The book – Hana Hikes the Hyakumeizan

A happy new year to all.

I have (at last) completed the book of climbing the 100 mountains of Japan with Hana (160 pages, hardback, premium paper, blurb.com).

I will be placing a bulk order at the end of January. If you would like to buy a copy, please email me (hana *at* hanameizan *dot* com) by January 31, 2010 and I will send you a copy when the books arrive in mid-February. The cost will be 6,000 yen (this is Blurb’s cost incl. postage, without any markup …)

Or, from February, it will be possible to order online (and anonymously) from Blurb publishers for about 7,000 yen.

This is the first (and probably last) book.

I can’t wait to return to hiking in the near future, with longer routes at a less frenetic pace.

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Facts & Figures

As I look at the dog curled up lazily in front of the log fire, it’s still surprising to think she has been up all 100 this year. That was never the plan for 2008, but somehow I got diverted from the original purpose and the dog became the raison d’etre.

Here’s a brief summary of the 100 mountains:

Total distance hiked: 1,080 km (max. 55 km in one day)
Total elevation climbed: 103,600 m (max. 4687 m in one day)
Most mountains in one day: 5
Total days of hiking: 60
Days taken off work: 14
Number climbed at night: 21
Number of dog complaints: 14
Total transport cost: Yen 651,000 (car rentals, tolls, gasoline, trains, buses)
Total accommodation cost: Yen 159,000 (incl. Kyushu + Hokkaido holiday mode with Kin)
Most beautiful?: Ridge between Sugoroku & Kasagadake
Most ugly?: The summit buildings of Ibuki
Injuries: Amazingly, none for me, & just sore paws for Hana
Lowlight?: The few aggressive alpha-male dog-haters
Highlight?: Being with the dog, and meeting so many friendly people as a result

Akadake

Today, Akadake took almost three times as long as last year. But then hiking with a group of 25 from the Tokyo “Aspen” cycling/running club was never going to be fast, especially after they had cycled 150km yesterday to get here.

Three years ago, when Hana was a wild adolescent, she would have been uncontrollable with the excitement of so many people, but today, with 100 mountains under her collar, she remained close at heel and was a model of good behaviour.

The whole group celebrated together at the top, then we beat a hasty running retreat as the first drops of rain fell.

It feels good to have finished, after starting on February 2 with Amagi-san. The geographical spread of the mountains has taken me to beautiful parts of Japan that I would never have seen otherwise. And apart from the occasional dog-hater, I have received so much kindness and encouragement, both along the trail and on this site.

To everyone who has read this blog, I owe you a big thank-you. I never used to understand why people write blogs. But seeing the visitor statistics encouraged me to persevere through the rain and darkness on another unknown and lonely mountain when I desperately wanted to abandon and return to a warm home.

What next? Last week I came home to find that Kin had left a printed list on the kitchen table: 山梨の百名山 (The Hundred Mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture)….

Shirouma makes 99

It has been hard to stay motivated to finish the last few mountains, and Shiroumadake, No. 99, was no exception. Another long drive after work, another carpark in the dark. So Kin encouraged me to savour the moment of approaching the goal, and to enjoy this one.

As Hana and I emerged from the car at Sarakura at 4:30 am in the pre-dawn chill, a mass of reflective tape was just pulling in. What the heck? A touring bicycle! And no sooner had he stopped and got off than on went a rucksack and up the path he started. He didn’t even pause to take off his helmet and cycling gloves.

He was no spring chicken, either. Aged 65, he had retired and was doing the hyakumeizan by bicycle and camping. He proudly said he had never paid to pitch his tent (he was from Osaka).

I made my excuses, and off Hana and I shot, up the slippery damp boulders and onto the Daisekkei, perhaps the only “glacier” in Japan that is famous enough to be signposted, on the road out of Hakuba.

The trail had only just reopened, following a landslide in mid-August that killed three people. Two of the bodies had been found, but the third still remains buried somewhere under the newly formed trail that winds its way through the rubble and torn-up buried branches, which stick out unnaturally from the rocks. That final scene in The Deliverance sprang to mind.

The weather was perfect, yet there were few people on the mountain. Had they been put off by the accident?

At the summit, off came the warm clothing and on went the i-pod. What a blast! Skidding over the scree, slithering down the Daisekkei, hopping over the boulders, and a final run along the rindo, the descent took just 1 hour 15. As Kin had suggested, that was fun.

Asama revisited

With the local cycling/running team converging on Akadake this weekend, I needed to finish off No. 98 and 99.

Asama was so very different this morning compared with April, when I had turned back due to the driving ice particles that were causing the dog to run madly in circles. And not only was the weather different – there had been no sign barring the way in April.


The night was perfectly clear, and dawn stole up on us as we broke through the tree line and climbed up the cinder cone.


