(Koguchi to Nachi Taisha – Distance: 14.5kms. Walking time 5hrs 10 mins to 7 hrs 60mins. Elevation 60m to 840m to 330m.)
I woke at 6.00am and was keen to start walking. I showered, packed and finished eating breakfast by 7.00am. Mik, Patrick and I farewelled our host at Minshuku Momofuku, walked back across the Koguchi-bashi Bridge over the Koguchi-gawa River and 100 metres or so up the road to where the Kumano Kodo trail resumed its course. The final section of the Kumano Kodo between Koguchi and Nachi Taisha is called the Ogumotori-goe. An advisory note in the guide map I carried stated that:
The Ogumotori-goe is a demanding walk. Therefore it is important to start early in the morning, by at least 8.00. Please plan according[ly] so as not to get stuck in the dark.
It was 7.15am and I was ready to go. I was ‘pumped’ as the saying goes. The previous three days of walking had sculpted my body into a walking machine. My mother was born in Malta and in my mind, I had become a half-Maltese gazelle: sleek and agile.
I glanced at the start of the Kumano Kodo trail. A series of stone steps rose steeply and then quickly disappeared within the shadows of overhanging tree branches. I looked down at my guide map. According to it, the first part of the walk was the most difficult: a gain of 800 metres elevation in just 4 ½ kilometres, much of which consisted of the infamous Dogiri-zaka “Body Breaking Slope”. After climbing the slope in 1201, the famous poet Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) wrote in his diary,
This route is very rough and difficult; it is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is.
Despite this ominous description, I was undaunted. I had completed more challenging two and three-day mountain treks in Australia of a longer distance and an even higher elevation gain while carrying a full backpack. The total distance of the Ogumotori-goe was just over 14 kilometres and the suggested walking time was between 7 and 9 hours. I reckoned I could complete this final section of the Kumano Kodo in less time than that.
I turned to Mik and Patrick who stood behind me. Less than 20 metres from them farther up an adjoining street, a vending machine positioned itself seductively like a hostess trying to coax customers inside a men’s club in Osaka’s red light district. Patrick suggested we should have a drink break. Mik agreed and took out a smoke.
I stared at both of them. We hadn’t even started walking yet and they wanted to take a break. Patrick read the displeased expression on my face and said, “Well Christian, I suppose we will see you in 30 minutes or so”. Was this a challenge?
I replied, “Ok, I will see you both later then”. I turned around, and without looking back, began climbing the first set of stone steps of the Ogumotori-goe.
I was off. I bounded up the stone steps, taking two at a time where I could. The climb was steep. After half an hour, I saw a group of eight or so hikers ahead of me on the trail. I maintained my pace and chatted to each of the hikers in turn as I passed them. I wanted to walk alone today where possible and savour the brief time that was left to me upon this pilgrimage.