Tag Archives: mountains in Japan

Kamui Mintara – The Playground of the Gods: Part Three

M50 北鎮岳と凌雲岳Playground of the weather gods. The sky was clearing up overhead while the sun sank behind a thin explosion of clouds. Twice, a weak evening light crept across the northern volcanic landscape, spotlighting snow patches and lava rock, but there was no final climax, no stupendous finale of alpine light. Though I was inside my tent and sleeping around eleven o’clock, Mr. Tsujinaka stepped outside and saw the Milky Way stretching clearly across the heavens.

I didn’t need to go outside to know what the weather was like at 3 a.m., though. As the wind battered my tent, the sound of rain drops being flung against the fabric was familiar enough. At four, I stuck my head out into thick fog and handfuls of rain being tossed in the gusts like rice at a wedding. The morning plan to record the sunrise from the nearby Keigetsudake was unquestionably off, and word was that the morning shoot was on hold until the weather improved. The rain abated soon, however, and I set out alone to photograph along the trail not far from camp. The wildflowers had droplets clinging to them and, as I was to discover, there was a variety of volcanic ejecta to examine.

At last, bright patches began appearing in the sky and our crew set off to return to the summit of Kurodake. One porter joined us, carrying the large tripod, while the other two went down the mountain for supplies (beer and other things).

On Kurodake, the sun broke through the clouds again and once more we were bestowed with views across the landscape. Then we went from Kurodake back down and crossed the plateau to the edge of the great crater on the southwestern side of the complex. As we walked, Mr. Morishita explained about the flowers and plants. We passed more windswept scenery and places profuse with greenery and blossoms. Some plants had finished blossoming, others had yet to produce flowers, and then there were a couple of dozen that were in bloom.

Species like the komakusa (Dicentra peregrina), iwabukuro (Pennellianthus frutescens), and the Ezo tsutsuji (Therorhodian camtschaticum) grew in the sand and gravel of the windy areas. They grew low to ground because of the strong winds that persist year round, and many of the species had fine hairs for trapping moisture from fog. The komakusa has a single rhizome of 50 to 100 cm length and, according to Mr. Morishita, the plant can move its location up to 10 cm in a year.

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Dicentra peregrina – komakusa. The queen of alpine flora in Japan.

The creeping pine, a.k.a. the Siberian dwarf pine or Japanese stone pine, is called haimatsu in Japanese (Pinus pumila). It gets its English names from being both low-growing and its nature of slowly moving across the ground. Mr. Morishita pointed out how the shrubs were bare and dried with roots exposed on the windward side but produced green needles and cones on the leeward side. He explained that the plant continues to set down new roots from the front while its rear (windward side) becomes exposed and desiccated. Thus the plant slowly advances away from the wind. Creeping pine indeed!

For me, the most remarkable plant was the chishima tsugazakura (Bryanthus gmelini). What appeared as tiny white blossoms standing no more than three centimetres above a mat of pine-like needles was actually a shrub. Mr. Morishita drew our attention to the woody branches and roots that were exposed where the wind had removed the soil. Looking at it that way, I could see how a miniature tree was growing essentially underground and only the leaves and blossoms rose above the soil. As with other windy area species, this plant also produced new roots on the leeward side of the wind as the windward side became exposed. Several other species grew together in clumps of clay-like soil and made little islands of green that stood above the flat, grey volcanic sand and gravel. The landscape took on a whole new impression for me as I saw it now as a dynamically changing scene of hummocks that were eroded from one side while small plants gripped the soil and survived by perpetually moving as their roots were exposed.

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Bryanthus gmelini – chishima tsugazakura. Just pretty flowers…?


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…or a subterranean shrub?

In areas of deep snow, blossoms grew in broad hummocky swaths. Here the wind was less damaging and the soil was covered in vegetation. In places, small pools of water were surrounded by false-hellebore, low straw-like grasses, and various species of blossoming plants. The highest plant here was the Japanese rowan, nanakamado (Sorbus commixta), which grew in lush, green bushes. These too had a game plan of not growing too high as rabbits would seek out their twigs to nibble as the deep snows melted. By staying low, they assured themselves of un-nibbled twigs for producing buds once the snow was gone.

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Green meadows indicate places that receive deep snow in winter.

