Peaks in Japan are frequently named after the shapes they resemble. I’d started my trek by scaling a massive mountain in the shape of a conical straw hat (kasa) and now, entering the final leg of the long journey to Ogisawa, stand at the base of a peak that resembles the traditional headgear of court nobles (eboshi). The sun is just starting to peak its head over the horizon as I face the short, steep climb to the rocky summit.
Chains help with the challenging bits as I pull my way up the towering rock formations on Eboshi’s shapely figure. The view is spectacular, as I stare down into Takase lake in complete solitude. The crowds gathered at Eboshi hut the previous evening have all gone back to civilization, but I’m not complaining, for I’m standing at the start of a long ridge that links the Hakuba section of the Northern Alps with the jagged peaks of Kamikochi. I maneuver through an area dotted with scenic alpine lakes, imagining how the pioneers of alpinism must’ve felt blazing trails through such areas of pristine beauty.
After reaching the summit of Minami-sawa, I drop back into the tree line, my first taste of foliage since I left Shin-hotaka 3 days ago. The forest conceals the large drops in altitude, as the path becomes a series of clambering up numerous false summits before reaching the twin peaks of Mt. Funakubo. This little known mountain affords a picturesque bird’s eye view all the way across Takase valley to the summit of Mt. Tsubakuro and Mt. Yari, and again, there’s not a soul in sight. As I fill up on nutrients and pore over the map, I spy a short-cut to Mt. Harinoki. Turn left and the next junction, cut through Harinoki valley, and climb the spur to the left. The map says it’ll save 2 hours of climbing, so I weigh the options. Option 1 – stay on the knarly ridge over to Mt. Renge, or 2) try the shorter approach. I flip a coin. Tails! Looks like I’m about to pay the river a visit.
Turning left at the junction, I leave the ridge (and the alpine views) and fly down towards the river. Upon reaching the valley, I notice the paint marks on the rocks and follow the water. The path meanders up, around, and through the rapids, until I lose it completely. Still I push on, knowing that the path will branch off up towards Harinoki any minute now. “Just stay on the north bank”, I chant while bushwhacking through the brush.
An hour later, after stumbling upon some abandoned hiking gear, I realize my costly mistake. Instead of heading upstream to the continuation of the path, I somehow ended up downstream. Faced with an extra 2 hours of climbing and the very real possibility of not making it up before dark, I accept defeat and continue trudging downstream. A sense of panic starts to overtake me as I arrive at the shores of Lake Kurobe: how in the world am I going to make it across?
My map showed a path hugging the shore to my left, but not the faintest trace remained. Unfazed, I blaze a new trail on the rocks near the edge of the water. This soon proves fruitless, as the loose rocks gave way and I found myself in chest deep water. Arms flailing, I change tack and try the doggy paddle technique. By now I’m complete soaked from head to toe with a backpack that is listing. I hug the rocks, inching my way around the unstable bits. I look up and find, to my complete astonishment, a set of steps built out of rebar embedded in a concrete wall. I reach up, pulling my bloated figure out of the chilly waters, and climb to the top. The path! I’ve found the path!
The sense of panic eases when I reach the boat landing. According to the schedule posted on the corroded signpost, a ferry will be by in 90 minutes to take me somewhere. I strip naked, laying the sodded gear on rocks to dry as I forage through my pack for something dry to wear. Luckily, the top half stayed dry and I put on a warm fleece. I checked the cell phone which was a victim of the submersion. Completely dead. I’d lost all my data, but at least I had my life. The boat came at the appointed time, dropping me off just below Dake hut. I checked in and immediately took a nap.
The hut was extremely nice, and I shared it with 2 other fisherman who’d traversed through the same river searching for iwana, a tasty fish indigenous to the clear waters of the Kurobe river. Fortunately they’d succeeded in catching a few, and we all feasted on sashimi and swapped stories. The next morning I followed the long trail as it snaked along Kurobe lake to the dam. I boarded a bus and arrived at my destination Ogisawa. Although not exactly as planned, I’d made it across 60% of the Japan Alps, crossing 3 prefectures and covering around 50km in only 4 days. Not bad for a guy with a faulty ticker.