The weather report we checked last night forecasted it would be cloudy with a chance of occasional rain for today. Not good, as our 2nd day of the MCT thru-hike was going to involve walking in the mountains. But, when we peeped through the window of our hotel room in the morning before leaving for the hike, we found a perfect blue sky. We only hoped the luck of the weather would stay with us all day.
A taxi we had booked yesterday was already waiting for us at the hotel entrance. After a short 15 minutes ride, we were back at the trailhead of Mt. Karou 鹿狼山 again.
Like its name, meaning a mountain of deer and wolf, statues of sitting dear and wolf behind a stone torii gate were guarding the trailhead. We heard local people in Shinchi town 新地町 hold an affinity with Mt. Karou as “our neighborhood mountain” and come to walk around this mountain often.
As early as 8:30 am, a big parking space in front of the trailhead was already filled with cars. While we were getting ready for our hike and got our drinks from a vending machine, some local hikers, mostly grandpas, already came out of the torii gate from their morning walk in the mountain. They must have started before dawn…
While walking up the gradually ascending, well-maintained trail, some local hikers came down, and some other fast ones overtook us. Solo hikers, families with little kids, middle-aged couples, girlfriend groups, etc.
A young mom and dad with little brothers were walking down toward us. The little ones, full of energy, trotting down, were half-playfully shouting goodbye to everyone they passed as if they had just learned that word and wanted to use it on any occasion they could have.
A grandpa, looking not younger than 80 years old, was in the style and gear from the good old days, walking down firmly with steady steps.
According to a route guide board by the trailhead, there are multiple routes to the peak. We were following the trail marked as the MCT route. Cute and tiny early spring flowers had started blooming here and there at the trailside throughout the mountain. In the lower part, we walked through dried hydrangea bushes, which would be beautiful during the rainy season. Most trees in this mountain seemed deciduous and still bare at this time of the year. But breathtaking autumn foliage should be guaranteed then.
Some of the trail signs showed the birds living here. Some others, marking how many more meters to the peak, had a cutely illustrated old man with long, thin arms in medieval clothes. We later learned from an information board at the mountain peak that legends say a god with extraordinarily long arms lived on this mountain with a deer and a wolf. His name was Tenaga Myojin 手長明神, literally meaning “the long arms god.” His arms could reach the Pacific Ocean to gather seashells, and his ancient shell mounds remain in Shinchi town…
General hikers usually reach the mountain top in about 40 minutes or so. At around halfway up, we saw a great view of the surrounding mountains and towns below and the foggy Pacific Ocean beyond. The weather and temperature were ideal for our enjoyable mountain walk.
The mountain top, altitude of 430m, was 360 degrees open, with nothing interrupting a perfect view of the surrounding area.
The town of Shinchi and the stretch of the Pacific Ocean coastline are to the east. To the west, so far away from us, long walls of higher mountains, still covered in white snow, continued to the south. Google map indicated the highest one was Mt. Zao 蔵王, and another snow mountain behind it was Mt. Bandai 磐梯山. We were in the areas of both mountains only three months ago for our new year holidays vacation to enjoy snowshoe walking and to see snow monsters by ropeways. It was nice to see these mountains again.
After thoroughly enjoying the magnificent views and checking out a small shrine of the mountain god, we started walking down to the north, following the MCT route.
The first part down from the peak was extremely steep. We had to hold tight on the ropes, trying not to slip, as we took careful steps all the way down. We now understood why most local casual hikers seemed to walk up and down the same route we came from. That trail was family-friendly and suitable for all ages. But THIS? This one definitely chooses who can come this way.
Thankfully, after the steep part, the trail immediately leveled into and ran on a ridge line without major up and down. The narrower and more natural path continued through trees. Most parts still kept enough width for us to walk side by side comfortably, but occasionally both sides of the ridge were almost cliffs to remind us not to become too careless.
About an hour later, we started hearing car noises from far away. Before joining a car road, the last part of the path was, again, a steep downhill. I didn’t use my trekking poles since I stored them in my backpack’s side pocket on the peak. I should have taken them out and used them for steep downhills, but I always forgot and got wobbling legs by too much pressure on my knees and toes.
Going down the car road, we came out of the mountain to an idyllic village. Farmers here grow certain types of trees popular for gardening. Various trees were neatly planted in lines, and we smelled refreshing sweet scents from flourishing pink cherry blossoms and Ume plum trees. Recalling the last part of yesterday, the thin trees we wondered what they should have been grown for the same purpose.
The MCT route appeared to be drawn to connect local sights and historical spots. We had passed by a natural water spring, Mayumi Shimizu 真弓清水, near the mountain exit and found another, called Ukon Shimizu 右近清水 by a man-made water storage, as big as a baseball field, with dozens of cherry trees surrounding it. At both springs, a couple of local people were filling several home-use water tanks with clear water.
Across the pond from the spring, a small hill was wholly covered with early-bloom-type vivid pink cherry blossoms. All other cherry trees around the pond also had plumpy buds. It must be breathtaking when they all are in full bloom. If only we were here a week or two later.
We didn’t see any vending machines around the pond, but soon we found one along a village street. We got drinks and sat down on a low wall to rest and eat lunch. There was also a bakery between here and the pond, but unfortunately, they closed on Saturdays.
Our afternoon walk was on flat land compared to the morning walk in the mountains. Not only just flat, but one side of us was endless vast open empty rice paddies. On another side, like we saw yesterday, many farmhouses had roofs covered with blue construction sheets. Some of those houses had roofers fixing the roof tiles. A home, in particular, might have made up its mind to ditch the old-fashioned heavy tiled roof, so it was getting a more modern lightweight panels roof.
Several asphalt-paved roads had long thin cracks running through them. We even saw that the top parts of a big rock gate at a village shrine had fallen and broken in two.
