Yakedake

It takes some faith in technology. From the comfort of home:
1. Choose the quickest route from the paper hiking map.
2. In Kashmir software, find and plot the route.
3. Copy the coordinates (Tokyo datum) to the Sony car-navi (NV-U2).
Then plug in the car-navi and drive off in the dark to an entirely unknown mountain.

On Tuesday night, it amazed me yet again as I drove up the narrow hairpin bends toward the base of Yakedake, near Kamikochi. Precisely as the car hits the checkered flag on Sony’s screen, a small carpark appears in the headlights, opposite a hand-painted wooden sign marked 焼岳登山口. Those words 登山口. Finding the start of a hike can sometimes be the hardest part.

Under the clearest of starry skies after the rainstorms of late, we moved silently up the hulk of Yakedake. The path was a soft bed of cut sasa grass almost until the final rocky peak of Kitagamine, whereupon a roar like a jet-engine grew louder and louder in the still air. I could see and smell the sulphurous steam billowing up over the lip of the crater and blotting out the stars, but the source of the noise was a powerful steam vent by the side of the path. I turned around and Hana was nowhere to be seen.

I retraced my steps down past the vent, and the small torch eventually caught two luminous blue dots far down the slope, certainly not on any path. Poor thing, she must have been terrified by the noise and stench. Yet last weekend, as I had sat on the deck outside and watched the monstrous lightning storm that cut the power of the whole area, toasted a neighbour’s PC and made a telephone set jump across the room, the dog had fallen asleep in my arms.

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