I had hoped to climb to the true summit, although it is officially off-limits due to sulfurous gases still belching from the crater. But the wind was against, puffs of poison rose up against the blue sky, and the path to the summit was enveloped in gas. So we headed for the official substitute, Maekake, where someone has kindly erected a summit post marked “Asama”, to satisfy the peak-hunters.

Washibadake + Suishodake + Kasagadake

 Suishodake had looked so very inaccessible since Hana’s bloodied feet had forced us to abandon an attempt two weeks ago. No matter how long I looked at the map, no short route magically appeared. It was going to be a long, long day.

And that meant travelling light. No tent, just a bivvy at Kagamidaira as cjw had recommended. But not even the bivvy happened as planned, for upon arrival at Shin-Hotaka at 9 pm, the rain was falling and I could not face setting off, alone in the dark through the rain for this hideously long hike. I slept fitfully in the car, nervous about the pain that was coming.

We were off soon after 1 am. The radio I had brought for company quickly died. The gravel road to Wasabi-daira gave way to a well-marked trail, with the headlight picking out the freshly-painted white circles on the rocks. The temperature began to fall dramatically, unreasonably. Just beyond Kagamidaira, I kept imagining that I was seeing animal eyes reflecting in the forest, then I realised with horror that it was ice. A fine film of ice crystals covered the leaves. Damn. My crampons were in the car. 

By the time we reached the Sugoroku hut after 5, the snow was still only a centimetre deep, but the wind was howling and devastatingly cold. We could not take refuge in the hut, but the door to the storeroom for diesel cans was not locked, so I crept in, crawled into a lightweight 3-season bag, stuffed the dog inside, and we both shivered uncontrollably until dawn.

First light always revives the spirit, that and the sight of other tracks in the snow heading over to Washibadake. But the water had frozen in the tube of the Camelbak. I tucked the tube under my shirt, and the cold drips of water on my skin told me I could drink again.

We reached Mitsumata hut just as the few overnight stayers were setting off up the steep climb to the peak of Washiba. I huddled out of the wind against the hut wall and with shaking frozen hands started to change Hana’s destroyed socks. Above my head, the hut caretaker opened a window, “Come inside where it’s warm.” “But I have a dog,” I pointed out. He looked down and noticed Hana. “Well, bring her in too, there’s nobody here now.” (On the return journey, they fired up the kerosene heater in the upstairs dining area and invited both me and the dog to warm up properly inside – their kindness was unprompted and overwhelming.)

From the top of Washiba, the path to Suishodake was covered with a thin layer of snow, but fortunately crampons were not needed. As the early sun melted the snow and the bitter wind immediately froze it, the verglas forming on the rocks was treacherous, even for Hana with 16 claws for grip. But the mountain could not elude us now, and in little over an hour we were on its small summit, looking back at the daunting distance that lay between us and the final peak, Kasagadake (far right peak in the photograph).

Even now, I could not commit to reaching it. It was so tempting to descend the same way and directly head for the car. It would save 6 hours of tired hiking. At the junction where the decision had to be made, there was a large group of elderly hikers coming down the route that would take me to Kasagadake. They said they had been forced to come this long detour via Kasagatake as the Kagamidaira route I had come had been closed yesterday due to heavy rain. Perhaps I had not seen the sign during the night? The river crossing had involved getting wet feet which then froze.

Their lively Kansai banter spurred me to attempt the third peak of the day. Ptarmigan were in abundance, and changing into their winter coats. When three ptarmigan waddled temptingly along the path just yards in front of us, Hana showed a strong interest, but was brought back into line with a sharp twist of the rough of her neck. She didn’t react a short while later when a startled flock of ten ptarmigan flew up from the haimatsu.

The sun was losing power, but there was just one hour left to the summit of Kasagadake. I dropped my pack at the turnoff for the descent to Shin-Hotaka, took off the Goretex top and bottoms and a couple of other layers I had been wrapped up in all day, and finally could enjoy a trail run across the ridge to the top and back. Far, far behind I could see Suishodake from where we had come. Across the Hotaka vally stood the imposing peak of Okuhotaka, with the rock-field route rising clearly up to the left toward the Hotaka-Sanso hut. I could even see the patch of snow that had forced me to traverse during the night (right of center of the photograph).

 

Reunited with my pack and relieved at having completed the three, we descended rapidly in a race against the fading sun. The sky joined in the celebration with a vivid farewell display, then into the dark forest we sank, down down those steep rocks, followed by a welcome last few gentle kilometres along the forest road to stretch the aching legs.

55 kilometres later (30 hours maptime), with 6050 meters of ascent, we reached the car at 8 pm. Even the expressionless Hana seemed pleased. She had been through five pairs of socks. The day had exceeded expectations in so many ways.