We pack all of our bags in order to leave the hotel and move on to the next one. Today, we’ve been told, is the hardest day of our hike. I’m feeling pretty good about that because the only hiking we’ve done so far has been on flat pavement. I look forward to getting on a real trail!
We drive to temple 11 and spend a bit of time there preparing for our hike and enjoying the space. Kirkland leads us through a series of stretches before we start walking. Hanging notes sway in the wind along the trees lining the path, with words of encouragement painted on each of them. Ted points out the important characters on the directional signs for us to memorize so that we can find our way if we get separated. One of them kind of looks like a trident, and another I think kinda looks like an old school space invader. It’ll be easy to follow the signs to our destination now.
The trail is beautiful and long, covered with rocks and tree roots as all hiking trails should be. It’s lovely. We hike mostly uphill for the first 6k, at which point we stop to meet our vans down in a valley where we eat lunch.
We keep intercepting a large group of pilgrims on a two day bus tour. They’ve got all the gear and they chant at every temple. It’s so interesting and I love running into them at our stops. I will say, their chanting isn’t quite as fantastic as the group of monks who chanted yesterday, but nothing ever will be.
Ted tells us that the last 2k of our 12k day will be the hardest. Straight uphill, he says, sending his hand up to the sky on a 70 degree angle. I seriously consider staying in the van along with some other hikers, but in the end decide, YOJO. You’re Only in Japan Once (maybe). Those of us who choose to hike are all a little terrified, but still up to the challenge. We expect that the hike will take us an hour, so we take it really easy. The trail is challenging, sure, but there are many switch backs and make-shift rock stairs along the way. I wouldn’t classify this straight up hill, but I fear it will get worse so I keep a steady pace. Half an hour into the hike we reach a plateau, and find out that we’re here. It’s over. Our 2km straight up hill mountain of doom was actually a 30 minute hike through a forest with a challenging but totally manageable trail. Sweet.
The day as a whole, which we were told is the hardest, is actually quite painless. Bring on more hiking!
Making it up to the temple is well worth it. The view from the top is wonderful and we even make it up in time to see the group of pilgrims chanting again. What a great end to our hike! On our way to the car park, I am walking with Sharon when we see a group of Japanese pilgrims walking up to the temple. We give a small bow and say “konichiwa” to everyone we pass, as you do to your fellow pilgrims. At the back of the group there is one young white guy, to whom I am not sure what to say, so again Sharon and I just say “konichiwa”. He gives us a head nod and says “hey”.
The van takes us to another onsen which I’m sure my body will thank me for. The hot water loosens my tired shoulder and leg muscles, but I get out early because I’m just far too hot. I can only enjoy an onsen for about 15 minutes before I need a cold shower.
We drive another half hour to our accommodation at a quaint little Japanese style hotel. Our room is just one large tatami mat with two futons, and a table in the corner for us to pull out if we so choose. It’s not a glamorous place to stay but I love that it’s true to Japan and especially the pilgrimage.
Dinner is served downstairs at 7:00pm. For a minute we’re concerned when we see what looks like a gravy covered burger patty on our plates (along with other small dishes of pickles, fish, rice, tofu etc) but it turns out that this burger is made with Japanese beef and is covered in miso gravy. It’s actually a local speciality. Cool!