Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) Day 2 : Mt. Karou

We are so glad the weather forecast for today was wrong.

Today would be the first “mountain trail day” for our MCT thru-hike and the weather report forecasted cloudy skies with a chance of rain all day. Lucky for us, as we peeped through the window of our lodging in the morning the day started with a blue sky.

The taxi we had booked last night was already waiting for us at the hotel entrance and after a short 15 min ride, it took us back to the trailhead of Mt. Karou (鹿狼山).
We had heard that Mt. Karou (this name means the mountain of dears and wolves) is a very popular “our neighborhood mountain” for the resident of Shinichi town. When we arrived at the trailhead, though it was only 8:30am yet, the parking lot was already almost full. While we were getting ready for our hike and getting our drinks from the vending machine, some local hikers, mostly grandpas, came out from the mountain. They must’ve started hiking before dawn.

During our climb up, we passed many people coming down and let some other hikers, who also seemed local, go ahead of us. We saw solo hikers, families with little kids, middle aged couples, girlfriends, etc. We passed a mom and dad chasing down their children who were shouting “goodbye!!” to every single hikers they passed while they were running down. Apparently the little kids had just learned that word and wanted to use it, whenever and wherever they felt like it. One spry grandpa who should not have been younger than 80, in good old styles of hiking clothes and gear, was walking down with solid strong footsteps. Surely, this is the neighborhood mountain that the locals comes just to enjoy a good short hike in Saturday morning.

According to the sign board at the trail head there are multiple trails that lead to the peak. We followed the trail that was marked as a part of the MCT. The trail was not steep and well-maintained. There were many signs counting down the distance to the peak for us. Some of them showed the birds living in the mountain. Some of them had a cute illustrating of seemingly the god of this mountain. I wish there was information board or something about the tale or legend of this god, so I don’t know anything about him but one pretty obvious body feature of him. Even his name was Tenaga Myojin (手長明神 = long arms god.)
Just beyond the Torii gate that marked the trailhead, we were greeted with some mountain flowers blooming for spring. Purple ones here, white ones there. We could see the dried hydrangea bushes lining lower section of the trail, must be really nice walking through them in June. Most of the trees that grow on this mountain were bare and devoid of leaves, but that means that there must be wonderful autumn foliage covering this mountain in the fall.

From the Triigate of the trailhead, it usually takes about 40 or so minutes to get to the peak. After we got about half way up, the trail offered us great views of the surrounding mountains and towns. We really enjoyed the hike and the weather and temperature in this morning was just perfect.

The top of the mountain opens up to a complete unobstructed 360 degree view of the surrounding area. To the east you will find the town and the ocean and to the west we saw very high mountains still covered with white snow, standing out in the distances. A bit south from the white mountains, there were some more snow covered mountains visible.
According to google map, the first snow covered mountain was actually Mt. Zao (蔵王) and the other snow covered mountains further in the distance were Mt. Bandai (磐梯山) and its neighboring mountains. It was very good to see these mountains, as we went to both area during the new year holiday season to enjoy snowshoe-walking and traveling on the rope-ways to see snow monsters.

After enjoying the views from the peak and greeted the long-arm got at the peak shrine, we started walking to the north, following the MCT route. Going down from the peak was extremely steep. We were holding the ropes, trying not to slip all the way down. No need to wonder why most local hikers was hiking up and down on the same trail from the Trii gate trailhead we started the day from. While that trail was relatively mild slopes and hiking up on it was fun and enjoyable, very kids and elders friendly, THIS side of the trail is a total different story.

But after we managed to walk down the first steep part without falling, the trail immediately leveled out into a ridge line trail without much up and down. Compared to the popular trail, this side of the trail was much narrower and more natural. It was wide enough for us to walk comfortably but sometimes both side of the ridge disappeared and it felt like walking a path on narrow cliffs.

After about one hour, we started hearing car noises from the lower realm . The last part of the trail before joining a car road was, again, going downhill a bit steeply. Thinking back, I really should have taken out my trekking poles from my backpack side pocket at the peak. It must have been much easier walking the downhill sections with them and definitely gentler on my knees. I regretted I kept them in the backpack this entire time as an additional weight on my hip belts and consequently additional pains on my knees.

Following the road down, we reached some countryside villages, where we saw fields of short trees standing in neat lines in some of the farmlands. They were the type of trees popular for gardening. We even saw young Cherry blossom trees and Ume plum trees standing flourish, forming perfect rows of neat pink lines. We recalled our yesterday’s questions on what the farms of thin trees were for, and now we were convinced that these trees were taken care of by local farmers to supply for gardening stores.

MCT routes seem to have been drawn with the intention of taking us around to see many local sightseeing spots and historical sites.
Today, there were two sites with a clear water spring along the way.
At both springs, we saw local people filling water tanks they brought with the spring water. Must be very good water.

