Friday, August 09, 2013

Hiei-zan, Double Traverse Pt. 1

On the day that I created the blog about the Shizen Hōdō, I realized that I hadn't actually finished the walk.  I'd assumed that I had, in also walking the Kyoto Isshū Trail, which traces the Hōdō as they both wrap around the ancient capital. But one section, a mere hour's worth, still remained untrod.

It took me over three years, but I finally made it up there.  Wes came along on this simple little stroll in the hills, ironic in that he has cheerfully taken on most of the hardest mountaineering that Japan can offer. 

So it was that we got off a bus near the Hotel L'Hiei, our means of transport having done most of the work for us that day.  After ducking into this clean, posh, and empty resort hotel to use the toilet, we quickly find the trail, arrows pointing down that long flight of steps toward Biwa-ko on which I had first made the Hōdō's acquaintance. 

Naturally we head in the opposite direction, along trails that hug the hillside, wrapping around landslides and fallen trees, and thankfully not climbing or falling too dramatically.  It's an easy morning:  cooling our heads in the mouth of a dragon that emits a cool stream of snowmelt; praying before the myriad gods in a cluster of shrines at Myō-dō.

Just beyond is the main temple hall of Enryakuji itself, dark and perfumed by centuries of incense.  But it is the trees up here that most impress.  Due to the devastation wrought by Nobunaga and his men, I date the tallest to just over 400 years old.

The trail leads on, easy and flat as it follows the ridge.  Conversation flows easy as the trail fails to wind us.  There is one particular drop into, then a tough climb out of, a narrow valley at the top of which we pause and snack.  Before us is an area open to the sunlight, brutally clear cut and devoid of nothing but mud, and some surveyor's stakes left behind like sarcastic exclamation points. We stand awhile and look down, our view unobstructed into Shiga-ken.  

The trail I'd hoped to follow continues north along the ridge, but my map shows a climbing time that would extend well past sunset.  Thus resigned, we follow a side trail past a tree trunk with a remarkably well-shaped ass, then shoot down amidst the frogs into the valley and to Ohara.  Here I'm further surprised to find that I hadn't walked this section of the Hōdō either, which we rectify by walking those final few hundred meters past the large homes of suburban farmers who'd found money, and bubble-era coffee shops that had subsequently lost it.  One of the latter attempts to cool us with ice coffee and fresh plucked cherry tomatoes, until the bus finishes the job, double doors pushing air-conditioned air into our faces before taking us in.

On the turntable:   "The Rough Guide to Okinawa"

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