The train pulled into Ina-Oshima station shortly before midnight, as I searched for a dark corner to catch some shut-eye before the early morning bus to Shiokawa trailhead. My eyes immediately caught sight of a long bench in the covered bus shelter directly across the street from the station. The bus I needed to catch would leave from here, so at least I wouldn’t have to worry about oversleeping if I bedded down there. I unrolled the sleeping bag, crawled in, and spent the next 6 hours or so in an uneasy fit. As soon I drifted off, a car would come swooshing by, splashing rain water perilously close to my partially-exposed figure. Once the bus finally arrived, I sighed with relief and fell into a deep slumber, awaking only after the driver tapped me on the shoulder. Good thing the trailhead was the last stop.
The path towards Sanpuku-toge was just as I’d remembered it: lush, overgrown, and completely deserted. The rain had eased overnight but the cloud hung heavy on the ridge far above, threatening to turn my first day into a foggy mush of misery. Somehow I managed to not lose sight of the tape dangling intermittently from the surrounding trees, as I crossed the river one last time before starting the infinite switchbacks towards the highest mountain pass in the Minami Alps.
Shortly before noon I popped out in front of the hut I’d stay in during my last tramp into these mountains. The jovial staff gently filled my water bottles while inquiring about my plans. Usually hikers need to pay for water here, but since I was the only one around for miles, he quickly waved off my offers of cash. “Where to today?,” the middle-aged man queried. Thinking I was headed towards Shiomi-dake, my information source let out a rather audible gasp when I pointed in the direction of Arakawa. “You’d best stay at the emergency hut at Kogochi”, he added before ducking back inside. “Here, take this”, shoving a ripe Fuji apple into my left hand, “you’ll need this.”
After bidding farewell to the caretaker, I started the long, slow climb towards Mt. Kogochi through the thick cloud and strong winds. Robbed of a view, I marched to the beat of an imaginary drummer, humming myself into a trance with obscure tunes from my childhood. Flowers bloomed all around but I was in no mood for snapping photos. I knew I had a long way to go before reaching the next Hyakumeizan on my list, and all I could think of was how many kilometers I could knock off of that approach during the slowly fading daylight. Perhaps that was the main reason I opted not to follow the apple giver’s advice and pushed on well beyond the summit of Kogochi to the next hut along the ridge, a good 8km away from my current position. I don’t remember much about that trail except for the white monotony of the misty veil. Shortly before dusk, I stumbled into Takayama emergency hut, startling the manager who’d given up hope of having any additional visitors for the evening. As I handed over the modest accommodation fee, the elderly worker nearly fell off his chair when I told him I’d come from the station earlier that morning. Apparently most people take at least 2 days to cover the same distance I’d knocked off in the better part of one. After a quick meal, I slipped into a deep coma, preparing my body and soul for the even longer day that lie ahead.