Heavy rain thrashed outside the cozy hut most of the night, while the wind picked up several knots with each passing gust. The storm forecast was right on the money, but unfortunately we were a literal no-man’s land, sandwiched between two of Japan’s higher peaks. Breakfast turned into an impromptu strategic meeting of the minds: myself and one other hiker had our sights set on Hijiri, while the 5 other men were studying routes off the peak. One trio opted for the 8-hour descent to Shirabiso-toge, where a taxi would be waiting to whisk them back to reality. The other two chose to re-climb Akaishi and head down to Sawarajima via Akaishi hut. The challenge was on.
My new-found companion was named Koji, a 40-something Tokyo businessman on a weekend outing in the Alps. After gearing up, both of us stepped outside, facing the brunt force of the typhoon head-on. We took one look up at the nasty ridge heading to Hijiri, turned to each other, and did what any other sensible climber would have done: we joined the duo bound for Akaishi. For one, we’d both taken the path the previous day and knew in addition to being somewhat sheltered from the wind, it was technically non-challenging. Hijiri would have to wait for another day. The 4 of us marched in unison, leaning close to the ground when the wind gusts blasted us. The rain was close to horizontal as we pushed on unfazed. Once we reached the emergency hut just below Akaishi’s exposed summit, the caretaker ushered us in. Without saying a word, the saintly gentlemen boiled some water on the kerosene heater and plied us with warm tea. He knew the severity of the predicament we were in. After all, temperatures were hovering around zero at 3100 meters above the earth. Remember that this emergency hut has no water source, so the man was giving from his own rations and didn’t expect anything in return. My respect for the hut operators in the Southern Alps reached new heights.
Up and over Akaishi we marched, dropping down into the tree line for a much needed respite from the wind. The rest of the hike down to Sawarajima was a bit of a blur. I don’t recall any distinguishing features other than the well-groomed grounds of Akaishi hut. Once reaching the valley, the news of cancelled bus service set in, as I raced around frantically trying to figure out how to get back to Osaka. Tokai forest was running shuttle buses to the parking lot, but from there I was basically on my own, miles from the nearest town. Luckily, Koji offered me a ride to Shizuoka station without hesitation. The rain continued to pour down as the shuttle bus made repeated stops to remove debris and landslides from the forest road. I had the feeling we were getting out in the nick of time. If we’d climbed Hijiri and stayed an extra night on the mountain there’d likely be no road left to leave on.
Disaster was once again safely diverted. Hijiri remained on the ‘to climb’ list, and little did I know that it would end up being #100 for me. Such is the way things panned out in my Hyakumeizan adventure.