During my first few weeks in Kobe, I was struck by the beauty of the mountains, especially when passing through them each day during my commute to and from the office. In some ways, the mountains made the city feel familiar, similar to Vancouver with the ever-present North Shore Mountains, to the views of the Olympic Mountains from Victoria, and especially to Hong Kong, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea.

Looking online, I was able to find a short hike with a trailhead only 10 minutes away from the sharehouse, called 菊水山 – it ended up being only 45 minutes from door to summit, where I was able to soak in panoramic views of the city (pictured above) and start to place myself in relation to the place that would be home for the next months. During the hike, I noticed the text 「全山縦走」 written on some of the trail markers. The prospect of a “whole-mountain” hike was intriguing, and I set out to look for more information once I finished the hike.

Again, I turned to the internet, and found that this hike would take me from sea level up to the highest peak in the Rokko Mountains which surround Kobe, then back down, passing through over 50 kilometres and numerous peaks along the way. Finding out that both ends of the trail were easily accessible by train (one end is located at Sumaura Koen 須磨浦公園駅 station, while the other is located in Takarazuka, only a short walk from the JR station there) further cemented my desire to attempt the hike. I also learned that the Kobe Tourism information booth at Sannomiya Station would sell a map and information guide for about ¥800, and went to buy the map in order to review the route and plan my hike. There, I was told that the hike would take anywhere from 14 to 15 hours, so understanding that there would be limited hours of daylight, I resolved to hike the trail one half at a time in order to familiarize myself with the route and terrain before attempting the hike in full.

Before I could set out on the trail, I knew from previous experience hiking in Canada that I should have a detailed plan that should include train schedules, how much food and water I would bring, the equipment I would need (headlamp, batteries, first-aid equipment, compass, etc.), places where I might be able to turn off of the trail if I needed to cut the hike short, and the estimated time I would have to pass certain landmarks in order to continue on the hike at my desired pace.

Arriving at the trailhead, everything seemed to be going according to plan. I had caught the first train that morning, and was able to catch the sunrise while proceeding to the first summit. On my way up, I met a local man who had hiked the trail over 40 times previously – while we were hiking, we began talking, and he offered to guide me along the route from Suma to Takarazuka (the whole trail). I was hesitant at first, being wary of following a stranger on the trail and knowing that while I did pack enough food and water to complete the trail in its entirety, I had only planned to hike half the trail that day. After seeing how familiar the other hikers were with him, and realizing that the trail’s proximity to the city (even passing through some suburban areas and by a train station) meant that I could easily leave the trail if I was feeling tired or unsafe, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to follow him as far as I could – as this would also save me from some of the wayfinding headaches as long as I paid attention to which turns we were taking and whether they aligned with the route I had planned based on the official map.

Accepting a stranger’s help on this hike and the surprises that came with it paralleled my wider experience in Kobe – when things didn’t turn out quite to plan, I had to learn to embrace the surprises and accept that I couldn’t control or plan for everything on the trip in order to enjoy the experience for what it was, contrary to my normal instincts regarding travel. I came to enjoy experiencing these few months through my more spontaneous side, especially learning about a field that I would almost certainly never otherwise have been able to work in (disaster risk reduction). However, I think that, as with this hike, the spontaneity was made more enjoyable by the fact that I had planned well in advance, even if I wouldn’t adhere to the plan 100%.

While on the hike, it was interesting to see what I could only learn on the trail, and not online. For example, the number of vending machines, shops, teahouses, and restaurants along the trail meant that food and drinks were far more readily available than on hikes in Canada. In fact, most of the other hikers I came across on the trail had less than a litre of water in total, despite also hiking over 50 kilometres. In the end, with this man’s help, I was able to finish the entire trail in only eleven hours and 20 minutes, far faster than I had expected and with food and water to spare.