiful, historic mountain without the trouble of actually climbing Mt. Fuji, here are some travel details from the Japan National Tourism Organization:
By Rail from Tokyo: 3h 15m from Tokyo via Shin-Osaka to Okayama Station by JR Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line; 2h 10m from Okayama to Yonago Station by JR Hakubi Line. 50m from Yonago Station by bus for Daisen-ji.
And here are a few more links to some more information: