Oscar Wilde once wrote that “no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” Could the opposite actually hold true for Mt. Ibuki, one of the ugliest, most overdeveloped peaks in Japan? cjw and I set out to test this hypothesis.
The rain fell in hard sheets on the short train ride to the trailhead, where we were suddenly faced with the prospect of an abandoned attempt before even taking our first steps. As luck would have it, the train flew through the storm like a feline dowsed with a hose, revealing our target peak caked in a fresh layer of white. “Game on”, we both rejoiced.
30 minutes into our long slog, we were faced with the harsh realities of a warming planet and a receding snowline. Snowshoes were stashed behind the public toilets, as the flakes fell gently all around us. Alone we marched, followed by a group of 8 elderly hikers a fair distance behind. As we traversed towards the plateau at the top of the abandoned gondola, the first patches of blue sky presented themselves, offering a good omen for the journey ahead. The desolate souvenir shops, boarded up for the long winter season, strangely brought images of Nepal to mind. “Should of brought the prayer flags”, I proudly suggested.
Switchback after endless switchback, we rose high above the valley below. During a normal winter season, this would be an avalanche death trap, but here we were trekking through barely 30cm of fresh snow, with a respectable amount of day-trippers on their way down from the frozen summit. At the 8th stage, we chatted with a lone Japanese hiker wielding 10-point crampons and an ice axe. He’d spent the last 2 weeks or so knocking off the Hyakumeizan in Western Japan and Kyushu. Having completed the circuit last October, I gave some quick advice about the peaks in Hokkaido, which were left on his list.
On the fog-laden summit a short time later, we searched for our accommodation – a snow drift large (and stable) enough to house a snow cave. Mother nature left us with only two options. The first was to carve our way thorough a thick slab of nasty freeze-thaw crust 1 meter tall by several meters wide. 10 minutes of sweat-inducing digging and the thought of not being finished before nightfall made us go for option #2: sandwiched between a boarded up mountain hut and a snow drift lie a small area (less than one tatami mat in size) that formed a semi-natural cave. Our only task was to carve out an entrance and block off one of the exposed sides and we had our home for the night.
Once set up in our new dwelling, the task of melting ice began. The sun kept poking its head out intermittently, but never seemed to overcome its shyness until much lower on the horizon. Then suddenly, like the raising of a curtain, the performance began. “Dinner can wait,” we exclaimed, as the gods of Ibuki put on one heck of a light show, continuing well past our bed time. You see, the setting sun was slowly replaced by the twinkling lights of Hikone far, far below. The light trails continued to the southeast, ending in a massive network of circuitry otherwise known as Nagoya city. Overhead, the constellations Orion and the Big Dipper smiled down on us, as Venus kept a bright signal for celestial navigation.
Unfortunately, we awoke to a thick blanket of cloud and a noticeable change of wind direction – the low pressure system moving up from Kyushu! To the east, however, patches of blue were making themselves known. Off we trekked, in search of a sunrise. Short teases every now and again gave a glimpse of the possibilities. Yet, the wind was continuously blowing the fog from Lake Biwa to the west and never stayed clear for long. However, at precisely 8:15am, the curtain was once again lifted, revealing what had to be the bluest sky that the Kansai region has ever been blessed with. Hakusan belted out a quick ‘Konnichiwa’ in the distance, as the Kita Alps let out a faint ‘Irrashaimase’. Ondake opted to sleep in on this gorgeous Sunday morning, but Yatsu-ga-take and the Chuo Alps were playing a quick game of catch before heading off to church.
The show finished much too quickly for our liking, but we were more than content. For we had successfully proven our theory about overdeveloped mountains. So I leave you with our newly revised maxim: “no mountain is so ugly that, under certain conditions, it will not look beautiful.” I’ll drink to that Oscar.