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Archive for December, 2009

I woke at the crack of dawn, anxious to inspect the weather and trail conditions for day 2 of my frigid traverse. The snow that fell the previous night was, thankfully, too wet to settle and I was facing the exact same conditions as day 1: a light drizzle and strong winds.

Eating a light meal, I bade farewell to my hut companions and crawled up to the summit of Mt. Shirouma in complete solitude. There was absolutely no view to speak of, sans an interesting rock formation resembling the profile of Abe Lincoln:

Cold, wet, and utterly miserable, I followed the mist covered path, skirting the side of Mt. Shakushi before ascending rather steeply to the top of Mt. Yari. I dropped my oversized pack for a quick break on the lofty summit, when I noticed a sudden break in the cloud. Raising my lens, I snapped a memento before the thick cloud swooped down for good.

I reached the trail junction for Yari-onsen, dreaming of the comfort of the hot open-air bath lying somewhere below. “I’ll just go for a quick look,” knowing quite well that if I dropped off the ridge I’d lose all motivation to climb back up. Chains in the steep bits helped on the slippery rocks, and 40 minutes later I found myself staring at a large mass of wooden planks wrapped in blue tarp. Yet another mountain hut had been dismantled for the long winter season. Directly to the left of this unsightly mass, a flash of turquoise caught my eye as I parted with my gear to investigate. Two meters below the path sat a small, deserted, stone bathtub filled with ultramarine liquid. “Perfect”, I yelped, but would the water actually be warm enough to bath in?

I scrambled down to the shore, stuck in my hand to test the temperature, and immediately stripped naked. There’d be no more hiking today, I resigned, as I pitched the tent right underneath the basin.

I spent the remainder of the day and night alternating between the arctic environs of my tent and the subtropical comfort of the hot spring bath. Tomorrow I’d have to make the difficult choice between continuing on to Karamatsu or accepting defeat by retreating to Sarukura, a decision based solely on weather conditions.

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Route 341 is a long, curve laden thoroughfare that would take me to the turnoff for the appropriately named ‘Hachimantai Aspite Line’, the main access route for my target peak of the day. As with the majority of the Hyakumeizan, my biggest challenge would lie in how to get there. The plan was to hitch along the busy road after taking the train to a station that offered a good chance of finding a ride: an easy task when you’re armed with Google maps, but an absolute crap shoot when referencing the area on the back of a ‘Yama to Kougen’ map at a scale of 1:350,000.

I lost the dice roll on this one, as I foolishly decided that the station after ‘Hachimantai’ would get me even closer to my desired destination. The train, much to my horror, turned away from route 341 and headed further inland. I jumped off at Yuze Hot Spring and immediately started backtracking along the deserted road. Future hitchhikers should note that Rikuchuusato station does, in fact, offer the best place to catch a ride. Lesson learned. After a 30-minute stroll, I managed to find the road of my choice and stuck out my thumb. “Toroku Onsen”, I answered, when the first car stopped to ask me my destination. The kind elderly couple took me to the start of the Aspite road, where I happened to check the bus schedule. “Wow, only 2 minutes until the next one,” I exclaimed, deciding to abandon my final hitch in favor of a guaranteed ride to the peak.

A gigantic parking lot and rest house were patiently awaiting as I exited the empty bus. I silently ate my lunch and prepared myself for the 10-minute death march to the summit, for Hachimantai has been completely robbed of its dignity through a series of intertwining concrete paths. While the paths do meander through a couple of scenic alpine lakes, the masses of crowds mar the beauty of an area once teeming with tranquil ponds. Still, I pushed on to the high point, taking a quick photo before descending to a large lake below. Instead of heading straight back to the massive parking lot, I thought Hachimantai deserved at least a few hours of my time, and I was duly rewarded for my investment.

The trail between Ryoun hut and Mt. Chausu was completely deserted and utterly breathtaking in its beauty. Pristine marshlands, migratory birds, and fantastic weather kept my spirits uplifted on the easy stroll. Just below the summit of Mt. Chausu I caught my first glimpse of the towering cone of Mt. Iwate. If all went according to plan I’d be sitting on the crater rim in the morning. I reached the summit, spending close to an hour in complete silence observing the spectacle all around. It was nice to know that, despite the encroachment of man-made obstacles, there were still areas spared the wrath of public works spending.

I meandered down to the Aspite line, waiting in vain for one hour until someone finally picked me up and took me to Hachimantai hot spring. The campground was closed and completely deserted, so I used this as an excuse to camp in an exquisite public park with unobstructed views of Iwate’s massive crater. The stage was set for the 4th peak on my unprecedented journey and the first of the tough mountains.

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