Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Tanzawa’

The lights came on at 6am, which, for Japanese mountain hut standards, is a late start. The amicable caretaker prepared a modest meal consisting mostly of pickled vegetables and rice: precisely the same food we ate the previous night, but such is life in a dwelling with no running water. I was so tired and hungry I could’ve eaten anything, and my wife didn’t exhibit the faintest sense of dismay. I raced excitedly back and forth between my simple breakfast and the window, trying to catch a peek at the horizon. I definitely didn’t want to miss this photo op, so I grabbed my gear and bolted for the frigid solitude of darkness.

The horizon slowly changed hues, while I jumped around in circles trying to stave off hypothermia. Unsurprisingly, none of the other 4 guests followed in my footsteps, deciding that a warm kerosene heater was more important than watching nature’s light show.

Most people think that the moment the sun scrapes the edge of the horizon as the most beautiful part of the sunrise but I beg to differ. Still, I knew the others would eventually follow suit and join me in welcoming a new day.

Shortly before daybreak, Kanako and I turned out eyes (and lenses) away from the glow of the east and faced mighty Fuji, for it was time to give the birthday girl one last present on our unforgettable trip. Atmospheric conditions seemed perfect for nature to deliver the phenomenon known as akafuji, forever memorialized in a Hokusai print of the same name. “Here it comes,” I screamed.

“Quick, get one of me,” my wife demanded. It was perhaps the only time in my life where watching the actual sunrise took second stage to the spectacle occurring further west.

Even the Shirane-Sanzan joined in on the fun.

One of the other 3 guests joining our early morning camaraderie was a curious young gentleman named Satoshi Nagata, who spent the better part of the morning taking panoramic photos for his remarkable website, Panorama 360. Web technology now allows designers to create realistically stunning three-dimensional views that, when viewed on a large screen, appear to magically transport the viewer to the scene in question. Click here to see Satoshi’s composition on the morning of December 28th, 2005. My crouched figure appears at the edge of the photographer’s skewed shadow, while the bright yellow jacket of my lovely wife prepares to snap a photo of the other husband and wife team. We later all gathered together in the lobby of the shelter, where the warden presented the birthday girl with a commemorative shikishi, a square personalized celebratory signboard.

After a long exchange of pleasantries, we geared up and bade farewell to our generous host, and all headed in unison towards the bus stop at Tono. Crampons definitely helped with the icy bits below the summit, as we all cruised towards Jizo-taira (地蔵平) before a short climb towards the junction at Himetsugi (姫次), the highest point on the Tokai Nature trail that stretches from Tokyo to Osaka. It was here that we entered the tree line and lost the jaw-dropping views of Japan’s most revered peak. I used up the last of my film, zooming out to capture the entire stretch of the Japan Alps hovering in the distance.

On the bus ride back towards the metropolis, I reflected upon the year, which started with a long traverse in March of another one of Tokyo’s famous peaks, Mt. Kumotori. From there I embarked on two separate traverses in the Minami Alps, followed by a relatively productive autumn which knocked off a few of the more challenging day hikes. I still had 7 more peaks to go before hitting the magic #50, but was determined to reach my goal before the next rainy season. Time to plan.

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As we dropped off the northern reaches of Tou-no-dake’s bald flank, the path turned to crusty snow and ice. We held off on crampons for the time being, sticking slowly and firmly to the exposed edges of the wooden steps. Kanako seemed to enjoy her first true descent on the unbroken traverse.

Once out of the trouble zone, we cruised on the heavily-eroded sun baked ridge towards the summit of Mt. Tanzawa. We thought about abandoning our goal of Mt. Hiru in favor of staying at Miyama hut, but my internal voice told me to keep moving. It was 2:30pm when we reached the signpost.

Kanako seemed to be possessed by some unnamed spirit, for even though she was starting to show signs of fatigue, she never complained about it. Fueled by the power of the anniversary of her birth, I once again let her take the lead on the windy path, hoping she’d settle in on a steady pace.

We hit our next roadblock at a place called Oni-ga-Iwa (The Devil’s Rock). The loss of daylight was now clearly noticeable on the pink tinted hills, as the path turned into a tricky rock scramble. Kanako, none too confident on the steep terrain, froze with unease. Patches of ice made the descent downright treacherous, but it was too late to put on the crampons. Acting as her guide, I talked her through the area step-by-step like a choreographer working through a particularly complex dance routine. Reaching the final saddle before our target, I looked back on the towering inferno.

My wife’s energy was zapped, as her pace turned to a crawl. I raced ahead to drop off my pack on the summit, only to find my wife gazing blissfully at a pack of wild deer upon my return. “Just a few more meters” I quipped, well aware that she’d be quite content with her current position. “I’ve got a present awaiting.”

I led my wife by the hand, pulling her the last few steps towards Mt. Hiru’s impressive vantage point. Directly in front of us, the glowing ball of the Solar System’s brightest star sank rapidly behind Japan’s highest peak.

We gazed silently in disbelief,

as dusk fell on the sprawling metropolis a thousand meters below.

“This is the best birthday present ever,” proclaimed Kanako, who suddenly realized that the best gifts in life are those which cannot be bought. We slowly retreated to the warm hut, startling the caretaker with our ‘late’ arrival (even if it was only 5:30pm). I had another gift planned for the following morning and was praying that the high pressure system would honor my request.

Part 3

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We both woke before dawn, anxious to flee the capital city before the onslaught of the morning commute. Leaving the warm confines of Madoka’s cozy apartment, Kanako and I head southwest to Shibusawa, home to the Tanzawa mountains and our playground for the next two days of celebrating my wife’s 28th birthday. Things just had to go smoothly.

From the bus stop at Okura, we flew up the forest road under picture perfect skies, chatting gingerly about life in the mountains. I knew we had a tough 1400m ascent staring us straight in the face, but refrained from spoiling the birthday girl’s chipper mood by keeping this information to myself. Entering the forest, we started our relentless climb up the spine of the mountain range that runs through the heart of Kanagawa Prefecture on the outskirts of Tokyo. The path snaked past a couple of teahouses before entering an area of golden grasslands.

“Turn around”, I said, after letting Kanako set the pace for our morning goal of Tou-no-dake. “Woah”, replied the newly-turned 28 year-old beauty, whose cries of joy turned to wails of delight upon discovering the towering cone in the distance was indeed Mt. Fuji.

The smiles continued unabated as we reached the knob that housed Sonbutsu hut. It was just past noon as we took a quick lunch break and observed our surroundings. “When do we check-in”, asked my wonderful wife, as I gently led her to a clearing overlooking the peaks to the north. “As soon as we reach that hut”, I proclaimed, pointing to a point way off in the distance. Most hikers do not attempt to make it to Hiru-ga-take in one day from Ogura, but I knew exactly what I was doing…..or did I?

Part 2

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