It was a hot summer. The season is hard enough on me here in Japan but this year summer was exceptionally hot. My wife went through her morning sickness period during these hot days and with the combination of her inability to tolerate long car rides and the oppressive heat, we didn’t go anywhere except once to the riverside when the sun was going behind the trees and clouds. For three months then I had not set foot in the great outdoors. It had been three months since I had climbed a mountain and throughout August my legs were getting antsy about the lack of exercise.
I planned a day hike with two of my co-workers and I chose Ryogamisan near Chichibu because it is not far by car for me and it is perhaps the Hyakumeizan closest to my residence and I had not yet climbed it. The plan was set and then the day before both guys had to back out. No matter. I would go by myself.
Sunday the 26th of September had promised fine weather and I left my home only ten minutes before the sun came over the horizon. The drive from Konosu to Ryogami Mura was pleasant with little traffic on a Sunday morning. Arriving at the trailhead, the first two parking lots were almost full. I just managed to squeeze in between two vehicles in the second parking lot. But the parking lots were small and the trail was not as crowded as I had first thought. It was good to feel my legs moving on the trail and I soon started passing the parties of seniors and middle-aged hikers. I had not planned to bring anything more than my compact digital as this was going to be an outing for exercise and camaraderie. But with the other two out I packed my 4×5 and thought that I might shoot in the ravines a bit. I went at my pace, sometimes making good time, but later feeling the lack of exercise and also lack of sleep during the past week. I wondered if I wasn’t seriously dragging my butt later on but a look at the time showed I was on schedule by the times printed on the map.
Ryogamisan had a beautiful rock collection. Ancient metamorphic rock that had once been sedimentary rock on an ocean floor was layered, folded, and buckled. There were especially beautiful cliffs of red rock, which I am guessing was chert. The forest was still green and the streams clear. I resisted the temptation to stop and shoot, saving that for the way back. There were several people on the trail but it was by no means crowded. The route followed a ravine with no name on the map and then climbed up through the trees over massive tangles of tree roots spilling down the mountainside like a dumped plate of spaghetti. There was a shelter along the way, unstaffed but open, and a shrine, very old-looking, not far from the summit. As Ryogami is below the tree-line, the path kept me in the forest all the way to the summit. Here rocks broke through and afforded views of the Okutama Chichibu mountain wilderness. But the clear skies were being invaded by a fleet of clouds and the sun was mostly hidden away. My shirt was soaked with sweat and a cool wind blew on me. I only stayed 20 minutes on top before I started to feel the shivers coming on and so I thought it best to keep moving and began going down again.
Many times along the way down I was attracted by rocks in the ravines with water spilling over, but it wasn’t until I reached a spot with at least three attractive compositions that I decided to clamber down the slope and spend some time fiddling with the 4×5. It took about 15 minutes per photograph and I made three exposures. It was very hard to compose and focus because the sun was behind the clouds, beyond the thick green canopies of the forest and on the other side of the mountain. The ravine looked much darker on the ground glass! Even with the focusing cloth over my head and the aperture set wide open it was not easy to check my composition and focus perfectly. In the end I had to guess that I had set everything up correctly. I hope I am right. Someday I would love to go back just for shooting in the ravine.
The sky seemed to be gearing up for rain and so without delay I set off for my car. There were scenes along the way back that arrested my attention but I decided to put them off for another time. The rain held off but finally came down when I was in Kumagaya, heading home.
Ryogamisan is my 30th Hyakumeizan. I had planned to reach 31 last September but because of weather and time I had to cut my expected plan of reaching four peaks in three days down to one peak only. Washibadake in the Kita Alps was my 28th mountain. Then this June, I made it to the crater summit of Asamayama for number 29. At the top of Ryogami, I heard one man say, “60 more Hyakumeizan to go.” Sixty sounded like a lot. That means he had done 40 mountains so far, ten more than me. But if sixty was a lot remaining on his to-do list, then 70 was even more for me. Thinking that I had 70 Hyakumeizan still to go was discouraging. But then again I don’t intend to climb all 100 (Famous) Mountains of Japan. I just like to keep count.