With the perfect forecast and home territory, this was going to be fun.
The Hirogawara valley, like Kamikochi, is off-limits to private cars, but the swing gates that shut at night at both ends of the 15km road have a walkaround for hikers. And that means a bicycle can be squeezed past, although of course bikes are also illegal on this road. Dame, dame, dame.
At Yasajin-toge at 2.30 am, there was no one to see me wheel the bike around the gate, with Hana strapped to my back and peering over my shoulder, and cycle off into the night, through the long black tunnel toward the Southern Alps.
Literally breathing down my neck, Hana enjoyed the smells of the noctural animals. A magnificent stag stood motionless by the guardrail, its immense antlers caught in my headlamp. In one tunnel, a pair of amber circles grew larger and larger, and suddenly a weasel-like animal raced past in the opposite direction, sending the dog into ecstasy.
Far up the valley, near the Eight-Toothed Col, a solitary headlight zigzagged upward. Dawn came and bathed the Buttress in rich reds.
We received a warm welcome from hikers at the summit who had come up from the nearby huts, then we headed off for a quick up and down Ainodake.
The dog’s paw injuries were still visible, so I had brought dog socks. I never thought I would ever put socks on a dog of mine, but they worked. She shredded two sets during the hike, but showed no signs of limping by the end. The worst part was enduring the continual cries from female hikers of “Oh how cuuuute – the dog’s wearing pretty socks!”
We were back at the bike 6.5 hours later, the same time as for Tsurugi, and like on Tsurugi had drunk barely a liter of water between us. I still haven’t learned to drink.