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Archive for October, 2014

At 6am on a bright sunny Saturday in mid-September, the planets aligned and the stars converged on Togakushi kogen for a meeting of the mountaineering minds. Rie and Paul set up camp next to my alien-green spaceship as Yuta and his companion dropped off their intergalactic hovercraft in a vacant docking station. Excess gear was safely stowed as the explorers donned their space helmets and jetpacks for the journey of a lifetime.

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Yuta’s party started out ahead of us, since they were teleporting themselves up the impossibly steep slopes of Mt. Takazuma. Rie, Paul and I  ducked into the forest just behind our camp for a gentle 3 kilometer warm-up through untouched forests of beech, fir, larch, and other hardwoods. At one point, around 10 minutes into our mission, we spotted an ancient tree towering high above the forest floor, the branches spreading in all directions like a natural manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. Something about that tree really struck me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. All of us commented on the sheer size and beauty of the tree, wondering how long it took such a structure to reach maturity. We continued on a couple of meters before hearing the unmistakable sound of breaking tree branches, followed by a dull thud. Apparently, a black bear had been enjoying a quiet breakfast in that very tree until our voices startled it enough to flee. Though neither of us had seen the creature, we were all sure of exactly what it was. From that point on, we needed to be a bit more receptive to our earthly surroundings.

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Our unexpected encounter did have one advantage: the adrenaline surging through our blood had suppressed the fatigue and drowsiness, two things we did not need interfering with the concentration required on the impending climb. The forest gave way to a plantation of larch before spitting us out in front of a thatched temple gate marking the entrance to Togakushi shrine. This area used to be home to a large temple in the Tendai sect of Buddhism until Shinbutsu bunri put an end to that. Mt. Togakushi was, for centuries, one of the biggest training grounds for Tendai monks outside of Hieizan. Unlike the marathon walkers of Mt. Hiei, the monks sought enlightenment by scaling the near vertical walls and meditating in hidden caves dotted throughout the area. Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find even a monk, let alone a white-clad yamabushi. A row of giant cryptomeria line either side of the gravel approach to the main shrine building. Imagine the Daimonzaka trail at the Kumano Kodo on steroids.

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Just before the main shrine building, the trail to Togakushi split off to the left. We entered the forest and immediately started the steep climb up a spur to the ridge. The first 30 minutes were fairly easy to manage, until the path reached the base of an enormous cliff face. From here, the route turned west, skirting the edge of the igneous wall with nice views across the forest canopy to the slopes of Mt. Iizuna. The path disappeared into the cloud dangling directly above, and once around the largest of the rock formations, the real climb commenced. A chain dangled from the top of a stone tower hidden by the cloud as Rie grabbed on and heaved herself up. The network of chains increased as we literally pulled ourselves up from the forest clinging tightly to the rocky terrain. Fortunately the chains weren’t in a continuous strand: after a long chain section there was usually a relatively flat area to traverse through before reaching the next rock formation.

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Higher up the boulder maze, we reached a long section of nearly vertical rock face, pockmarked from the ancient volcanic forces that thrust the entire mountain range towards the sky. Rie led the way, shouting from above that the section was ‘taihen‘. Once she safely topped out, I lunged forward, grabbing the chain in my right hand while grasping the left onto any cankerous protrusions of crusted rock. The legs did their best impression of the Harlem Shake during the 40-meter scramble. Once on top I collapsed in a heap of perspiration and fatigue. I turned around just in time to see Paul standing perched on a precarious ledge, left hand outstretched in an improvised attempt at a selfie. His confidence with heights had Rie and I salivating with envy. At the top of the next scramble the path flattened out, narrowing to a scrawny backbone of a ridge that was marked on the maps with a danger symbol. The ridge, if you could call it that, was crumbly and barely the width of a balance beam in spots. The best approach was straddling the beast like a bucking bronco:  a time when form definitely followed function.

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Paul walked gallantly on some of the more exposed sections, a true testimonial to those long hours on the slackline put to practical use. Rie and I scooted along behind our acrobatic master like two ducklings following their brave mother across the Hoover Dam. Fortunately the knife-edge eventually gave way to solid, tree-covered soil and it was simply a matter of hoisting ourselves over a duo of chains before popping out on the meter-wide catwalk of the true ridge itself. We used the extra space to sprawl out and catch our breath, hoping the fog would lift enough to actually see our approach route clearly. After ten minutes we gave up and turned east along the rolling contours of the high ridge. There were plenty of ups and downs on the jagged spine of the mountain, but eventually we topped out on the official high point, congratulating ourselves with a well-earned summit snap.

