Off to Koya-san!

Eventually I stepped off the bus into the middle of town.  It was quite bit cooler than it was in the city — no wonder why everyone kept thinking ofThe architecture and detailed designs of the temples and small buildings along the main street amazed me.  I think I just stood there looking around for a while before I began walking back and forth along the main street of the town looking for the monastery that I would be staying at for one night before I began the Kumano Kodo trek.

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Arriving in Japan this past summer in July, I had already anticipated a very humid and hot experience.  After spending a couple of days in Osaka visiting an old friend, I made my way to Koya-san (Mount Koya).  It was a pleasant break away from the hot and humid city where I felt like I was roasting in an oven.  I was very fortunate to have my friend who was familiar with interpreting the local transit rail lines.  For someone who had learned very basic Hiragana and Katagana — I found that figuring out the right trains to take and their schedules to be quite challenging.  Thankfully despite the obstacles, I met so many friendly local Japanese people who were willing to assist me and point me in the right direction (or on to the right train!).
Though the navigational understanding of the train system is a bit challenging, I was immediately taken with the efficiency.  I never encountered any delays.  The trip to Mount Koya involved a long train ride to Gokurakubashi Station but it was worth having the opportunity to see the landscape evolve from a highly dense urban environment into the lush green country side.  I was surprised to see how untouched much of the mountainous regions were.

Along the way by train to Mount Koya.

After reaching Gokurakubashi Station (it is literally at the end of the line), I ended up hopping on to a cable car that took a handful of visitors up to Koya-san.  It took very little time to climb the mountain and soon afterwards, we would hop on to a bus to reach the town centre of Koya-san.

The buses were also a bit of a challenge for me too given that they primarily identified stops in Japanese and payment for bus fare was also tricky for foreigners.  There is a specific slot for exact fare, and a slot to obtain change — which I often mixed up.  Fortunately the bus drivers were very patient with my inability to follow instructions!

The interior of the cable car.The cable car up Mount Koya.

Eventually I stepped off the bus into the middle of town.  It was quite bit cooler than it was in the city — no wonder why everyone kept thinking of  The architecture and detailed designs of the temples and small buildings along the main street amazed me.  I think I just stood there looking around for a while before I began walking back and forth along the main street of the town looking for the monastery that I would be staying at for one night before I began the Kumano Kodo trek.

After a long train ride from Osaka and my first bus ride in Japan, I arrived in Mount Koya and was greeted with beautiful monasteries.The common vending machines.  Some of them even speak.A map of the town on Mount Koya.

Eventually I saw an opportunity to visit Okuno-in before I made my way to the monastery.  As I approached this ancient cemetery, I saw buses full of tourists.  This was a hauntingly beautiful path that people often used for larger hiking and trekking route.  It was unfortunately also a major breeding ground for mosquitoes and I was immediately gifted with a few itchy bites as I stopped to take some photographs.

The entrance into Okuno-in.  An ancient cemetery / graveyard area.A part of the cemetery in Okuno-in.Many jizo statues lined up to watch over people.

Some of the most fascinating parts of the Okuno-in cemetery are the jizo statues that are lined all along different tombstones or even just the path.  They are supposed to watch over people and people often leave a form of tribute.  I eventually found them throughout the Kumano Kodo trail as well.

I was uncertain about why the jizo statues were decorated in certain situations but it was nonetheless beautiful to see the practice in person.

A jizo statue along the path in Okuno-in.Many beautiful statues in Okuno-in.The path through Okuno-in served as a much larger hiking trail that many people used.  I wish I had the time to walk through all of it but as I was only spending one night in Mount Koya, I wanted to make a visit to and see the other temples in town.

After spending time immersed in Okuno-in, I reluctantly left the ancient grounds to see the temples in the area.  The temples were often filled with visitors, tourists, and people so I would only drop by and take a look around before moving on to the next temple.  Kongōbu-ji in particular was very busy, but I believe it is the main temple in the area.

Eventually I’d make my way ahead of the crowds and enjoy some tranquil moments wandering around the larger structures in the sacred area like Danjo-Garan.  Personally speaking, as much as I was impressed by the size of other structures, I preferred the earth-like nature and feel of Kongōbu-ji.

