Good afternoon everyone from the Itoigawa Geopark! As late season typhoons continue to draw close to Japan, we prepare for more unseasonably warm and rainy weather.
During a brief break in the rain, a friend of mine and I had the opportunity to visit Itoigawa’s mountains for some light hiking. We packed our bags and drove up to the Umidani Gorge Geosite.
The main visitor’s facility for Umidani Gorge Geopark is Sankyo Park, which features ample parking, camping facilities, and an observation deck. The park is the starting point for two trails, one which climbs up to the peak of Mt. Komagatake and another which winds down into the Umidani Gorge. It is the second trail which we decided to take.
Upon arriving at the trail head, the massive rock face of Mt. Senjogatake immediately commands our attention. At only about 1200m (about 3900 feet), Senjogatake is not a particularly tall mountain, but its shape and bands of exposed andesite give it a striking appearance.
The mountain itself is the remnants of a once submarine volcano. The diagonal bands were formed by the repeated flows of magma. They were exposed when the mountain was split by a combination of plate tectonics and erosion by the Umigawa River which flows through the gorge.
Walking down the trail, we caught this beautiful view of the appropriately named Nametaki, or Licking Falls, spilling down into the gorge below.
Continuing further down into the gorge, we drew ever closer to the Umigawa River below. Seeing such a small river, it is difficult to believe that it could have carved such a massive gorge.
As we came to the point where the trail crosses the river, we came to the city posted warning sign. The Umigawa River, like so many rivers in Japan, may be small, but its force should never be underestimated. After rains, snowmelts, and other situations which cause the river to swell, it is important to never attempt fording the Umigawa as its swift currents can easily sweep away even an experienced hiker. When the river is calmer, it is fairly trivial (albeit wet) to cross.
We finally arrived at the river itself. Filled with massive boulders and gushing rapids, the crossing can be a bit daunting for the inexperienced, even on relatively calm days. My friend and I had a fairly tight schedule, so we crossed only halfway to a comfortable-looking boulder to enjoy a late breakfast. Had we had more time, we could’ve continued the extra 30-40 minutes to the stunning Umidani Highlands deeper within the gorge.
On our way back up, I took a few pictures of the trail itself. For most of the trek, it is quite narrow. It is important to walk slowly and to take extra care when the ground is slippery. Make use of the safety ropes wherever they are installed.
Despite being mid-October, we were too early for Umidani’s usually stunning autumn foliage; only a few trace hints of yellow were visible in the trees. But the weather was beautiful and it was a near perfect day for hiking. I hope the next opportunity I get to hike will be more colorful.