Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) Day 3 : Watari horst mountains traverse

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

We checked out Hotel Grado (ホテルグラード新地) which is located right in front of Shinichi station (新地駅) at 8:15am to make it to get on the 8:30 train.
We stayed this hotel for two nights and we liked it so much. One of the good features the hotel offers, aside from free microwaves and coin laundries, is a big Onsen (温泉 : public bath) right next door connecting to the hotel with an indoor passage. The Onsen even has a casual restaurant inside. While we got some convenience store foods for our first night’s dinner, we gave it a try for our second night. All dishes we ordered there were unexpectedly so good.
The early parts of MCT northbound route has some good connections to JR Joban line (JR常磐線) stations and the train time schedule is much more frequent than we thought. So we came up this idea of setting a base at a hotel nearby train stations like this one and using public transportations to go to and come back from each day’s trailhead. It really helped us to deal with accommodation scarce areas along the route and not to have to carry heavy backpacks everyday.

Two stations from Shinichi, we arrived at Yamashita station (山下駅). We quickly walked back to the town office of Yamamoto-cho (山元町), to return to MCT route.
Since we knew today would be mostly walking in mountains, we had searched to make sure where we could get food and drinks. There is a grocery store right in front of Yamamoto station but it opens only at 9:30am. Google map didn’t show us any stores along/near MCT route from the station to the starting point of the mountain part. So, we had already gotten some breads (lighter weight food) last night from a convenience store. Additionally, I got a bottle of tea from one of the vending machines in front of Yamamoto station, as I was not sure if we could find other vending machines on the way to the mountain trailhead.

We walked through weekend quiet countryside neighborhood following the map and signposts to get to Shinzan Sanroku Shonen-no-mori (深山山麓少年の森). It’s a family-friendly nature park, located at the bottom of Mt. Shinzan (深山). In fact, when we get to the park information center, a bunch of kids, well, more like toddlers was gathering with their moms, carrying tiny backpacks almost same size of their torsos.
According the park information board and illustration map, there are multiple trails stretching from there to get to the peak of Mt. Shinzan. Our first decent length of mountain traverse on MCT was to start along one of them. The park information center has bathrooms (note: all Japanese style) and a vending machine. I didn’t have to get drinks at the train station and carry an extra 600g actually, if I would’ve known it.

As soon as we got ready, we hurried to the trailhead to start walking up the mountain, as we saw the kids were also moving towards the same direction, cheerfully and excitedly. We didn’t have this army of excited kids running around and screaming in front of us all the time until getting to the peak.

The trail up to the top of Mt. Shinzan was pretty easy to walk, not really like mountain trail but more like forests paths. The fact how little the kids were clearly show how not so hard this trail was.
The trail was well-marked with signs and arrows at each branch and corner, showing which direction is which one of the multiple trails running around this mountain. Through most of the signs were written in Japanese, MCT logo stickers and tapes were attached the signs and tied around tree branches. So, all you have to do is to follow those MCT logos.

A spring water place on the trail

The peak are of Mt. Shinzan was, again, 360 degree open and provides amazing views every directions. When we got there, a couple of groups of hikers were already there, sitting at the benches and having tea break. Like Mt. Karou yesterday, this Mt. Shinzan also seemed a neighborhood mountain for the local residents in Yamamoto-cho town.

We knew Mt. Shinzan was just the beginning, only first peak of over 10km long traverse before we got to our goal for today. So, we didn’t stay there so long and hurriedly resumed walking to the north to follow the route.

We walked on the ridge lines and passed six mountain peaks in total during the entire traverse. I later learned the series of these six mountains, is called as Watari horst mountains (亘理地塁山地). “Horst” is a geology term that i had never heard of until today. The altitude of each peaks were somewhere between 200 and 270 meters .

From Mt. Shinzan to the next major horst mountain, Mt. Shihō (四方山) was 6km, the longest stretch between peaks today. The first 3.5km of it was actually pretty flat mountain trail, but it eventually joined the latter 2.5km of asphalt-paved driveway.
Between Mt. Shinzan and Mt. Shihō, there were two minor peaks where we saw only small plates of mountain name without altitude information, were standing on the seemingly highest point.

Mt. Shihō was the only mountain easily accessible by cars to the peak area park, where there were an observation tower and a couple of rest huts. But, unlike Mt. Shinzan, there was no other hiker there while we were having lunch break at one of the huts. Very quiet and deserted.

