The car dropped me off in front of Hirosaki station just before 3pm. I quickly checked the bus schedule: 3:05pm departure for Dake-onsen. Not in time for the last shuttle bus to the 8th stage, but it would have to do. At the hot spring, I walked up the road with my thumb outstretched. 20 minutes later a kind woman stopped and gave me a lift to the toll gate. I pressed on, speaking with the attendant about the frequency of vehicles. She provided me an answer that almost gave me a coronary: “the toll road closes in 5 minutes, so I doubt anyone will be coming this way.”
As I stood there in shock, wondering how long it would take me to walk up a meandering toll road, I heard a small rumble from behind. I turned my head, rubbed my eyes twice and pinched myself to see if I were dreaming, for here came a red Toyota Corolla up to the toll booth. I quickly went to work, offering to split the fare with the driver in exchange for a ride. I was back in business!
The 8th station was nearly deserted as I put on my pack for the 20 minute hike to the 9th stagepoint. The sky was a bit overcast, with menacing clouds swirling just below. My map had an emergency hut marked at the trail junction to the traditional approach and I went to investigate. Small and cozy, the concrete bunker provided a dry roof overhead but not much else. Regardless, I dropped off my pack and headed up the ridiculously steep trail to the summit.
I’d made my goal of reaching the top of my second peak in one day, but the adventure was far from over. I found to my great surprise that there was an emergency hut directly on the summit that was unmarked on my map. It was in much better condition than the one I’d left my pack in, and it was completely deserted. The weather looked like it might hold out, and the panoramic views left me with only one decision: go back down and get the pack!
I retraced my steps and decided to leave the tent and other non-essentials in the first hut in order to lighten my load. Stove, check. Sleeping bag, roger. Water. WATER! In all my haste in racing to the summit I’d forgotten to fill up at the parking lot! Auugghhh! Not to fear, as a water source was clearly marked on the trail directly in front of me. But how far to the water source? Could I make it back before dark? These questions raced through my head as I scrambled down the dry gully.
150 vertical meters later I’d found what I was looking for, and filled up 3 liters of refreshing liquid. Sweat was pouring off of my forehead, as I still had to climb back up to the first hut, retrieve my belongings, and scramble back up to the top in time to watch the sunset.
My legs were quickly becoming gelatinous on the final summit push. All of that brisk walking around Hakkoda and my hasty decisions on Iwaki were starting to take their toll. My pace slowed to a crawl, and the last few steps seemed to take an eternity. Still, I’d done it. The timing was impeccable, as the sun broke through the clouds as soon as I’d set down my gear. The light show began. I cooked up some pasta as the sun began to sink.
and lower, until it sat on the edge of the Pacific. The tip of Hokkaido was clearly visible in the distance, as were the endless rows of pristine mountain ranges. Between myself and the setting sun lie the Shirakami mountains, some of the most unspoilt wilderness in this vast land. Mt. Iwate rose way off towards the south, and the first lights of Hirosaki and Aomori cities twinkled far, far below. Here I was, completely alone. “Hitori-jime!”, I shouted, which can be translated as “mine, all mine.”
I sat on the steps of the summit shrine, filling my belly with nutrients and observing the onset of darkness. The night was as calm as any I can remember. It’s hard to believe I was so close to civilization, yet so far removed as if on another planet. I gazed out towards Aomori city just in time to see the colorful light show. Scarlet flashes of light raced towards the sky, exploding in intricate circular arrays. The Nebuta fireworks festival was in full swing, and here I was with a bird’s eye view from 1600 meters above the valley floor. It doesn’t get much better than this.
I awoke well before dawn and stumbled back out towards the shrine steps. The cities of Aomori and Hirosaki still shimmered in the warm summer air as the horizon began to awaken. As long as I live I will never grow tired of watching the sunrise and sunsets, and I can think of no greater joy than witnessing the phenomena from the summit of a wonderful mountain.
Saying farewell to the rocky summit was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in a while, but I wanted to leave with an unspoilt image in my mind. In just a few hours, the peak would be crawling with hoards of daytrippers who’d opted to take the chair lift up. I wanted to avoid all of the mayhem, so I slipped quietly down the gully towards Iwaki shrine, past rotting snowfields and glorious mountain flora. The path was steep, slippery, and exposed, giving me an unexpected workout with the weight of my full pack. Once in the forest things became much easier, until finally arriving at the trailhead of the most traditional route up the peak.
With the peaks of Aomori Prefecture behind me, I set my sights on the volcanic peaks of Iwate prefecture. Next stop: Hachimantai.