The Southern Alps may not have the name value of the Northern Alps simply because of their inaccessibility. After a three-hour local train and an eye-watering Yen 17,000 taxi ride later, the driver dropped me at the trail head. He was clearly nervous about driving deep into the mountains at night, and before he left, handed me a couple of biscuits.
Perhaps I should have placed them under my tongue as payment for the ferryman across the Styx, for that was how I felt, embarking on a journey into another world on the roof of the Alps where I would remain for the next three days.
But it was a relief to be climbing up through the forest, gaining altitude and leaving the heat of the valley below. The rainy season had officially ended with the last downpour earlier in the day, and temperatures would soon soar into the 30s. The soft pine-needle path was still warm and damp, and the full moon cast ghostly, moving shadows that played among the tree roots.
I reached the Tekari hut campsite at 1 am but there were no other campers to disturb. The campsite was a small but cosy hollow next to the hut, and had been carefully leveled and cleaned of stones by the intelligent, lively couple who ran the hut. They came out in the morning to warn me to stock up on water at the spring a few minutes below, since there was no other water for the next five and a half hours to Chaosudake.
But I flunked this first test. After 30 minutes of descending, a sense of panic began to rise. I had clearly missed the water, and had no more than a cupful remaining in the Platypus. The morning sun glistened tantalizingly on the dew-covered grasses and ferns lining the path. I tried to scoop up the beads of water with the plasticized map, but it was clearly not enough to slake our thirst.
I had no extra clothing, other than Goretex, down jacket and a spare pair of underpants. There was no choice. I took out the underpants and brushed them repeatedly through the grasses, then wrung out the dew into a bowl. Soon Hannah and I had drunk our fill, leaving only the soapy aftertaste of Fabreeze. At least they were my own underpants…
It was a relief to arrive at Chaosu and find the hut had just opened for the summer season. The staff had arrived that morning, and vivid red tomatoes were bobbing in an ice-cold bucket of running snowmelt. I was the first visitor, and a girl brought me a cup of tea and cakes, all part of the most friendly welcome I have ever received at a hut.
We set off for Hijiridaira hut. I would decide there whether to continue or camp. Another few hours later in the rising heat and both the dog and I were wilting upon arrival. Some snacks for the dog and salty noodles for me revived spirits and we set off again, now committed to reaching the Hyakkenbora hut for an 18-hour maptime day.
After climbing Hijiridake and descending the other side, I realised my GPS had dropped out of the rucksack sidepocket. So that must have been what the shouting had been about near the hut! But going back now would add another three hours and make today’s plan impossible. I hope that Japan’s famed honesty and safety will result in the GPS finding its way back to me.
By the time we reached Hyakkenbora, I was shattered. This was the price of insufficient liquid earlier. Upon checking in at the hut campsite and being asked my destination for tomorrow, I answered “the next world” for that would have suited me. I crawled into my tent and in spite of the rough stony ground, slept for 10 hours straight.