Torches – Let there be light!


At the start of this year, I bought a Petzl headlamp in Shinjuku. It was certainly billed as the bees-knees, with a price to match. But during the first night-hike I was disappointed by the weakness of the light, so went to the local J-mart hardware store and bought a torch for a third of the price that does a better job.


Here’s the comparison:


              Gentos Rigel      Petzl


Model            GTR-031T       TikkaPlus

Cost (Amazon)    1710                   4488

Self-weight            64g                      43g

Batteries                 24g (Tan3 x 1)     39g (Tan4 x 3)

Lumens                  26.6                     35

Beam distance        48m                    32m

(= full moon brightness)


Why do I like the cheap one? If you’ve ever hiked in mist or drizzle in the dark, you’ll know why. The Petzl headlamp casts a strong reflective glare against the water particles in front of your eyes, making it difficult to see. Furthermore, the Petzl beam is more diffuse, and in mist, is useless for picking out rocks onto which to place your feet.



The Rigel fits neatly into the palm of the hand, weighs almost the same with batteries, and with its genuine Nichia white single LED, casts a long beam. It also has a handy wrist-strap, which stops you dropping the thing. I love it and now use the Petzl only as a backup. And to escape dog-haters in the upcoming Northern Alps, it’s going to get a lot of use!


You can buy it on


Disclaimer – you do not want a handtorch if you’re going up a frozen waterfall at night with two iceaxes in your hands…


Borneo – A 23-year wait

The monstrous imposing bulk of Mt. Kinabalu (Sabah state, Malaysia, Borneo) emerged as the moon rose and cast a ghostly pallor on its viciously serrated ridge. Rising up over 4000 m from the sea, the mountain dwarfs Rishiri (1719 m). Designated a national park in 2000, the flanks of the mountain are home to as-yet uncounted indigenous species of fauna and flora.

But we would not have time to see any of it. The race course rises up 2300 m in less than 9 km, then descends brutally along the same, knee-shattering course. I had jumped at Keisuke’s suggestion to join a tour from Japan to take part in the Climbathon race, for it presented a chance to tackle this unfinished peak. Some 23 years ago, I had climbed to the highest hut, stayed the night, and been defeated in the morning by thick fog. There had been no one else around, no rope to mark the course, no guides, no park registration.

Amid the participants from Japan were four past and present winners of the race up Mt. Fuji, including the current record-holder Miyahara (under 2 hours 30 minutes), three 2.30-hour marathon runners, and a finisher of the 246-km Sparta race in Greece. Just what were Keisuke and I doing here? It was only during the flight over that we finally read the small print and learned of the 2 hour 30 minute cut-off time at the summit!

At the starting line were two distinct groups: either the local Malays here for the festivities, or the serious mountain runners, including large contingents from Catalonia (Spain), the Philippines (including the first Filipina to summit Mt. Everest, last year), and Gurkha soldiers from Nepal. The Nepalese used to dominate this race, attracted by the rich prize money of US $ 4500/4000/3500 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but have since been eclipsed as the level has risen.

The climb itself was unexpectedly enjoyable. Once past the long thoroughbred legs of three Kenyan women, I tucked in behind the muscled stocky quads of a Malaysian woman, Muidah Bolinting.

 We kept trading places as I stopped to take pictures, and as the air thinned out and a light dizziness set in, her periodic primal grunts of self-exhortation broke my reverie.

Above the tree-line, an immense rock-slab moonscape spread out across this granite massif, up past Donkey Ears Peak to the east

and south Peak to the west, and culminating in the summit of Lows Peak at 4095 m.

But the world’s fastest female, Corinne Favre, was already bounding down the slabs with immense strides, hot on the heels of the leading male vet. It would take them a little over one hour to descend some 2500 meters to the finish line.

The return was an education. I was passed by no fewer than 5 women and 5 men, all either Malay or Filipino, who were descending 50% faster than me. They wore simple rubber studded shoes, nicknamed Adidas Kampung, which cost less than 200 yen, or about 1/50th of Montrail’s standard fare, but which stick to rock like glue.

The locals’ technique was hard to analyze: the steps were very small, but exceptionally rapid and almost entirely silent.

For the record,

Men’s Open                         Time at summit   Time at finish
1. Agusti Amador (Spain)          1.38                     2.44
2. Toru Miyahara (Japan)           1.40                     2.49
3. Yokoyama Tadao (Japan)       1.49                    2.50

Women’s Open                     Time at summit   Time at finish
1. Favre Corinne (France)           2.00                     3.17
2. Danny Gongot (Malaysia)       2.18                     3.36
3.  Kambara Yuri (Japan)             2.13                    3.37

Veterans Men                       Time at summit   Time at finish
1. Guianus Salagan (Malaysia)    2.01                     3.12
2. Sarun Sadi (Malaysia)             2.08                     3.19
3. Mitsuo Morioka (Japan)          2.11                     3.21

Well done, Japan – especially considering the difference in leg length!


Mt. Fuji revenge

With the impetuosity of youth, when the race gun went off, I ran far harder than was sensible, and consequently suffered terribly for the next two hours to the fifth station, where the gods had kindly arranged a typhoon and the remainder of the race to the summit was called off.

I vowed never to do the race again. But that was some 15 years ago, and time dulls the pain and dims the memory. And so I found myself at the start line in Fuji-Yoshida once again, staring up at the massive bulk of Mt. Fuji, with the goal 21 km distant and almost 3000 meters higher.

With the aim merely being to finish within the cut-off of 4.5 hours, this time the “race” was actually enjoyable. Once the asphalt had finished after 11km and the climbing started, the last few months of being in the hills paid off and I could settle into a rhythm, checking the altimeter every 15 minutes and calculating estimated arrival time. I felt keenly aware of a responsibility to stay alive (I was not quite married last time) and so kept a steady, comfortable pace. Unfortunately, a 59-year-old man was not so lucky, becoming the first fatality in the 61 years that the race has been held.

I was surprised to see that, beyond the fifth station, the route was the regular hiking trail, which was packed with everyone from elementary schoolkids to octagenarians. More surprisingly, I saw no tension between the hikers and 3000+ runners, neither when hikers held up runners on narrow sections, nor when runners kicked up clouds of dust on the scree descent. I felt sorry for the unsuspecting hikers who happened to have picked the wrong day.

The best part about finishing is that I never, never have to do it again. Oh, except to take the dog up.

Mugikusa looped


This had not been the plan. Not one of the 100, and already climbed. But as the Azusa sped out west, the hill-tops on either side became progressively whiter, and the plan to tackle Kobushi-dake now without crampons or ice axe seemed unwise.

Instead, the day was spent on a 20km loop from route 299 below Mugikusa-toge, along to Pilatus, piston up Kita-Yokodake, and down over the saddle to Amaike, where 20 snowshoers were basking in the midday sunshine on the frozen lake.

The climb back to Mugikusa was a long battle in the melting snow with no other tracks.