#003 – SHIRAGA-DAKE
Summer faded with a whimper and the typhoons ran out of puff.
Higanbana bloomed in the nooks of the lane way. Raising their lone red ensigns in defiance of the old landlord’s disdain for them. The old timer patrolled his beat, chipping hoe at the ready. The much maligned harbingers of fire and ancient curses removed and destroyed from the face of his land.
October loomed, fair weather hiking conditions returned and with some time away from the grindstone at hand, we allowed ourselves to breathe again. Having read of the rocky Shiraga-dake and its counterpart Matsuo, home of long lost historical relics, I’d been chomping at the bit to investigate.
From trio to duo, the Kid was dispatched to final sports festival practice, scars from the Minago ascent still fresh and we headed west, bound for Sasayama in Hyogo.
Exiting the unmanned train station we strolled the back roads below Shiraga. There the higanbana held sway in dazzling displays of red alongside the rice paddies and roadside verges. Up through chestnut groves, overladen with a new season’s bounty we wandered a winding mountain road until we arrived at the trail head proper. There we stopped and chatted to a pair of forestry workers happy to share their knowledge of the local mountains.‘Head for Mitake,’ said the one brandishing more gaps in his mouth than teeth, when quizzed on other peaks worth scaling in the area.
‘Mmm, sooo,’ nodded his moon faced counterpart.
We kept it in mind. Bidding them farewell we headed up the steep, well trodden path into the hills. The White Haired Mountain, Shiraga gets its name from the pale coloured boulders gracing its summit. Its other claim to fame is that it rises to a perfect vantage point where expansive views across a cloud sea, known to form at times, can be had.
On top sandwiches were washed down with chilled black beer. Long gone were the Calorie Mate and chocolate almond days that fueled my Hyakumeizan quest. Alone on the summit the Missus and I soaked up the last of the season’s warmth as a gusty breeze tousled the dry grasses spilling off the sides of the bare topped mountain. We promised ourselves to return one day and camp up there in the hope of catching a glimpse of the cloud sea lapping against the flanks of the surrounding peaks.
Down off the back of Shiraga via a considerably steeper track, we crossed a saddle to the wooded peak of Matsuo. The only evidence of a castle ever existing there were a few flattopped areas and hints of foundations amongst the trees.The afternoon waned and we made our way out of the mountains, down through the darkening forests replete with stone relics of temples long since abandoned. Future plans focused in on Mitake-san as we went…and, I must admit, notions that encompassed a good few more mountains after that began to coalesce as well.