One childhood memory remains deeply burned – that of a pair of alabaster-white feet protruding from under a blue tarpaulin by a local river, the feet of a drowned man. The following year, on a school hiking trip to Wales, a helicopter came overhead as we passed by a small lake and started plumbing the murky depths with a weight attached to a winch. It was a hot summer’s day, and a hiker had just drowned after jumping into the cold water for a swim.
These memories were revived by the warning sign at the trailhead to Poroshiri that a man had drowned here last month when the river rose suddenly. My dreams ran wild that night, and it was a relief to have them cut by the alarm. I rose early and was away by 3, trotting up the gravel road in the dark, with only the roaring of the river below for company. I reached the start of the river crossings at first light and changed into sawa-nobori boots. The river was narrow but wild, a jumble of ripped-up trees jammed against boulders. Strips of pink tape marked the crossing points. I clipped Hana onto a short lead, picked her up, and walked into the river, pounding heart driven by those memories. Perhaps she sensed my fear, for her ears were far back with fright and she squirmed to be free.
Although the 23 crossings were safe, with the water mostly at knee height, it was still a relief to reach the hut at the mid-point of this longest of the hyakumeizan hikes and to enjoy the physical exercise of the subsequent climb. From the summit, there was not the slightest trace of human habitation in any direction, no roads crossing the mountains, no villages, no dams, not even any huts. This must surely be as remote as it is possible to be in crowded Japan.