In 2010 I made a trip to Colombia and visited El Cocuy a mountain that is famous for a huge oblong sized boulder sitting near the summit called “Pulpito del Diablo” or the Devil’s Pulpit in English. Last week, I finally found its Japanese version, sitting near the top of Mt Komochi 1296, a Kanto 100 famous mountain about 30km North of Takasaki in Gunma prefecture.
I saw the photos when doing my research, the taxi driver pointed it out to me on the drive from Shibukawa station, but nobody had ever told me that such a thing existed in Japan so I took no notice. Yet Shishiiwa or Shishi Rock 獅子岩 deserves to know as one of the wonders of Japan, at least among hikers. Not along can you gaze at it as you climb up and down, from below, above and from the side, you can climb to its top via a combination of chains and ladders and gaze down into the void below.
I had a taxi driver drop me off near the start of the trail since the price was affordable and it saved me a great deal of time. Unfortunately you can’t go to the start of the trail anymore because the last part of the road was severely damaged by a recent typhoon. This seems to happen quite a bit – I saw another example at the base of Mt Kogashi – and I doubt whether these roads will ever be fixed one day.
A sunny day had turned to clouds when I reached the official trail entrance, looking a bit despondent devoid of people perhaps because I was there on a Friday or because autumn season was over. The path soon me below a massive cliff, Byoubuiwa or Byoubu Rock 屛風岩, the top parts of which were literally hanging over the path. I hurried along nervously let a loose piece of rock fall upon my head. What did fall upon my head just moments later were some snowflakes – winter had come to my surprise since the forecast had called for clear weather. Fortunately no snowstorm followed and the flakes stopped and started again before disappearing altogether.
In the meanwhile I was making my way up the back of the cliff and then onto the top of it. This was actually quite frightening because as I mentioned before the upper parts were hanging over the valley below. To the left and the right there was just void. I am not afraid of heights but when the ridge narrowed suddenly before the final part I gave up and retraced my steps. In any case this was just a short aside – the main path continued straight up the ridgeline in the opposite direction.
It’s around this point that I was getting my first glimpses of Shishi Rock. I was amazed at how long it took me to finally get to the base. This just goes to show how big it is and how deceptively small it looks from a distance. The front side is pure cliff so you need to make your way around the back in order to climb it. It’s pretty straightforward until you get to the ladder. Its metal, vertical, goes up a ten meter long chimney but not rigid so it moves slightly when you climb it, which will totally freak you out when you are nearing the top and the whole thing suddenly shifts.
Finally standing at the top felt fantastic especially after you had been staring at this marvel of nature during most of the climb up. I was especially careful not to get too close to the sides lest a gust of wind made me lose balance. It was surprising that there were no warning signs but then those who made it so far would be careful. The views of the surrounding peaks was amazing.
After climbing down, carefully, I made my way to the true summit another hour or so away. There I could take in all the peaks of the Joushin-Etsu Kogen National Park, already covered in snow. The view is not quite as good as from the top of neighbouring Mt Onoko but breathtaking all the same. After a quick lunch I quickly descended via another route that offered occasional glimpses of Shishi rock through the trees, arriving finally back at my starting point with about an hour of daylight left, just enough time to walk back to the nearest train station Shikishima.