Climbing the Hyakumeizan without the luxury of a car is a bit like working the breakfast shift short-handed: you just have to make due with what you have. I stumbled out of JR Morioka station in a daze, floored by the realization that the first train on the Yamada line didn’t depart until 4:30pm. Apparently this line was not designed with hikers in mind. I tried my luck at the tourist information counter. “You’re better off taking the bus,” replied the helpful clerk, who informed me that the train line will more than likely be discontinued in the near future. On the bus I studied my hand-drawn map in hopes of getting my head around what i was in for: a 20km round-trip on a long, seldom-used trail not even marked in my guidebook.
The first part of the hike was along a series of gravel forest roads, where someone had put up hand-painted 登山口 (trailhead) signs to assist drivers in navigation. I definitely never would’ve found the path without them. I caught my stride upon reaching the true start of the hike, and flew up the deserted yet well-trodden trail through pristine wilderness. It was already after 10am and I was on an extremely tight schedule which I had to stick to if I wanted to be sitting on the summit of Mt. Chokai the following afternoon. Something just had to go wrong.
Water! After reaching a trail junction at the 6th stagepoint, I turned left and rose abruptly above the treeline. The clouds came in, chilling my sweaty figure as I reached the water source at the 8th stage. Bone dry! I’d planned my entire hike around this water source, and now I was down to less than half a liter for the remainder of the entire hike. I pushed on, reaching the main ridge and ran into a mass of hikers who’d taken the more popular approach. “Excuse me, were you on Mt. Iwate yesterday and Hachimantai the day before?”, inquired a kind couple directly in front of me. We struck up an instant friendship, for the retired husband and wife team were also climbing the Hyakumeizan. I quickly explained my water predicament and out came a 1/2 liter of oolong tea. “Take this”, the husband demanded. “We’re on our way down.”
Once reaching the summit, another group offered me a few mandarin oranges. This was truly turning into a concerted group effort as I ate a quick rice ball and took some summit photos. The mist covered everything in sight, while the top of Hayachine’s rocky perch contained a delipidated stone shrine and an unusual collection of mysterious metallic sword-shaped relics apparently laid by mountain priests.
I retreated the same way I came, walking the last 10km non-stop. The tea and oranges held out until I reached the forest road, where I ducked my head in a stream and re-hydrated my exhausted body before jogging the last kilometer to the bus stop. I arrived precisely 3 minutes before the bus departed, just as the skies opened up. The only downside to the entire trip was that all of my photos came out overexposed. I’d broken my camera at the very beginning of my Tohoku adventure (which explains the strange cropping on all of the Tohoku entries). I hope the sketches I put together will give you some sort of feel for the magic of Mt. Hayachine. I made it back to Morioka in time to catch the Shinkansen to Akita, followed by a limited express train to Kisakata, which set me up nicely for Mt. Chokai, the highest peak in Tohoku and the peak I’d been looking forward to most.