Appointment with #32

My work in the Japan Alps has been on hold since May of 2010, when I left Kamikochi and the Hotakas, and for the time being this hiatus will have to continue. As I mentioned recently, this absence from the Alps has had me eying the local mountains, visible from my area in Saitama. I have positively identified 13 Hyakumeizan with a portion of a distant 14th in view during exceptionally clear weather. One of the mountains is Nikko Shiranesan – 2,578 metres. I first really became acquainted with it in February when I went to consider climbing Nantaisan, near Nikko. I did not climb any mountains at that time; however, I became rather interested in Nikko Shiranesan.

After learning the names of several more mountains visible from around Konosu City, I initially marked Hotakayama for my May long-weekend climb. But with all the rain that fell I came to feel that a mountain completely unknown to me could be trouble if routes had been damaged by the excessive weather. So, instead I looked once again to Nikko Shiranesan for my May hike and 32nd Hyakumeizan. I reckoned that if climbing conditions were poor here, I could still shoot around the local lakes (artificial), visit Senjogahara again, or climb Nantaisan, which never looked that imposing.

I left a little before 3 A.M. and drove to Takasaki, then turned off at Numata. The sky began to take on that clear jewel-like blue colour already at 3:45. By the time I was driving route 120 past Fukiware-no-Taki it was early morning. But I didn’t see much of the sun. Here on the north side of Akagiyama it was steadily getting cloudy as I drove through the peaceful mountain setting. I saw the turn-off for Hotakayama and Oze but I continued on.

As the road ascended, the beautiful fresh verdure of spring gave way to bare, brown trees and patches of snow visible beneath the fallen autumn leaves. Rain began to drop on my windshield. Was it going to rain on the one day that was supposed to be sunny? Perhaps I should have headed west instead of east.

At last at the parking lot near Kannuma Campground, I backed in between two station wagons. It was 6:45 and raining quite steadily, though not exactly pouring. Beside me, a man stirred in his vehicle, came out dressed in snowboarding clothes, and made his final preparations to head up the trail with a snowboard on his back. Other people were also in full mountain rain gear. I only had my reliable Millet jacket with me; no rain pants. I was really sleepy after having had only three hours sleep again and I dozed in the car until 7:30. The rain wasn’t letting up.

Plan B: Drive round to Senjogahara and see what’s happening over below Nantaisan. There it was cloudy and above the clouds were in swift motion. Nantaisan’s summit was mostly clear but no doubt very windy. I decided to take just my new DSLR and leave the rest of the gear in the car (tripod, filters, 6×7 camera…). This was going to be a pleasure walk only.

Senjogahara was pretty bare in early spring but still photogenic. Various kinds of trees often arrested my attention and were preserved in pixels. Having left the tripod meant I was shooting with a large aperture and often resting the camera against a tree to shoot but I was enjoying myself. Soon, the sun began making its way through the clouds and before I was halfway through the course, it was genuinely sunny. What was I doing here when I had a mountain to climb?

Back to the parking lot, I set off to climb Nikko Shiranesan. I had an interest in this mountain because the map showed two ponds below the mound of the summit. There was still snow on the path in most places at first, and then when the path began climbing I was following footprints in the snow all the way. Mostly the going was fairly easy. There were moments of soft snow where I post-holed. I had brought only my small spring crampons in case I needed them. At times I wondered if my new and still unused Grivel crampons wouldn’t have been more appropriate but I managed without much difficulty. The route on my map said it would take two and a half hours but after an hour and 45 minutes I reached one of the ponds. The mountain summit was very close; I could see someone walking on the top. It wouldn’t be long now. I took 20 minutes or so to shoot the open water rippling in the wind over the snow cover that was clearing away at one end of the pond. Then I took on the final steep climb up through more snow to the rocky summit. Three hours after having left the car I was on the summit. The weather was gorgeous – the wind not too cold, the sun warm.

Now was my chance to take a good look around and try to identify as many Hyakumeizan as I could. Hiuchigatake and Shibutsusan were clearly visible, and I also located Sukaisan and Hotakayama, as well as the obvious Akagiyama and the closest Meizan, Nantaisan. But there were many more mountains to be seen and checking the map later I figured that I probably also had a view to Aizukomagatake and Hiragatake. I should have been able to see Tanigawadake but the haze was too strong. I wasn’t able to see anything of the Kanto Plains either because of the haze but I became positive that Shibutsusan is not visible from the Kanto area.

After an hour at the summit, I enjoyed the walk back down, careful to avoid rushing on the steep slopes and accidentally post-holing and possibly breaking a leg. Though there were many cars in the parking lot below, I had actually seen only one person near the summit and a few people on their way down when I was coming up. Getting in trouble up here was potentially very bad.

The light was getting pretty and I couldn’t help stopping at the pond and setting up the 6×7 for some “serious” photography, though actually I was to find a few of my best shots came from my stroll about Senjogahara.

I made it safely back to the car only six hours after leaving it. Given the time I spent on the summit and shooting by the pond I think I had made excellent time on the trail. From there on it was time to head home. There were some tempting stops along the way, especially when the full moon rose. But thick traffic below was going to hold me up and in the end I was very tired from the road by the time I made it home after 9:30 P.M.

Since climbing Nikko Shiranesan, there hasn’t been a day when we had a clear view of it, so I can’t even point the mountain out to my wife and say, “That one was my 32nd Hyakumeizan.”

4 responses to “Appointment with #32

  1. congrats on beating the weather and making it up it Shirane. You were lucky not have to share the mountain with half of Tokyo.

    Oh, the turnoff for the trailhead to Mt. Sukai is just off Route 120 near Fukiware-no-Taki, so you could’ve climbed that peak as well. Have you checked out this waterfall? It’s like a minature version of Niagara. Very impressive

    • Thanks, Wes. Yes, I much prefer a quiet mountaintop. It was bliss. I had considered a two-mountain trip but the morning weather was the first deterrent. As well, I prefer to have sufficient time for photography. If I were to tackle two mountains there wouldn’t be many shots to show for it.

      As for the waterfall, my wife and I went there many years ago and I’ve always thought to go back. On the way in this time I did stop at a lookout above the falls and peered down through the trees. The falls were so flushed with the swollen river that I could hardly distinguish the gorge.

  2. Congratulations on Shirane – and, when I look at your photos, I believe you had the greatest luck with the weather. Nothing is more boring – photographically – than unrelieved sun and blue skies. That hobbyhorsical mix of wind and sun and cloud and shadows is what makes the mountain scenery live. In due course, look forward to seeing your large-format images from the day …

  3. Thanks, PH. Yes, I much prefer the drama of mixed weather and cloud for mountain photography. Though for a day hike, clear skies are welcome. If I were staying overnight with the intention of shooting sunrise and sunset, I would have wanted more clouds. The Pentax images likely won’t appear anywhere unless one gets accepted for publication someday. Perhaps there is not much of a chance of that happening, though. I doubt the images are that remarkable.

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