Arriving at Kongōbu-ji TempleWalking towards Danjogaran Koyasan

Whilst walking around in awe of the natural beauty of the area and the structures built within the environment — heavy rainfall began and I quickly walked to Saizenin where I was staying.  I wasn’t sure where I would be staying but when I first saw the entrance, I questioned whether I was walking into the right place!  Fortunately I was and I was immediately greeted by a very kind woman who offered me shelter from the rain as well as a towel to dry myself off.

This is the monastery in which I stayed at -- Saizenin in Mount Koya.  Beautiful and very tranquil place.  I just needed to locate where it was and then I continued walking around.The monastery I stayed at was beautiful.  I didn't expect it to include television but I never turned on the telebox anyways.Just as I had arrived at the monastery, it was pouring rain.  The woman who welcomed me was very kind and even offered a towel to help dry off.  This is the view from my room.  Even in the rain, it was tranquil and beautiful.

After signing into the monastery, I was led to my room and wow, I was impressed.  I thought it would be rather tranquil but plain.  Instead it turned out to be elegantly designed but minimalist room with tatami flooring.  I was informed when dinner would take place and at what times the baths would be open so I decided to rest a little given I was still a little jet lagged from just arriving in Japan two days prior.  When the rain stopped, I decided to step out before dinner time to see a bit more of the area nearby.  This led me towards the Daimon Gate and some of the bluest flowers I’ve ever encountered.

The details of this temple are intricate and beautiful.I have never seen such blue flowers in my life.  They seemed to be everywhere in Japan.Thought this was a fitting shot for the Daimon Gate (literally translates to Big Gate).

Moments later, a monk arrived and arranged my dinner and indicated to me that it was best to be seated towards the window and enjoying the view when eating dinner.  As anticipated, this was a vegetarian meal and there was interesting mix of dishes composed of vegetables, broth, rice, tofu, as well as some fruit.

After dinner, they removed the dishes and tray and immediately set up the traditional futon (kakebuton) which was very comfortable.  More comfortable than my standard camping mat, I was grateful to have the opportunity to have a restful sleep in the cool environment before making my way to Takijiri where I would begin my Kumano Kodo trek.

I was informed to sit facing the garden looking out the window whilst eating.  FYI the tempura was amazing.The bed prepared right after dinner.

The next morning, I woke up early to join the other folks staying overnight at the monastery to partake in the morning chant ceremony.  I didn’t fully understand what was taking place but the room was beautiful and the ceremony and the rhythms of the chant very fascinating.  At a certain point, the folks including myself — one by one — were invited to participate (which I believe may be to perform a small ritual involving our own prayers).

After the morning chant, we were served a traditional breakfast and then I proceeded to pack up and make my way to begin my Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trek.  More on this later!

Bruce Trail Part 17 – 7th Line to 3 Line E

We soon found out that one friend had hiking boots that required replacement because she was slipping and sliding quite often.  Unfortunately there were more ups and downs on this hike than we had anticipated — and we were not sure whether we would finish this hike in time before dark.

Starting where we left off on the last trail, we had initially thought that it’d be a warmer day but it turned out to be quite chilly with the wind. I decided to experiment with carrying less water today to see if it’d help with my sore knee. As with the backpacking light methodology, the idea is the less weight one carries — the longer the distance one can tackle.
We soon found out that one friend had hiking boots that required replacement because she was slipping and sliding quite often.  Unfortunately there were more ups and downs on this hike than we had anticipated — and we were not sure whether we would finish this hike in time before dark.

Starting where we left off.This hike was more challenging than we anticipated with it immediately taking us up and down steep hills.

We had originally thought that this hike would be relatively easy but was surprised by the steepness of the hills.  Fortunately, I had brought my hiking poles and reduced the weight of my pack.  This reminded me of a 27km hike along the Kumano Kodo in Japan just this past summer.  It was exhausting but rewarding considering we were pushing 26km according to our maps.

A steep climb up.Checking out where the Bruce Trail and the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail connect.

It was neat to encounter the junction of the Bruce Trail and Oak Ridges Moraine Trail along the way.  Every time I find out about a new trail to hike, I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface in terms of exploring this province — let alone the world.  So much to see yet so little time, and still so much left of the Bruce Trail to do!

A really pretty part of the hike that took us into a small valley.It looks like icing sugar on everything!

