Thunk! The bat hit me squarely in the middle of the forehead with an almighty thwack that made me yelp. The insects that had attracted it were still frantically buzzing around the headlamp into which the bat had crashed.
It was 2 am, the stars were out, and I was pulling my way up Zange-zaka, which translates loosely as “Sorry-I’m-so-steep hill”. I had a deadline to meet Keisuke at 11 am at Uzen-Komatsu, the nearest train station.
At 4, there was sufficient light as I reached the start of the snow, but there were no footprints visible in the wavy, hardened crust. I was soon lost, off the snow and fighting through the slippery stalks of two-meter high dense sasa grass, following the GPS toward the true track on the ridge. (This must have been where Hana picked up more than 40 ticks. These work their way up toward the dog’s soft ears and eyes, then bury their front claws and head deep into the flesh and drink their fill, swelling to the size and colour of an azuki bean.)
Beyond 切合小屋 hut
another few hundred meters of snowfield still clung to the ridge trail, but this was now the regular trail from 川入 and therefore easy to follow. A group of five elderly male hikers in full goretex and crampons, who had just started out from the hut, were startled to be passed at 5 in the morning by a foreigner in running shorts and shoes, followed by a dog.
Another cold, wind-swept summit in the clouds was not conducive to lingering. I was back at the car by 8, with time to wash in the river and find that I too had picked up a tick, on that most tender of parts.
I picked up Keisuke from the station and, after a 20 km detour around a collapsed road, we started up Asahidake in the early afternoon. It was so much more enjoyable to have company and he kept me going, although I could not keep up with his pace. Hana too was suffering, taking the chance at stream crossings to lie down in the water and cool off.
We met no-one else along the way, even though this was a Saturday. We were pleased to be up & down in 5 hours and 10 minutes, but the owner of Asahi Kosen hut at the base shattered any illusions we might have – the record was 3:40 return. By a schoolboy.