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The 2009 Yamanashi Hyakumeizan (山梨百名山) is here
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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
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)….
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.
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.
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.
The email came out of the blue. A TV company wanted to interview me and ask about Hana’s exploits. A flurry of emails was exchanged.
It was an exciting thought. Footage of the dog bounding across the mountainside. Heart-warming images of one man and his dog.
But between filming and the screen, strange things happen. The media thrive on mankind’s lowest common denominator, and the production company holds all the cards. They can twist a story viciously.
Edited footage of a gaijin flagrantly violating the manners of “waga-guni” and his dog destroying the fine ecological balance of the country. Joking aside, a sizeable proportion of viewers, for whatever reason, might become rather angry at seeing images of a dog in the mountains. Some would surely make complaints. And in the worst case, a legal ban on dogs, and even legal action against myself, could result. Other dog owners would not be pleased. And all for what?
I wrote an exceedingly polite, reasoned rejection. The TV company did not even have the courtesy to respond.
As I near the end of my own personal challenge, the soothing words of Desiderata seem particularly relevant:
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.”
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.
I had printed off Wes’ detailed description of this attractive Hayatsuki route for Tsurugi, which encouraged me to set off at 2 am despite the alarming weather forecast for torrential rain, landslides, and lightning during the night, plus Wes’ warning “Do not attempt this hike in rainy weather”.
But the climb was a reward for most of last year spent on the stairmaster. Some 2200 meters of ascent, much of it on a nice steep set of sandbags and tree roots. The comforting light of the hut came into view far up ahead, then receded into the distance below as the climb broke out of the forest and changed to a rock scramble. As dawn came and the sky started to lighten, the clouds above looked menacingly oppressive. And as the chains appeared, so too did the rain, and the rock turned black and slippery.
But I really didn’t mind. I’d far rather deal with this than officials on Tateyama transport. Although looking a little scared, the dog gamely managed to scramble up all of the rocky sections except for a couple. Holding the dog under one arm and the chains in the other, I could take my time to be safe. The crowded route on the other side of Tsurugi would not have been pleasant.
In the forest on the way up, the pool of light of my torch had landed on a bee, a large yellow suzumebachi. It had caught my attention, for it was strange to see a bee moving at night. On the descent, the bastard stung me. It’s been a while since I’ve felt such pain, and I did not need any caffeinated chewing gum to keep me awake on the 5-hour drive back home.
This is not a mountain that strikes terror into the heart of most climbers. But then most climbers are grateful to take the cablecar followed by bus up to 2400 meters, without having to conceal a dog.
Of all the hyakumeizan involving public transport, I had been most nervous about Tateyama. Having long ago decided I would not traverse across from Tsurugi because of the logjam of hikers on its heavily chained walls, and the concomitant risk of causing an accident should a hiker have a fear of dogs, Murodo was the only feasible access.
I was not fearful of being told off by the bus or cablecar attendants, but the resulting 14 hours of additional hiking that would result, which might mean being unable to do both Tateyama and Tsurugi the same weekend. And that would mean another long, long drive to return here. I simply had to avoid detection.
So the dog carrycase was wrapped in a rucksack rain cover and almost indistinguishable from a 70-liter pack slung over my shoulder. But inside, Hana was panting heavily. I waited till the last minute, then rushed up to the ticket gate, past the guard, into the cablecar, stuffed the carrycase under the seat, covered it with my jacket, then spread out a map. Stage 1 – All clear.
There followed a nerve-racking 10 minute changeover to the bus. While everyone waited in line, an exceedingly fat woman waddled past us: “All big packs, come this way!” she barked. There was no way Hana could escape detection if her bag was hoisted onto the weighing scales, and even if she did, I would not let her go in the luggage compartment of the bus. One dog-owner who took a night bus to Kamikochi arrived to find his dog had died from the heat.
The case was pulsating as Hana panted, so I pretended to do stretching exercises, anything to keep the case moving. It worked, and we were able to board that wretched bus.
I kept her in that case for the first 10 minutes hike from the horrendous place that is the Murodo tourist trap. Finally, out of sight, I could release the dog. She had been cooped up for 7 hours.
But the risk was not over. After being stopped at the temple entrance just short of the summit of Gassan, the same was likely to happen on this religious mountain. So when the temple hut came into sight after an hour of hiking, back in the case for the dog, on with the cover. I had to get past that hut. As I slapped down the required 500-yen coin on the counter, the priest pulled out his wand to give me a blessing. I couldn’t risk Hana sneezing with the incense, so I made a sign of the cross, pretended to be horrified at being blessed under a different religion and scuttled away.
Thus we made it up Tateyama, bringing the greatest sense of elation of all the peaks. After this, I knew I could get up Tsurugi tomorrow.