(Koguchi to Nachi Taisha – Distance: 14.5kms. Walking time 5hrs 10 mins to 7 hrs 60mins. Elevation 60m to 840m to 330m.)
As I reached Kumano Kodo signpost no. 23, the trail jack-knifed and I came at last to the famous Dogiri-zaka, ‘the Body-Breaking Slope’. The slope which I had just climbed had been steep. The Dogiri-zaka was steeper again. It was the steepest section of the entire 4-Day walk, around a 500 metre gain in elevation in 2 kilometres in distance.
I tackled the slope without hesitation. Despite the difficulty of the climb, I enjoyed every step and moment of it. The difficulty I felt in climbing this slope was small in comparison to the stress I felt at work. The realisation that I was not at work, but instead climbing a mountain in Japan, made every step lighter and every moment more joyous. As I climbed up the Dogiri-zaka, I thought to myself that I would happily attempt the three-month 80-shrine pilgrimage walk around the island of Shinjuku made famous by the Buddhist monk Kukai if I had the time and the opportunity to do so.
Pain is one part mental and one part physical. I was able to ease the mental burden of climbing the Dogiri-zaka by refusing to look at the trail ahead as it wound its way up the side of the mountain. Instead, I focussed upon the sight of my feet hitting the ground directly in front of me. The early morning mist, which partially obscured my vision of the trail and the top of the mountain, further aided my focus. By practising this mental technique, I was aware of what I had achieved rather than what I had not, and thus I remained consciously ignorant of the physical pain still to come. A thousand steps did not lay ahead of me, just one.
I stopped twice to catch my breath as I climbed the Dogiri-zaka. After half an hour, I reached the Echizen-toge Pass, which is approximately 870 metres above sea level. I took off my backpack, drank some water and had a rest. The mist was quite heavy at the top of the mountain, but the sun did its best to break through. Shafts of sunlight pierced the mist and shone between tree trunks adding a mystery to the environment.
From the Echizen-toge Pass, the trail descended. I had conquered the Dogiri-zaka and was ready for the next challenge. Physically and mentally energized because I knew I had completed the hardest part of the Kumano Kodo, I strode down the trail and almost jogged at times. I jumped from one rock to the next and placed my feet securely on to stable ground. The trail followed a creek for some distance. The moisture laden air and the gurgle of the water as it flowed over the rocks and beside the trail refreshed my senses.
According to my map, the Ishikura-toge Pass was not far ahead. However, as I turned a corner the trail was blocked and a sign pointed to a detour. According to the sign, a typhoon had caused a landslide on the Ishikura-toge Pass. The detour consisted of an old logging road that snaked around the side of the mountain. The sign suggested the detour would take around 40 minutes to walk. I was determined to complete this detour in half the time. I increased my stride.
After 20 minutes, the logging trail reconnected with the Kumano Kodo at the remains of the Jizo-jaya Teahouse. These remains are situated in a clearing beside a creek. There is a vending machine and a covered shelter.
As I entered the clearing, I saw two hikers from the United States sitting under the covered shelter and eating their lunch. I had previously met this couple on Day 2 of the walk. It was around 11.00am. I sat down and we chatted for a bit. They told me they had begun walking at 6.30 am that morning. It was too early for lunch for me, and besides I was not hungry, so I bid the couple farewell.
Next post: Walking the Kumano Kodo: Midday of Day 4 (Sunday 29 September) Koguchi to Nachi Taisha.