I can think of at least a few hundred things I’d rather be doing than breaking down a tent in the rain, but after waiting half the morning for a break in the weather, our patience wore thin. I must say that the job becomes a lot less messy with two people on the job: I simply stuffed the tent in my pack in the blink of an eye while leaving the ground sheet,rain fly, and poles exposed to the elements on the outside of my pack.
John and I meandered through the pristine forest towards the tree line and our impending assault on Mt. Shiomi. We should’ve seen the warning signs from a mile away. It wasn’t until I got my pictures developed weeks after the trip that I noticed the approaching low pressure system. Once above the tree line, things took a sudden turn for the worse, as we hit the full blunt force of the whipping winds. Wet clothing and strong gales are a definite recipe for disaster. “I’m going to push ahead and find a hiding place out of the wind”, screamed John, who was losing body heat much faster than he could replenish it. You might remember the lack of winter clothing from the first two days of the traverse. He was paying for it dearly now, and I watched his tall, stately figure vanish quickly into the mist.
I was shivering from the cold as well, and pushed on as quickly as I could, crouching close to the ground to avoid being blown into oblivion. I was walking as if in a trance, my camera secured deep within my pack. This was not a time to be snapping photos. The official high point of Shiomi, the east peak, was reached after an hour of fighting for my life. There was no escape from the torrent and no reason for respite. Down to the saddle and over the west summit I flew, reaching an incredibly steep wall of rock similar to the buttress I’d seen on Kita-dake just one day prior. It was here that I found a trekking pole, snapped cleanly in two. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
John was nowhere in sight, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and continued gliding down to Shiomi hut. Our eyes met just outside of the entrance. My hiking partner looked much worse for the wear, as our request to come into the reception area to warm in front of the kerosene heater was rebuffed. This was getting ridiculous, and if my friend succumbed to the elements then we’d definitely have a lawsuit on our hands. We took the proactive approach, escaping into the lobby of the adjacent hut and grabbing anything we could find to raise John’s body temperature. He was shivering intensely, with 3 layers of blankets wrapped snugly around his body, when the hut staff barged in. “No, no! No blankets. Get out of here!”, gruffed the men, clearly enraged with our lack of etiquette. “Chotto, teitaion ..”, mumbled my fearless friend. The hut ruffians had been sitting in the comfort of the warm hut all morning, oblivious to the raging storm on the summit. “Please, we’ll pay you to use your heater. My friend is in serious danger”, I pleaded. The hut workers talked quietly amongst themselves before finally agreeing to let us stand in front of the heater for 1000 yen a piece. Now if they’d only been that cooperative from the beginning….
The color eventually came back to John’s skin as we beat a hasty retreat to Sanpuku-toge, the highest mountain pass in Japan. After our ordeal, we decided to indulge ourselves by checking into the hut. There’d be no more unnecessary danger on this trip! The hut staff couldn’t have been friendlier, a stark contrast to the loonies an hour to the north. We slept like babies and feasted like never before, while the foul weather continued unabated outside. The next morning we descended to Shiokawa in a light drizzle and heavy cloud cover. At the bus stop, we met a group of university students preparing to depart on a multi-day trek. I really hope they were better prepared then the two of us. Never underestimate the power of nature. We went from the best trekking weather ever to the worst in less than 24 hours, and that snapped trekking pole did indeed belong to John!