The mountains of Kansai may not be the biggest or toughest climbs that Japan has to offer, but Mt. Seppiko, a mountain nestled in the hills north of Himeji, is famed for its rocky profile and challenging ascent. So it was on one cloudy sunday morning in the middle of rainy season that I would finally see what this peak had to offer.
Almost the only way to approach the hike is by car these days, so I was grateful to go with a chirpy friend who was willing to drive. Despite a fairly early start, it was already mid-morning by the time we arrived at the carpark at the end of the windy but scenic little road which took us to nearly the foot of the mountain. We were clearly the last car to pull in at the carpark that day, but that didn’t bother us as most Japanese hikers get ridiculously early starts, and I like to hike at a quick pace too. Anyway, we wasted no time in gathering our things and setting off. The path up the mountain rises almost immediately in a series of steep switchbacks which had my companion sweating and gasping for breath in the thick, damp air which hung low between the trees. I was feeling the humidity but was otherwise fine. We soon passed a mother and daughter pair slowly making their way along the trail, but other than those two, we met relatively few people on the mountain all day, perhaps due to the notoriously iffy weather of mid-June and rainy season over Honshu. However the grey clouds, always threatening rain, were kind to us.
Seppiko is most well known for its rocky scrambles as you approach the summit, and in this respect it didn’t disappoint. Probably due to my upbringing in the rugged, rocky and pinnacled mountains of north Wales, I’ve always preferred mountains where tree cover and vegetation is at a minimum, where stone and craggy gullies reign supreme. In Japan, or at least in the Kansai area, such mountains are relatively few and far between, as the peaks here are generally covered with thick and luxuriant foilage, meaning even from the peaks it is sometimes hard to get a clear sweeping view. Anyway, the path up to the summit has a few interesting areas, including a rather tight gap that would probably be far too tight a squeeze for anyone of a slightly larger frame. The scrambly parts were over all too soon however, and in no time at all we were sat on the small peak, trying to find space among a few groups of pensioners and the customary summit shrine. To escape (the admitedly small) crowds, we soon slunk our way down the back side of the mountain, following a path didn’t appear to be much travelled. Indeed, the further we went, the more overgrown the path became, and we didn’t meet any other people for the duration of the hike. However, these were some of the best moments of the day, as we fought through the now thick undergrowth, constantly checking our exposed bits for leeches (they love rainy season).
It was these roads less travelled, and the traverse through some wonderful woodland, where a small trickle of a stream eventually turned into a cascading series of spectacular falls, that made the day particularly memorable. The path criss-crossed the river at various points, requiring a few precarious looking leaps onto wet and moss-covered boulders, so it made for an exciting final descent back towards the carpark. Seppiko is famed for its rocky profile, but I’d suggest that its slightly less popular but just as exciting backdoor route is what really sets it apart from other mountains in the Kansai region.