With the success of the first Kamikochi gathering, it came time to start thinking about another meeting of the mountaineering minds in Kamikochi. Miguel and I talked about possible dates, and with the feedback of other members of the Facebook community, we nailed down the weekend of the autumnal equinox as the official date. The rules were the same as last time: find your own way there and bring some food to share.
This time around, instead of the grassy fields of Tokusawa, we set our sights on the forested flatlands of Konashi-daira, a short hop from the bus terminal. This would allow not only children to attend, but for other mountaineers to use our site as a base camp for the weekend. Miguel and Brant headed in early on Thursday to secure a site with a picnic table, as I caught the 6am train from Osaka on Friday morning. I made surprisingly good time, arriving at Kamikochi bus terminal in the late morning with some of the best September weather I’ve seen in the Alps.
I immediately located Brant (and family) and Miguel, set up my modest camp, and met up with another member Dean, who had come with his wife and young child. We spent most of the day getting to know each other, with the kids chasing monkeys and the adults chasing mountain dreams. As the afternoon lost the battle with evening, Brant, Miguel, and I retreated back to camp, making a cosy fire and preparing a wonderful curry dinner. As we settled in around the fire, a familiar face strolled into camp. It was Michal, a friend from Osaka who had just come in from a long trip up the Yatsumine ridge on Tsurugi. Michal went right to work, honing his Czech-trained fire crafting skills, keeping the inferno blazing brilliantly the rest of the night. Sitting around the fire sharing stories made us all soon forget the tough effort it had taken to get there, with traffic jams, crowded transport, and noisy tourists.
The next morning, after a fitful sleep, the first of the guests began arriving, Paul from Nagoya rolled into camp and set up shop next to me, showing off the wind-bent poles after his long summer trip in Iceland. We took over a sunny area near the river, leisurely making breakfast and coffee under the brilliant sun, before heading off to Myojin for an early afternoon stroll. Brant and Dean headed back with the kids, while Miguel, Paul and I explored the tranquil shores of the lake before looping back around towards Kappabashi. Just before reaching there, we ran into Kayo, an old student of mine who was visiting Kamikochi with a couple of her European friends. After catching up, the boys headed back towards camp, snacking on ice cream and ohagi before rolling into camp in mid-afternoon. By then, most of the members has started to file in as we all started introducing each other.
I recognized Naresh immediately, while Kevin and I caught up briefly. Viviana, Aidan, David, Tomasu, Michael, Maya, Miguel, Michal, Kaoru, Paul and a host of others stared the preparations for dinner. In all the chaos I can’t remember exactly who was doing what, but I do remember it involved avocados, taco fillings, salad, tortilla chips, refried beans, and fresh tortillas toasted over the campfire. The great mexican mountain feast ensued, leaving a happily satisfied group of mountaineers. Tomomi showed up shortly before dark, having just come down off the Hotaka mountains. Ben and Romaric asked us all about our hiking plans the following day. In all our haste in preparing dinner we hadn’t really discussed our plans. Several ideas were tossed about before being finalized in the darkness surrounding the outskirts of the fire: looks like we had two different groups heading up to three different peaks. One was headed to Oku-hotaka, another to Yake and a third up to Tokugo pass. Aidan also planned a solo outing up to Oku-hotaka via the tough Dakesawa route, while Michal had his eye on the northern ridge of Mae-hotaka. In the midst of the reverie, Yamaboy made a surprise appearance, catching everyone off guard before retreating to the depths of the woods in search of Grace Yamaholic.
As the night drew on, our members gradually retreated to their tents. Most would be on the trail before dawn. Those of us heading up to Tokugo, on the other hand, had hoped for a more leisurely start. With the full moon flooding our camp with a strong white light, I suggested an evening hike to the pond at the bottom of Dakesawa, so Miguel, Naresh, Michael, Tomomi, Baku, and David (and maybe Tomasu?) strolled off into the dark. There may have been one or two other people lurking in the depths of the forest.
The next morning, while most of the overachievers were on their way to the peaks, the late starters indulged in breakfast and a hot bath before hitting the trail around noon. We strolled through the forest, each at their own pace, before making our way up to Tokugo pass. It was an enjoyable afternoon break from the chaos of Kamikochi below. On the way back, I stopped by the restaurant at Konashi-daira to have a late lunch and ran into Kaoru and her boyfriend there. They had been up Yake-dake and showed me some photos. After filling my belly, it was time to start preparing for our Sunday evening meal. This time everyone was on their own for dinner, but we managed to have enough food and people involved to throw together yet another group dinner, which was most welcome. When planning a large gathering, it’s tough to find active participants that will pull their own weight, but everyone came together when it counted. We ate and chatted long into the evening. Paul told some rousing campfire stories while we all listened in with envy. Rie, Justin, and Andy also joined us for the Sunday evening festivities, after coming off Mt. Yari earlier in the day.
Monday morning came and went, and none of us were too enthusiastic about packing up and heading back to reality. The weekend really flew by, and it was great to finally put some faces together with names. The foreign hiking community in Japan is strong and informative, with none of the competitive snobbishness you tend to find among adrenaline junkies in some of the other outdoor playgrounds worldwide. With two successful outdoor gatherings in Kamikochi, it will soon be time to start planning the third gathering for next summer, which will hopefully build upon the success of the other two.