As we dropped off the northern reaches of Tou-no-dake’s bald flank, the path turned to crusty snow and ice. We held off on crampons for the time being, sticking slowly and firmly to the exposed edges of the wooden steps. Kanako seemed to enjoy her first true descent on the unbroken traverse.
Once out of the trouble zone, we cruised on the heavily-eroded sun baked ridge towards the summit of Mt. Tanzawa. We thought about abandoning our goal of Mt. Hiru in favor of staying at Miyama hut, but my internal voice told me to keep moving. It was 2:30pm when we reached the signpost.
Kanako seemed to be possessed by some unnamed spirit, for even though she was starting to show signs of fatigue, she never complained about it. Fueled by the power of the anniversary of her birth, I once again let her take the lead on the windy path, hoping she’d settle in on a steady pace.
We hit our next roadblock at a place called Oni-ga-Iwa (The Devil’s Rock). The loss of daylight was now clearly noticeable on the pink tinted hills, as the path turned into a tricky rock scramble. Kanako, none too confident on the steep terrain, froze with unease. Patches of ice made the descent downright treacherous, but it was too late to put on the crampons. Acting as her guide, I talked her through the area step-by-step like a choreographer working through a particularly complex dance routine. Reaching the final saddle before our target, I looked back on the towering inferno.
My wife’s energy was zapped, as her pace turned to a crawl. I raced ahead to drop off my pack on the summit, only to find my wife gazing blissfully at a pack of wild deer upon my return. “Just a few more meters” I quipped, well aware that she’d be quite content with her current position. “I’ve got a present awaiting.”
I led my wife by the hand, pulling her the last few steps towards Mt. Hiru’s impressive vantage point. Directly in front of us, the glowing ball of the Solar System’s brightest star sank rapidly behind Japan’s highest peak.
We gazed silently in disbelief,
as dusk fell on the sprawling metropolis a thousand meters below.
“This is the best birthday present ever,” proclaimed Kanako, who suddenly realized that the best gifts in life are those which cannot be bought. We slowly retreated to the warm hut, startling the caretaker with our ‘late’ arrival (even if it was only 5:30pm). I had another gift planned for the following morning and was praying that the high pressure system would honor my request.