Our first excursion into Oze National Park was a bit of a washout, so could we fare better on our second journey to the park?
We left the hut on Aizu-komagatake early, for we had quite an agenda: a 1200 vertical meter drop to the village of Hinoemata, followed by a 10-km hike on a paved road to Numayama-toge, topped off by a 2-hour slog down to Oze numa and Chozo goya, our home for the night.
The initial descent didn’t take too long, and we were soaking in a hot spring bath by noon. After negotiating a ride to the massive parking lot of Mi-ike, we took a deep breath, geared up, and started up the deserted road to the mountain pass. Guests staying at the nearby hut gazed in disbelief. Perhaps we’ve been the first (and last) people to cover the entire distance on foot. Most people opt for the shuttle bus, but the road was still officially closed to traffic for another week, so we had no other choice.
About 20 minutes into our journey, Yuuki, Kanako and I heard a startling noise coming from the forest to our immediate right. The source of our fright soon became clear, as a group of mountaineers were making their way down a steep gully. Donned with 12-point crampons and carrying ice axes, the brave group had apparently spied a shortcut halfway down their descent of Mt. Hiuchi and decided to explore. Either that, or they were looking for bear. They belted out a ‘konnichiwa’ in unison and hovered two meters above the road on the edge of a massive snow bank. And I thought my group were the only ones with a sense of adventure!
Another 10 minutes later, and we were met by a nervous Japanese couple coming from the opposite direction. It seems that they went for a gentle, romantic stroll after lunch and stumbled across a mother bear and her two cubs! And here we were, walking directly into bear territory. We kept our eyes and ears peeled but unfortunately the furry creatures were nowhere in sight. We continued our monotonously eternal slog, reaching the mountain pass after a grueling 2-1/2 hour journey.
The fun was just beginning, however, as we still had to climb up and over the mountain pass and down into the frozen Oze marshlands. On the crampons went and into the forest we dove. Miraculously, the three of us were filled with an unexpected boost of energy, perhaps finally relieved to be walking on something other than asphalt! The snow was crunchy and the path marked by red paint marks on the trees. Pushing ahead, we finally reached the mountain pass and it was all downhill from here but once again our energy was zapped. We split up, walking in single file as if induced by a mysterious spell. Fatigue had gotten the better of us and we literally crawled across the frozen flatlands to the hut, where we had a hot meal and bath awaiting us.
With so much walking behind us, we collapsed into bed and dreamed of our destination the following morning: Mt. Hiuchi!
Click on the pictures below for the full-size images: