Note: this post was re-posted from my old website, initially published in November 2017.
Come October, the Tohoku region is seemingly already in full autumn mode. Because I saw many pictures from Aomori and Iwate prefectures highlighting the beauty of their mountain range, clad in color-changing scenery, I’d say it’s time to explore the autumn mountain. I tagged along a hiking group to Mt. Kurikoma, a famous mountain for hiking located at the north edge of Miyagi prefectures, bordering Akita and Iwate.
We took the northern hiking route via Sukawa Onsen, which can be reached through the winding, slightly -precarious-despite-the-beautiful-view Route 342 originating in Ichinoseki. It took about half an hour to reach the destination from Ichinoseki. There is another hiking route to Mt. Kurikoma, the south route via Kurikoma-kougen Iwakagami-daira. The drive to this trailhead is shorter, but the hike is longer (and more challenging).
When we reached Sukawa Onsen, it was about 8 in the morning. I met my hiking buddies for the first time, and after a brief introduction, we set out to hike. The plan was to take the circular path via Sukawa Route for the ascent and the Nature Trail Route for the descent. It seemed like it rained a bit hours before, for the path was wet and slightly muddy. But one of the guys said it was due to the precipitation in the morning.
About 15 minutes into the trail, we entered a seemingly super common place name in Japan, Jigokudani, which means ‘Valley of Hell.’ On the contrary, though, I found the place very beautiful. Numerous wooden blocks had been laid to create an unending trail crossing the valley. Going straight, you will find why the valley has a frightening name. Hot springs veins run deep beneath the ground, and they show up here and there, creating the image of ‘hell’ with their non-stop churns of steam.
We stopped by Showa Lake after crossing Jigokudani. Here and there are small toilet huts, perfect for a stopover during the hike. From this point, the elevation change becomes more prominent as the path gets harsher and steeper.
Forty minutes from Sukawa Onsen, we reached Tengu-daira, a clearing near the peak. From here, getting to the top was just a little bit more. Along the way, there is a big rock called Tengu-iwa. I wasn’t sure which was the rock, but judging from a huge bulging in the ground in my pictures, I could guess I had seen it.
Nearing noon, we arrived at the peak of Mt. Kurikoma (Sukawa-dake). There were a lot of people here. Like seriously, a lot. Kurikoma is popular for hikers due to its easy access and beautiful scenery.
The weather slightly became overcast when we were about to get down from the peak. No longer could I see the bluish sky. The path became narrower, and we had to squeeze into the bush to give way to the hikers passing from the opposite direction.
Nature Trail Route does not offer views as spectacular as Sukawa Route because the vegetation is relatively thick, but it doesn’t mean the route has no attractive features. I found some small ponds along the way, which reminds me of my previous hike in Mt. Gassan, and some cool tunnel of trees. I was often the last person in my group because I constantly stopped to admire the view.
Right after crossing a small stream, the road got worse. Suddenly, it got super muddy, to the point that stepping on the wooden block in the middle of the path to act as a stilt did not help. You just had to embrace the cold mud enveloping your feet ankle-deep. I’m not complaining; it was still a fantastic experience for me.
Right around 3 PM, we were finally back in Sukawa Onsen. As the final treat, the foot spa (ashiyu) in Sukawa is free of charge — anyone can dip their feet into the pool. It’s too hot for me, so be wary not to burn your tired feet.
If it were not for the muddy obstacle, the hike to Kurikoma is supposed to be an easy walk for even beginner hikers. One group member brought along his elementary-school-age daughter, who was doing quite fine the whole way. This is a hike where you could bring your family along. Please do visit the beautiful mountain during its peak beauty: autumn.