#99 – ENA-SAN
Beyond the southern end of the Central Alps a broad topped mountain rises out of the lesser, nondescript ranges acting as a backdrop to the small city of Nakatsugawa. This is Ena-san. A peak I’d long cast an eye over whilst venturing further afield when my train rides took me through the Kiso district. It was always a case of cast an eye over and cast aside. Other mountains held more allure, had their access more constrained by the seasons, or timetables. Ena-san, though past Nagoya, was within reach of home. A quick bullet train ride to Nagoya and express train after that to Nakatsugawa was all that was required. She was one of those peaks I could climb at relatively anytime.
In the end, it was only on my way home, with 98 of the hundred mountains in the books that I dropped by Ena-san. The last of the Alps lay in my rearview mirror and I took a slow train out of Toyama to Nakatsugawa the day after getting off Yakushi-dake. Ena had sat patiently waiting, knowing her time would eventually come.
Misaka Pass, is where the Nakasendo, the old inland route of lore between Kyoto and Tokyo, used to run, before diverting along the Kiso Valley. Fukada-san also mentions an old route up the mountain from the Ena Shrine that is so lengthy that it is interspersed with twenty staging posts rather than the traditional ten found on many mountains in Japan.
From Misaka Pass, I strolled through a rolling upland of bamboo grass before the trail led me into woods sporting all the hues of autumn. Once hitting the trail that traverses the long summit ridge the forests turned to scatty, spindly conifer and the bright autumnal colours were replaced by dark and monotone.
A crowd of hikers picnicked in the woods on the summit. All views were hemmed in by the trees. Ena-san rising to just below 2200 metres was my first forested summit for a considerable time. Not since summiting Tekari-dake at the end of the previous year’s summer had I sat in a woodland setting on top of a mountain. I didn’t sit there long though and quickly returned the way I had come. So quickly in fact that I made it back to the pass about an hour before my scheduled taxi pick up.
I swallowed some water and decided, instead of hanging around up there in a chilly afternoon breeze, to start walking down the road to Nakatsugawa and meet the taxi on its way up. Who knew – if I made good progress I might even knock a thousand yen off the cab fare.
Well progress wasn’t made. Not on foot anyway. I think I made it around a solitary switchback before a black family wagon pulled up and asked if I wanted a lift down into Nakatsugawa. What could I say but yes. A guilt ridden yes at that, but one I reasoned would get me back to town in time to cancel the cab. But what cab firm had I used that morning? As I rode in comfort down the winding road I tried to recall something as simple as the colour of the taxi but I couldn’t be sure. Had it been the usual black or something else? I’d paid barely any attention to such details. I sat alongside a wide-eyed sister and brother duo and while I chatted about the usual mundane things to the parents in the front seats – home country, job, how do I like Japan, what about Japanese food – a white taxi with aquamarine fenders sailed up the road past us. Instinctively I sunk in my seat. But those hadn’t been the colours of my taxi – had they?
In the end, I collected my bag from my lodgings of the night before and slunk guiltily out of town before any rogue cabbie spotted me and gathered together a lynch mob. With only one mountain left standing between me and Hyakumeizan glory the last thing I needed was to be kneecapped and strung up by some of the local populace.
Odai-ga-hara, here I come!