Every so often, I find a parallel between nature and what we as human kind enjoy on a regular basis.  In this case, the light snow covering everything reminded me of ice sugar lightly dusted on baked goods.  If only we were hiking on cake — that’d make snacking pretty easy.

We came across a section of a wooded area where there were trees fallen everywhere.  I suspect that this must have been associated to the ice storm earlier this year.  It is still astonishing to see how much damage that storm did to the forest and even cities.

A storm must have caused the tremendous damage to this part of the forest.  Tree trunks and branches were everywhere.The trail took us past the Hockley Valley Resort.  They had a single hill running for skiing and snowboarding.  We met a little friend too!

We eventually found ourselves hiking through the Hockley Valley Resort and made a little friend along the way.  This little friend kept following us until we had made our way past the ski hills.  It was bizarre walking through so much snow and then having that abruptly stop once we had gotten past the black diamond hill.

As much as I love mountains, I admire how beautiful these hills are throughout this part of Ontario just an hour or so north of Toronto.

Looking out to the surrounding landscape from a black diamond ski hill at Hockley Valley.Arriving in to the Jeju Ole Friendship trail

After passing through Hockley Valley Resort, we made our way through the Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Reserve. We found that this section of the trail was made a friendship trail to the Jeju Olle.  I think it is a really beautiful part of the Bruce Trail to be marked as the friendship trail.  Good choice!

As we made our way deeper into the nature reserve, we were beginning to get concerned with the amount of daylight we had left and began to pick up our pace.  It didn’t help that there were even more ups and downs through this area and it was beginning to get colder for my friends.

Walking into a dark wooded area.There were a lot of stairs -- up and down -- the through Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Reserve.  We encountered some fellow hikers who got lost here too.As the day passed, it darker and darker and eventually I was no longer able to take photos.

Alas, at this point, I was no longer able to take proper photographs as the amount of daylight available was becoming nominal and any photo I would have taken would likely be blurry.  Fortunately, we did have our headlamps and I had an excellent opportunity to try out my new Petzl Tikka RXP which had adaptive lighting capabilities.  It turned out to perform very well and fortunately so because just when we thought the hike would get easier — the route became the most challenging we’ve encountered so far with a some boulders and rocky terrain to scramble over… and it was dark.  It was a challenging climb and descent but we made it.  Quite tired and cold, we made our way along a dark road towards the car.

Afterwards, we proceeded to make our way to the Mono Mills Inn for a hot dinner.  This hike was a good opportunity to test our abilities in the cold and made us realize that some of our gear needed to be upgraded.  Looking forward to the next hike and challenge and you can take a look at the full gallery from this hike.

Bruce Trail Part 16 – Willoughby to 7th Line

Following last week’s rather wet and cold experience with the partial rain and snow, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate but the weather seemed like it was going to be sunny but bitter cold.  Oddly enough as we drove to the start and end points of this hike to drop off the cars, we encountered sunny, cloudy, rainy, and snowy weather all within a distance of approximately 26km!  We were originally intending on tackling only 19km but when one of the part time hikerswasn’t able to make — the three of us decided to try and make more distance.

Starting off where we ended last time!  These fences make you squeeze through.

Following last week’s rather wet and cold experience with the partial rain and snow, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate but the weather seemed like it was going to be sunny but bitter cold.  Oddly enough as we drove to the start and end points of this hike to drop off the cars, we encountered sunny, cloudy, rainy, and snowy weather all within a distance of approximately 26km!  We were originally intending on tackling only 19km but when one of the part time hikers  wasn’t able to make — the three of us decided to try and make more distance.

The beautiful snow-covered fields.

We had initially thought that this section of the Bruce Trail was going to be pretty bland with most of it following a road but we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves off the road for a fairly sizable chunk of the hike and even when we were on the road, there was almost always something interesting to see.

Passing by a grand looking tree along the early part of the hike.Just as the trail was beginning to get interesting, we spotted fox chilling out next to a golf course we were passing by.

As we were trekking by a local golf course along the road and just about to turn into a wooded area, we spotted a fox just relaxing on the side! It was the first time I got to see a fox that close and one that didn’t run off.  We just stood there while the fox exchanged glances with us.  The hike was certainly off to a great start!

It was not too early in the day but the muted and soft morning light made the bare forest with the light snow covering the ground seem so tranquil and peaceful.

