Sometime after dawn broke, I awoke to find my sleeping bag completely submerged in a puddle of water that had formed at the bottom of my tent. Though the rains had abated, I still faced a dilemma about what to do with my useless canvas bed. I ate, organized gear, and set off in complete silence, a true sign of low morale. I’m sure Goshiki-ga-hara is a spectacular place in perfect weather, but in the early morning fog the scenery looked the same as every other day on this godforsaken trek. I definitely needed something to snap me out of this bitter mood.
As the trail left the flats and climbed towards Ryuuou-dake, something miraculous happened. All of a sudden, just like an airplane climbing to cruising altitude, I broke out above the clouds and had my first views above the treeline since the summit of Mt. Yari five days earlier. Directly in front of me, Tateyama’s horse-shaped ridge towered above the Kurobe valley far below, and all those ill feelings bottled up inside vanished in the mist, the smile finally returning to my glum complexion. On the bald summit of Mt. Jodo I took my first break of the morning and admired the lingering snowfields scattered across the alpine plains like the sand traps of a massive golf course. From here the trail drops directly to the main saddle below Tateyama and meets up with the main trail coming up from Murodo.
At the beginning of the long descent I run into a foreign male, my second of the entire trip. He was on his way to Kamikochi, along the same route I had just completed. What knowledge could I possibly share about a route I had hardly even seen? The best I could conjure up was a hearty “Good Luck” before continuing on the trail. Ten meters later I tripped on a rock, flipped forward, bounced off the back of my pack, and somehow landed upright, which likely prevented me from rolling down the rest of my trail like a runaway tire. This stumble could have been avoided if I had trekking poles with me. Another lesson learned on this never-ending trek.
Once at the saddle, I ran into crowds the likes of which I had not seen since Kamikochi. Several hundred vertical meters down on my left I could make out the bus terminal at Murodo, one of the most popular entry points to the Kita Alps. The climb up to the shrine took just 15 minutes, as I passed by heaps of daytrippers gasping for breath. I had over a week to acclimatize while most of them had only just arrived from sea level. At the shrine I took a brief break before pushing on along the ridge to the official highpoint of Mt. Onanji. I took a quick snapshot before being swallowed by the advancing cloud. The rest of the ridge to Bessan was once again in that all-familiar backdrop of white. I wasted no time in dropping to Tsurugi-Gozen hut and finally down through the snow fields to the tent city of Tsurugi-sawa, where I unsuccessfully tried to dry my sleeping bag in the cold mountain mist.
This drizzle soon turned into a full rain storm, as I once again retreated to the toilet block, which was smaller and stinkier than the one at Goshiki. What did I do to deserve the wrath of Mother Nature? An hour or so into the rain storm, a man approached me and asked in clear English if I needed a helicopter rescue. Either he was out for a quick buck (copter rescues in Japan are astronomically expensive) or he somehow knew the sorry state of my gear. I politely declined and eventually crawled into my tent. Using my wet sleeping bag as a ground sheet, I rigged up my large pack to serve as a dry, albeit very uncomfortable bed.
It was going to be a long night, but the last one I would have to spend in discomfort.