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The further east we traversed, the better the visibility, as the fog lifted completely and afforded unobstructed views into the forests we had trudged through earlier in the morning. To the north, the pyramidal mastiff of Mt. Takazuma poked its head out of the condensation bank to offer a jovial greeting. Paul and I snapped away, trying to capture the scenery with our lenses while Rie trudged along ahead at her own brisk pace. Cliff faces tinged with autumn hues rose triumphantly towards the azure sky like soldiers saluting their major general.

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Though fatigue was slowly taking hold, the warm sunshine brightened our spirits during the ramble along the undulating ebbs and flows of the uplands. An hour after breaching the ridge, we passed our first hikers of the day: a husband and wife team that had started out nearly an hour before us. A bit further along, a middle-aged Japanese hiker drenched in sweat approached us, offering a greeting that took us a bit aback. “Are you with Hiking in Japan?”, the mountaineer inquired. It turned out to be Toshi, one of the members of the Facebook community who had driven up from Matsumoto in order to join us for dinner at the campsite that evening.

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The track lost altitude quickly, bottoming out at a saddle marked by an emergency hut whose construction was fit for a bomb shelter. It was here that we found Rie chatting with Yuta’s party who had just successfully descended from Mt. Takazuma. I remember this emergency hut with fond memories during my own snow-capped, adrenaline-laced summit of Takazuma during my Hyakumeizan quest.

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With five people now in our party, we descended the steep gully which wound its way past a couple of waterfalls before eventually spitting us out into the cow pastures of Togakushi farm. Again, Paul and I found ourselves captivated by a troupe of wild monkeys as the others pushed ahead, anxious for a hot spring bath to wash away the volcanic filth. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hone our wildlife photography skills, even if they were on some very uncooperative subjects.

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Once back into civilization, we spied a cafe serving pizza made from buckwheat flour. We plopped ourselves at one of the outdoor tables and split a pizza while each ordering a dish of yaki curry, a dish that can only be described as an improvised version of gratin, but instead of baking a pot of potatoes and cheese, the basin was filled with curry and rice. When those steaming ceramic bowls of furnace-temperature curry were delivered to the table our eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets.

Perhaps we overdid it a bit on the carbs, but an epic climb deserved an epic reward. Once back at camp we met up with the rest of the Hiking in Japan members (a full report can be read here) and round two of the festivities commenced. Togakushi was a mountain definitely worthy of our attention, and I could finally check that mountain off the list despite two earlier aborted missions. Now it was time to turn my attention to the rest of the peaks surrounding the idyllic crater basin of the Togashushi Highlands.

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The power of the internet to bring like-minded people together is staggering. Before starting this blog I never would have imagined I could connect with fellow outdoor enthusiasts and aspiring authors alike. When an opportunity arose to do a walk with Tokyo-based blogger Miguel Arboleda, I seized the chance without hesitation. We agreed to meet at Kisakata station in Akita for a two-day excursion on the slopes of Tohoku’s tallest peak.

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After hitching a ride from Akita port, I arrived at the station a little early and wandered down to the beach in search of my companion. Sure enough, we reconnected at a beach glimmering in the morning sun. Sunbathers were just beginning to gather for a pleasant day at the coast but Miguel and I strolled back to the station to await the arrival of the shuttle bus. In the waiting area we were accosted by a duo of enthusiastic elderly hikers who literally kidnapped us and forced us into a taxi to Hokodate trailhead on the slopes of Mt. Chokai. The shuttle bus is by reservation only, so we needed to cancel our booking in order to take the taxi. Fortunately the driver took a detour to the MaxValue supermarket in order to for us get supplies for the next couple of days. We dashed through the aisles in a scene straight out of Supermarket Sweep, grabbing whatever we could while the taxi meter kept running.

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Our chauffeur dropped us off at a massive rest house and parking area packed with automobiles. Our initial plan was to stay at the emergency hut across from the visitor’s center, but it was covered in scaffolding and closed for renovations. Obviously the hut owner has no sense of financial wisdom: why on earth would you renovate your accommodation during the height of the Obon climbing season? Our only other option was to stay at the TDK emergency hut, a five-minute stroll up the concrete path. We rapped on the door of the stone structure, only to find that the owner had closed up shop for the day and wouldn’t return until the following morning. So, here we were with absolutely no place to stay. The cafeteria seemed like the most logical place to mull over our options, so over a bowl of beef donburi we realized that the covered porch in front of this very building would offer the best chance for a good night’s sleep, barring any mosquitoes or other intrusions.