Before long, my head was swimming with thoughts about how these plants had each adapted to this harsh world high above the green hills beyond the slopes of the volcanoes. But soon we reached the crater and the clouds, which kept lifting and sinking, once again rose to reveal the landscape before us. The crater was wide and flat and a branch-work of streams in grey and yellow fed a central stream, the Akaishi River, which flowed out of the crater and through a gulley across the plateau. It eventually tumbled down over the cliffs of the Sounkyo Canyon. Mr. Morishita explained that there was once a lake in the crater but the waters had made a breach and the lake flowed out.

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The source of the Akaishi River: inside the main crater of the Taisetsu Volcano Group

The walk back to camp was quick-paced with only a few stops for further filming. The sun came out over Keigatsudake and the young Yamada and I made the quick climb to the summit. From here we looked out over green forest and some distant emerald fields. The only structures we could see were a couple of the hotels in Sounkyo. The wind was ferocious, however, and after a little we went back down. Yet again, there was no grand sunset, no alpine light. Nonetheless, a successful day of shooting had come to an end.

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On Location: Yakushima – Day Two (Through the Forest)

3:30 A.M. I awoke and dressed, throwing the last couple of items in my pack. Today I was going to climb Miyanouradake. I met the others in the hotel lobby. Outside it was dark but still very warm and the sky remained clear. We loaded our packs and bags into the taxi van and set off for the mountains.

During the winding ride up past landscapes obscured in blackness with the occasional glimpse of distant lights near the coast, the camera and a spotlight were turned on me and I was asked for a short monologue about Miyanouradake and my interest in the Hyakumeizan. I spoke to the camera and at times let my gaze stray off to the shallow world of light in the taxi’s headlights. Mountains. My home territory. I knew what I was talking about.

We reached the trailhead. A few other vehicles were already parked there. We would not be taking the route up past the Jomon sugi like most people do but rather another lesser used route, and then descend by the route to the famous tree. We’d all been given two bentos, one for breakfast and one for lunch, but this early in the morning I was not hungry, especially after the previous night’s meal. Everyone else filled up while I wandered further up the road to check out the scenery. Daylight was soon to break.

My guide, Kikuchi-san and two porters who would help carry our camp gear and filming equipment arrived. We had met the day before when he came to our hotel and we discussed the plan. I had been told that we would stay in a cottage or hut and so I had not brought my tent or ground mat, only my sleeping bag. But the plan got changed and we were going to stay in tents that he would provide. I figured that I could do without my ground mat.

For the start of the trek, I was filmed greeting Kikuchi-san and asking him to guide me up the mountain. We set about our hike that would take us through the forest, over the highest peak on the island, and back down into the forest near the Jomon sugi – 11.5 kilometres in total for the first day. We were both wired with mics and Mr. Sasaki followed close behind with the video camera, and behind him Mr. Ohkawa with the microphone boom. Mr. Sato with his flying camera, video engineer assistant Mr. Hazui, director Mr. Hatanaka, and the two porters made this trek of a foreigner hiking with his Japanese guide a small caravan.

Kikuchi-san was a small and very thin but wiry man. He weighed less than my wife and carried a pack almost half his weight. He had moved to Yakushima about 10 years ago and now ran an outdoor goods store called Yakushima Messenger that also provided guide services. He was easy to talk to and had a deep knowledge of the island. As I had read a lot prior to coming, I was able to verify my knowledge and add copiously to it. During our hike through the forest, he often stopped to point out some tree or other plant, a flower or insect, and tell me about it. We encountered a wood leach that did not suck blood. I noticed stag beetle and was informed that it was the Yakushima oni-kuwagata, a devil stag beetle. It was not of great size compared to the ones boys usually get excited about, but its pincers curved up slightly at the tips giving the impression of devil horns.

We came across our first Yakusugi – an impressive sylvan monument aged over two thousand years. Though not very tall, the convoluted and gnarled wood with various other species of plants growing from its heavy limbs and clutching at the trunk left us without a doubt that we were in the presence of one of the senior denizens of the wood. The fir trees here were also so enormous that I did not recognize them for what they were.

A Yakusugi. Trees over 1,000 years old become Yakusugi. Younger than that they are only kosugi or little sugi.

A Yakusugi. Trees over 1,000 years old become Yakusugi. Younger than that they are only kosugi or little sugi.

Fir trees. There were jokes about decorating them for Christmas and using the helicopter camera to put the star on top.

