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Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Hiuchi’

The next morning, after a bit of a sleep-in (7am wake-up instead of the usual Japanese start of 4am), we packed our gear and contemplated our next move. The rain had moved in with a vengeance, and any thought of scaling Mt. Hiuchi in this natural shower seemed crazy, but here I was faced with a mountain so close that it would be a huge setback not to reach the summit on this outing. We reached a compromise: I’d head out alone, bringing only a water bottle and a bag of peanuts. Kanako would wait in the warm, dry hut for my return, at which time both of us would head down to the trailhead at Sasa-ga-mine. “See you in 1 hour”, I affirmed with a look of disbelief from the other hikers and hut staff. “There’s no way he’ll be back in an hour”, retorted the hut owner, proclaiming that Kanako wouldn’t see her husband until at least early afternoon. The map times alloted 2-1/2 hours just to reach the summit of Hiuchi from here, and that’s without the return time. A challenge was on and I was more than ready for it.

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With a dash I set off into the downpour, wearing only my rain suit. I pushed up and over Mt. Chausu and down to the junction at Kouya-ike in only 15 minutes. From there, the marshlands in front of the hut resembled one giant lake, partially covered with yet another thick patch of slippery snow. Relentless I was in my pursuit, flying past the buried wooden walkways of the Tengu’s garden before reaching the ridge for the final push towards Hiuchi. The clouds had lifted a little, revealing the peak in all its verdant green beauty. Breathtaking though it was, I didn’t loiter around too long, marching up the final set of wooden steps to the high point. Time check: 40 minutes from Kurosawa hut. Not bad for a guy with a leaky heart valve.

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The snowfields catalyzed my ascent, and I would have easily made it back within the hour if not for a brief stop at Kouya-ike hut. “Excuse me”, I asked the staff, “do you know the bus schedule from Sasa-ga-mine to the station?” The reply bounced back as if returned by a professional table tennis player: “There is no bus”, explained the hut manager Masa, “but I’m heading down later today and can give you a ride.” With this extremely good piece of news, I once again set off for Kurosawa, arriving exactly 1 hour and 15 minutes after leaving Kanako behind.

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“You made it to the summit?”, quizzed the hut staff, still spellbound by my Jamaican speed runner pace. Rest breaks are pretty pointless when you’ve got no view and you’re soaked to the bone. I was ashamed to admit that I was pretty spent after that insane burst of energy. We ordered some hot noodles as reward for knocking off Hiuchi. I alternated mouthfuls of buckwheat with morsels of trail mix and chocolate, trying to up my calorie intake to compensate for the increased exertion. We finally hit the trail together just before noon, keeping a brisk pace in case the hut owner should beat us to the bottom. We didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by making them wait unnecessarily for us, so we skipped steadily ahead until reaching Fujimi-daira, where the trail from Kouya-hut met the main trail from Kurosawa. We rested leisurely here among the cover of the forest canopy, knowing that even if the hut staff caught us we could walk together in relative ease.

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Reaching the parking lot around 3pm, we searched for any signs of our saviors, but no one was in sight. We waited in the small shelter marking the entrance to the trail, hoping that we hadn’t somehow missed them. About half an hour later, the group of 4 from the hut strolled in, and we were whisked to Myoko Kougen station to catch our train. As a way of thanking the kind hut staff, we offered to treat him and his girlfriend to a later afternoon snack, so we headed to a noodle shop and listened to some pretty insane stories from our driver. “You see this scar?’, buzzed Masa, pointing to a gash just below his lower lip, “I fell off a cornice while skiing and my upper teeth went right through my lip.” This was a man that truly lived on the edge, and enjoyed every minute of his life.

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Overall, despite the foul weather and treacherous conditions, the mission was a resounding success. I was now up to 52 mountains under my belt, but had a long summer and autumn ahead of me if I wanted to reach the magic number 70 before the end of the year.

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4:30am. Yuuki and I crawl out of the warm futon, and venture out onto the frozen lake. Kanako stays clinged to her bedding, enveloped in her ensuing dream. Our plan? Watch the sunrise and assess snow conditions for our target peak of the day.

