I drifted off to sleep immediately after crawling into my sleeping bag, and John’s consciousness soon gave out under the increased comfort of the wool blankets. We didn’t bother setting an alarm, as the ruckus of the neighboring tents would surely be enough to wake the dead. Dawn came much sooner than welcomed, but the warmth of the tent took precedence over scrambling up to the summit of Japan’s 2nd highest peak to watch the sunrise. We’d do just fine watching from the vestibule.
A leisurely start to the day it was, as breakfast was cooked, gear stowed, and linens returned to their rightful owner. The walk from the hut to the summit took barely 20 minutes, where we found a completely deserted signpost. Another advantage to the “late” start (late meaning 7:30am, in our case).
After crossing the peak, the path took a turn for the worse, through a steep gully with plenty of life-ending drops and precarious footholds. While the chains did help, adjusting to the awkward center of gravity created by an enormous pack took a bit getting used to. I have the utmost respect for those few brave souls who’ve attempted this tough wall of granite in the winter.
Once out of the death zone, the trail became a breeze, skirting past the front door of Kita-dake hut before rising gently to the flattened heights of Ai-no-dake. The weather continued to be absolutely stunning, the perfect companion for a leisurely day in the Alps. After lunch, it was time to do a bit more fooling around before descending to our chosen campsite for the night at Kuma-no-daira.
John and I rolled into the wooded confines of our camp around 4pm, pitching in a secluded area away from the bigger university mountaineering clubs. Our requests for extra blankets, however, were vehemently denied by the stern staff at the hut. Pay 8000 yen to stay in the hut, and we could have all the extra bedding we wanted. Campers in Japan really need to take care. In most places you’re treated like a vagrant and not allowed to use any of the luxuries of the hut, but such is the life in a country where alpine huts are private property!
Fortunately, our campsite was 500 vertical meters lower than the previous night’s accomodation, and somewhat sheltered from the winds, so after a quick distribution of extra clothing from my gear, John was in relative comfort (if you consider comfort maintaining your body temperature just slightly above the border of hypothermia). We dozed off to sleep by the titter-tatter of a light rain falling on the tent fly above our heads. So much for the dry weather…