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A small grassy area lay adjacent to the trailhead, so we took an afternoon nap while waiting for the fog to clear. After a few hours, the bone-chilling coolness of the brisk winds had us retreating back to the rest house for a cup of stale, burned coffee. Fortunately, the caffeine had raised our spirits and provided a much needed catalyst for heading out to explore. Stashing our gear in the small shelter housing the climber registry, we climbed up the concrete path towards the first lookout station. The summit of Chokai was now free of fog, and behind us a thin layer of cloud floated directly below, the waxing sun glistening gently off the glassy surface of the sea over a thousand meters below.

Miguel and I share an immense bond that few others can appreciate. Despite our strong connection with nature and mountains, we both struggle with debilitating health conditions that threaten to derail our upward progress. Followers of this blog are by now well aware of my cardiac and pulmonary obstacles, but Miguel is involved in a constant battle with his blood sugar, an entirely different kind of monster. Believe it or not, I’ve never been around anyone who is stricken with the illness better known as diabetes, and knowledge I have gained about the disease from Miguel’s experience is humbling. We tend to take our health for granted until our bodies stop functioning properly. It is only then can we appreciate what we have and to keep on living despite those obstacles.

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We each went our own pace on the walk. I was anxious to scout out the terrain for the real hike the following morning, so I pushed ahead towards the marshlands of Sai no kawara, which I reached just as the last rays of the sun were hitting the top of the ridge concealing the crater lake of Oike. I could be at the shores of the lake in less than 15 minutes if I pushed on, but that would mean descending in the dark without a headlamp, so I did the only sensible thing and turned around. Miguel and I were reunited at the first observation deck in time to see the last glows of light recede over the horizon.

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Once back at Hokodate, the parking lot came alive with scores of hikers setting up tents and preparing their evening meals. We laid out the sleeping gear and settled around a table that was set up on the porch of the rest house. Dinner was prepared and devoured while we shared stories about our lives. Even though I had met Miguel a couple of times before, it was our first time to camp and hike together as a duo, and we both agreed that our goal the following morning would be the volcanic lake that I was so close in reaching earlier that evening.

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Sleep came and went as cars steadily arrived at all hours of the night. Most of the late arrivers simply reclined their seats and drifted off for a few hours of shut-eye before starting up the volcano at first light. We were in no hurry, however, and slowly cooked up breakfast under the overcast skies. We stashed our remaining food supplies and garbage inside of climber’s registry hut and placed the rest of our gear behind the structure itself. We maintained a good pace for a while until Miguel started to feel a bit lightheaded. A quick blood check revealed a low blood sugar count, so out came the Calorie Mate as Miguel was forced to eat on an already full stomach. The scene provided a rare opportunity to take a more leisurely pace up the mountain. In most of my solo pursuits, I’m too focused on just reaching the summit that I neglect the natural beauty around me: the alpine flowers poking their heads above the grasslands in search of sunlight, the retreating snowfields that provide ample watering holes for a wide variety of insect and plant life.

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Once Miguel was feeling himself again, we hit the trail and passed by countless hikers out for a day stroll. Just before the final climb to the lake, a pair of middle-aged men approached from behind. Just before passing us by, the older of the two turned to his younger companion with the following words: “When you pass by the foreigners ahead of us, don’t look at them or greet them.” The temptation to confront them was great indeed, but sometimes you just have to let things go and accept the fact that there are bigots in all corners of this vast earth.

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We reached the lake and settled down for a well-deserved break. We were at the 7th stage point of the hike, with the summit just 500 vertical meters beyond. With more time, we would have no trouble getting to the top, but the only shuttle bus of the day left at noon, so we needed to be back at Hokodate in less than two hours. I’d been up Chokai before in very favorable weather, so turning my back on the peak wasn’t difficult to do. We’d set out to reach the lake and had done so without incident. That was victory enough for us.

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Back at the trailhead, we were shocked to find that the plastic bags we had stashed in the hut had been taken away. The only explanation was that the hut staff had assumed that a careless hiker has used the hut as a garbage dump and they’d thrown away the bags in disgust. Not only had they disposed of our garbage, but they had also taken all of our remaining food, including several fresh vegetables we had planned to use later in the day. It would be no use to confront the rest house staff, as they would likely scold us for attempting to litter on the mountain. We couldn’t get out of that godforsaken place fast enough!

