Hiking, Japan, Mountains
Comments 4

Boulder-Hopping in Wildflower Heaven

Well, folks, here I am again in my de facto Tokyo office with the soft-jazz soundtrack and the students frowning over their papers and textbooks with the single caramel frappuccino they’ll ride till the ice melts and beyond, and the convenient power outlets spaced along the window bench — my main reason for hanging here (apart from the tobacco-free policy).

Su-tā-bakku-su. 

I’ve been busy, and it doesn’t seem like my posts on this trip will ever be less than a week older than the events they describe. Here I am about to talk about Day 3 of my Daisetsuzan adventure and since then I’ve already done two Tohoku hikes and returned yesterday from a magnificent (but very hard) three-day trek through the Minami (South) Alps, highest range in Japan.

It nearly killed me, but it was worth it!

You’ll remember the busted tent pole from last post. Well, at a little ma-and-pa outdoor store just around the corner here in Kichijoji, an energetic youngster in jeans tight enough to break bones was able to decipher my problem and after hunting around upstairs, produced a single piece of tubing just wider than the poles and a perfect repair sleeve.

I would be able to stave off homelessness in the high country. The poles worked perfectly — it was the floor of my decade-old tent that failed me, spectacularly, the night before last, when an alpine downpour had me retreating with all my valuables to my air-mattress island while a lake formed around me.

Then my mattress began deflating. It was quite a night. I decided to bail yesterday morning before I entered the really wild country. Booked a hotel online when I’d descended, (tough, as it’s now O-Bon, one of those annual travel-nightmare periods over here), bussed it back to Shinjuku, and did two loads of laundry, one for my stinky rags and one for a very muddy and wet tent.

For the second time on this trip, I’m in clean clothes. And my technology is mostly justifying its weight. I was even able to skype with Kate this morning from the park. I just wish such a large part of each day wasn’t sacrificed to recharging!

Today I threw out the mattress, bought a new one plus a space blanket as a sort-of groundsheet, and booked a ticket for tomorrow. I’m squeezing in one more big-mountain overnight hike before I split for Kyoto on the 16th: Yatsu-ga-Take, which I’ve never walked.

I hope it’s less exhausting than writing this intro…

Back to Hokkaido and my favourite day in Daisetsuzan — and one of the most exciting day’s hiking I’ve done anywhere…

 *          *          *          *          *

That pair of women from Sapporo got started long before me; my back was giving me a hard time. I refilled at this rather picturesque water source…

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Nope, I never bothered treating it, it seemed pretty clean!

..crossed the frozen stream and started making some height — in the wrong direction.

Doubling back with a world-weary sigh, I ran into Masataka, the friendly one from the hut:

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Masataka was doing my course in reverse.

“Taking pictures?” he asked.

“Er…yes.” I realised that a camera around one’s neck could mask all kinds of idiocy. A valuable lesson.

We parted with a handshake, I took the correct turn, and almost immediately, a kita kitsune — northern fox, a symbol, like the brown bear, of Hokkaido — strolled across the path ahead, utterly unconcerned about my presence.

Of course my camera battery had just died. And of course, as I reloaded it in an adrenal rush, all my settings were way off, and I’ll include the result only to give you an idea:

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They’re actually a pest around a lot of huts up here, so habituated to human transients have they become.

The first climb was over fairly painlessly, and then after battling through dense, ankle-snagging dwarf-pine thickets, the fun began. Well, I don’t remember now which began first: the fun or the bad weather. But they were sorta bound together for the rest of the day, with the fun mostly maintaining the upper hand:

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The trail passed a succession of beautiful little ponds…

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..often negotiated via duckboards, which as well as protecting the trailside vegetation kept your boots — or sandals — relatively dry & were just plain fun to walk.

This was a really marshy section in which dozens of wildflower species were thriving. I’ve never seen such a profusion of wild blooms, and the colours really leapt out from the margins of the plank-walk beneath the dark skies and on-again-off-again rain:

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Daylillies: one of the few species I can identify with any certainty!

