Come October, Tohoku region is seemingly already in full autumn mode. I saw many pictures from Aomori and Iwate prefectures, highlighting the beauty of their mountain range, clad in color-changing scenery. I’d say it’s high time for me to explore the autumn mountain too. Coincidentally, a friend of mine invited me to join him and his hiking buddies to Mt. Kurikoma, a popular mountain for hiking located at the north-edge of Miyagi prefectures, bordering with Akita and Iwate.
We took the northern hiking route via Sukawa Onsen, which can be reached through the winding, slightly -precarious-despite-the-beautiful-view Route 342 originating in Ichinoseki. It took about half an hour to reach the destination from Ichinoseki. There is another hiking route to Mt. Kurikoma, the south route via Kurikoma-kougen Iwakagami-daira. The drive to this trailhead is shorter but the hike is longer (and harder).
When we reached Sukawa Onsen, it was about 8 in the morning. I met my hiking buddies for the first time, and after a brief introduction we set out to hike. The plan was to take circular path via Sukawa Route for the ascent and take Nature Trail Route going down. It seemed like it rained a bit hours before, for the path was wet and slightly muddy. But one of the guys said it was due to the precipitation in the morning.
About 15 minutes into the trail we entered Jigokudani, which literally means ‘Valley of Hell’. On the contrary though, I found the place to be very beautiful. Numerous wooden blocks had been laid to create an unending trail crossing the valley. Going straight you would find the reason why the valley has a rather frightening name. Hot springs veins run deep beneath the ground and they show up here and there, creating the image of ‘hell’ with their non-stop churns of steam.
We stopped by Showa Lake after crossing Jigokudani. Here there is small toilet hut, perfect for a stopover during the hike. From this point the elevation change becomes bigger as the path gets harsher and steeper. Still, if there are a lot of old people hiking here surely it’s not a problem for younger hikers.
40 minutes from Sukawa Onsen and we reach Tengu-daira, a clearing near the peak. From here it was just a little bit more to get to the top. Along the way there is a big rock called Tengu-iwa. I wasn’t really sure which one was the rock but judging from a huge bulging in the ground in my pictures, I could guess I have seen it.
Nearing noon, we arrived at the peak of Mt. Kurikoma (Sukawa-dake). There were a lot of people here. Like seriously a lot. Kurikoma is a popular place for hikers due to its easy-of-access and beautiful scenery. I noticed a lot of hikers brought a small burner to cook instant noodles. It only costs about 500 yen, so I thought I should buy one when I’m going for the next hike.
When we’re about to get down from the peak, the weather slightly became overcast. No longer could I see the bluish sky. And the path becomes narrower that most of the time we had to squeeze into the bush to give way to the hikers passing from the opposite direction.
Nature Trail route does not offer view as spectacular as Sukawa Route because the vegetation is rather thick there but it doesn’t mean the route has no attractive features. I found some small ponds along the way which reminds me of my previous hike in Mt. Gassan, and some cool tunnel of trees. I was often the last person in my group because I constantly stopped to admire the view.
Right after crossing a small stream, the road got worse. All of a sudden it got super muddy, right to the point that stepping on the wooden block put at the middle of the path to act as a stilt did not help at all. You just had to embrace the cold mud enveloping your feet ankle-deep. I’m not complaining, it was still a cool experience for me.
And so, right around 3PMish, we were finally back in Sukawa Onsen. As the final treat, the foot spa (ashiyu) in Sukawa is free of charge — anyone can dip their feet into the pool. It’s too hot for me though, so be wary so not to burn your tired feet.
All in all, if it was not for the muddy obstacle, the hike to Kurikoma is supposed to be an easy walk for even beginner hikers. I mean, one of the hiking group brought along his elementary-school age daughter and she was doing quite fine the whole way. This is a hike where you could bring your family along. Please do visit the beautiful mountain during its peak beauty: autumn.
|Access information||From Tokyo:
From Tokyo Station take shinkansen bound for Morioka and get off at Ichinoseki Station, Iwate prefecture (make sure first that the shinkansen stops at this station). From there take bus to Sukawa Onsen.
View bus schedule in Japanese here (Sukawa Onsen website)
Ichinoseki – Sukawa Onsen
Sukawa Onsen – Ichinoseki
Take shinkansen bound for Morioka and get off at Ichinoseki. Then follow the same direction as above.
I find going to Kurikoma by public transportation is a bit tricky since the bus only goes twice a day. Going by car is the more preferable option here.
Speaking of Ichinoseki, nearby there is a wonderful place called Hiraizumi, one of the World Heritage sites in Japan.
|Useful websites||Kurikoma Mountain Forecast – click here|