I’d always had Oze on my list of places to visit, so it was with great excitement and anticipation that I set off one weekend in September to conquer Mt. Shibutsu and possibly Mt. Hiuchi. This time I brought my wife Kanako along , as well as my trusty hiking partner Yuuki (from the “Notorious Nikko” post).
Kanako and I jumped on the night bus from Osaka, planning to meet Yuuki at Numata station early on a Sunday morning. As the bus pulled into the station around 7:30am, we were greeted with the all-too-familiar site of pounding rain and dark, menacing clouds. Yuuki, being the frugal chap he is, took a local train and wasn’t due in until 9am, which left Kanako and I with plenty of time to kill. Luckily, we spied a cafe above a souvenir shop and next to a convenience store perpendicular to the station. Not only was it open, but they had a breakfast menu and seats overlooking the station roundabout, where we could watch the weather and locals. Usually in fine weather I’m quite the impatient person, but in nasty weather I do my best to procrastinate as long as possible.
Yuuki finally rolled into town, and we all took our appointed place in line at the bus stop. Just as the bus was arriving, an older gentlemen came over to talk to us. “Would you like to share a taxi with me? It’s the same price as the bus.” The thought of shelling out 2500 yen for a 2+ hour ride on a cramped bus didn’t sound appealing, but spending the same amount of money for a comfy 45-minute ride to the trailhead did, so we all threw out gear in the trunk and headed for the hills. What a brilliant idea! If you’re going to spend the money anyway, you might as well ride in style.
We arrived at Hatomachi-toge just before noon, and had a difficult decision to make. Climb now or save it for tomorrow? Just as we were starting to ponder, the clouds suddenly dropped and we had a clear view of the summit! You’ve never seen a more eager group of hikers grab their gear and head up to the hills as us! Overused is an understatement for the Shibutsu trail, as the nearly 1 meter gully we were ascending was completely bare of vegetation. The map makes Shibutsu look like a walk in the park, but it’s a suprisingly long and steep climb, especially once you hit the main ridge line. Appropriately enough, just as we did so the fog and rain returned to the peak, leaving 3 disappointed hikers. Still, we didn’t give up our quest to sit on the summit, just in case the views decided to open up again.
We finally made it to the top around 2:30pm, but the clouds hung thick, with a light drizzle and soft wind. Yuuki and I are some of the fastest hikers around, but Kanako struggled to keep up, so I had a crafty idea for the descent. The map said the trail down to Oze is solely for ascending and no one should attempt to climb down from the summit. I hate these kind of rules, but I guess someone must’ve broken their leg at some point so the officials decided to make it “safe” for everyone else. Anyway, my wife didn’t want to take the closed trail and I didn’t feel like arguing, so we decided to descend back to Hatomachi. “Kanako, since you’re a slow hiker, why don’t you descend first, and Yuuki and I will catch up a few minutes later. I’ll carry your backpack until we catch up with you. Then you have to carry it.” Boy, did the smile light up on her face, as she vanished into the mist. Yuuki and I cooked up some instant ramen, because we wanted to give Kanako a nice head start. We departed about 15 minutes later. I carried my pack on my back and my wife’s on the front, just like a turtle-esque western backpacker wandering through Europe with too much baggage!
I have over 2 decades of hiking experience under my belt and I’ve been know to fly down mountains at a fraction of the time the guidebooks allocate, but Yuuki and I could not seem to catch Kanako. At one point we passed 2 Japanese hikers on their way up. “Did you see a young girl descending by herself?”, I asked. “Yeah, she was trotting along at a healthy pace,” they answered. By now, the wooden planks on the trail had become perilously slippery due to the colllection of excess rainwater, and I showed off my best John Travolta moves in order to stay upright. Inevitably, I took more than a few nasty tumbles, but with backpacks on both sides I barely felt a thing. Yuuki and I finally made it back to the trailhead, only to find my wife with a bar of chocolate in one hand, and a bottle of tea in the other, with the hugest grin on her face! But, hey – we made it off Shibutsu in only 45 minutes!
We descended to Yama-no-hana and stayed in a nice hut. The next day the weather got worse, so we bagged the idea of climbing Hiuchi and headed back to civilization. Hiuchi would have to wait until spring.