Looking out across the valley towards Mt. Asama, Fumito and I dig into our lunchboxes. We’d made good time summiting Mt. Azumaya, my 49th peak. It was the 4th of June, and the rainy season was just around the corner. “I wonder if I’ll be able to reach the magic #50 before it comes” I ponder, as we run through a list of peaks still left to conquer. Suddenly, both of us remembered our botched winter attempt on Mt. Kusatsushirane, realizing that it was within earshot from the peak we were standing on. Fumito offered a humble suggestion: “we could always climb it today on our way back to Nagano.” Hmmm…..
“Yeah, let’s do it,” I enthusiastically responded. Frantically, we packed up our half-eaten lunches and hurriedly descended down to Sugadaira farm, feasting on fresh ice cream as a reward for our rapid descent. Time check: 2:45pm. Fumito set the car navigation, as I checked the hiking maps. The race was on.
On the deserted approach to Manza hot spring, the car weaved back and forth through a thick layer of fog and mist. We were both starting to have second thoughts about our initial idea, and figured mother nature was punishing us for trying to bite off more than we could chew. Miraculously, just like a powerful jet airliner, we broke through the massive layer of cloud and soared above it all in the late afternoon sunshine. Perhaps our idea wasn’t so bad after all.
Hastily parking the car, we grabbed our gear and started our initial approach by jogging on the paved path. My supply of energy seemed endless: after all, I was about to reach the halfway point on my 100 mountain mission. Fumito, on the other hand, was just along for the ride, so it didn’t surprise me when he shelled out the money for the chair lift! We agreed to meet on the ridgeline in 10 minutes, as I started my quick trot through a remaining snow field.
I quickly caught up with my companion as we traversed one of the many ancient craters that house the remnants of the mighty volcano. We soon hit a trail junction, realizing that the high point lay directly opposite. The afternoon sun shone majestically, casting deep shadows on the adjacent ridge as we kept up our athletic pace. 5pm as we reached the official high point for Hyakumeizan baggers. The true summit stood a few hundred meters further north, through an area of deep undergrowth and toxic volcanic gases. Despite the ease of access and popularity of the route, we found ourselves completely alone on this spectacular Sunday afternoon. Who says getting a late start is such a bad idea?
We retraced our steps to the parking lot, rewarding ourselves with a quick stroll to the impressive Yugama crater lake, a definite must-see for anyone with a budding interest in volcanic phenomena. Mt. Kusatsushirane may have eluded us back in February, but revenge was definitely ours as I set my sights on the remaining 50.