Late November and the thirst for adventure never fully quenched. I plotted the course carefully, seizing yet another opportunity to knock off a few peaks on a holiday weekend.
The taxi ride from Nirasaki station to the trailhead couldn’t have been more pleasant. The autumn colors boasted their fiery brilliance, the first snows of Yatsu-ga-take clung steadily to the rocky landscape, and a chatty taxi driver who doubled as a knowledgeable tour-guide for the 1 hour journey. “That’s Kaya-ga-take, where Kyuya Fukada himself parted this earth near the summit”. I made a mental note to remember this peak, deciding to come back and pay my respects at Mr. Fukada’s momument after completing the Hyakumeizan. My 2-night, 3-day, 30km traverse from Mizygaki-sansou to Nishizawa gorge was about to begin and the weather was looking promising as I paid the wallet-draining taxi fare.
I kept a moderate but steady pace, reaching the junction for Mizugaki in roughly half the time the maps said it’d take. Off came the heavy pack, and up I went towards the rocky summit. The trail basically shot straight up to the summit, with hardly a switchback in sight. It’s a good thing there wasn’t any snow or ice on the peak, or I definitely wouldn’t have made it. The top was deserted, and gave me ample opportunity to inspect the snowy hump of neighboring Mt. Kinpu, my second target for the day. The Minami Alps floated above the clouds across the valley, bringing images of the Himalayas to mind.
Back at the junction, I checked the watch and map: 11:45am – 4 hours and 700 vertical meters to go. The hut at Dainichi was absolutely deserted, but the water was flowing, so I had my fill. I knew the climb was only beginning, so I put it off as long as I could until the chill of the autumn wind got me back on my feet. Left, right. Left, right. The first signs of snow. “I’d hold off on the crampons for now”, I retorted, not wanting to waste precious daylight or energy for the dexterous task. Left, right, left, right and then, pow! A slip on the ice and a tumble of a meter or so. “That’s it”, I resigned, “time for the crampons!” Things became more bearable after that, until reaching the jagged ridgeline, where I kept popping through the snow and sinking down to my waist. It’s wasn’t that the snow was that deep. On the contrary, the snow concealed the pockets of air below and wasn’t quite packed enough to hold my own weight. And, to top it all off, the clouds rolled in out of nowhere, fortfeiting my chance of catching the vista of Fuji.
The summit was a desolate place. Maybe it was the fact that I was completely alone, enshrouded in a thick, white mist. The world below seemed so small, so distant. What was I doing climbing all of these mountains alone? Could I really complete all of the Hyakumeizan? Then, the reality set in. Why all the negative thoughts? This was mountain #75 after all! 3/4 the way through the 100 mountains and only 2 hours away from civilization. I threw the pack on and flew down the trail towards Oodarumi-toge.
It’s amazing how quickly you can descent in the snow, without the worry of tripping up on loose rocks. Therapeutic on the feet I’d even say. The hut at the mountain pass was open, but I had other plans. It would’ve been a shame to bring the tent all this way without using it, so I went to the hut to check-in. “Pitch it anywhere you’d like”, the owner exclaimed, not bothering to charge me the regular camping fee. “Feel free to join us for dinner around the stove”, he added. You’d never seen a faster pitch than the one I managed in the fading light of the day, as I literally threw up the tent, grabbed my campstove, and headed inside. The other guests were planning an early morning climb of Mt. Kinpu, so I traded trail information in exchange for hot sake.
I settled into camp shortly before midnight, dreaming of tomorrow’s long walk over to Mt. Kobushi, mountain #76. Would weather be my helpful companion or heart-breaking nemesis?