As for the tree types on these mountains, while Mt. Shinzan area was almost all broad-leaf trees, so many of them were naked and hadn’t budded, Mt. Shihō and other two more northern horsts were covered with thick man-made forests of Japanese cedars and cypresses.
Also, in this northern part of the traverse, we felt the degree of descents and ascents along the route was much bigger. We really appreciated very soft, almost fluffy cushion-like surface of the trail the entire time hiking on this 12km traverse, except for the 2.3km of concrete-paved road before Mt. Shihō. We also liked there were many many great view points in both side along the ridge lines.

It was supposed to start raining from this afternoon and it had been very cloudy from the morning actually. But the cloudy sky also provided us much cooler temperature and less sun lights than yesterday … it’s a trade off between good views and non-sweat comfortable long hike. Around 2:15pm, finally we felt rain drops falling on our face. When we looked down the areas below the mountains, rain fog shield already shielded covered them. Luckily, the naked tree parts were already far behind us and we were protected under the natural umbrella of the evergreen tree’s branches and leaves. We kept walking without pulling our rain jackets out of our backpack.

Since the beginning of mountain parts, we didn’t see any parts on the trail we needed to be extra careful to pass through… until we arrived the part that was marked with “slippery” warning on the MCT official map. We saw the trail was suddenly cut off and left a huge open space below our feet around the area where the trail used to be going to. Apparently, the left half of the mountain had been dug out for quarrying and the alternate trail was running along the poor trees clutching on the sharp edge.
We were really glad it was not raining hard. If so, it would be much more difficult and maybe seriously dangerous to slip down the steep slippery slope with only relying on the rope attached on the trees.

After this rough part, the trail condition became the regular easy-to-walk-on mode. Thanks to fallen leaves cushions on the trail and much cooler temperature today, my feet didn’t get any pain so far. We were gradually walking down lower and lower through serene misty cedar tree forests.

which animal ?

We came out of the other side trailhead of the Watari horst mountains traverse.
Without noticing it, we already crossed the town boundary somewhere in the mountains and came in Watari-cho town (亘理町) area.

As I wanted to precisely follow the route shown on the official map, we had to walk through a quiet residential area without seeing anything specially interesting. Well, we passed by a middle school and an old temple whose main hall was under major roof fixing.

We really enjoyed hiking today’s traverse and happily gave applause to whoever picked it up to include in MCT route. At the same time, we didn’t really get why the many of residential/town part walkings we done so far were selected, honestly. We did passed by some seemingly historical/cultural sites along the route, so we assumed the route was drawn to take use to see them. But, like what we were walking through now, some zig-zag detours and turns didn’t really make sense to us, why they have to go there.

It was still slightly raining but not hard enough for us to wear rain jackets. We quietly kept walking through the residential area of the town. This last walk was not that long distance but I felt like whole amount of pains distributed for today came on my feet at once. Unlike yesterday, we were carrying the fully packed backpacks the entire time today. Though our original set goal was sill some kilometers ahead of us, we decided to call it a day at a big grocery store by a former castle site turning a shrine.

After we got foods for dinner tonight at the store, we walked to Watari station (亘理駅) to look for a taxi.

Our hotel for tonight is located by the ocean, providing a great ocean views from room windows…supposedly, if it was a clear day, and it has a big very nice onsen we could occupy only for ourselves at night after all day-time only guests were gone.
Only slightly inconvenient point is it’s 7km away from the closest point (the grocery store) on MCT route. Even taking it into account, it’s pretty critical for us to keep our not-so-young-any-more bodies relatively well-maintained everyday to keep walking for 50 continuous days. Good rest and deep sleep in cozy place are the must-haves at the end of the day… at least for me.

Today’s total walking distance was barely 20km. We were on the natural trails with soft bouncy cushions of fallen leaves most of the time. But still, I got totally exhausted.
Even though the ridge lines of Watari horst mountains we hiked on today stayed around only 250m altitude, total elevation gain/loss for today ended up both nearly 850m, numerically proof how big impact the accumulation of small up and downs resulted in.
It was very enjoyable and the first real tough walk.

Day 3

START : Yamashita station

GOAL : Watari Station

  • Distance walked 19.4km
  • Total elevation gain / loss 988m / 984m
  • Time 7h 35m
  • Highest / lowest altitude 286m / 3.1m