Mount Rokko Longitudinal Course pt 2

The spurs and flanks leading up to the Rokko ridge are much better than the ruined ridge itself

Rokko-san above Kobe is a mountain ruined by development. In the absence of planning protection it may be inevitable for a mountain so near a city, but the ridge itself is ruined for long stretches by roads, strings of very ugly buildings and attempts at tourist business. Many of these were probably built in the bubble economy period and never had any chance of making money - and with no thought of dismantling them or rehabilitating the site afterwards. I will spare you the photos as I couldn't bring myself to take any. Fortunately the sides are too steep and rough to do anything with, and there are some great paths on the off-lying tops, spurs and side valleys  that are well worth exploring.

I wanted to check out the second half of the 45km race I am doing on March 17th, which follows the 56km route from Sumaurakoen station on  the Sanyo Dentetsu line to Takarazuka station to the north east, with about 3,000m (10,000ft) of climb and descent over 16 peaks. See here for part 1. The race misses the last 10km section and from Rokko-san itself drops left, down to a park in Arima Onsen.

Cage running: a mountain running first
The 650m (2,100ft) climb up a ridge from Rokko station on the Hankyu line was wild and great until we hit the first concrete monstrosity NE of Mayabatou-san. The next 10km or so to the top of Rokko were easy but not a pretty site - though the roads are good for families with young children and older people to get access to somewhere high for an easy walk. Running through one is as near as I ever want to get to a golf course, but at least there was no chance of getting brained by a well driven ball as the path is enclosed with a netting cage - a curiously zoo-like experience.

WTF? There is a place for ugly monumental sculpture. This isn't it.

The wire netting theme was continued by the enormous.....I'm struggling for a category here.....let's be charitable and call it a thing, seemingly a lighthouse in a chicken coop on a Wagnerian scale, perched proudly on the ridge. [update: a reader has kindly pointed out that it is a wind sculpture consisting of hundreds of flutes that sound beautiful in the breeze] At least when you are mountain running you can get past such aberrations quickly, and in fact this whole section to Rokko-san was easy, in contrast to the repeatedly stiff climbs in the first half of the full 56km course.

Top of Mount Rokko 931m
I checked out the race finish with an hour's quick blast down to Arima Onsen and back up. This confirmed that the side paths and valleys in this area are great. My companion Keisuke-san very sensibly read the paper over a bowl of udon in the cafe just below the top of Rokko-san instead. We then began what proved to be the very nice end section of the main route. We quickly left the dross behind and began the long fast path that contours along a very quiet undulating ridge towards Takarazuka. Ahhh - no roads or paved paths, what a relief!

What a relief - lovely views in places, and not a vending machine in sight
It was a surprise to find this section so pleasant, but be warned - unlike the rest of the Rokko Juso, there is nothing along this last 7km section but trees, so if you need liquid or food stock up at Rokko-san. Also, the small green signs go AWOL when just when you are looking for the entrance to the ridge path from the road, so take care. 800m from the Rokko car park the path seems to go up a small rise to a shrine, but you need the path that heads NE from a loop of road below - so keep left on the road. If you have done the whole route it would not be a good time for a detour down the wrong ridge.

Lovely easy running towards Takarzuka
If you are feeling good this must be a nice path to really let rip on. Whoever laid it out knew what they were doing as it contours beautifully, with the odd rise as it gradually descends - it felt longer than it actually is though, just because it is so quiet - on this cold February day anyway. Or was it the several hours with a full rucksack that did it? A steepening descent brought us out above Takarazuka. On my map it is all a lovely green, leading me to expect something rural. But no, it is part of the urban sprawl of Kobe which laps all around the skirts of the mountains, and pug ugly. Grey would represent it better. Running into the first tall blocks of flats hemming in the roads was a slap in the mug after the woods - and dammit - no change of clothes or towel, so we had to give the onsen (hot spring bath) by the concrete rimmed river a miss.

The towers of Osaka from above Takarazuka
So in summary, now that I've seen the whole course, I would say the Rokko Mountain Longitudinal Course is worth doing if you live nearby and take it for what it is. The first half is hard,containing most of the 3,000m (10,000ft) of climbing, and the second easy but you need a map and to take care all the way - don't rely on the signs. The sides of the ridges provide some paths on challenging and beautiful terrain with epic cityscapes behind, but the main section of ridge from 10km SW of Rokko-san to the top is best avoided unless as part of the whole course, but after that it improves again.