Fir trees. There were jokes about decorating them for Christmas and using the helicopter camera to put the star on top.

Our party reached the first resting point and we threw down our packs. The crew went ahead over a bridge to inspect the angles for shooting Kikuchi-san and I as we crossed. Mr. Hatanaka said I had ten minutes. I pulled out the tripod and began exploring the nearby moss-covered roots and trunks. I found a good spot and heard his voice call out, “Five minutes,” and barely a minute later, “Okay, Peter. Time to go.”

Limited time only: rushed as I was, I neglected to check the focusing here.

Limited time only: rushed as I was, I neglected to check the focusing here.

The nature from the bridge was sure a delight, though. A stream flowed so smoothly and silently that it made nearly a perfect mirror for the sunlit tree branches. I quickly fired off a couple of shots from the bridge. At the other side it seemed I had a moment to go back but before I could start shooting further I was called again. They needed to shoot a scene of me concentrating on photographing a tiny cedar sapling sprouting from a luxurious bed of moss. I obliged and hoped that I would be able to steal a few minutes back on the bridge with the camera on the tripod. But it was time to saddle up again.

Resting the camera on the rail of the bridge because there was no time to set up the tripod.

Resting the camera on the rail of the bridge because there was no time to set up the tripod.

The camera shooting the other camera shooting.

The camera shooting the other camera shooting.

The trail was not difficult at all. It was mostly a gentle ascent through a rich forest of primordial beauty. This area had never been logged. We were inside the UNESCO site boundaries. The path was littered with white cubic stones. These I recognized as the nodules of orthoclase feldspar, which occur in rather large sizes in Yakushima granite, a testimony to the cooling process of the magma having been slow enough to allow for the formation of feldspar crystals but still too quick to permit large quartz crystal growth.

We began to climb more steeply and after a time, our path took us between shorter trees with views to the nearby mountaintops. Upon one such peak there sat a sourdough loaf-shaped boulder that looked as though it had been sliced and ready to serve. Kikuchi-san explained that it was called “Tofu Iwa” or “Tofu Rock”. This was not the original Tofu Rock, however. Another rock with more squared proportions acquired the name first. But a surveyor mistakenly believed that this was the rock and had it recorded for the maps.

We came up near Kuromidake, a popular peak with a path branching off to the summit. A viewpoint nearby offered us views over the trees and to four consecutive small peaks. Kikuchi-san said we would be passing between the one on the far right and the one to its immediate left. But first we had to descend to a peat bog nestled in a small valley between the great knolls of granite.

Just beyond them thar hills... are more of them thar hills.

Just beyond them thar hills… are more of them thar hills.

At the peat bog, a doe and a fawn were grazing. We stayed on a boardwalk and I shot some of the scenes with the deer. Then Mr. Hatanaka gave me directions while Mr. Sato got his helicopter into the air. The buzzing of the six props, which sounded like some gigantic insect, startled the deer and they bolted into the bushes. I nevertheless continued my charade of photographing the wildlife as the helicopter flew before my camera lens.

Oyako - parent and child - out for a graze at the peat bog, Japan's most southern peat bog thanks to the cooler climate up in the high mountains.

Oyako – parent and child – out for a graze at the peat bog, Japan’s most southern peat bog thanks to the cooler climate up in the high mountains.

It was time for the final climb up out of the trees. We made a stop at a clear stream to fill up our water bottles. Though the map showed plenty of spots to get fresh water on our way to the summits, the recent dry weather left our guide wondering about the situation. I pointed out a small tree that resembled the alder trees of Canada’s west coast. Kikuchi-san seemed unfamiliar with it. Everyone shouldered his pack in full confidence that we would be able to find fresh water again soon. Was I the only one to pack an extra 2-litre bottle just in case?

Precious water. What could be more necessary under the searing sub-alpine sun? A hat?

Precious water. What could be more necessary under the searing sub-alpine sun? A hat?

Up we went and broke free of the forest. For the next few hours nothing would obscure our views of the summits of Yakushima.

