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Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Arakawa’

I woke before dawn, boiling water for oatmeal in the early morning mist that enveloped the vestibule of Takayama hut. I needed every calorie at my disposal for the mammoth climb that lie ahead. Shortly after leaving the warm confines of my accommodation, I found a stream flowing past the trail, gushing clean, crystal-clear mountain water down into the valley below. Make no mistake about it: reliable water sources are in fresh abundance in the Minami Alps, a stark contrast to the huts of the Kita Alps, which sell rain runoff for exorbitant prices. I carried an extra liter in the rucksack, which I hoped would last until the next stream up and over the rocky spires of Mt. Warusawa.

The crawl up to Mae-dake, the first of the triple peaks of Warusawa, took what seemed like an eternity. Fortunately, the light mist gradually evaporated, revealing clear blue skies and hints of a sunny day ahead. The problem lie in the fact that I was heading up the western face of the peak, away from the warm rays that would make the wet, rocky col much easier to navigate. At least I wasn’t descending this route, I thought, as I picked my way through the boulder fields. Alas the ridge grew near, and one last sweaty push later, I sat on the cusp of my target peak, surveying Mt. Akaishi shimmering blissfully in the soft golden sunlight.

I turned left, dropping my gear at the emergency hut at Naka-dake before dropping to the saddle far below. Here a family of ptarmigan crossed the path, oblivious to my close presence. Warusawa’s eastern spire towered menacingly above, swirling in and out of the rapidly flowing clouds. Taking a deep breath, I marched in silence, hoping for an unobstructed view before the mist swallowed the peak for good. I got a quick summit shot off before white enveloped everything around me. Using the paint marks to guide me, I carefully retraced my steps back to my waiting pack, and marked another Hyakumeizan off the list. “Only one more to go today”, I quietly thought, knowing I’d have a huge drop and ascent before reaching it.

A few hundred vertical meters later, I popped out of the clouds and into warm sunshine. Groups of climbers made their way past me, towards the lofty peak I’d just climbed. For once I was happy I wasn’t joining them. Arakawa hut soon came into view, and I found myself sitting on the picnic tables absorbing morsels of vitamin D, when the hut manager came out for a chat. “Here, Japanese sweets”, offered the elderly caretaker. I grabbed a mochi-filled manju and talked about life in the mountains. “Yes, you can see Mt. Fuji from here, but not today”, explained my informative guide. A thick layer of cloud lie between us and Japan’s signature peak. He wished me luck for my rather intimidating afternoon climb. “You’re lucky. Winds are calm today, but a typhoon is on the way.” It’d been a while since I’d seen a weather forecast, but September in the mountains is always a gamble.

Soon enough I rose back into the cloud, counting my steps until even that became a bore. I tried singing my favorite tunes, but nothing could shake this feeling of regret. Sure I was out in nature, but wasn’t this the same scenery I’d seen time and time and time again? A multitude of mountains in the fog, yet all with the same alpine blur. As I was pondering  these thoughts, I’d reached the crest of a hill and realized I was sitting on top of Ko-Akaishi, which was nearly a stones throw away from the summit. Dropping my things, I double checked the map times, and my watch. “Hmm, 2 hours from Arakawa”, read the suggested pace, but here I was 70 minutes after my mochi break. I’d definitely had no trouble acclimatizing to the altitude. My doldrums suddenly vanished as quickly as they appeared and I pushed on with renewed vigor.

After reaching the top, I coasted along the ridge down to Hyakkenbora Yama-no-ie, my home for the night. This time around I’d booked a place with two hot meals. After the incredibly long day, I needed the extra protein to see me through the rest of the traverse.

The majority of climbers take at least 2 days to cover the same distance I’d managed in 1. All in all about a dozen people shared the floor space that night, with all eyes glued on the post-dinner weather report. The prognosis was not good, as the Minami Alps lie directly in the path of the advancing typhoon. What could we do but hope, pray, and wait?

Day 3

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