Kanako and I woke up at 6am, shuffling around the room trying to figure out what gear we needed for our early morning climb. The sky looked a bit hazy, with soft light filtering through a thin blanket of high atmospheric cloud. After a modest breakfast, we dropped our extra gear in the lobby of the shukubo and strolled off towards the start of the mighty volcano. The monk told us a bath would be waiting upon our return, so we had good reason to stay within schedule before the afternoon bus.
The initial climb past Amida temple was a breeze, thanks in part to the large stone steps that soon gave way to wooden steps. These climbing aids soon vanished into the deep snowpack, however, and the kick-step march to the ridge line commenced. The path was hardly deserted, as the clear weather and start of Golden Week brought out the first significant crowds of the year. Safety in numbers I suppose, as long as someone above doesn’t trigger a snowslide!
The cold, wet slush permeated through my well-worn footwear, soaking my merino wool socks well before the 5th stagepoint. Now wasn’t the time to ponder a new pair of shoes, but I wondered if that Montbell shop in the valley below could perhaps deliver gear to the mountain? Now that would be service worth payting for! Kanako and I continued our death march will increased rigor once we were above the trees. Reaching the concrete bunker of a hut at the 6th stagepoint, we caught our first glimpse of the intricately rocky edifice of Daisen’s serpentine figure. Impressive.
Daisen is no stranger when it comes to signposts, as every 100 meters of elevation gain is clearly marked as if to taunt you to a time-trial. I can’t help thinking if these landmarks were put there to help with mountain rescues, or perhaps for groups to scribble in their meticulous notebooks: “reached 1400m at 7:42am. Rested for 3 minutes and 27 seconds. 3 komakusa flowers spotted.”. It kind of takes the fun out of climbing, don’t you think?
It was right around this 1500m mark that I’d made a stark realization. I could barely see down to the village where we started, which was only about 2 kilometers away. The Sea of Japan and Yonago city? Competely enveloped in this yellowish haze. “Wait a minute,” I thought “this is kousa!” For those who don’t live in Japan, every spring the country in inundated with sand blowing from the deserts of China. It picks up pollutants on its way through the mainland and deposits them in Korea and Japan. Usually this aeolian dust occurs in early to mid March, not in early May! I erroneously thought that the strong winds from the previous storm would blow all the pollutants further east, not bring more with it. Although I’d timed the weather perfectly, I’d forgotten to factor in the yellow sand.
Oh well, we might as well enjoy the snow at least. The fearless couple pushed on, reaching the wooden planks just below the summit of Misen. Soon the hut came into view, still half-buried under the winter snows. Several dozen people rested on the platforms of Daisen’s bald summit. We picked a place as far away from the smokers as possible before digging into our lunch boxes. Even though it was much better than my first time around, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of disappointment for not getting good visibility. We didn’t even bother with the knife edge ridge to Ken-ga-mine, as there wasn’t enough snow and the cloud was threatening to come in. Still, being here was much better than sitting in the middle of the city.
The time to descend was once again upon us, so we decided to put on our crampons. We’d done fine enough without them on the climb, but wanted a little extra grip for the downward journey. Scrambling back to the emergency bunker at the 6th stagepoint, I peered over the edge towards the steep, desolate gully. I motioned over to Kanako, who quickly joined me as I started kick-stepping a zig-zag path down the 50 degree slope. I ignored the shouts from the others on the ridge line, who obviously underestimated my abilities. I’d already checked out this path during my recon mission the previous day, and the scuff marks proved my initial thoughts, that others had used this gully as a climbing route. Sticking to the beech trees in case of avalanche, I carved a navigable path, hopping from tree to tree while my trusty partner quickly followed suit.
Once the slope eased a bit, I headed out to the main chute and kick-stepped a route straight down. Kanako, obviously bored with my delicate hoof prints, came swooshing past in full glissade mode, trekking pole raised above her head and a gigantic grin on her face. “Two can play at this game”, I shouted, lowering myself into her chute path and quickly overtaking the fearless leader. I was gaining speed quickly through the melted mush, but kept in control long enough to snap a few photos.
At the bottom of the avalanche chute, I looked back at the ground we’d covered: 200 vertical meters in less than 10 minutes. Through the trees we spotted the emergency hut I’d discovered yesterday, where we stopped for lunch. My backside was completely soaked, including the entire contents of my wallet, but the slidding was well worth the drawbacks.
Soon enough, we arrived back at the shukubo, where I hung my clothes out to dry in the sun. We even had time for a quick cup of coffee and the cafe we’d visited the previous day, before boarding the bus back to Yonago. Our onward journey took us to Tottori and its sand dunes, but the thoughts of Daisen’s unforsaken rocks remained. A winter ascent is awfully tempting….