This post is part 2 in a multi-part series about my hiking trip in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park during the 2018 Golden Week Holiday. Be sure to check out Part 1 first.
“Where are you headed?” the park ranger asked, eyeing our large packs with a look that could have meant suspicion or concern. Personally, I didn’t care which one it was — I was just annoyed that we’d been stopped.
The three of us — Tianyu, Dylan, and myself — were at the last checkpoint before hitting the trail to Nishizawa Gorge, a small bathroom and pavilion set up right before the end of the forest road and the start of the trail proper. Beyond the gorge lay Odarumi Pass and our eventual goal: the last two Famous Mountains in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.
“We’re going to Odarumi Pass,” I said. “After that, it’s Kinpu and Mizugaki.”
“Along the ridge from Kobushi-ga-Take, I suppose?”
“No no. We’re going up through Nishizawa Gorge.”
His eyebrows furrowed slightly. “Ah…Nishizawa Gorge?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“But there isn’t a trail to Odarumi from there.”
Just over an hour earlier, our party of three departed Enzan Station packed like sardines on a bus bound for the Nishizawa Gorge trailhead, admittedly without much certainty as to which way we’d be going or whether there would actually be a trail taking us where we wanted to go. Nonetheless, consumed with my characteristic irrational optimism born of a tendency to avoid thinking too much and just get on with it, I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive about this.
Turn after turn the bus groaned and struggled up the steep, narrow, winding road, and with each stop the crowd lessened until, finally, as we approached the man-made lake formed by a dam built across the gorge, we finally managed to sit down. Dylan, still suffering a bit from jet lag, was fast asleep in no time. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have much time to rest as we were now only minutes away from the last stop.
The final stop featured a decaying parking lot accompanying a few shabby old shops where old ladies from the local village offered food, drink, and souvenirs to the visitors — for a price, of course. We however, didn’t linger long eager as we were eager to hit the trail.
Moments later, our conversation with the park ranger occurred. I, rather than being worried by this, was actually just further annoyed as I knew damned well there was at least one route. I immediately brought out my map and started pointing out the two routes that I discussed in last week’s post last week.
To the first, he acknowledged that a trail did indeed once pass that way but that it had since fallen into ruin, so he was pretty sure we couldn’t go that way. As to the other, the one passing over Black Gold Mountain, he did confirm that it existed but he added, “It really isn’t in good condition at all. Maybe you won’t be able to go that way.”
I countered by pointing out the forest roads winding along the mountain and said, “Look, there are the forest roads too. One goes all the way up to Odarumi. Sure, it’ll take a long time to get there on those roads, but we can get there. Trust me, we’re just fine.” Finally, he relented and allowed us to pass.
From there, we entered into Nishizawa Gorge, a granite valley through which flows a swift and powerful mountain stream featuring some of Japan’s most scenic waterfalls. Ever since I heard of the place when I first visited this area last year at the end of my summer hiking trip, I remember thinking then that I probably wouldn’t ever be back in the area again. Low and behold, this was now my third trip, and I finally was getting to set foot there.
It took us well over an hour to get to the end of the Nishizawa Gorge nature trail, and as we approached we began to look about with perhaps a hint of worry for anything that looked like the remains of an old trail splitting off from the main path, but by the time we reached the small outhouse marking the terminus of the route we still hadn’t seen anything that looked promising. Once there, though, it didn’t take us long to find a worn and faded old wooden sign announcing the way to Black Gold Mountain. The trail was clearly in significantly worse shape than the well-maintained Nishizawa Gorge Trail, as the Park Ranger had said, but it at this point it still looked easily passable, so we thought at least one way was open to us, albeit the one that would take much longer than we wanted. We stopped to rest, have a snack, and discuss our next move.
Before we had time to make any decisions, though, we spotted an odd looking old machine fastened to the ground, rusted but still recognizable as some kind of engine.
Our curiosity piqued, we started looking around and soon found what it must have been for. A short distance away we found another faded sign, this one saying not to pass beyond that point. Passing beyond it, as you know I had to do, I found the remains of an old rail system running up the gorge right in the direction of our preferred route. In fact, as it turned out, it was the path we wanted to take: what I had thought was an old trail marked on the map was actually an old tram road.
As one can see from the photo above, the trail was starting to wash out in places, and it was questionable whether or not it would be passable all the way up to the forest road that we wanted to connect with. Me, being the reckless adventuring type that I am, put in my vote for trying our luck this way. My two counterparts, however, voted for caution, noting that if we went that way we might get really far before finding out that the trail became impassable, so far that we wouldn’t be able to backtrack and get on the other path in enough time to complete the hike.
Reluctantly, I agreed. We would make for Black Gold Mountain and beyond that, Odarumi Pass. With any luck, we could be there by sundown. Or so we hoped.
© Brian Heise, 2018