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I was alone up there and having a blast. Despite the rain and wind, it wasn’t cold — in fact, I’d take it over the stinking heat anytime. I just had to keep the cameras reasonably dry — plus, squatting or bending over to get up close to a flower is murder on the knees and diaphragm when you’re strapped to a heavy pack!

It was hard to leave that beautiful spot, but there was no telling with that weather, so on into the gloom I rushed…

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..and shortly left the marshlands behind…

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..to enter a landscape so wild, it could serve as an excellent backdrop for a Game of Thrones episode:

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Misty (actually clouds), fantastic moorlands, where streaks of snow had survived well into Summer.

I was feeling so good, I decided to stop for a coffee-and-Snickers break…

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Waiting for the kettle to boil.

..before I stepped into the really fantastic country:

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I hate to do it, but I’m going to have to throw in the word magical for this next stretch of trail:

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Honestly, I’d better just let the pictures do the talking, or I’ll be reduced to blathering about elves and freakin’ pixies…

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No Country for Old Sandals.

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Ducking and weaving with camera and umbrella, donning and removing my rain jacket as the rain and humidity came and went, I would have stayed longer, but there were rocks to hop — a bumper crop of rocks. The trail as such disappeared, replaced by paint-marks on boulders:

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It was a new kind of fun. I’ll say this about these Daisetsuzan rocks: for some reason they’re not excessively slippery when wet.

Fortunately:

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My book quoted a Japanese guidebook as describing Mt Tomuraushi — the day’s major and ultimate climb — as “a mountain made from a pile of stones”.

The approach was vague; I’m not sure where the mountain technically “began”, but it was an exciting stretch, alternating between expanses of rocky, misty moors, boulder fields and…piles of stones:

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Somebody’s idea of a helpful trail arrow.

The last section of serious climbing began at the shore of a wind-lashed pond — lake? — where waves, unseen in the gloom, were thrashing against the rocks.

At last I made the 2,141.2 m (7,025 ft) summit…

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Tomuraushi is one of those rare mountains where no kanji — Chinese characters — are used in the name, with the exception of 山 (mountain). So I have no idea what the name means.

..with the rain whipped by winds strong enough that I abandoned my daydreams of a summit coffee, and quickly started down the far side.

I’d rate Tomuraushi, one of the Hyaku-meizan, or 100 Famous Mountains (nobody does lists like the Japanese), of which I’ve probably climbed a dozen or so, as up there with the most enjoyable mountain hikes I’ve ever done.

But that big pile of rocks has a sinister side:

On July 16, 2009, eight members of an adventure tour group on a 4-day hiking trek died of exposure on Mount Tomuraushi. Five others from the group were helicoptered to safety. On the same day, another climber died on nearby Mount Biei. The next day a lone hiker was found dead on Mount Tomuraushi. (Wikipedia)

My book described a “beautiful campsite” at Minami-Numa (South Pond/Marsh) on the far side of the mountain. It was a necessarily slow descent with the rain, very poor visibility and mud, and when the cloud cover cleared for two or three magical seconds, suddenly there was a huddled little cluster of brightly coloured tents, almost glowing in the gloom.

Then they were gone.

A little later I found them again…

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..greeted the Sapporo women before they quickly zipped up their tents and withdrew from the worsening weather, and got my own shelter up in the last nether-light.

My guidebook described the next two days’ walking as variously “difficult”, “long”, “hard” and “demanding”, and I settled down on my leaky mattress to take a few sips of Nikka whisky and contemplate my options, while fusillades of raindrops strafed the fly, the wind rocked my roof and walls, and we were engulfed again in cloud…

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My tent in the last gasp of daylight.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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4 Comments

  1. Just a hint for Hokkaido place names – many of them are of Ainu origin and some reflect this by being written only in katakana. Japanese Wikipedia says the name Tomuraushi means “place of many flowers” or possibly “place of limescale”. It also gives a kanji reading 富良牛山.

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