With a trip planned to Hokkaido in less than a week’s time, I scurried through the guidebook looking for one last peak to check off the list. The biggest problem with climbing the Hyakumeizan comes when you’ve already scaled the ones with easy access and are left with mountains in out-of-the-way places. Hence my current dilemma: which mountain would serve as my 53rd victim?
Nasu seemed approachable: a quick shinkansen ride from Tokyo, followed by a short-ish bus ride. Sounds great on paper until you realize that I’m not based in Tokyo, further complicating matters. A night bus it was, dropping me off at Ueno just as the biggest star in the solar system peeked over the eastern horizon. With such an early start, I arrived at the parking lot for Nasu Ropeway before the gondola actually started running. It made no difference, however, as I wasn’t planning on the easy way up.
On the short paved walkway that led to the start of the path to Mt. Chausu, I raised the viewfinder of my digital SLR to my right eye and snapped a shot of the early morning cloud wisping from the summit plateau. The camera soon went black, unresponsive to my constant tinkering. I even tried changing the battery but nothing. Completely dead. There would be no photos on one of Tohoku’s most picturesque volcanoes.
Dejected, I placed my new deadweight at the bottom of my pack, vowing to return in due time to capture the scenery on film. For now I flew up a path towards a deep col below Mt. Asahi. Scores of schoolchildren stood by the wayside, allowing me to pass. They were on a school excursion up to Chausu’s crater rim, and commendable they were for not opting for the luxury of the gondola, though in their case it may have been more of a financial decision for the teachers involved. Regardless, I gave a few high-5s before darting past them. When I hit the ridge, it was simply a case of following the maze of paint marks higher and higher to the top of my first peak, where the igneous rock garden did not fail to impress. The majority of hikers simply come to this point, snap a few photos of the crater, and head back to the comfort of the souvenir shops below. Hyakumeizan baggers, however, have the added task of traversing over to Sanbonyari, the official high point of the mountain range.
The path back to the col was manageable, but the next section to Mt. Asahi was a chain-laden exposed traverse on a cliff of loose pumice and pebbly ash. Long drops to my right made every footstep critical. Fortunately the heart-pumping section was short, and after the cliffs of Asahi, the route dropped to a vast plateau filled with lush, verdant grasslands, contrasting greatly with the smoldering fissures slightly to the south. There were a few intermittent peaks of gentle ups-and-downs, with wooden boardwalks in the flatter areas to protect the fragile vegetation. The final push to Sanbonyari was long and relentless, taking nearly 90 minutes to reach. Half a dozen other trekkers relaxed on the narrow summit when I arrived, sitting on ‘leisure sheets’ while enjoying their immaculately packed lunch boxes. The peaks of Fukushima lay thick in dark cloud, while the vistas back to Chausu were also cut off by a secondary layer of fleet-footed cumulus.
The route back to the start was non eventful, which in my case meant no bear encounters, no twisted ankles, and no unexpected surprises. Back at the parking lot, I walked down the road for 30 minutes, stopping by a hot spring for a well-deserved bath before flagging down the bus back to the station. Nasu was a nice warm-up for the long-awaited matchup with Hokkaido’s greatest cinder cone Mt. Yotei, whose sheer scale makes up for its lack of firepower.