The summer of 2006 was turning out to be truly epic. After an incredible 12-day, 10 mountain stint knocking off the peaks in Tohoku, I decide to up the ante by attempting an up-and-back ascent of Mt. Jonen, a behemoth monstrosity towering over the wasabi plantations of Toyoshina city. Map times suggest allocating 8-1/2 hours for the round-trip journey, so Fumito and I were keen to get an early start.
Fumito picked me up at Shiojiri station, breaking the news to me as gently as he could: “the forest road to the trailhead is closed, so we’ve got an extra 4km hike each way.” We head to a nearby restaurant to work up a game plan before agreeing on a 3:30am departure. We pick up supplies before heading off for some rest.
Dusk had barely shown itself as we headed up the deserted forest road. After a pleasant 3-1/2km warm-up we found the reason for our extra work: directly in front of us lie a 20m wide crevice, the victim of some major erosion during the most recent rainy season. Makeshift scaffolding formed an unsteady bridge across the gaping hole, and 200 meters further on, a huge beech tree sat directly in the center of the road, having miraculously stayed upright after sliding down the adjacent hillside. Once reaching the start of the hike at Hiedaira we made excellent time, following a beautiful river up the ravine towards our target peak.
We hit a comfortable stride, surprisingly even ourselves by knocking through a section in a little over an hour that the map said would take 3-1/2. We took our first real break at the point where the trail left the cool waters of the river and started the steep zig-zag towards the ridge line. It was here that we met our first hikers of the day, having descended from the higher peaks earlier that morning. The sky was a deep azure, but we’d knew the cloud would inevitably roll in as the heat from the valley below met the crisp mountain air. Could we make it up before being enveloped in a torrent of cloud and mist?
Our pace remained constant until reaching the hut at the saddle. 2400m above sea level, with the Hotaka range spread out directly in front of us. Mt. Yari was socked under a thick blanket of fog, while Oku-Hotaka was beginning to hide its head for the remainder of the day. Meanwhile, the clouds were building directly behind the summit of Mt. Jonen, a mere 400 vertical meters away.
Despite the proximity, our pace slowed to a crawl, a victim of the thinning air and encroaching cloud cover. We had maybe 500 meters between us and the summit, but were making serious vertical elevation gains above the tree line. The hut we just departed from grew smaller and fainter by the minute, until it disappeared out of view completely. Undaunted, we pushed on, breaking out of the clouds just before reaching the signpost and tattered shrine on the exposed summit. We’d done it – another peak with a view as we stood in T-shirts at 2800m, wiping the hard-earned sweat from our brows.
We wasted no time in descending my 64th peak, fearful that the thickened coverage might spawn an afternoon thunderstorm. Back at the forest road, we slowed our pace again, reflecting on our gargantuan effort. The hot spring we visited a short time later was most refreshing, as was the torrential downpour we experienced in the outdoor bath. Once again we’d beaten the rain, but I knew that my luck would eventually run out during the impending typhoon season. After all, my goal of reaching #75 by year’s end was truly in sight.