From Sugo-norikoshi campsite, the peaks rise from the earth as if pulled up by Ninigi no Mikoto himself. Through the translucent rays of the rainbow and whispy clouds I could just make out the path leading up and over the horse-like contours of Mt. Ecchuzawa, which checks in at just under 2600m above sea level. This route is a breeze in favorable conditions, but those of you who have followed this saga from Day 1 will note my penchant for attracting horrendous weather.
So it was under heavy cloud that I broke down camp and started on my ascent into the unknown. Although dry, the sky looked as if it would empty its bladder at any moment. I raced up to Sugonokashira in my signature blue singlets with a rare smile on my lips. For cloudy as it was, the fog had stayed away, offering favorable views towards the south. My destination, however, was to the north, where a blanket of white cut off everything in sight. You really weren’t expecting anything less, were you?
The maps say to allow at least 6 hours from Sugonorikoshi to Goshiki-ga-hara but you can easily add an hour or two when trying to navigate the tight squeezes with an oversized pack. There were a few places where I physically had to dismount and drag my gear behind me. After a week on the trails, boulder scrambling tends to wear on your nerves a bit, and the chains were a reminder to not let the mind drift off too carelessly. Once out of harm’s way, I started the long descent towards Goshiki, where I had to make several important decisions. The hut at Goshiki has a warm bath, my first chance of washing my body since leaving the river in Kamikochi a week before. While tempting, there was also the other option of giving it all I had, pushing on another half a day and actually reaching Tateyama, where a real hot spring awaited.
While these scenarios played themselves over and over in my delirious head, nature had decided to make the decision much easier for me by dropping buckets of cold liquid across the trail. The rain that now enveloped my alpine surroundings had made the previous storms on my trip seem like drizzle. I hastily strapped on the pack cover, threw on the rain jacket and coasted down to Goshiki hut. Once inside, I ordered a hot bowl of udon, my first and only hut-cooked meal of the entire traverse. After wolfing down the noodles, I inquired at reception about being able to have a bath. “I’m sorry, baths are only for customers staying in the hut”, replied the gruff gentlemen, who’d obviously grown weary of turning away campers. My heart sank below my bowels as I sat back on the bench and consulted my finances. In my wallet lie 12,000 yen. A bath would cost a minimum of 6000 yen (the cost of staying in the hut without meals), which would leave me 6000 yen to not only get off Murodo, but catch a train back to Osaka. On the contrary, a night in my tent would set me back only 500 yen. Rationality prevailed as I put down my coin and sulked my way down to the campsite.
I set up my tent in the rain and retreated to the toilets to wait out the storm. My tent, if you could call it that, was nothing more than a glorified lean-to, with only one tent pole in the center. Both ends had to be staked down, and once inside you could do very little other than lie flat on your back and look up at the canvas ceiling. All of the other tents I’d seen on this trip had plenty of head room, where occupants could leisurely sit up, play cards with their tentmates, and wile away the time while sitting out the storm. Claustrophobic my dwelling was, so I simply sat at the edge of the foul-smelling concrete bunker and pouted. I was not a happy camper and longed for nothing more than a hot bath and a home-cooked meal. Eventually nature called for most of the campers, so I was able to pass the time by first startling them by sitting like a cold, lost soul in the toilets, and finally making small talk by inquiring about trail conditions to Tateyama.
The small talk seemed to help, for the leader of yet another wandervogel club came to the rescue and offered a 1kg bag of uncooked white rice as a kind token. I guess my lack of supplies must have gotten out to other campers, as I was presented an apple by an elderly woman a few moments later. The smile slowly returned to my ailing complexion and I chomped on the fruit and watched the torrential rain fall unabated. Eventually dusk settled in, and I hurriedly retrieved my cooking gear from my home and cooked up some of the white rice in the toilet, which turned into the consistency of porridge because I couldn’t be bothered trying to measure the proper amount of water without a light source. Belly stuffed, I left my cooking gear as is in the restroom and settled in for a long night of fitful sleep. Would this nightmare weather ever end?