When we crossed underneath the high-raised train tracks, we found a modest sign pole with two plates; one showed we had entered a new municipality, Yamamoto town 山元町, and the other said we had just crossed the prefectural border of Fukushima and Miyagi!
Even though MCT is a four-prefecture-crossing long-distance trail, most part runs through Miyazaki and Iwate prefectures. Iwate has the 2nd largest space of all 47 prefectures in Japan after obvious No.1, Hokkaido. Despite its 3rd largest prefecture position, we walked in Fukushima only for 1.5 days…what a pity.
Fukushima Hamakaido Trail ふくしま浜街道トレイル is a new long-distance trail and is planned to open in 2023.
So, in the near future, hikers can walk even longer on one line that covers the coastal lines of all four prefectures on the Pacific Ocean side of the Tohoku region.
It runs through the entire Pacific ocean coastal line of Fukushima prefecture and directly connects to the MCT south trailhead.
Shortly after entering Miyagi, we had to cross a newly built two-lane car road without a pedestrian crosswalk or a signal, then we found ourselves in the middle of vast vacant land.
Completely flat, with no trees, no buildings, and dried yellow dead glass covering the sandy ground. The only things that had height were electric poles standing along a long straight empty road. Parallel to the road, some hundreds of meters away, sea walls concealed coastlines from us.
The sun had been against the last night’s weather forecast, and we didn’t get any precipitation yet. Not only staying dry, but it was also getting hotter, and now here we were, on the flat land without mountain trees sun shield. According to the map, this condition was supposed to continue for 4 kilometers, and we were sure we would be very hot and… thirsty.
So, we were, not exaggerating, ecstatic when we saw the only building, looking like an office, at the edge of this desert, approached it in the desperate hope for a vending machine, and found not only one but two!
Even bonus, almost everything in these machines was only 100 yen, cheaper than the standard price. We drank a canned refreshment immediately on site, and I got a life-saving melon cream soda bottle to keep for further insurance.
After we kept walking through the empty windy land 2.5km or so, shadows of construction or something appeared on the horizon. Approaching closer, it looked like a multistory orange building, and Google Maps indicated it was some memorial site.
It was the remains of a former elementary school, destroyed by the full force of the great tsunami ten years ago.
Nakahama elementary school 震災遺構 中浜小学校 is the south Miyagi area’s only remaining ruins of the Great East Japan earthquake and the following tsunami in March 2011, open to the public as a museum to show what happened that day.
The deserted land we were walking through used to be a small seaside village full of houses and lives.
A local grandpa in a staff jacket standing inside the gate invited us to come in, asking where we were from. He was surprised that we were far from Shikoku and thru-hiking on MCT, and so was the lady at the ticketing window.
After walking through to see the completely destroyed classrooms with piles of rusty student desks and chairs on the first and second floor, a guide staff, a local volunteer, asked us to join in watching a documentary video and a special guided tour to enter the attic, where all kids and teachers evacuated in and survived during the Tsunami but had to go through cold and anxious nights not knowing their families’ whereabouts or even safety until being rescued. We wish we could, but we had to go to make it to today’s goal.
All those friendly staff volunteering at the school might be former village residents until everything was washed away.
After a short walk from the school, the straight quiet road finally hit the Sakamoto river 坂元川, where large-scared constructions were going on along the river banks.
The small bridge we were supposed to cross was no longer there. Instead of crossing the rice field on the other side of the river, as the map said, we crossed a new big bridge and followed a path on the river bank, which eventually joined 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 walked on this side of empty farmland or on that side.
When we were passing Sakamoto station, we saw a convenience store there and realized we had not seen any “conbini” (Japanese colloquial term for convenience stores) today.
So, the Sakamoto station store should be the last decent supply point for hikers taking southbound (we were northbound) for the next 25km (!) along the MCT route.
The last 5km for today was on the wide sidewalk of a busy main road. Shortly after we started following the busy highway, a van suddenly pulled over a few meters ahead. Curiously, we were passing the van, and then, a man got off and greeted us, waving.
It turned out he was the director of the MCT Natori trail center who had our contact to arrange to book a special boat (we will talk about it on Day 7) and to ask questions.
He and another staff member had some business to do in Soma city and were driving back to their office. And we spotted us walking on the sidewalk. What a coincident and pleasant surprise!
We were glad that we, the combination of a relatively short Japanese woman and an exceptionally tall Dutch guy, were so eye-catching wherever we were.
Well, he also confessed he knew we started walking on the MCT yesterday and estimated we might be around this area by now, so he was paying particular attention to roadsides.
At the Yamamoto town hall, we turned right and left from the MCT route to head to Yamashita station 山下駅 so we could take a train back to Shinchi station for our hotel for one more night. Our hotel had a nice budget-friendly restaurant, and we had dinner there last night. Tonight, since we wanted to eat in our room, we dropped by a convenience store along the highway as there were no shops around our hotel.
Today’s total distance was 27km.
If we had not reached the trailhead of Mt. Karo, we would have had to stop at the Sakamoto station. After the first mountain trail, the rest of the MCT route for the day was hard-surface (concrete, asphalt, or gravel paved) roads. I felt my feet really sore.
The first two days passed, and my out-of-shape body was seriously feeling the consequence of my past laziness, especially leg pains…
Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021
|Start||Mt. Karo trailhead||Finish||Yamashita station|
|Total Elevation Gain/Loss||360m/ 496m||Highest/Lowest Altitude||431m / 2m|
Hotel Grado Shinchi ホテルグラード新地
- The first and most reliable source of information is the MCT official website
- Do a daily check for updates on detours, route changes, and other heads-ups about the route
- Get the MCT Official hiking map books
- Download GPS data provided by MCT
- MCT hiking challenger/alumni registration