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The second visit to Chokai was definitely enjoyable, but I just can’t shake Hokodate’s tarnished image from my mind. During the first visit, the hut staff were friendly and accommodating, making it one of the highlights of my Tohoku travels, but now the area is an oasis for cars, with a bus that only runs with an advanced booking and two mountain huts that shut their doors during the busiest season the year. Is this what we can expect in the future, when all hikers rely on their own set of wheels for day trips and the overnight accommodation is reduced to ruins?

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Conspiracy theory

The recent spike in volcanic activity throughout Japan could be attributable to a surprising culprit. In order to better understand these increased occurrences and their possible connections, further investigation is necessary.

The first sign of a seismic upheaval started earlier this year, when tremor activity increased around the active volcano Kusatsu-Shirane in central Gunma Prefecture. The activity centered around Okama lake, a blue-green crater lake of immense beauty. While volcanic activity on the 2171 meter-high peak is hardly an anomaly, the sudden spike in earthquakes directly under the mountain mass prompted the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) to raise the alert level, which prohibits visitors from encroaching within a 1 kilometer radius of the summit. The alert became effective on March 18, 2014 and has yet to be lifted.

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The second round of thermal chaos occurred just 6 months later and rather unexpectedly at that,  catching even veteran volcanologists asleep at the wheel. Just before noon on a cloudless and stunningly beautiful morning on Saturday, September 27, Mt. Ontake, a 3000 meter-high volcano straddling the Nagano-Gifu border, suddenly sprang to life, sending hikers scurrying for shelter and taking the lives of over 50 people. While steam explosions are almost impossible to pin down, there is now evidence that there was a subtle warning beforehand. Reports from NHK indicate that geologists did observe a spike in tremors on the mountain just two weeks prior to the catastrophic eruption, but the alert level was not raised to level 2. This has prompted families of victims to blame JMA for failing to adequately inform visitors to the mountain of the increased seismic activity. Such finger pointing will not change the outcome of the events, but it will almost surely cause the JMA to implement a more conservative approach to their warning systems.

Courtesy NHK

Courtesy NHK

As if the first two signs weren’t enough evidence, in late September, increased seismic activity had been detected at the Okama crater lake at Mt. Zao, sending waves of fear through the Tohoku region that the picturesque mountain were about to awaken from its long slumber. Just yesterday, on the 9th of October, researchers found that the emerald green waters of the lake had begun to turn a milky white, a possible predilection of steamier things to come. While the JMA has yet to raise the alert level, one has to hope that geologists are on high alert to even sudden changes to the frequency and depth of the tremors.

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Three significant volcanic events in a time span of only 8 months begs the question: Is there a connection between them? Geographically speaking, the verdict is a resounding not guilty, since all three mountains sit in different geographical regions, separated by kilometers of tall mountain ranges and narrow valleys. One might make the argument that Okama could be the culprit, since both Kusatsu-shirane and Zao share the same nomenclature for their scenic lakes. While Ontake is home to a duo of colorful lakes, it does not make use of the same label. Perhaps there’s an obscure mathematical connection. If we subtract the height of Mt. Fuji by the height of Mt. Ontake and double that figure, we come to the number 2127, which is only 44 less than the height of Kusatsu-shirane. See the connection? Dismissive.

One closer look at each volcano, however, reveals some striking similarities. Kusatsu-shirane and Zao both have parking lots alarmingly close to their perspective crater lakes. In fact, both peaks require a walk of less than five minutes to reach the viewpoints of their ponds. Both mountains have a resthouse serving food and both volcanoes are teeming with tourists during the busy summer months. What about Ontake? The peak is inaccessible by automobile and requires a hike of several hours to reach the crater lakes, so that rules out the connection. Yet, there is commonality between all three mountains in the form of a gondola system that whisks visitors up the steep slopes. In fact, all three mountains have renowned, world-class ski resorts, so are the gondola companies to blame for the volcanic awakenings? Surely the foundations of the concrete foundations do not go down deep enough to cause any shifts in magma movements, but perhaps the culprit lies in something much more sociological.

Could this increase in volcanic instability be caused by Mother Nature herself, exacting revenge on the developers for littering her slopes with concrete and corrugated metal? Mother nature could not be reached for comment, but sources tell us that just after the New Year’s holiday she was in, for lack of a better term, ‘a thoroughly pissed-off mood.’ Perhaps the government’s plan to build a railway on the slopes of Japan’s most sacred peak was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The proposed railway is targeted for completion in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The railway could come in conjunction with a gondola system that would ferry visitors directly to the summit of the Japan’s tallest peak. See the connection?

