The rain continued on and off throughout the chilly night, the tent fly rustling continuously in the steady winds like a flag perched high on a ship mast. Early the next morning I boiled water for oatmeal inside the tent, thinking of every possible excuse to delay my impending assault on Mt. Kurobegoro, the giant peak that loomed somewhere above the now-deserted campsite. I came up with a makeshift plan: pack up everything while still inside the tent, put on my shoes, jump out of the tent, roll it up into one large messy ball, tie it to the outside of my pack, and march off into the sunset. If only things could be so easy.
The first struggle came after breaking down camp, when I realized my waterproof pack cover wouldn’t fit over the bulging vinyl of the tent freshly strapped to the side of my pack. Even though the rain had stopped, the heavy cloud brought drizzle that could easily soak my entire kit if left exposed. In came plan B, which involved stuffing the tent in the small gap between the top of my pack and my head, forming a makeshift pillow. The only problem with this is that I physically couldn’t reach around and do it myself once I had put my pack on. Luckily, someone at the hut came to my rescue, securing my gear steadily in place. Of course this meant that I wouldn’t be able to take off my pack at all until arriving at my next destination.
So up I went, back above the tree line into the suffocating cloud. The next couple of hours involved a marching ascent through what I’ve been told is one of the most picturesque cirques in all of the Kita Alps, but all I saw was a alternating pattern of rock and snow. Eventually I reached the junction just below the high point. Turning left I topped out on the summit of Kurobegoro, my 6th Hyakumeizan, and turned around to admire the endless array of peaks directly behind me. Even though I could only see 1 meter in front of me, I tried to imagine what I should have been viewing if mother nature had decided to reward me with some decent weather! Dejected, I pushed on in silence. An hour further down the ridge, through a steep, heavily eroded gully, I popped out of the clouds, and got my first views in 3 days. Directly in front of me, a thousand meters below, sat the pristine shores of Lake Arimine. Further east, I could follow the contours of the ridge line all the way to Tarobei hut, where I’d planned to spend the night. Beyond, the mountains rose again to a thick bank of white, obstructing my view of Mt. Yakushi, which I had in mind for the following day. The views helped brighten the mood, as I coasted along the well-worn ridge to campsite on the saddle between the hut and the long climb to Yakushi.
After paying the caretaker of the campground, I scurried through the rock-filled area, searching for the perfect place to pitch my tent. Alas, on the other side of the clearing sat a perfect place to call home for the night, and in my excited haste I neglected to check my footing. Suddenly, as if pushed by a supernatural force, my left ankle caught the guy-wire holding up a massive 10-man tent. Instantly I was sent airborne, landing on my belly with the full force of my heavy pack sandwiching me on the rocks. My knees absorbed most of the impact, sending shockwaves through my body and contorting my face into a grimaced caricature. Instantly the tent occupants rushed outside to my assistance as the screams of pain echoed through the valley. Two guys unstrapped my gear as another two helped me to my feet and escorted me back up the hill to the medical clinic inside Tarobei hut.
“Just some surface wounds”, replied the medic, who patched me up and sent me on my way after a speedy 15-minute examination. Even though the medical service is free, they do request a 2000 yen “donation” to help cover costs. Still, getting a wound properly treated in the alpine is much better than risking an infection. The rest of the afternoon I lazed away at the tent village, chatting with other hikers about the long traverse to Tateyama that lay before me. I was at the halfway point in traverse, both in terms of distance and time, and could only hope that my newly-battered knees would mend in time to complete the man-powered voyage.