The lights came on at 6am, which, for Japanese mountain hut standards, is a late start. The amicable caretaker prepared a modest meal consisting mostly of pickled vegetables and rice: precisely the same food we ate the previous night, but such is life in a dwelling with no running water. I was so tired and hungry I could’ve eaten anything, and my wife didn’t exhibit the faintest sense of dismay. I raced excitedly back and forth between my simple breakfast and the window, trying to catch a peek at the horizon. I definitely didn’t want to miss this photo op, so I grabbed my gear and bolted for the frigid solitude of darkness.
The horizon slowly changed hues, while I jumped around in circles trying to stave off hypothermia. Unsurprisingly, none of the other 4 guests followed in my footsteps, deciding that a warm kerosene heater was more important than watching nature’s light show.
Most people think that the moment the sun scrapes the edge of the horizon as the most beautiful part of the sunrise but I beg to differ. Still, I knew the others would eventually follow suit and join me in welcoming a new day.
Shortly before daybreak, Kanako and I turned out eyes (and lenses) away from the glow of the east and faced mighty Fuji, for it was time to give the birthday girl one last present on our unforgettable trip. Atmospheric conditions seemed perfect for nature to deliver the phenomenon known as akafuji, forever memorialized in a Hokusai print of the same name. “Here it comes,” I screamed.
“Quick, get one of me,” my wife demanded. It was perhaps the only time in my life where watching the actual sunrise took second stage to the spectacle occurring further west.
Even the Shirane-Sanzan joined in on the fun.
One of the other 3 guests joining our early morning camaraderie was a curious young gentleman named Satoshi Nagata, who spent the better part of the morning taking panoramic photos for his remarkable website, Panorama 360. Web technology now allows designers to create realistically stunning three-dimensional views that, when viewed on a large screen, appear to magically transport the viewer to the scene in question. Click here to see Satoshi’s composition on the morning of December 28th, 2005. My crouched figure appears at the edge of the photographer’s skewed shadow, while the bright yellow jacket of my lovely wife prepares to snap a photo of the other husband and wife team. We later all gathered together in the lobby of the shelter, where the warden presented the birthday girl with a commemorative shikishi, a square personalized celebratory signboard.
After a long exchange of pleasantries, we geared up and bade farewell to our generous host, and all headed in unison towards the bus stop at Tono. Crampons definitely helped with the icy bits below the summit, as we all cruised towards Jizo-taira (地蔵平) before a short climb towards the junction at Himetsugi (姫次), the highest point on the Tokai Nature trail that stretches from Tokyo to Osaka. It was here that we entered the tree line and lost the jaw-dropping views of Japan’s most revered peak. I used up the last of my film, zooming out to capture the entire stretch of the Japan Alps hovering in the distance.
On the bus ride back towards the metropolis, I reflected upon the year, which started with a long traverse in March of another one of Tokyo’s famous peaks, Mt. Kumotori. From there I embarked on two separate traverses in the Minami Alps, followed by a relatively productive autumn which knocked off a few of the more challenging day hikes. I still had 7 more peaks to go before hitting the magic #50, but was determined to reach my goal before the next rainy season. Time to plan.