Teaming up with Keisuke, another trail-runner, made the climbs longer but it was good to have company and especially welcoming to be made a cup of hot soup at 4:30 am in the freezing carpark. Hana may be a wonderful dog, but that’s one trick she has not learned. And he may have been slower going up the hills today, but at least he finished Hasetsune last year.
The winter route up Shirane followed a steep, snow-filled and rock-strewn gully. Had some novice made the first tracks in the snow, and everyone else followed? Later, I tried descending it on a tough plastic rubble bag, but within seconds was out of control and at risk of being emasculated by the rocks projecting from the receding snow.
After Shirane, we wasted an hour trying to find the forest road that might take us up to the 3rd station on Nantai; we overshot onto the one-way road and were forced to descend the hairpins into the valley, then wind back up Irohazaka to Lake Chuzenjiko. This was a spanner in the plans for three peaks today.
Nantai had certainly attracted the Golden Week crowds, including families with young kids in plimsoles and cotton T-shirts. Would you have been willing to ascend 1000 meters before reaching double figures? We also met a muscled runner who was flowing effortlessly down over the rocks. He stopped to chat, and I jokingly asked if his 60-liter rucksack was filled with bricks. “Er no, but it was filled with water on the way up, which I dumped at the top.” Practice. 3 hours 10 on Fuji Tozan. That’s a serious time.
Keisuke returned to Tokyo and I headed off for Sukai. It was 3 pm. Only 3.5 hours of daylight, and an unknown drive to get there. That was just as well, for it turned out to be 20 kilometers of rough dirt, the fresh green of spring giving way to the burned browns of winter as the road climbed around the mountain side. At around halfway, I came across a lone figure walking up the road, shouldering a large pack. Surely someone sufficiently committed to walk 20km to the start of the climb would not accept a lift, but he did. Before he climbed in, I apologized for the ammonia stench of my running clothes hanging from the line strung up in the back of the car, but he replied that he too was not a pleasant smell after walking for 2 hours in the afternoon sun. 80 of the 100 done, he was picking off a few each year, and hoped to finish within his lifetime, for he was no longer young. I felt deep warmth in his relaxed acceptance of fate.
Starting to climb at 4:30 pm elicited comments of surprise from the few remaining hikers descending through the forest, their brightly coloured clothing caught in the shafts of low sun. With a small pack containing 500ml of water, a few snacks for both of us, and a windbreaker, I was clearly not equipped to spend a night out, and they were concerned. But the route was safe and sweet, and I could feel the mountain beneath my feet in this remote area, far from the distracting masses of Nantai. Upon returning, I found the elderly gentleman’s simple A-frame tent tucked away down by the river, and let him know I was down safely. We shook hands and expressed mutual respect in that brief parting. It was just a fleeting moment, but real.
Once out of the mountains, a small family-run onsen was a just reward. It had been a long, hard day. Tucked into our small tent in the onsen’s carpark, and in spite of the busy roadside, Hana and I slept soundly. I love my dog.