I had been out to Otome Keikoku or Maiden’s Ravine many times but this was my first time to climb the relatively new stairway that replaced the old narrow, rocky and quite dangerous path along the mountain stream.
Accessible only by car, Otome Keikoku is not just a hiking trail but also a camp ground open for only part of the year with cabins for rent and facilities for parties. It is also the gateway to Mt. Kohide, the highest point in Kashimo. The stairway path is one way to the top of Mt. Kohide and also connects with a series of trails that go the length of the mountain ridge as well as Otaki village in Nagano Prefecture.
The first check-point on the hike is Wago (Harmony) Waterfall a simple 700 meters from the base. We started up the stairs step by step. Each set of stairs is broken up by some flat deck-like areas which we used to relax, take photos and absorb all of the pure natural energy around us. I was intrigued by the geology; how the rocks shot straight up out of the ground telling the story of not just how this valley was formed but the entire mountain range’s ancient tale. The ravine is strewn by immense boulders adding even more detail to the geological story of upheaval, destruction and reshaping.
Within 20 minutes we arrived at Wago Waterfall. Recent rains had caused a small landslide which had taken out part of the stairs. Slowly and carefully we climbed over the rocks and onto the bridge and deck surrounding the pool at the base of the falls. After a few minutes at the Wago Waterfall it was off to Nejire (Twisted) Waterfall.
The base of the stairs to Nejire Waterfall reminded me of the scene in Lord of the Rings where Golum takes Frodo and Sam up the secret cliff-side stairs leading into Mordor. Like in the book this stairs was more like a ladder. But at least it had hand-railings and was wood. Each step was only about 30 cm wide and the entire case was at about 60% grade. I kept my eyes straight at the next step and held my son’s hand tight. After about 5 minutes of straight stairs, we reached Nejire Waterfall.
The sun shone through the trees and glistened off the leaves. The waterfall is a long smooth stream twisting back and forth like a snake through a well smoothed path it had created over centuries. We stood there and wondered if we should go any further but with light not on our side, we knew we had to go back. Only a few meters from where we stopped, the path goes on through the mountains and up to the top of Mt. Kohide.
We relaxed for a few minutes, turned, and ventured down the 670 steps stopping from time to time to through in a stick and watch it go tumbling down the series of small falls and drops. When we reached the bottom, we walked around the cabins and then back to the car. We were only mildly tired but very excited by our adventure and the pleasure of hiking a stairway to the sky.