The latest theory is that Mother Nature lit a smoke signal at Kusatsu-shirane, but officials didn’t take the hint, so she took a more direct approach by sending ash spewing at Ontake during the height of the autumn viewing season. The government is still on track to start construction of the railway, so another warning was ushered on Mt. Zao. Could this all be leading up to a final display of her fury, with a simultaneous eruptions of both Mt. Norikura and Mt. Fuji? Time will surely tell.

 

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The Gathering III

Every year I organize a gathering of mountaineers and hiking enthusiasts from my other site. The last two events were held in Kamikochi and a report of those trips can be found here and here. Miguel and I once again put our collective heads together over a cup of coffee at Yamagata station. While Kamikochi is a very nice location, I wanted to try a different place in hopes of keeping things fresh. The only problem with Kamikochi is that it is a destination in and of itself, which means that people attending the gathering would likely have been in the area regardless of whether the event was being held or not. Holding it at a different venue meant that people would actually have to go out of their way specifically to attend, which might help limit the number of participants. As the Facebook group continues to grow (surpassing 1500 members), we could be in serious trouble if even half that number decided to join in the event. Once the caffeine kicked in we brainstormed locations until agreeing on both a location and date: Togakushi Kogen in mid-September.

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I set out the day before the event on an early morning Limited Express train that barreled through the Kiso valley en route to Nagano city. The cloudless sky and incredible visibility meant that the Kita Alps escorted me through the urban sprawl of Matsumoto to the highlands of Hijiri Kogen, teeming with farmers trying to finish up the rice harvest before the onset of typhoon season. At the crest of the gentle rise the train glides past Obasute station to the secluded valley in which the Olympic host is so securely nestled. Legend has it that in feudal times of strife and famine, families used to abandon their infirmed elderly on the slopes of this mountain. Hard to fathom that an area with a tarnished past could be home to such breathtaking vistas.

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At Nagano station, I meandered through a giant maze of construction scaffolding on the way to bus stop number seven, where a bus shuttled me to Togakushi campground shortly past four in the afternoon. The cloud had already swallowed the surrounding mountains while I explored the vast grasslands of the camping area in search of a suitable place to set up base camp. Nestled at the end of the grounds near the bungalows sat a semi-secluded area with a surprisingly nice kitchen area and plenty of room for guests. Being an auto campground, I wanted to reserve an area where cars wouldn’t be able to park, since it detracts from the nature aspect of our outdoor experience. Fortunately it was an eerily quiet Friday evening, with only a handful of other campers dotted across the sprawling park. I knew that would all change the following day.

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The mountain drifted in and out of foggy consciousness as dusk set in. I cooked up a two-course meal of Vietnamese pho and carbonara pasta as the evening glow fizzled out. Tucking into my grub, I spotted two pairs of eyes glowing at the edge of my camp. Mistaking it for a feral cat, I turned on the headlamp, where, to my great surprise, a juvenile anagram (Japanese badger) waddled lazily into my front yard in search of nourishment. I watched for several minutes as the animal eventually found the bed of an adjacent stream more worthy of its attention. I’ve come across plenty of tanuki and several foxes, but badgers were a first.

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I hit the hay at the criminal hour of 8pm, hoping to somehow make it through the long night with at least a few hours of shut-eye. Between the barking of deer, the caws of the crows, and the screeches from wild owl, it was a fitful one, but once the first glows of light wafted into the tent at 5 in the morning, I felt somewhat refreshed. A hearty breakfast of leftover bread and oatmeal was prepared while I stared up at the wall of cloud still clinging heavily to the surrounding mountains. I had the option of an easier ascent up Mt. Iizuna, or the 5-star clambering up the cliffs of Togakushi. Fortunately the decision was made much easier when the first text message arrived just before 5:30. Paul and Rie were on the way and wanted to know which peak I had in mind for the morning. Togakushi had always been high on my radar, and having unexpected companionship sealed the deal.

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They arrived just as I was polishing off the grub and set up their tents in the area adjacent to my shelter. We were cautious not to leave too much space lest a car camper should intrude. As we were catching up and discussing the day’s plans, Yuta from Osaka showed up with a companion. They were planning to climb Mt. Takazuma and possibly Togakushi on the return if time permitted. It was barely past 6 in the morning and we already had a clan.

