I’d climbed it before, but I couldn’t erase the image of the snow-capped 2500m volcanic mass from my daily thoughts. Fumito was keen on the idea, so one cold March morning we gave it a go: the northern face of Tateshina!
We pulled into the parking lot of Shirakaba-Kogen Kokusai Ski Resort on a stunningly beautiful bluebird day, unloaded the equipment, and filed our plans with the ski patrol. At least someone would know what we were up to. Opting to save precious daylight, we shelled out the money for the gondola, which whisked us to the 5th stagepoint of the 10 stage peak. The trail was well-marked for the leisurely stroll through the fresh powder to the trailhead proper at the 7th stage. In the summer,the parking lot is packed with day hikers, but on this particular winter morning, not a single creature was in sight. It seems that no one had made it up this peak for a few weeks, as there were no tracks to follow. Good thing Fumito brought his GPS.
We strapped on our 12-point crampons, gripped our ice axes firmly, and started the short, steep climb towards the towering peak. Weaving in and out of a dense forest, we spotted our initial destination in the distance: a large shoulder sitting at the base of the summit plateau. Up we traversed, through fluffy, knee-deep snow. We took turns taking the lead, frequently checking the time with each passing step. We’d set 3pm as a turnaround time, and were well ahead of schedule thanks to our sustained effort.
Around 45 minutes later, we popped out on the shoulder, finding a large mountain hut almost completely engulfed in snow. “Boy”, I exclaimed, “looks like it’s been a good year!” Fumito agreed, commenting on the meter or so of accumulation on the roof. The summit lie directly in front of us: an easy 30-minute stroll in the summer, but a gargantuan task during the white season. Fumito took the lead, as I kept a great distance behind in case he triggered an avalanche. I started my ascent when he gave the thumbs up, and we did our celebratory summit dance several minutes later, in plain sight of Yatsu-ga-take. Time check: 2pm
The wind was whipping on the peak, so we slithered back down to the sheltered confines in front of the hut and cook up some lunch. I opted for instant pho, while Fumito dug into the udon. Hot noodles on a cold winter day really refresh the spirit, and we arose with increased rigor. We’d beaten the beast of Tateshima at her tricky game, and trotted back through the ski resort just as the skiers were carving their final runs of the day.
With my internal cravings finally calmed, I could finally get a good nights sleep, but not for long. You see, once you make the commitment to climb the Hyakumeizan, the list will haunt you like a long-lost lover, taking over your thoughts and controlling your mind.