March 21, 1971 is a day that should long be remembered among those with an affinity for the Hyakumeizan. A short distance below the rocky summit of Mt. Kaya, Kyuya Fukada, famed alpinist and author of arguably the most influential mountaineering book in modern Japanese history, succumbed to a brain hemorrhage while admiring the beauty of the purple iwakagami wildflowers. Ever since finishing my own ascent of the 100 mountains, I’d wanted to pay my respects to Mr. Fukada by climbing the peak in his honor, but timing was always an issue. Respiratory ailments have continued to haunt me over the last year or so, sometimes making simple strolls quite an ordeal, so could I muster up enough physical strength to endure an 800-meter vertical ascent?
Joining me on the auspicious early August expedition was none other than Julian Ross and his brilliant dog Hana, who both completed their own Hyakumeizan challenge around the same time as myself. They are now well on their way to finishing the 100 famous peaks of Yamanashi Prefecture, of which Mt. Kaya is a proud member. At a little past 6am on a cloudy weekday morning, the 3 brave souls started their epic climb. First stop: Kyuya Fukada park.
Set up as an ad hoc memorial to the Hyakumeizan author, the overgrown, wooded picnic area has definitely seen better days, as the namesake recipient himself would at least wanted to have a view of the Japan Alps instead of a neglected area at the end of a desolate forest road. After a quick prayer, we set off at a snail’s pace up the well-used path. Having experienced a mild asthma attack the previous evening, I set a conservative pace that had Julian admittedly concerned about my well-being. Indeed, my previous record of turning back on easy peaks had broken my confidence, but the only way to overcome my crutch was to face it head on by testing the cardiovascular system.
Steadily we rose above the valley, arriving at Lady’s Rock (女岩) with a pace faster than the allotted map time. My asthma was somehow held in check, perhaps by the spirit of Mr. Fukada himself. Halfway through our climb, I once again took the lead through the endless switchbacks to the ridge line, keeping a relatively slow but steady gait. After all, we were well ahead of schedule and had absolutely no view through the low cloud cover. The air hung thick with humidity, as the unseasonably hot summer air penetrated even the higher elevations usually accustomed to cool winds. The trail took a sharp turn towards the left once reaching the ridge line, where the views towards the north started to open up. A short climb later, we found ourselves staring at a modest stone pillar marking the exact place where Kyuya Fukada left this earth.
A brief moment of silence ensued, as both Julian and I wondered aloud whether Fukada made it to the summit or not before he met his maker. Onwards we pushed, as the terrain turned summit-esque with appearance of large boulders. “Less than 100 horizontal meters”, quipped Julian from behind. Good timing as well, as the chest began to tighten, signaling potential respiratory interference. It’s a good thing the summit were only a mere 1700 meters above the surface of the ocean rather than a monstrous 3000 meter peak.
The clouds held their grip on the mountain, and we were left without what the guidebooks describe as a stellar panoramic view. Summit photos were taken before we retreated the way we came. The chest didn’t bother me on the way down, as we were both able to enjoy a speedy descent back to the parking lot. I felt my first sense of accomplishment in a long time, especially considering it was my first successful summit of any mountain since the spring of 2009. I also experienced a strong feeling of closure in my Hyakumeizan quest, similar to the Shikoku pilgrims who return to Koyasan after their 88-temple journey to pay homage to Kobo Daishi. Thanks Mr. Fukada for providing me both the inspiration and the excuse to travel all over this land knocking off spectacular peaks. Your influence will not be forgotten.