My first trip to Kumotori had ended in utter failure, a victim of the deep snow drifts, late start, and lack of preparation. This time around I came armed with something extra: knowledge.
From Demachiyanagi station, I once again boarded a Hirogawara-bound bus and alighted at Hanase Kogen. Instead of the snow-soaked forests of mid-winter, the vehicle meandered through a thick world of hand-planted cedar. The native flora completely decimated, the evergreen sea spread out unchecked for dozens of kilometers. A recent thinning of the forests left hope that one day the native flora would make a resurgence, but that will take an eternity. At the bus stop, I marched along the overgrown forest road towards the trailhead proper, passing by the abandoned ski lodge with its insanely bowed floor. Ski boots still sat on the shelves, collecting mold and dust, while the kitchen lay in a mountain of broken wood and glass.
After reaching the end of the forest road, the path crept into the cedar forest, following an old stream before bending around the mountain towards the ridge. Somehow in the winter I’d managed to make it this far, but I surely don’t know how. Downed trees and exposed roots made the going surprisingly tough even in the summer, but I confidently pushed my way up to the mountain pass. Once at the pass, I spotted the signpost I’d seen during my first trip. Instead of being buried in the deep snow, the signs clearly pointed the way. I used this marker as an indication of the snow depth: clearly over waist deep during my mid-winter challenge.
The route dropped down the other side of the pass, through a deep gully before meeting up with a tranquil mountain stream. During the winter I’d avoided this section in favor of the ridge and I thanked myself for that decision. The path was difficult enough to distinguish in the summer, and I’d surely have gotten lost in the winter. In the deep folds of the forest I stumbled across a shuttered mountain lodge in immaculate condition. Perhaps the locals come up here to escape from the trials and tribulations of life.
Onward I pushed, reaching the source of the stream before scrambling back up to Kumotori Pass. It was here that the summer and winter routes met, a place I had turned back from months earlier. I had no idea how close I’d come to reaching this pass during my initial excursion, but I had the feeling I wasn’t far. The cedar forests suddenly gave way to virgin foliage which became more and more stunning as the path climbed towards the summit. Autumn must truly be spectacular up here, I thought, silently regretting my haste in attempting revenge. Why couldn’t I have waited one more month?
Preciously one hour after setting off from the bus stop, I came upon the tree covered plateau of Kumotori’s modest summit. Shocked I was at the speed and fluidity of my journey, I paused for a brief moment to orient myself. A clear path shot off the north side of the peak, but where was the path towards Valley #2? I had no choice but to propel myself down the impossibly steep slopes. Ropes were thankfully fastened to the surrounding timbers, slowing my momentum enough to avoid a potentially nasty fall. This would surely be an avalanche death trap in the winter.
Briefly I rested by the side of a stream. As I stepped on a rock to snap a photo of the v-shaped valley, a large frog jumped onto my hiking boot, nearly sending me into coronary shock. Perhaps I was not alone up here after all.
The stream I followed grew larger and larger as I reached an old forest road, which met up with another road a bit further down the valley. Logging was clearly a cash crop during the post-war rebuilding of the country, as I reflected on how beautiful this country must have been before the slash-and-plant policy went into effect.
With the aid of my hiking map, I soon discovered I was following the same stream that passed by the immaculate hut earlier in my walk. From this deduction, I was able to loop back around and eventually retrace my steps back to the bus stop. This was a much better alternative than walking 20km on the forest road over to Kibune. I set off in high spirits until nearly tripping over a gigantic blue earthworm coiled up in the middle of the hiking path! The wildlife up here definitely grows larger in the deep folds of the Kyoto mountains.
I reached the bus stop with nearly an hour to kill before the next bus. This was quite a change from the hurried pace of the winter. The village looked much different when not buried in the snow, so I took some time to explore the area. The one coffee shop in the entire area was closed, so I sat by the side of the road soaking up the sights and sounds of inaka.
Mission complete, but the sense of satisfaction remained out of reach. Perhaps I’d only feel complacent by a successful winter ascent. Hmmm….