Early April and with spring in full bloom, the feet start to itch. 6 months post-op and time to give the new ticker its first true test. Destination? Hyonosen, the tallest mountain in Hyogo Prefecture and one of the 200 famous mountains of Japan.
Lunch, check. Map, roger. Crampons? Hmm…just in case. The two-hour train journey went by in a flash, and with the bus connection conveniently timed, the first glimpses of my goal came into view. “Oh boy,” I marveled, “this one’s going to be a doozy”, for the monstrosity that lie ahead showed but the faintest sign of freeing itself from the tight grip of winter. Across the valley, skiers and boarders could be seen carving the last few runs of another evaporating ski season. After a bit of a struggle trying to find the actual trailhead, I arrived at the signpost shortly before noon. A 3-1/2 slog in the dry season, but add another hour or two in the current conditions and you can see my predicament.
With my crampons firmly attached, I set out into the unknown. A lone set of footprints to follow on the otherwise indistinguishable path, I climbed at a steady pace, paying special care not to let my heart rate rise too quickly. Whomever laid the tracks before me either had a GPS device or knew the trail from memory, for there wasn’t the slightest smidgen of geographical landmark in sight. Thank you, whoever you are!
The trail flattened out after an hour or so, passing by a decrepit-looking shack that doubled as a mountain shrine. The forest sprang to life here, rising up abruptly from the deep tree wells growing larger with each passing day. Soon the snow will start to break up, making traversal quite treacherous, but for now, conditions were stable. After the brief saddle, I crossed what appeared to be a stream (have to come back in summer to verify that) and climbed steeply up a spur towards the ridgeline. The summit finally came into view, but boy did it look distant. Daylight stay with me!
I reached the first emergency hut at approximately 2:45pm. A cozy hut nestled snugly on the ridge. The snow depth was considerably larger on the exposed spine of the peak. With each advancing step I sunk down to my knees. “Why didn’t I bring the snowshoes?”, I cursed to myself, obviously not expecting these conditions in April!
Dropping to a saddle, I mentally prepared myself for the tough slog to the summit. Directly in front of me lie a large rock formation, and the only way past was up and over. As soon as I kicked my first step into the icy rock, a faint rumbling sound came into ear shot. The higher I climbed, the louder it got. Reaching the top of the crag, I found the source of the mysterious noise. Hovering directly overhead, not more than 10 meters above me, was a rescue helicopter! Apparently, one of the locals was concerned with my late start and sent in the troops. I smiled at the crew, giving them a thumbs-up sign to let them know I was ok, and off they went back to base. “Thanks, but no thanks”, I shouted, realizing I was less than 100 meters from the top!
I rested in front of the hut on the summit for less than 10 minutes, stuffing my face with leftover pasta and other carbo-laced delicacies. 4:30pm and with no time to spare, I literally ran down the steep, steep spur on the other side of the peak. Taking a left at the next emergency hut, I jumped and skated my way down to the ski fields, descending in a record-breaking 15 minutes. The time that you lose on a snow ascent you can easily make up on the downward glissade.
Back at the bus stop at half 5, I reflected on my herculean effort. “Not bad for cardio-rehab”, I gloated, knowing that things were looking good for the forthcoming attack on Mt. Hiuchi.