Beautiful lighting that morning as we hiked through a snowed-in section of a wooded section of the trail.Along Escarpment side road, finally getting some sun and blue skies on a bitter cold day.

Eventually, we made our way back on to the road and despite the bitter cold with the wind chill, we were happy to see the sun come out and it helped warm us up a bit.  It was feeling definitely colder than usual because even my hands were feeling pretty chilly and we had hiked in the middle of winter — this wasn’t supposed to be winter yet!

On the road, there isn’t much to look at other than the fields, the skies, and the homes of other people.  In some cases, we found it rather bizarre what other people had built as part of their home.  Sometimes one just has to wonder why someone would choose to build something in a particular manner in the middle of no where?

This is a gatehouse?  It looks like a water tower!Can you spot the horses in the distance?

Through out the Bruce Trail so far, we’ve encountered the odd rusted vehicle or car part lying around.  As we passed a field and a couple of horses in the distance, we found ourselves intrigued with what looked like a vehicle from the 70s sitting on the side.  Without a clue on how the car got there in the first place, we were immediately drawn to it.  The car was not in such great shape but it was very cool to see the interior and what remained of the car.  The car itself had sunken into the ground over time and I wonder how long it will take before it really immerses itself.  The story is always such a fascinating aspect of what we encounter.

Always love encountering abandoned vehicles along the trail.  This car was in the best condition I've seen yet and its already sunk into the mud.Passing by a field of corn.  We figured that the farmers found it too costly to harvest this field.One of the best things about a bare forest.  You can see right through!On the road again ... and again...

Around this point on the trail, the sun began to fade and it got windier.  We began to feel the wind chill.  It definitely didn’t help that we had to walk along the road so often because there was no cover from the wind whatsoever.

We spotted a lot of frozen bodies of water as we hiked this portion of the trail — most of them frozen on the surface.  I wonder if at a certain point into the winter, these ponds and lakes will be frozen enough that we’d be able to start ice skating on them!  To our surprise, not all the parts of the trail were frozen solid — there were quite a few places on the way that were quite muddy.

Despite the very cold temperature, it was surprisingly muddy at certain places.You can barely see where the trail is with all the fallen leaves.Hiker Crossing!

Earlier in the Burlington part of the trail, we had to cross a busy highway and this time we found ourselves in that predicament once again.  Fortunately, this time there was a hiker crossing sign to at least inform drivers and we stood on the side of the road until we could pounce on an opportunity to rush across.  I guess there simply isn’t enough foot traffic to warrant building a bridge or something but I figure that eventually traffic volume in certain areas or along certain roads will be too busy for hikers to cross safely.

As we made our way through the remainder of this hike, part of me wished that it were still autumn time, we encountered a few beautiful areas and lookout points where the colourful vistas would have been stunning to see with autumn foilage.  I think I might return one day in the fall next year just to check out certain points of the trail.

A nice lookout point.  It would've been very colourful in the autumn.Looking out towards where we parked the car and the end of this hike.This is where we'll continue next time!

It was pretty neat to see the house in the middle of the field as we hiked back to the car.  I have to wonder what it’s like to live in such a remote place.  One of my friends pointed out that the house even had fences specifically geared to block the drifting snow from being blown and reaching the house.  This is actually quite fascinating because I would’ve thought the guy could’ve simply grown more hedges or something rather than using fences.

We’ll be skipping a couple of weeks of hiking the trail thanks to some freezing rain and the Black Friday madness (I have to play chauffeur to drive family for their cross-border shopping needs).  In the meanwhile, check out this hike’s full gallery — there were some pretty nifty photos taken along this hike!

After the hike, we made a short trip to the Mono Mills Inn to try out Peter Cellar’s Pub for some post-hike nourishment.  It was a friend’s recommendation for us to check out and it was totally worth it.  Excellent food and worth the trip if you have the opportunity.

Bruce Trail Part 15 – Creditview to Willoughby

After a break from the Bruce Trail hike, my friends resumed where we left off!  We had a friend re-join us after a long hiatus since the latewinter.  It’s too bad she joined us just as winter was returning! Starting where we ended in early October it was quite astonishing to see how significant of a change it was.  Colours were muted and we encountered snow and frost!

