I must be getting old and soft, reluctant to leave the warmth of home and set off for a night hike. But for Yarigadake, a dramatic peak that symbolizes the grandeur of the Northern Alps, trouble was best avoided by using the privacy that the night offered.
Almost nobody in Japan hikes at night. Even setting off after noon elicits criticism. And yet everyone climbs Mt. Fuji in the dark to catch the sunrise from the top, often wearing sneakers and a 100-yen rain cape!
As I had hoped, I met no one. When crossing the boulder beds of the broad river gullies, I was grateful to whoever had left the red tape markings, for it was difficult to pick out the path. As I gained altitude, the towering black walls of the steep mountains on either side receded and the star-lit sky opened out.
Finally I reached the ridge and walked quietly past a small huddle of tents. Nothing stirred. The night was utterly silent. I crept past the main Yarigadake hut, my feet scrunching loudly on the gravel, but there was no sign of movement within, just the cosy warm glow of a single light. It was 1 am.
On principle, I leave the dog to her own devices to get up steep rocks. I try to pick what will be the easiest route for her, that will allow her to scramble or bound up. Usually she follows, and if she slips down a slab, she’ll find a detour. But the final 100 meters of Yarigadake proved too much, with near-vertical metal ladders and chains, so into the rucksack she went. I was grateful for the darkness, which hid the long, long drops that waited to claim victims of misplaced feet.
Climbing in the dark makes only a small difference to speed, but descending is painfully slow. I cannot (will not) run down a slippery rock path at night. I reached the car at dawn, just as the first hiker was setting off on this fine Saturday morning.
It had been a long 30 km hike, but rewarding. With Yari done, I can cope with the remaining mountains.