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The three of us set off on the climb (detailed in a forthcoming post) and made it back safely sometime before 2pm. Rie really wanted a hot spring bath, while Paul and I were absolutely famished. When given the choice between a meal and a bath, I always let the stomach do the talking, so we settled into one of the outdoor seats at Cafe Fleurir, an amazing place run by a husband-and-wife team. We split a pizza while each ordering a bowl of yaki curry, which is cooked in a similar way to gratin but there’s curry and rice in the ceramic cooking pot. The owner came out with his telescope and showed us the knife-edge ridge that got our hearts pumping earlier in the day. We looked for hikers but couldn’t find any at such a late hour in the day.

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After lunch, we literally crawled back into camp, our stomachs about to burst from the caloric overload. Naresh and family were already settled into their cabin, so after a quick change of clothes we all got to work preparing the meal before we lost the light of the sun. The first stop was the campground registration area, where we rented cooking pots and bought wood for the campfire. The next step was firing up the grill, and our resident pyrotechnician Yuta went right to work. Rie assisted in making guacamole as Naresh’s talented wife Seema made the vegetarian taco fillings. Of course, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so Paul chimed in with our first-ever Hiking in Japan slack line.

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After slacking, it was time to get down to business and make tacos. The grill was fired up, and Naresh’s children Prakhar and Pranita (and family friend Shrimal) made sure our tortillas were grilled to perfection. Toshi strolled into camp next, fresh from his ascent of Mt. Togakushi. We actually passed by him on the ridge, as he was doing the hike in reverse, something he did not recommend. The next member to join the party was David, who had just come down from Mt. Iizuna. Just before we were about to tuck into dinner, a car pulled up and a young man asked if this was the Hiking in Japan event. Kohei from Shizuoka has joined the celebration. He was new to Hiking in Japan but we welcomed him like family, and his fried chicken and beer were most welcome.

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As if things could not get any better, just as we were losing the last light of the day, a black sport-utility vehicle pulled into camp, a car which I definitely recognized from a hike in Hokkaido last month. It was Grace the Yamaholic making a cameo appearance. She could not stay for the camp event as she had plans to climb Yakeyama the following day, but she had come straight from the top of Mt. Kurohime to join us for a short time. Of course she brought some of her famous carrot cake with chocolate frosting.

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There was plenty of food to go around for all of us, and as the temperature dropped we all huddled around the glowing campfire for stories and conversation. Sometime during the evening, Paul, Kohei, Yuta and I decided to wander north of the campsite through the cow pastures in search of firewood. We eventually found some tree branches and brought them back to camp. On the way back, we spotted a man with a large tripod and high-quality camera taking night shots. It turned out to be Naresh’s son Prakhar, whose passion for photography and good music had us all impressed.

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Naresh prepared dessert, which consisted of David’s Belgian chocolate along with an improvised take on S’mores: we’d forgotten to get graham crackers so substituted Saltines in their place.  A sweet and salty version of America’s favorite campground snack if you will. They did the trick but next year we’re definitely not going to forget the graham crackers.

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The next day dawned clear, and I roused Paul out of bed so we could capture the first rays of the day glowing off of Mt. Togakushi. It was a decision neither of us would regret. After, Kohei, Rie, Yuta, Paul, and I drove to Kagami ike (mirror pond) to capture the reflection of Mt. Togakushi in the still waters.

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Back at camp, David had already departed on his early morning ascent of Mt. Takazuma (and Togakushi as well), so we didn’t get to say goodbye to him. We ate leftover tacos for breakfast, which had us absolutely stuffed. Toshi headed back to Matsumoto after he took an early morning stroll while Naresh and his family headed out on a day hike to the shrine and mirror pond. Yuta and Kohei set off for Mt. Togakushi, so soon it was just Rie, Paul, and I packing up the last remnants of camp. We left a little thank-you note and gift for Naresh to thank him for all of the hard work he put into the event.

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Rie drove Paul and I back to Nagoya, where we were already thinking about Gathering #4 next year, which we all agreed should be held at Togakushi again. There are still several peaks in the area neither of us had climbed, so any excuse to get back to one of Nagano’s best hiking areas is most welcome.

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There were several people whose presence was dearly missed. Co-organizers Viviana and Miguel both ended up getting sick and could not attend. Kaoru and Michal both had dates with their lovers (oops, I mean mountains!), and Tomomi was in China on a business trip. And if there’s anyone else i neglected to mention then my sincerest apologies. The Ontake eruption and the start of a busy semester have both preoccupied my thoughts.

 

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