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Much More Than a Molehill

July 30, 2012

Disclaimer: Math was my WEAKEST subject in school, so please forgive any mathematical errors.

Monday the 23rd was spent hiking 筑波山 (Tsukuba-san), also known as Mt. Tsukuba, with some friends. The mountain is 877 m (2,877 ft) tall at its tallest peak, 女体山 (Nyotai-san), and 871 m (2,858 ft) at its second peak, 男体山 (Nantai-san). To give you an idea of how tall that is, Tokyo Skytree — which I mentioned in a previous post — is 634 m (2,080 ft) tall. Here’s a good comparison using Hummer H3s: think of this: an H3 is 4.77774 m (15.675 ft) long. It would take around 132.5 H3s balanced nose-to-tail to reach the height of Tokyo Skytree. In order to match the height of Mt. Tsukuba’s highest peak, you would need 51 more H3s. So, it’s a pretty tall mountain!

Before launching into my hiking adventure, I want to give a little background on the mountain. Legend says that thousands of years ago, a deity descended from the heavens and asked two mountains to spend the night. Mt. Fuji refused, thinking that it already had a great summit and an almost perfect conical shape. Therefore, it believed with pride and arrogance that it didn’t need the deity’s blessings. On the other hand, Mt. Tsukuba humbly welcomed the deity as its honored guest and offered food and water. As a result, Mt. Fuji is a cold, lonely, and barren mountain while Mt. Tsukuba alternatively is rife with vegetation.

Check out the roots that hoped to trip us up at the beginning of our hike.

At the foot of the southern face lies the main shrine, 筑波山神社 (Tsukuba-san jinja), or Mt. Tsukuba Shrine in English, and it’s one of the oldest shrines in the country. The main hiking trails up the mountain start here, which I think is useful if you want to leave an offering asking the gods to help you up the mountain! There are two courses you can choose from: The 御幸ヶ原コース (Miyukigahara course), which takes you to the notch between the two peaks, or the 白雲橋コース (Shirakumobashi course), which takes you up the east ridge and joins up with another course before continuing on up to Nyotai-san’s peak. If you don’t feel like hiking, don’t worry because there’s also a cable car you can take up the mountain!

Our merry troupe didn’t take the cable car up the mountain, but instead decided to take the Miyukigahara course, which on average takes around two hours to climb. As usual, I was the slowest one in the group, but I wasn’t bothered by this fact at all. I took a page out of the tortoise’s book and decided that slow and steady would suit me just fine. My friend Karen was with me, and at one point during the climb she commented that our surroundings reminded her of something out of a Studio Ghibli film. That inspired me to whip out my iPhone and start playing music from the Princess Mononoke soundtrack. We agreed that this particular soundtrack fit the setting perfectly!

The trail changed constantly — sometimes we had a dirt path, others we had to climb up shallow stairs and yet other times we had to scramble up rocky areas. Since it had rained the day before, various parts of the path were quite muddy, which ended up all over our legs. It was loads of fun, though I have to say I loathed the stairs. For some reason it was more exhausting to go up the stairs rather than hiking up a slope. While I can’t provide an exact amount of time it took to climb up the mountain, I would put it at a little over two and a quarter hours.

The view from Miyukigahara, the notch between the two peaks.

We rested for a moment at Miyukigahara (the area between the two peaks) before climbing the rest of the way to the top of Nantai-san. There we ate the lunches we brought and enjoyed the nature surrounding us as best as we would. Unfortunately, that involved bees and they seemed to like the area where Karen and I were sitting! We quickly ate our food and moved away as far as we could without leaving the others behind. Once we all finished lunch, we backtracked to Miyukigahara and stopped to rest for a short while. Then we were off to check out Nyotai-san!

The view from the top was gorgeous, though I decided not to venture too far out into the rocks overlooking the land below. My fear of heights kept me where I felt nice and safe, and not likely to step on a loose rock and fall to my doom! There were others that were a little more adventurous than I was.

Take a look at this brave soul, for example.

So, we all made it to the top of the mountain. How would we get down now? Karen and I decided to take the cable car down, while the others decided to take one of the muddier hiking trails back down the east face of the mountain. In the end, I have to say that I was glad that I took the cable car. Along the way there were markers indicating the heights of various Japanese buildings, such as Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree. That was when I figured out that the mountain we just climbed was much taller than I had previously thought!

What took a little over two hours to climb took only nine minutes to go back down. Since we had a little while to wait for the others to come back, Karen and I ate some ice cream and shopped a little while for souvenirs. The others finally appeared, with huge streaks of mud all over their legs, and we all piled into our cars and drove to Koga to clean off and get some dinner. I introduced everyone to the ramen shop near my apartment, which was an excellent choice. Nothing quite beats a big bowl of spicy miso ramen after a long day of exercise!

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about two days of carrying the 神輿 (mikoshi), the portable shrine, in Koga’s summer festival! I need to get the pictures from everyone since I couldn’t have my camera on me, so I apologize for any delay. Also, I will be in the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara) for a week starting August 3rd, so the blog will be a little silent until then. However, I’ll have many stories and pictures when I come back! Stay tuned. 🙂

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