Meizan on New Year’s Morn

In the pre-dawn light of January 1st, 2013, I drove the short distance from my house in Konosu City, Saitama, to Arakawa Panorama Park (荒川パノラマ公園), situated on the dyke near Route 66 and overlooking the Ara River. The temperature hung just below zero and the ground was frosty. A couple of dozen New Year’s sunrise viewers had gathered to watch the first daybreak of the New Year from the park’s elevated vantage point. Particularly, a small hill near the playground apparatus had collected a few loose knots of people. I arrived and surveyed the sky – clear of cloud almost everywhere except for in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, from where the sun would emerge, and a small ship of clouds docked over the peak of Nikko Shiranesan. I was indeed here not for the sunrise but for the mountain views as this New Year’s morning promised excellent mountain-viewing conditions.

Previously I posted about the Hyakumeizan (日本百名山) that I believed or had confirmed were visible from the Konosu/Gyoda/Kumagaya area of Saitama, and in November I managed to get a few long-range photographs of several of those mountains, which I subsequently added to that post. Today I am posting photographs I captured from Arakawa Panorama Park on New Year’s morning, going from east to west. All photographs were made with a Sony Alpha 350, using a Minolta 70-300mm lens and cropped on my computer. Some images had to be cropped so only a small portion of the frame was used. Other photographs were cropped little and captured with a wider focal length than 300mm, as in the cases of Akagiyama and Harunasan. Most of the images can be viewed larger if you click on them.

Tsukubasan 筑波山 as seen before sunrise from the top of the small hill in Arakawa Panorama Park. A better view can be attained by walking along the dyke toward the Route 66 bridge.

Tsukubasan 筑波山 as seen before sunrise from the top of the small hill in Arakawa Panorama Park. A better view can be attained by walking along the dyke toward the Route 66 bridge.

This image is rather interesting to me. According to the map, Chausudake 茶臼岳 in Nasu should be visible from my area but a smaller mountain of about 1,700 metres could partially be blocking the view. Cropped tightly from a 300mm photograph, in this image one can make out a mountain with its summit on the left side. A higher mountain stands in the background near the centre of the image. Is this Chausu? An even more distant peak seems to be situated to the right of this higher mountain. Is this Chausu? I am sure one of these two peaks is Chausu but I can't be sure which one.

This image is rather interesting to me. According to the map, Chausudake 茶臼岳 in Nasu should be visible from my area but a smaller mountain of about 1,700 metres could partially be blocking the view. Cropped tightly from a 300mm photograph, in this image one can make out a mountain with its summit on the left side. A higher mountain stands in the background. Is this Chausu? An even more distant peak seems to be situated to the right of this higher mountain. Is this Chausu? I am sure one of these two peaks is Chausu but I can’t be sure which one.

Nantaisan 男体山 is one of the four volcanoes clearly visible from the Kanto Plains. Below the left side of the mountain is Chuzenji Lake. The rugged-looking mountain on the right is the Nihyakumeizan, Nyohoudake.

Nantaisan 男体山 is one of the four volcanoes clearly visible from the Kanto Plains. Below the left side of the mountain is Chuzenji Lake. The rugged-looking mountain on the right is the Nihyakumeizan, Nyohousan 女峰山.

Moving north from east, the next visible Meizan should be Nikko Shiranesan, but as I mentioned above, it was the only mountain with a cloud cover. So the next mountain is Sukaisan 皇海山 seen here as the slightly higher peak on the right.

Moving north from east, the next visible Meizan should be Nikko Shiranesan, but as I mentioned above, it was the only mountain with a cloud cover. So the next mountain is Sukaisan 皇海山 seen here as the slightly higher peak on the right.

I never paid any attention to the beautiful snowy peak on the right shoulder of Akagiyama before but once I learned that Hotakayama 武尊山 was over that way I became enamored with its beautiful form. One day my wife noticed it catching the light at sunset and asked me what mountain it was. I was glad I could tell her the answer.

I never paid any attention to the beautiful snowy peak on the right shoulder of Akagiyama before but once I learned that Hotakayama 武尊山 was over that way I became enamored with its beautiful form. One day my wife noticed it catching the light at sunset and asked me what mountain it was. I was glad I could tell her the answer.

Akagiyama 赤城山. Next to Fujisan this is likely the most recognized mountain around here. The Wind of Akagi keeps cold winds blowing through Saitama in winter and I also believe was instrumental in keeping radiation fallout from Fukushima away from this part of Saitama. A map of the radiation spread I saw showed northern Saitama received the least amount of radiation fallout, and the weather forecast always showed wind coming from Akagi intercepting and blocking winds coming from the Tohoku area.

