Mid-January and my final foray into Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park to knock off the last unclimbed Hyakumeizan in the Kanto region. The early morning train rolled into Chichibu station under clear skies as I changed to a bus bound for the trailhead at Hinata Ooya. The route required a change of buses a little further on, where a lone figure waited at the adjacent bus stop. “Ryokami,” I asked, not sure if the single 30-something female were out for a day hike or not. She nodded in the affirmative, and I soon found myself with an unexpected hiking companion for mountain #78.
Yoko, the name of my new hiking partner, hailed from Saitama but was on her first journey up a winter mountain, albeit without any equipment or experience under her belt. I’d feel personally responsible if anything were to happen to her, so naturally we walked in unison up the deserted trail under crystal blue skies and the slight crunch of lingering slush. The path was well trodden and pretty much impossible to get lost, as it followed a tranquil stream up a narrow valley. We soon found ourselves ascending through areas of shaded ice, inching our way along the precarious path towards the switchbacks that led to the mountain hut.
Once at the hut, we refilled the water bottles and prepared for the exhilarating climb towards the rocky ridge, through areas of chain-covered rock that Yoko skillfully maneuvered through. I quickly followed suit, offering advice on the trickier footholds. Soon we reached a rustic shrine with a magnificent red torii gate. Mt. Fuji rose up through the tree line, as the rest of the peaks of the national park looked on with envy. From here the ridge became an array of short climbs followed by steep descents over a series of false summits until we finally topped out on Ryokami’s modest peak. Time check: 12:01pm, just in time for a light meal.
While resting on the tiny boulder-lined summit, we talked about other peaks in the area that were worth climbing and somehow during that conversation we’d made a plan to climb Mt. Adatara the following month. Of course, first we had to make it off this peak alive!
The descent proved much more challenging than the approach, for while climbing on ice unaided can be done with careful precision, descending an ice-filled gully in next to impossible without a pair of crampons. Times like this call for desperate measures. “Are you right-footed or left-footed,” I asked Yoko, who was understandably feeling a bit uneasy on the impending traverse. Reaching into my pack, I threw her my right crampon while fastening the other to my left foot. We’d both descend with only one crampon. Not the best solution, but traction on one foot is better than none at all.
Together we carved our way through the frozen forest. I’d kick-step a place for her left foot while she’d do the same for my right. After about an hour of crisscrossed footwork we escaped through the danger zone unscathed. The final stroll back to the bus stop was quite relaxing, until we came face-to-face with a mountain serow grazing in the trail directly in front of us. Startled, the shy creature bolted for the neighboring forest while Yoko and I picked our jaws up off the trail. Never before had I seen a kamoshika so up close and personal. Our brush with wildlife provided that much needed adrenaline boost for the rest of the hike back to civilization. While killing time waiting for the bus, we stopped in at Ryokami Sanso for some tea and refreshments while sitting under a kotatsu that was still heated the old-fashioned way: by a bed of charcoal in the stone floor. Yoko and I made a successful ascent of Ryokami, but how would we fare on the snowy, wind-swept slopes of Mt. Adatara?