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Peaceful, tranquil, magical. All alone, one crunchy step at a time, we traverse. The morning fog hanging on the horizon like a partially extinguished cigarette. Hiuchi rises gracefully from the edge of the lake, still wrapped in a blanket of cloud. We set out a plan of attack. Yuuki will climb ahead of us, laying an easy track to follow to the first peak of Manaitagura, where he’ll wait for us to arrive. Then, we’ll attack the adjacent peak of Shibayasugura, the official high point. 1-2-3 go!

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Breakfast was demolished in record time, and off we trekked through the lonely forest. Even though it was Golden Week, we found ourselves completely alone, on an unparalleled traverse to Tohoku’s highest summit. Yuuki moved along skillfully in the distance, while Kanako and I took a more leisurely approach. Gradually the views opened up, until we found ourselves staring straight down into the iced-filled bogs of Oze. Soon the place would be overrun with thousands of elderly folks rubbing elbows to capture the Mizu-basho in full bloom. The flower, unluckily named skunk cabbage in English, is what makes this marshland so well-known throughout Japan. Heck, there’s even a song about it!

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Our first target peak for the day slowly came into view – a pyramidal collection of strata dominating the horizon for miles around. A perfect lump of white mass, sans three large rock projections poking their heads above the snow drifts, as if to take their first fresh breath of spring. Kanako and I soon caught up with Yuuki on the summit of the first peak. He’d had over an hour’s worth of peaceful rest, and was rearing to have a go at Shibayasugura. I willingly obliged. By now the crowd on the summit had grown tenfold, thanks in part to the mass of hikers who took the easier approach from Mi-ike.

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Yuuki and I quickly descended to the saddle. Kanako was left with camera duties on the ‘safe’ peak. Slipping, sliding, and occasionally breaking through the snow down to our thighs, we arrived at the foot of the behemoth monster. One brave solo hiker saw what we were up to and quickly caught up with us. “Umm, which way should we go?”, I hesitantly inquired, not willing to admit that I was just the slightest bit apprehensive about our impending climb. I’ve climbed my fair share of treacherous peaks before, but I have to admit I was downright intimidated. The only footsteps led directly up the mass of ice, a near vertical ascent. Easy on a cool day with the right equipment, but here we were, without ice axes or full crampons, trying to decide our next move. The other solo hiker couldn’t wait for our indecisiveness, and quickly laid out a trickly traverse towards the right. Not knowing his experience level, we opted not to follow (there’s nothing worse than someone falling on you) and chose the vertical ascent.

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Since I had 6-point crampons, I was designated lead climber and quickly started kick-stepping a stable path. Yuuki only had 2-point crampons, so I made sure to dig my feet firmly into position before taking the next step. Miraculously, we were both able to successfully navigate the dense walls, popping out on the ridge just ahead of the other climber. On we raced to the summit of my 88th peak. Standing on the rocks, I waved enthusiastically back across the saddle to my waiting wife and the large crowd now gathered. The mass of onlookers were cheering us on, guzzling beer and quizzing my wife about my background.

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On the decent, we opted for the path our lone hiker had carved, since it was much gentler and more navigable that our ascending route. Once out of the danger zone, Yuuki and I glissaded back down to the saddle and raced back to my waiting wife. A chorus of cheers and hi-fives ensued, followed by offers of alcoholic refreshments, which we politely refused. Yuuki, on a tight schedule, descended ahead of us, intending to make it all the way over to Oshimizu in time to catch the last bus. Kanako and I had already booked another night in the hut, so we set a more manageable pace for ourselves. The bath at the hut was most welcome, as we even bought matching ‘quick dry’ souvenir shirts to celebrate our success.

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Reality set in the next morning, when we had to descend down to Oshimizu and back to the urban confines of Osaka. The rush of knocking off another famous mountain kept me saturated for the rest of May, but with another dozen left on the list, the hunger remained.

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