Prepare for extremes

Tip 3: Prepare for extremes: the climate on Shikoku can be murderous when it comes to heat, humidity, cold, downpour, and typhoons. Some mountain paths go up and down almost sheer cliff faces and you will be hiking kilometres over asphalt on the sides of main roads.

In what season are you planning to go?

One of the most important questions you must ask yourself is when you can travel to Shikoku. Especially if, because of your paid/ unpaid leave, you are restricted in your choice of seasons, then it is very important to take into account what kind of climate you are going to be facing.

  • In winters it can be cold, especially in the mountains.
  • Spring would be one of the most beautiful moments to leave; you will be able to see the gorgeous cherry blossoms. If you’re early, it can still be cold, and if you’re late, it can be quite warm.
  • The summers are high in humidity and very hot. Shikoku lies on about the same latitude as Rome and just like in that city, many locals decide to leave for the summer and look for cooler weather elsewhere.
  • Autumn is beautiful with vibrantly coloured leaves and a more temperate climate. Many henro decide to start walking the end of September/ half of October.
Two climate graphs for Shikoku

Prepare for extremes: August is humid and hot

I started my own trip at the end of August. It was hot around that time, and the humidity hit percentages of 90 and up. That provides you with some gorgeous imagery where there are mist banks on top of the forests. The first week, it was so humid that the rim of my glasses had started to rust. The moment the sun rises on those days, the weather turns moist and hot, and it becomes oppressive. You struggle to cool down, because your sweat doesn’t evaporate. Breaks in airconditioned Konbini are a welcome change of pace from the heat. In one of the henro resting spaces I received a cup of ice water, after I had been sprayed down with a garden hose by the hostess of the neighbouring karaoke bar!

In September the typhoons arrive

During the seven weeks that it took for me to complete the route, five typhoons hit Japan. Most of them passed overhead, in between Korea and Japan. The plumes of rain clouds, however, did hit the island of Shikoku. On one of those rainy days, I got soaked down to my underwear and socks, despite my rain cape, -trousers, and watertight shoes!

Advise on when to go on henro

  1. Spring
    • In spring the temperature during days and nights is best. Walking season start early. From the second half of February henro will start their pilgrimage. The mountain peaks can be cold that early in the year.
  2. Autumn
    • Nature shows its most attractive colours. End of September most typhoons have passed and the trees will show their splendour in bright red, yellow and green. Start beginning of October to be done by December.
  3. Winter
    • Winter can be cold, but you’ll be able to dress accordingly. Choose layers and be warm. Make sure you don’t slip on the mountain slopes. There may be snow high on the mountains.
  4. Summer
    • Walking is summer can only be advised for those who can stand heat and humidity. Many of the places to stay overnight will be closed during July and August. Plan accordingly ahead.

Altitude differences

Because some temples are placed on top of mountains, you will have to climb mountains that are 900m tall. That has consequences for the temperatures. For me the highest temperature difference between bottom and top was almost twenty degrees. Because I was already quite sweaty at arrival at the temple, I had to quickly change into a new shirt to prevent my muscles from tensing up, and prevent me from catching a cold.

Slippery mountain paths

The combination of rain and mountain paths leads to slipperiness. I had to wade through water in some places, because it was streaming down the mountainside. On the way up that was fine. It was mainly in the descents that I struggled with the slippery paths. In these descents I used my kongozue (walking cane) a lot as an extra support for my balance. Doing that saved me from nasty falls quite a few times. Sadly, it also went wrong on one occasion. [record link]

Heat from asphalt and the torturous sun

On a few parts of the route there is no shade. While I walked along the coast past Kochi, I followed a trail on asphalt in the blistering heat of the sun. The heat was immense, and I finished my 3 litre Camelbak on that one 10 kilometre long stretch. At one point there was a bird of prey circling overhead and I felt like it was trying to figure out if I was going to die or not. [Link is to a blog page in Dutch]

Salt and sweat

After a while I started to notice the effects of my heavy sweating, because I received chafe marks on the top of my upper legs. I bought a tube of Nivea, which allowed me to protect those areas and start the healing process. In a small eatery I discovered that the Udon-soup was burning a little longer than usual on my lips. I used some chapstick on my lips to remedy the sore spots on my lips afterwards.

Prepare for extremes

I was already an experienced hiker. As preparation I had walked the 4 days marches of Nijmegen, in the third week of July. I made it through those four days of 50km intact and well. After that, I continued training, but now with a filled backpack. A round of the two bridges in Deventer had a great combination of walking on stairs and up a slanted path. That basis helped me to make it through the actual mountains on Shikoku. Despite the fact that nothing can prepare you for what lays ahead of you: keep your mind open to the challenges, listen to your body, and enjoy!

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