Kobushi & Ryokami


It was not easy to leave the warm futon at 3:30 am and trudge out with Hana in the cold pre-dawn to pick up the rented car, the air broken only by the clattering of the newspaper delivery motorscooters. The logistics of getting to and from the mountains appear once again to be harder than the actual climbing. The start of the Kobushi trail two hours later was deserted. In the quiet stillness of the morning, the mountain looked foreboding, wreathed in thick cloud and with a desolate air. Zero degrees and in running gear. I ran along the rindo to 西沢山荘, where the hut had that unloved, abandoned feel (it was), and changed into spiked IceBug shoes; those Swedes know how to handle winters!

“Hayai desu ne,” grunted a solitary elderly hiker, clad in de rigeur checked shirt, plus-fours and long woolen socks. At this time of the morning the crust was still firm and the going fast. There was just one hairy part in the short exposed dip before the peak where the snow had an ice covering and both Hana and I started to slide off the ridge. Was that a look of momentary panic in her face? The same look as at the beach last year, when a wave carried her out to sea!

Once back at the rindo, several young couples were out walking in the morning sunshine. Their presence was reassuring. Mmm . . . I will never have the mental strength to be a hard-core solitary climber.

In contrast, Ryokami felt alive, the trail well maintained with beautifully crafted fresh signposts, and scores of hikers. No excuse for stopping, other than to take pictures at the top as the first flurry of snowflakes confirmed the forecast, and to get down quickly to the onsen at the michi-no-eki. Perhaps some of that gasoline tax is well spent after all.

Half-way home at last. Time for an Achilles treat.

Mugikusa looped


This had not been the plan. Not one of the 100, and already climbed. But as the Azusa sped out west, the hill-tops on either side became progressively whiter, and the plan to tackle Kobushi-dake now without crampons or ice axe seemed unwise.

Instead, the day was spent on a 20km loop from route 299 below Mugikusa-toge, along to Pilatus, piston up Kita-Yokodake, and down over the saddle to Amaike, where 20 snowshoers were basking in the midday sunshine on the frozen lake.

The climb back to Mugikusa was a long battle in the melting snow with no other tracks.