One spring, called “Ukon Shimizu (右近清水) was located by a big man-made pond.
Hundreds of cherry blossom trees were surrounding it. All of the cherries had big buds and they looked like they should be blooming soon. It must be amazingly beautiful when all of these cherry blossoms bloom at once and form a big pink forests in a week or two. If only we could come back to this pond again then. To our joy, a tiny hill facing at the corner of the pond, was completely covered with different type of cherry trees and they were now on full bloom.

A little beyond the pond, we stopped at a vending machine to get something to drink and had some rest sitting down on a low wall. We used this opportunity to eat our lunch.

Our walk in the afternoon was completely opposite from the morning. Quite a big contrast to the mountain trails only a few hours ago, everything was now flat and huge open space.
At first, entirely broad fields of empty rice paddies, as it was still too early to plant rice.
Just like yesterday, we again saw a lot of houses of which the roofs were covered with blue construction sheet. Some of the roads we walked on had long cracks in the middle. We even saw a heavy stone Torii gate at a local shrine was broken and completely fell down.

Some of the houses had roof-builders fixing the roofs. The occupants of one particular house seemed to think t it was time to change the entire roofs from the old-fashioned traditional tiled ones to a more modern type composed of light panels.

Without noticing it, we had already crossed the prefectural border line and we were now in Miyagi prefecture.
After crossing the train tracks and newly built main driveways, we came out in the middle of a super huge open space spreading along the sea walls. The whole area was totally flat and completely empty with nothing around.

The sun was now burning and we saw absolutely no shades ahead of us to the horizon. We were sure no one but MCT hikers would want to walk across here just for fun.
Luckily, the new building at the edge of this open area had vending machines. We also realized that we had not gotten drinks quite a while. So each of us got a couple of bottles drinks for now and future safety.
Considering the fact majority of MCT hikers take south bound route, these vending machines here should be their life savor after walking several kilometers on the heat land.

Melon Cream Soda for life

After a while we walked through this empty space, we started seeing shadow of an orangish building on the horizon.
The English version of google maps told me that it is a memorial site.
As we got closer we found the building looked like a school. It was surely a former elementary school that was destroyed when it received the full force of the Tsunami caused by 2011 Tohoku Earthquake 10 years ago.

Nakahama elementary school (中浜小学校) is the only remaining ruin of the the tsunami in South Miyagi and is open to public. These days, it functions as displays of damages cased by the Tunami to remember what happened in this area on that day.
We went inside and followed the route which takes us through the structure, where everything, including the classrooms, has been kept as it was just after the tsunami subsided. We were invited to watch the documentary film and join the guided tour to see the space between ceiling and roof where all kids evacuated in and spent an anxious night until the water was gone and rescues arrived.

Sadly, we were not sure whether we had enough time to be able to make it to our goal today or not, if we spent too much time here. So we left the school after just looking around inside.
The staffs, guides, security check people seemed all local, probably former residents in this area before everything was washed away. They were very friendly to us and all looked very surprised when they heard we were all the way from Shikoku and walking the entire MCT from here to Aomori.

From there, we kept on walking and finally reached the Sakamoto river (坂元川), which had another big construction going on along its banks. The bridge we were supposed to cross was no longer there. It was completely vanished most likely because of the newly built river bank walls, part of a project to bolster the coastal defenses. Instead, we had to cross the new bridge and followed the river bank, which eventually joined back up with the original route. Even if we could not follow the exact route, it was not a big deal as it was just a matter of whether we walk on this side of huge open empty farm field or that side.

When we passed Sakamoto station (坂元駅), we saw a convenience store there and realized this was the first time we saw a decent store since we started walking from the trailhead of Mt. Karou this morning. So, if you walk this section from north to south, keep in mind this particular convenience store should be the last chance to get your supplies for the day.

The last part of today was a five-kilometer-long walk along a busy main driveway.
Just as we were walking the first bit of it, which was, by the way, the most boring part of the day, we saw a van passed us from behind and suddenly pulled over a little way ahead.

When we were curiously passing the van, a guy came out from the passenger seat, and waved and talked to us.

Turned out, he was Mt. Itaya, the director of MCT Natori Trail Center (名取トレイルセンター) with whom I had kept in touch for asking questions about MCT thru-hike.
It was a pleasant surprise and total coincidence.
He and another staff member had something to do along the MCT route in Soma city we walked yesterday. As they were heading back to their office in Natori city and they happened to find us walking on the sidewalk of the main driveway.

At Yamamoto town (山元町) office building, we left from the MCT route and headed to Yamashita station (山下駅.) As planned, we took a train to go back to Shinchi station (新地駅) and back to the same cozy hotel room for one more night.

Today, we walked 27km.
After the first mountain trail walking around Mt. Karo, the rest of the route were all hard-surface (concrete, asphalt, or gravel paved) road again.
First two days has passed and my out-of-shape body is really feeling the consequence of my past laziness, especially leg pains…

Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021

Day 2

START : Mt. Karou trailhead

GOAL : Yamashita station

  • Distance walked 26.6km
  • Total elevation gain / loss 917m / 1047m
  • Time 8h 40m
  • Highest / lowest altitude 431m / 1.9m


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