After a break from the Bruce Trail hike, my friends resumed where we left off!  We had a friend re-join us after a long hiatus since the latewinter.  It’s too bad she joined us just as winter was returning!
Starting where we ended in early October it was quite astonishing to see how significant of a change it was.  Colours were muted and we encountered snow and frost!

Starting off where we left off in October on Creditview.Starting off on a fancy-looking trail.

After experiencing so much of the Bruce Trail that had been relatively unmaintained, I was pleasantly surprised to find the trail so nicely set up.  Trail borders and the boardwalk!

Leading into a premium boardwalk.One of the highlights of this hike.  Frost-covered Cheltenham Badlands.

One of the awesome highlights of this hike was having the opportunity to stop by the Cheltenham Badlands.  I’ve been fortunate to encounter a variety of badlands in my travels but this is the first one I’ve personally stepped into within Ontario.  Some light frost covered the terrain muting the rust coloured soil and as much as we all would have loved to take a mountain bike on to this rugged terrain, the delicate nature of the badlands and conserving them prohibits us from doing so.

After staying briefly in the badlands, we continued on the trail.  It was a little sad to some extent seeing all the trees bare and the ground covered by leaves.  Doesn’t help when the weather can’t decide between snowing or raining!

Fallen leaves cover the entire trail along the way.It was an astonishing and epic descent along this part of the trail.  Lots of fun!

Further into this section of the trail, we passed a rather large group of hikers sitting around and into a rather spectacular encounter.  The trail made this dramatic descent (or ascent if you were coming from the opposite direction).  There were some makeshift stairs but for safety and stability, a cable was run all the way down for people to hold on to.  The view down was definitely one of the highlights of this hike.

Looking back up the way we descended.  It is quite steep, hence the cable for holding on to.The trail then continues to descend down a very rocky section.

After the steep descent, we descend into this almost-temperate like environment with lots of green moss and foilage surrounding us.  The rain made for somewhat slippery conditions in addition to the mossy rocks so we took this section slower than normal.

Eventually we make our way through to a small residential area and I was pleasantly surprised to see Movember being promoted!

It's neat to see worthwhile causes being promoted along the trail.  Movember!Just discussion and commentary on how cool this house we passed by was.

A part of the Bruce Trail experience is hiking past a lot of homes, houses, and farms; and as a result we often find ourselves commenting on how we’d enjoy living or not living in such and such of a place.  Sometimes we find ourselves discussing the architecture or end up on tangential conversations such as urban living.  I myself find my thoughts drifting to and fro around how I might enjoy living so close to the Bruce Trail but then my mind shifts to thinking about public transportation sets in and snaps me back to reality!

During a further descent along the trail, we crossed the railroad.Descending even further...

This section of the trail definitely feels as if we took a significant descent.  It’s a little weird because I often think of Ontario as hilly and relatively flat but the surprise is always enjoyable.  After passing by the railroad tracks and tackling more steep descents, we find ourselves entering Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.

The only place with enough tree cover from the rain and wet snow.The trail in Fork of the Credit Provincial Park

After stopping for lunch briefly under some tree cover that was thick enough, we made our way further into the provincial park.  By then, we find ourselves dealing with a damp cold feeling although we were still dry, or at least most of us.  One of our friends was dealing with a rain jacket that was a little too antiquated to do much good.

One of the highlights and features of Forks of the Credit Provincial Park is the Cataract and waterfall as well as the Credit river that runs through the park.  This apparently was a part of what used to be an old power station that generated electricity.

Spotting the waterfall in Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.A closer look at the waterfall.A fork in the river!

Having hiked through this park over the summer as part of training for my trip to Japan, it never ceased to amaze me how different everything looked.  Everything seemed so bare and in some sense desolate and quiet.  No one else was around!

The final stretch of this hike was pretty hilly.Arriving at Escarpment Sideroad where we parked.  It was surprisingly busy with many other cars parked on the side.

Unfortunately, the rain on this hike made taking photographs a little challenging.  My lens kept getting water on it so you may notice some photos in the full gallery of this hike a bit blurry or foggy at times.  To make things worse, I found out that my GPS wasn’t tracking the hike properly.  Oh well, at least we completed the hike faster than anticipated!  We started at around 9:30 in the morning and finished around 2:30 in the afternoon.