I roll out of my cozy sleeping bag a little before 6am on a cool September morning. Sandwiched between a row of coin lockers and a protective railing on a traffic island in the middle of Takayama bus terminal, I escape detection while rolling up my evidence. Tucking into the station to illegally recharge my cell phone in the restroom, I impatiently wait for that magic bus that’ll whisk me to Shin-hotaka hot spring, the starting point for my long journey across the Japan Alps. My plan was complex – knock off Mt. Kasa, Mt. Washiba and Mt. Suisho before heading north along the ridge towards Mt. Eboshi, scaling Mt. Harinoki before descending to Ogisawa. 3 nights on the mountain if everything went according to plan.
Shin-hotaka was nearly deserted as I started up the long forest road shortly before 9am. I opted to go as light as possible, carrying only a sleeping bag, provisions, and water, all crammed into a 30 liter pack. The turnoff towards Mt. Kasa came a lot quicker than anticipated, and I said a quick prayer to the weather gods before beginning my ascent.
Even though it was mid-September, the heat of summer still stubbornly hung around, and I soon found myself drenched in sweat. Undisturbed, I continued my lightning-quick pace and rose higher and higher above the valley floor. The Hotaka range rose gracefully behind me on a day surprisingly devoid of cloud cover. I pushed on as long as I could, opting to take a break only when reaching the ridge line. This tactic soon proved fruitless, as it was a brutal and relentless climb that offered absolutely no end in sight. Exhausted, I dropped my gear, pulled out my energy gel and some chocolate, hoping to find my second wind before my legs completely gave way. Miraculously, I pushed on, popping out on Shakushi-daira shortly after 11am. Most people take between 4 and 5 hours to reach this point, but I was on my 24th peak this year and feeling quite fit. However, I still had another hour or so just to reach the ridge and I’d just entered alpine territory above 2500m, where altitude sickness could very likely set in.
I slowed my pace a bit and increased my fluid intake. The summit of Mt. Kasa rose majestically to my left – my target for this afternoon. I checked the time when reaching the main ridge: 12:45pm. I knew I would have to come back to this point in order to traverse over towards Mt. Washiba, but when? Should I stay at the hut just below Mt. Kasa or try the impossible and actually go to Sugoroku after summiting the aforementioned peak? Decisions, decisions.
Even though I only had 200 vertical meters to scale, it still took an eternity to reach the summit. I collapsed on the peak, wiping the sweat from my brow and wondering exactly when the fog would roll in. I finished most of my remaining provisions and foolishly pushed on towards Sugoroku. As soon as retreating back to the junction, the clouds rose up from the valley below. It was probably just as well, since it would keep me from seeing just how far I had to go. I descended into a steep col and climbed back up the other side. Darkness was setting in as I stumbled into the campsite just behind the hut.
Whew, a long first day that would make my work a little easier on Day 2. Fingers crossed for more wonderful akibare weather.