The dog was not happy to be turfed out of bed at 3 am, and neither was I, but having been rained off last weekend I felt pressure to seize this dry window during the rainy season.
Route 20 was populated only by the long-distance trucks hammering along and avoiding expressway tolls, then the last 10 km of rough dirt shook off the vestiges of sleep.
I parked the car at the trailhead by an abandoned hut that was being devoured by the forest, and headed up. After 20 minutes of climbing, the trail temporarily broke out into a clearing that was the true end of the road, another 300 meters higher. Still, in a Honda Z weighing close on a ton but powered by only 660cc, perhaps it had been quicker to hike.
There appeared to be no one else on the mountain, and upon reaching the rocky summit of Yakushidake, the Southern Alps hit me with their rugged grandeur. A jagged ridge puncturing the sky with almost 100 km of trail stretching to Tekari at the southernmost end. Kaikomagadake was already bereft of snow, but Ainodake was still struggling to shake off the winter. And the main route up Kitadake (Daikambasawa, below) was still a lethal snow gully streaked with rockfall from the Buttress.
The open ridge to Houousan was one of the most enjoyable walks so far, with views as far as Norikura and Hakuba, and quiet save for the cascading snowmelt far below. I trotted along the white/grey gravel that gives the mountains their whitish appearance from the Chuo line valley, and on the return, met the first and only hiker (thanks for the photo, H).
It felt unreal to be back down in that valley and at work by 10am, looking up at where I had snatched a morning worth living.