Or at least it seemed like that many steps. When you gain almost 3,000 vertical feet in just under 3 miles, the trail has to be steep given that there were very few switchbacks. And the trail up Mt Atago, at 3,031 ft the highest peak in the mountains encircling Kyoto, is so steep that over half of it seemed to consist of cut stone or earthen steps edged with small tree trunks.
To reach the trailhead, we took the Kyoto Bus from the Arashiyama area in northwest Kyoto to the end of the line Kiyotaki. Many of the people on the bus with us (all Japanese) were obviously hikers, and when we disembarked we just followed them. The trail starts just after you cross over the Kiyotaki River.
Everyone likes to have their picture taken at the formal beginning of the trail up the mountain.
For the next 40 minutes the climb looks mostly like this.
Either cut stone steps or steps edged with small tree trunks.
There are a few rest shelters on the way to the top, this is the first one which is located on the site of a former tea house that disappeared a long time ago.
A young Japanese fellow coming down the trail saw us and his face expressed surprise. He said, with a pleasant and friendly manner, “We don’t see many foreigners doing this trail! It’s hard, isn’t it?”. I had noticed that a number of people on the trail had appeared surprised to see us. I would see their faces when I would say “Konnichiwa” (“Good day”) as they approached and they would look up and realize who I was. It wasn’t my perfect Japanese that caught their attention, I can assure you.
The climb continued through groves of red cedar and Hinoki cypress, with the occasional view of Kyoto in the distance. Fortunately the weather was reasonably cool and there was a slight breeze.
Arriving at this gate we were hopeful that the top was not going to be much farther.
And then we arrived here. Ahah, the top!
It was almost noon, so we stopped and ate our lunch, enjoying the lovely view of central Kyoto. There were several dozen other hikers in the same area enjoying their lunches as well. We were the only foreigners: everyone else was Japanese.
Finishing our lunch, we walked a bit farther past where we had stopped and realized we weren’t quite at the top. So up we went…
And that was really the top.
The way down was…a lot of steps. And we were tired. In some ways it is more tiring to descend steps than it is too climb them. We stopped to rest at the lowest shelter before the final section down to the river, and three young Western guys approached on the way up. Hearing us talking, they paused and one asked us where we were from. He was an American from Richmond, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had quit his job in San Francisco with Salesforce (“I couldn’t take it anymore!”) and was working in nearby Kameoka as a “travel consultant”, but what he really enjoyed was teaching English in the evenings. He was with an British guy who was living in a Bhuddist monastery not far from us in Kyoto, and a French guy who was studying and learning to make traditional Japanese pottery. The American rarely saw any of his fellow countryman and was clearly happy to talk to us old people. He commented that we were dressed much like his parents were when they were hiking and traveling!
It took us about one hour and 50 minutes of walking to get to the top, and about the same to get down. We thought it was a very good day in the forest.
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