Akagiyama 赤城山. Next to Fujisan this is likely the most recognized mountain around here. The Wind of Akagi keeps cold winds blowing through Saitama in winter and I also believe was instrumental in keeping radiation fallout from Fukushima away from this part of Saitama. A map I saw of the radiation spread showed northern Saitama received the least amount of radiation fallout, and the weather forecast always showed wind coming from Akagi intercepting and blocking winds coming from the Tohoku area.

It was two years ago that I first noticed the white range of mountains to the left of Akagi. What was that range? According to the map it had to be the Tanigawa Range and the rugged peak just on Akagi's left shoulder should be Tanigawadake 谷川岳. And here it is!

It was two years ago that I first noticed the white range of mountains to the left of Akagi. What was that range? According to the map it had to be the Tanigawa Range and the rugged peak just on Akagi’s left shoulder should be Tanigawadake 谷川岳. And here it is!

This image poses an unsolved mystery for me: one of these mountains should be Kusatsu Shiranesan 草津白根山. I have studied the map and tried very hard to discern which one it should be but I have not been able to. Is it the large mountain on the right? Or the middle peak? If it's the middle peak then the peak on the left should be Gohandake 御飯岳. But then what is the big mountain on the right? All I can say is that in this direction lies Kusatsu Shiranesan. It's in this photo.

This image poses an unsolved mystery for me: one of these mountains should be Kusatsu Shiranesan 草津白根山. I have studied the map and tried very hard to discern which one it should be but I have not been able to. Is it the large mountain on the right? Or the middle peak? If it’s the middle peak then the peak on the left should be Gohandake 御飯岳. But then what is the big mountain on the right? All I can say is that in this direction lies Kusatsu Shiranesan. It’s in this photo.

Another distant white peak, this one to the right of Asamayama. The map suggests that the only big mountain out this way is Azumayasan 四阿山.

Another distant white peak, this one just beyond Harunasan’s left side (the foreground peaks) and to the right of Asamayama. The map suggests that the only big mountain out this way is Azumayasan 四阿山.

Asamayama 浅間山, one of Japan's most active volcanoes. Recently it has been taking a break, its signature plume of smoke unusually absent.

Asamayama 浅間山, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. Recently it has been taking a break, its signature plume of smoke unusually absent.

Perhaps the most distinctive peak of the Chichibu Mountains, Ryogamisan 両神山. From this angle the mountain blocks the view of Yatsugatake. From Gyoda to Kumagaya and Fukaya, Yatsugatake becomes visible.

Perhaps the most distinctive peak of the Chichibu Mountains, Ryogamisan 両神山. From this angle the mountain blocks the view of Yatsugatake. From Gyoda to Kumagaya and Fukaya, Yatsugatake becomes visible.

The gently rounded mountain peak on the right is also the highest point in Saitama, Koubushigatake 甲武信ヶ岳 at 2,475m. It sits on the borders of Saitama, Nagano and Yamanashi.

The gently rounded mountain peak on the right is also the highest point in Saitama, Koubushigatake 甲武信ヶ岳 at 2,475m. It sits on the borders of Saitama, Nagano and Yamanashi.

Kumotoriyama 雲取山 can be seen here just to the right of centre and with sunlight. It straddles the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi and Tokyo. From this view Daibosatsurei 大菩薩嶺 is not visible, but moving a little more southward it appears to the left side of Kumotori. The distinctive dark mountain on the right is the Nihyakumeizan, Bukozan 武甲山.

Kumotoriyama 雲取山 can be seen here just to the right of centre and with sunlight. It straddles the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi and Tokyo. From this view Daibosatsurei 大菩薩嶺 is not visible, but moving a little more southward it appears to the left side of Kumotori, behind the bumpy peaks visible in this image.

No introduction necessary, Fujisan 富士山.

No introduction necessary, Fujisan 富士山.

Fujisan with Mitsutogeyama 三ッ峠山 on the right.

Fujisan with Mitsutogeyama 三ッ峠山 on the right.

The Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地 with Hirugatake 蛭ヶ岳 as the highest.

The Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地 with Hirugatake 蛭ヶ岳 as the highest.

I guess the next thing to do is to bring a compass along next time and check directions against my map. Perhaps then I can verify any of the peaks that still leave me guessing.

