A climb up a new forest road in Saigawa. Max elevation – 400 metres. Distance – 8.2 km.
Kuramoteyama is one of a number of “sacred” mountains in the Keichiku area – Kuboteyama, and Hikosan being the other main ones (that I know about). The temples and the trails that lead up to them date back almost 1000 years. As far as I know, the attraction of these mountains to Heian era Japanese was their isolation, and that remains the attraction for me. But whereas they were looking to become one with nature, I’m after quiet roads with nice views. Thankfully, the nature of local politics in Japan means that the mountains are crisscrossed by an ever-growing network of forest roads (rindo) – many of which are beautifully tarmaced and rarely used, and the road up around Kuromoteyama is a prime example.
The first time I cycled up this road it finished abruptly with a white line the beginnings of a cutting. It’s only 20 minutes from the house and it’s a good workout – 3.8 kilometres at 8% – so I would go up it every now and then.
Approaching from the other end, the road ended at a couple of unfinished bridges. I think I went along that way twice, just to see what was there.
Finally (I say finally but it’s only taken two years for them to build the missing kilometre and it’s not as if there is any pressing need for the road), this autumn, the road was officially opened, and it now opens up some nice route options.
To get to the climb you turn off Route 239 and head along a wide valley for a kilometre and a half. The turn for the climb is at the signpost for pilgrim trail.
It’s a gentle climb up past a temple, then there’s a steep ramp up into the forest. The road is single track and the trees are tight to the sides of the road. It’s dark and there’s a lot of litterfall on the road all year round.
The gradient levels off after the first five hundred metres or so, and the road winds along the contour of the mountain until it meets the river. The road climbs at about 8% to 10% for about a kilometre along the right-hand side of the valley with a sharp drop-off to the left and a stone embankment on the right, so you’re always on the lookout for any trucks or wildlife coming down.
The trees on the left make way for some abandoned rice fields and the road levels off as it meets up with an alternative road up coming in from the right.
The road you were on carries straight on along the river but to get to the top you turn left onto the newer road. This road is a bit wider and steeper but there’s a lot less debris on the road. The only thing you have to watch out for are the drainage grids that cut across the width of road at regular intervals and always, it seems, coming into or out of a bend.
The road twists, then it twists some more, and then it twists again. And again until eventually you see to a cutting taking you round to other side of the mountain. You get out the saddle and push for top, only to find you’re not there yet.
After 400 metres you come to a false summit (where the road ended the first time I rode up). Now is the good bit. There’s still a bit of climbing to do, but it’s a fantastic 2 kilometres of twisting, rolling road. Get a nice bit of speed up going down, hit a climb, get out of the saddle and fly over the top (well, get to the top slightly less than a wheezing slightly less than usual). The only catch is the urge to stop and take a photo. Give in to temptation and you’re back in the lowest gear grinding it out to the top of the next lump.
Just before the highest point, you go across a pair of red bridges which take you over one of the old pilgrim roads.
After the bridges there’s one more short climb and then you get to the highest point on the road. You’re then back on to an older section of road as you come down through the forest towards Route 241. It’s the usual narrow twisty road with a good chance of coming across deer or boar, so your brakes get a decent workout. Just before you get to the end of the road, there’s a decent spot for view over towards Hiraodai and Ryugahana.
There’s one final tight left-hander and you cross the river and reach Route 241. Turn right for a flying downhill (3.4 kilometres at -7%) or turn left for the climb up to Kotsutoidake (2.3 kilometres at 8.7%) and another network of forest roads .