The new day dawned bright and clear. Groggy-eyed, I stumbled through the streets of Urawa until slipping into a sparsely populated train to Omiya, where the Shinkansen whisked me to Minakami and I once again found myself climbing the steps from the tunnels deep within the bowels of Doai station. It was hard to believe I was staring at these same walls just 24 hours ago before my spontaneous decision to give Tanigawa a miss. Now I had no choice, but at least I had the weather on my side….or so I thought.
Asphalt guided me to the gondola entrance, but I just couldn’t give in to such technological catalysts. I had to climb the mountain from the bottom, all of it, so I ducked through the weeds, following a gravel trail that ran roughly parallel to the ropeway pylons. Birds sung gleefully, hidden from view by the thick foliage framing the concrete of the river bed. Brisk my pace led me, higher and higher towards the ski resort at Tenjin-Daira. To my right, buried somewhere in the jungly thicket, sat a faint trail that would take me towards the main ridge of my target peak, but without any signposts or markers, I overshot the turn-off until realizing it much too late. The route I followed banked left through a series of long switchbacks until dumping me right into the middle of one of the ski runs. Large ruts the size and contour of a small tanks lay deep in the dry mud. Ah, this must be the path used by loaders for construction and maintenance work.
Stumbling onto the lush greenery of the open fields, I sought refuge from the baking rays of nature’s ultraviolet oven. The intense heat, high even by September standards, left me parched and withered. I lay my head under the faucet of the bathroom sink, sucking thick morsels of everyone’s favorite mix of hydrogen and oxygen. Perspiration, mixed with the fresh flow from the taps, dripped from my already soaked clothing, creating a small salty pond at the base of my feet. I inhaled mouthfuls of refreshing liquid until equilibrium returned.
Shortly after the lunchtime sirens echoed in the villages far below the abyss, I reached the collection of boulders indicating the summit of the first of Tanigawa’s twin peaks. The other lay along the wind-carved crumbly spine. Not knowing which of the two were higher, I opted to climb them both, picking my way among the hunks of cretaceous granite sculptures for the better part of half an hour before reaching the secondary peak. Here the winds threatened to send me tumbling down the cliffs of the eastern face, so I dug in the heels and rummaged through the pack for some alpine delicacies disguised as a bag of mixed nuts and chocolate. Just below my plastic bag of goodies, sandwiched between my soft-shell and fleece, I located my map, which brings up an unfortunate habit of mine. In my frenzy to scale the peaks on Fukada’s list, not only do I end up taking far less breaks than normal, but due to my laziness, useful gear stays unused in the bottom of my back. Map? Nah, too much of a hassle to pull it out. Rain jacket? Again, unless the skies open up I just end up dealing with the mist.
Anyway, my maps showed that I indeed reached the designated top of Tanigawa, so instead of the long traverse over to Tairappyo, it was back to the ski resort I retreated. Shortly below the summit rocks I dropped down out of the cloud line, revealing the near-vertical drops off the eastern edge. If I wanted to end it all, I could have simply moved a meter or so to my left. Rows of bluish-gray mountain stretched out to the horizon, folding over on one another like a stack of futon being stored in the closet. I recognized the rounded contours of Hotaka, the peak I had been on just a few days prior. To the left I saw what appeared to be Makihata, with the trio of Echigo peaks nestled beyond. The stroll back to the trailhead was non-eventful until I reached the bottom of the gondola, where I was able to hitch a ride all the way to Saitama.
With 3 peaks knock out in 3 successive days, I turned my eyes towards the remaining summits of the Kita Alps.