YUMORIYAMA 夕森山 Evening Forest Mountain
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The beach may be one answer to the heat of the Nagoya summer, but the mountains provide an enticing alternative — and a far less crowded one. So for those readers who might prefer boots to flip-flops, trees to traffic, summits to sandcastles, here is a great day out.
The deep valley of the Tsukechi River (付知川), running roughly northwest between Nakatsugawa and Gero, is a region full of beauty and interest. Dotted with attractive villages, inviting hot springs, and well-stocked farm shops, Route 257, threading the valley, makes for an eminently worthwhile excursion any time of the year. Furthermore, the road also affords easy access to a large number of splendid mountain hikes. Less well-known than their big brothers to the east of the Kiso river, the peaks in this area have long been known collectively as Ura-Kiso (裏木曽), the ‘back side’ of the region, and the ascent of Yumoriyama is a fine introduction to its character (I should note here that this mountain is sometimes called Kitayumoriyama (北夕森山), to distinguish it from another (less interesting) Yumoriyama a few miles to the south.)
The trailhead is easy to find, being located a short distance up the Shimoura Rindo (下浦林道) forest road from Fudotaki (不動滝), a scenic waterfall embellished with toilet facilities, a souvenir shop, picnic benches, along with all the other amenities of a popular tourist site. Once on the path, however, a different atmosphere is immediately apparent, one created by the scent of trees and flowers, the sound of water rushing over rocks, the sight and texture of mossy boulders fringing the trail; it is a beautiful start to the walk. After a period of gentle climbing along the flank of a small ridge, the path descends into the valley of Izugatani (出ガ谷), a main feeder stream for the Tsukechi River. Sparkling cascades drop musically into deep pools of clear water punctuated by huge, mossy boulders; the scenery is that of a pre-Raphaelite canvas (minus the knights errant and damsels pale).
The true right bank of the stream valley is thickly forested with hinoki (檜), the fragrant Japanese Cypress for which the Kiso region has long been famed. Valued as much for its rot-resistant qualities as for its beauty, hinoki still constitutes an important source of revenue for the Tsukechi region, especially with the revived trend in Japan for building wooden houses. In former times charcoal production obviously played a part as well, as a couple of old kilns are passed along the trail. As the path winds alternately through these trees and along the riverbank, hikers encounter a wonderful variety of mosses, plants and flowers, including different species of fern, mountain azalea, rhododendron, hydrangea, and the gorgeous Japanese winterberry; as so often in the mountains here, the influence (presumably) of hot spring minerals, centuries of mixed-use forestry, and a sheltered microclimate somehow combine to produce delightful surprises in terms of what flourishes where and when.
The stream is left behind when the route begins to climb more steeply up the side of the valley, and even the sound of the water fades away for the first time on the hike. The hinoki gradually gives way to mixed woodland, more sparse but very attractive, and the path reaches a distinct ridge top at about 1400 meters, where a partial vista opens up. Looking back across the valley to the south, the first mountain to be seen is Amagoitanayama (雨乞棚山), while Enasan (恵那山) looms in the distance beyond. The immediate ground to the north is too densely wooded for clear views, but the appetite is whetted for more as the trail swings easily along the ridge in an eastward direction, giving tantalising glimpses through the trees of a massive mountain off to the left . . .
As the path starts to climb steeply for the final stretch to the summit, more mountains appear to the southwest; prominent among these is the elegant, twin-peaked profile of Futatsumoriyama (二つ森山), with Kasagiyama (笠置山) just behind. Closer to hand (or foot), Tsukechigawa and its eponymous village can be seen far below, and the exhilarating sense of altitude thus conferred serves to facilitate an easy and joyously anticipatory ascent of the last few steps to the 1597-meter peak of Yumoriyama.
And the view from the summit does not disappoint. The huge mountain to the north, previously glimpsed only sporadically through the trees is, of course, Ontakesan (御岳山), now fully revealed in its solitary grandeur, the dramatic gash of Jigokudani (地獄谷) clearly identifiable from this vantage, even under the heavy mantle of snow still remaining in late April. While Ontake effortlessly dominates the northern prospect, views in most directions are spectacular; Enasan and the mountains of eastern Mino to the south, Takatokiyama (高時山) and the Ura-kiso peaks to the northwest. The only jarring note is contributed by an ugly, rusting observation tower at the eastern end of the summit plateau; while there may have been (some) justification for erecting this monstrosity before the summit trees were thinned to improve the views, there is now no purpose to leaving it there — especially as it is so dangerously corroded that climbing it is forbidden. There really is a simple rule for building structures on mountaintops: don’t. Still, if you sit with your back to the tower, there are worse places to be than the summit of Yumoriyama.
The descent route is the reverse of that used for the ascent. Some older maps show a route to the south, and this looks very feasible from the topography, but unless you have a lot of time and a reliable compass, it is not advised. And anyway, the route back along the stream bank is well worth a second visit. About four hours on the mountain and a great drive there and back: a perfect destination.