The rain came down in rhythmic sheets for most of the night, pushed on by the autumn gusts whipping through Ina valley on their way to Kofu city and the outer reaches of the Kanto plain. I rustled back and forth in the warm futon, trying to drown out the drum-like drone of the pellets bouncing off the hut roof. Fatigue eventually took over, and the next thing I remember was the sound of shifting nylon, as groups of eager hikers donned their matching rain suits before heading out into the murk.
I got a more leisurely start, cooking up a light meal of warm noodles near the hut entrance, where I had a good look at the nasty conditions. Despite the uninviting weweather, I knew a mountain with my name on it lay hidden above the dreary mist. Sure I could have turned my back and called it a day, but it’s an awful long way from Osaka to Kitazawa pass.
After putting on my fire-engine red full body rain suit, I stepped out on the trail towards Mt. Senjo, a thousand vertical meters above me. The rain continued steadily but fortunately the wind remained relatively calm. The lofty alpine fields of the Japan Alps are a magnet for cloud cover, as any full-bodied mountaineer can attest. I accepted my fate with relative serenity, knowing that the views from Mt. Houou made the trip a resounding success. Today, however, I experienced a bizarre phenomenon that has yet to be repeated: though the rain made the journey from the stratosphere, the accompanying cloud did not. Once above the tree line, visibility were comparable to a cloudless, sunny day. The spiny crags of Mt. Nokogiri ran westward from the rocky spires of Kai-koma, as Yatsu-ga-take looked on from across the deep valley.
Once I hit Mt. Ko-Senjo, I got my first glimpse of the massive col that surrounds the summit plateau. Kita-dake was visible to my immediate left, all but the tip of the summit below the cloud line. Beyond, even Mt. Fuji remained clear up until the 8th stagepoint, appearing on the horizon as a perfect volcanic trapezoid. I savored the views, knowing the clouds could roll in at any moment to spoil the fun.
The final push to the top was along the outer edge of the col. The rain was reduced to a fine mist, so I unzipped the jacket to help air out my sweat-laden armpits. Step by slippery step I marched, reaching the highest point just after midday. The views to the north, hidden by the linear line of Senjo’s flowing ridge, were finally released from their tight grip, as I had breached the 3000 meter mark for the first time on the trip. To my utter disbelief, not only did the Minami Alps remain free from fog, but every peak in the Minami Alps stood clear. In addition, Kiso-koma in the Chuo Alps soared up above the Ina valley, while Ontake and Norikura sat on the edge of the dark wall of cloud. The rest of the Kita Alps was swallowed by the low-pressure leviathan. I was glad to have made the decision to stay south this trip, as I still had plenty of peaks to climb that lay victim to this evil storm system.
As I rested on the saturated rock outcroppings, a trio of young climbers reached the summit. They were part of a university mountaineering club in Nagoya. I asked them if they had been to the Aichi Expo, since it was currently in full swing. On cue, they pulled two stuffed toys from their packs: Kiccoro and Morizo, the two mascots from the World Exposition! What a better way to add variety to the usually summit shot, I thought, handing my camera over to the more competent of the photographers.
The chance encounter, along with the stellar views and the retreating storm system, kept my spirits soaring, and I flew back to Kitazawa in a fraction of the time it took me to ascend. Once at the pass, I boarded a shuttle bus bound for Hirogawara, followed by a bus back to Kofu and a long train ride back to Osaka. The Minami Alps were almost completely conquered: I only had the southernmost peaks of Tekari and Hijiri remaining. As fate would have it, they ended up being peaks #99 and #100, which probably says something about my affinity for this area of Japan.
There is a bit of a lesson to be learned from this soggy climb: even if the forecast calls for rain, don’t be fooled into thinking that nimbostratus clouds will blot out the view. With a little perseverance, you just might surprise yourself.