The night was long. Too long. Bitterly cold, I drifted in and out of consciousness, counting down the minutes until daybreak. Retreating to the hut to cook some breakfast, I pored over the map. Last night’s companions had already started the long slog to Mt. Kinpu, so I sat all alone, thinking about the big day ahead. “Let’s hope the weather holds”, I prayed, remembering the depressing mist of Kinpu the previous afternoon. I stepped out of the hut, looking upwards. Not a cloud in sight. Breaking down camp never felt so good.
The trail climbed behind the hut, revealing jaw-dropping views of the Minami Alps to the south, separated by the city of Kofu in the valley over a thousand meters below. Mt. Asama was completely caked in a thick layer of powdery frosting. It took about 40 minutes to reach the junction at Mae-Kokushi. Off came the pack for the 5-minute detour to Mt. Kitaokusenjo (北奥千丈岳), the highest point of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. 2600m above sea level and not a soul in sight. The snow was waist deep on the exposed peak, and it was only November! I retraced my steps to the junction and slogged on to the top of Kokushi-dake (not to be confused with Kobushi), where Ms. Fuji was patiently waiting. I let out a warm “nice to see you again” before settling down to a mid-morning snack.
Refueled and refreshed, I head down the back side of the ridge, completely losing the track in the knee deep snow. Scant few traverse along the path I was heading, making my adventure so much more exciting. There was only one way to go – down to a long, flat saddle and up the other side to Kobushi. The more I descended the thinner the snow became, until I finally hit bare soil at the low point. I took off the crampons and surveyed Mt. Kobushi across the valley. I could see the summit, but I still had several hours of ups and downs before reaching my goal. I clasped my hands together and offered a small request to the gods: “stay with me sunshine”.
The next hour or so was fairly uneventful, until reaching rather peculiar set of footprints. “That’s funny”, I thought “it’s much too cold to go hiking barefoot this time of year”. Wait a minute, this human only has 4 toes. The lump in my throat grew ever so slightly larger, and the reality of the situation finally sunk in: BEAR PRINTS!~
I immediately froze, making as much noise as humanly possible, for I had no idea how fresh the prints were and wasn’t really keen on finding out either. The bear definitely knew where the path was, as I followed the prints for well over a kilometer, until reaching the junction just below the final summit climb. The prints descended down into the valley below, while I dug in the crampons for the final steep slog. Again, not a soul in sight, except for Ms. Fuji again, glistening blissfully in the distance. With peak #76 successfully scaled, I descended to the mountain hut just below the summit. It was still open for business, and I thought long and hard about the cold, miserable previous night spent in the tent, checked my finances and……checked in! A very wise investment of 3000 yen for a warm futon.
I awoke early the next morning, hoping to catch the sunrise from the summit. Alone, I waited for well over an hour before realizing that the sun wasn’t coming out today. The views were still stupendous in the eerie wintry grayish-blue overcast landscape that lie before me.
Frigid air and quickly numbing toes warranted an early escape to lower altitudes, and off I departed for Nishizawa gorge. I had another reason to head down to civilization: Fumito was on his way down from Shiojiri to meet me at the trailhead. Only 1400 vertical meters between us, which was knocked off in a flash. I stashed the pack behind a group of toilets, and Fumito and headed on a nice stroll through the gorge, followed by a meal of”houtou’ (famous soup of Yamanashi Pref.) and a warm bath.
So there you have it – 3 peaks knocked off in 3 lovely days.