The weather forecast on the 7 o’clock news wasn’t promising. Clouds and rain marks filled a large swath of eastern Hokkaido. 8 lucky souls gathered around the TV in the Kiyosato hut, overlooking the trailhead of tomorrow’s target peak – #93 in my 100 mountain mission.
Dawn revealed an overcast sky as I ditched my heavy pack in lieu of a much lighter bum bag. The trail cut through a dense forest before quickly dropping to an old, gravel forest road. At the end of this road once stood the original hut whose owner, as legend has it, succumbed to a lethal Japanese hornet sting. Not even the slightest trace remains of what was reportedly one of the best mountain huts in Hokkaido.
I took a deep breath and stepped back into the forest, following a beautiful mountain stream. The path crisscrossed the water a dozen times before climbing straight up the side of a waterfall. Miraculously, the rain held out for the time being, but the cloud sure was thick. My greatest fear would be getting caught in a torrential downpour and unable to descend because of a swollen river. Fingers remained crossed for most of the remainder of the climb.
Eventually, the stream petered out to a trickle and I found myself scaling up a massive volcanic bowl which must surely be an avalanche death trap in the winter. All around me the peaks rose, hovering above the thick mist below. I reached the ridge, turned left, and saw the summit directly to my right. A steep climb, a drop to a saddle, and another quick scramble lie before me. The wind picked up and the clouds started slowly rising from the valley below. Fearing a proof shot without a view, I quickened my pace, popping out on the summit shortly before the clouds engulfed everything around me.
Retracing my steps to the bowl, I decide to descend via the newer path that bypasses the waterfalls. I climb up an adjacent spur, swimming through brush pine, strong cool winds, and thick mist that brought images of the Japan Alps to mind. You see, virtually every peak in Japan looks the same in the right weather conditions. Hiking through the mist in Nagano is no different from battling the clouds on the northern island. I should know, after trekking through nearly 70km of exactly the same scenery a few years prior on a journey from Kamikochi to Tateyama. Still, I’ll trade a monotonous day working in an office any day for a fog-laden stroll through virgin flora.
In the end, the rain never really materialized more than a heavy drizzle, and my thoughts of swimming my way back to civilization remained a hypothetical scenario. I hitched a ride back to Kiyosato-cho, feasting on local cuisine before hopping on the train towards the volcanic hinterlands of Akan, the next pinnacle on my Hyakumeizan horizon.