Tateyama terror

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.

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Kurobegoro – agony afoot

 

The high cirrus clouds yesterday evening had been a warning, so with equal reluctance, we crawled out of our shared toasty-warm down bag at 1 in the morning and set off for Kurobegoro. There was only the sound of snoring from the other tents.

I picked my way past the guy ropes, turned around to check on Hana, and felt sick. The dog’s back legs were wobbling. A little stiff from almost 30km yesterday, perhaps? The sharp light of the headtorch showed a couple of small flecks of blood on the two hind paws. Mmm. See how she goes. Within a few minutes, the stiffness had gone and she was keeping pace right behind me. Subsequent checks showed no fresh blood, and she did not flinch when I touched the pads.

The original plan had been to do the full loop – Yakushi – Kurobgoro – Washiba – Suisho – and back to the Yakushi campsite. But the hiking map time was 21 hours or so. From the top of Kurobegoro, the sullen red sky of the morning was a shepherd’s warning, perhaps for his dog?

The lure of two more peaks was strong, but it would be a major commitment. If Hana’s feet started to show problems, I could be 20km from the tent.

Muttering aloud “I don’t do risk”, I turned around and headed back. By the time I got back to the tent, I was miserable not because of the steady rain, but because Hana was struggling. I used some cloth tape to bind the raw red pad. She did not complain. She gamely kept up as best she could, hobbling on three legs. I tried picking her up, but she preferred to walk herself. We moved slowly, and I kept stopping to encourage her, feed her, check her. Those last 7 kilometers of descent were not easy.

According to the breed guidebook, “Border Terriers must be able to follow a horse … have gameness … will not show or admit to pain”. These sound like ideal characteristics for a working dog, but make it difficult to judge the degree of any injury and pain.

I had hoped to bump into cjw today around Washiba, followed by Wes on Tsurugi tomorrow. The timing would have been perfect, but further hiking was inconceivable.

At the trailhead, there was a boot-cleaning block, so I gently hosed down the dog, cleaned up and dried her wounds, fed her to make her sleep in the car, and drove the long way back, past a solid line of cars heading for Kamikochi on this Saturday morning. I went straight to the vet, an unflappable gentleman. He gave her two injections of anti-inflammatories and painkillers, and in his understated way, said “Rather inflamed and painful. Rest for quite a while. When’s your next mountain?”

Hana doesn’t care about 2008, doesn’t know the name Fukada Kyuya. I hope she’ll be bouncing around and game in a couple of weeks, but perhaps we’ll have to finish the last ten in 2009. All the self-inflicted pressure of the last 6 months has evaporated. So, signing off for “a while”…

Yakushi

The ash-white rocks of Yakushi should have rung alarm bells, but I was too entranced by the shifting colours of the evening light. It had been a long day, and the effects of running down Hakusan in the early hours of the morning had been clear while climbing up Yakushi this afternoon.

While registering at the hut, I had hidden the dog around the back, then carried her discreetly past the throngs of hut-stayers who were drinking beer on the benches outside in the dying rays of the sun. We walked the few hundred meters to the campsite, which is perfectly equipped with flush toilets and running water, and fell into a deep sleep at 6 pm.

Hakusan

It seemed an eternity ago that I had turned back from Hakusan 4 months to the day on that utterly exhausted wet morning in May.

But today was Kin’s birthday – she was at evening class and the weather forecast was good but deteriorating, so I hurriedly emailed a vacation notice to all customers and (guiltily) set off for the 5-hour drive through the mountain passes of Nagano and Gifu. Desperate for some sound to keep me awake, I pulled out a CD in the dark while driving and popped it in. My niece’s CD. The Sugababes. Nuff said.   

The mission was, in the words of not Mallory: “Because it’s there”, but Sir Edmund Hillary: “To knock the bastard off”. Another night hike, and the deed was done.

Okuhotaka – snow!

 

 

 

Snow had not been on the menu after work last night. A starlit sky, half moon, and 2000 meters of ascent I had been looking forward to, but not this massive old snow bank stretching up to the sky as far as I could see. Running shoes were less than ideal. I backtracked and followed the left edge of the ice where it met rock. And what rock!

The map states that this west route up Okuhotaka, approaching from Shin Hotaka, involves a long gareba (rock field). Indeed. It rises 1000 meters, and frequent rock slides had blotted out most of the path with painfully sharp fresh rock surfaces. Poor Hana. I knew her paws could not withstand this.

Once again, there was no one to disturb the solitude. I walked softly past the beckoning warmth of Hotaka Sanso hut, put the dog in the rucksack for the final chains and ladders, and reached the summit just before midnight. A small soft light several hundred meters below marked Karasawa hut, while city lights glimmered far beyond in most directions.

We picked our way carefully back over the interminable broken rocks, and upon reaching the gravel forest road, could finally enjoy a 5-kilometer gentle run down to the car. As I drove back through Matsumoto and along the expressway toward Yatsugadake, dawn was breaking and the dew lay thickly over velvet meadows.

 

Three weeks later, walking to Kasagadake along the ridge on the opposite side of the valley, I was surprised to see the route up Okuhotaka that I had taken during the night: 

Yarigadake

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.