A Day at Harunasan

Harunasan from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Harunasan from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

I will admit that I never felt much of an inclination to visit Harunasan. Though it is one of the mountains visible from my area, one of the three Jomo Sanzan (上毛三山) mountains of Gunma Prefecture (along with Akagiyama and Myogisan) and a Nihyakumeizan (二百名山), there was nothing in particular about Haruna that called to me. So I finally had an excuse to visit the mountain when Wes (Tozan Tales and Hiking in Japan), who joined the discussion for Yama-to-Keikoku’s September issue last year, notified me of his winter holiday plan to visit Haruna with his wife and asked if I could join them for a day. Certainly I was pleased at the thought of a hike with good company and a day in the mountains is still a day of exercise, fresh air, and photography for fun. So there it was: I was going to visit Harunasan for a hike at last.

Harunafuji and Lake Haruna at dawn

Harunafuji and Lake Haruna at dawn

Wes’s plan included three full days of hiking around Haruna, from December 25th to the 27th. I chose to meet up with him and his wife on the 26th because the 25th was a family day for me and the 27th was his wife’s birthday and I didn’t want to intrude on her special day. As it turned out, in spite of fine weather lasting all three days, the 26th was the least favourable day to visit. First, there was a terrific cold Siberian wind blowing through that day and second, the visibility was poorest that day as many clouds obscured the mountain views. Wes and his wife had much more luck mountain spotting on the 25th and 27th and there was no bone-rattling wind howling through.

Ice on Lake Haruna

Ice on Lake Haruna

I drove up to Lake Haruna just around sunrise. The peaks were turning orange and I thought of where I could get a good photograph; however, once I passed the frozen side of the lake I was arrested by the orange reflections in the blue ice and stopped the car. I had brought my DSLR and just in case, my Pentax 6×7. I first grabbed just the digital and tripod and dashed across the street to capture some icy scenes. The wind quickly punished my foolishness of not having brought gloves. Before the first exposure I had to dig in my pockets and pull out a pair of mitts I had stuffed in there quite some time ago. The lure of the ice was too strong and before long I was down along the shore shooting ice abstracts and icy views across the lake.

300mm ice abstract

300mm ice abstract

At last, the call of nature sent me back to the car and driving to a public restroom that I had passed just a little down the road.
Back at the lakeshore, the sun had come up and was shining on the ice. I took my whole camera bag, thinking I was going to take out the 6×7. But the sunlit ice didn’t inspire as the shaded ice had and soon I decided it was time to go back to the car, eat something, and then find Wes’s hotel.

Ice detail on Lake Haruna

Ice detail on Lake Haruna

His description of the location was very good and it was easy to find. I tidied up my small car and put my son’s junior seat in the hatchback. I needed room for two adults and I couldn’t count on Wes’s wife, Kanako, being small enough for a child seat. I went into the hotel lobby and looked at a book about mountains of Gunma while I waited for the couple to come down. Soon we were ready to find the trailhead for our first hike.

The target was Haruna’s second highest peak, Soumasan – 1,411 metres (yes, I was a bit sad about no doing the highest peak but Wes and Kanako had done it the day before and Haruna is not far from my house with only just over two hours of driving between here and there). We passed Haruna Fuji and left the lakeside, driving past a moor and up a slope to reach the parking lot. We all bundled up in preparation for the wind, especially me as I had already shared some chill-inducing, blustery moments in it.

Wes begins hiking on the trail to Soumasan

Wes begins hiking on the trail to Soumasan

The hike was not to be long. With 1.6 km to the summit it was hardly a stroll to the corner store. The peak looked steep, rising up like a camel’s hump, but we only encountered one part with rusty iron ladders and chains.

Wes on the ladder section up Soumasan

Wes on the ladder section up Soumasan

The rest was rather easy, though the wind howled through like a bullet train at times. On the summit we were quite comfortable. A small structure for a shrine and several jizou kept the wind clear of us. The sun shone down and Wes checked the air temperature and found it was a balmy five degrees Celsius. We could see Fuji across the Chichibu Mountains and Asamayama’s white skirts hung below a gathering of clouds. Akagi was also being shy and the mountains of Nikko and Oze were not to be seen. In spots here and there, far and farther away, we were able to make out snowy flanks of mountains but no grand view presented itself other than the haze-enveloped Kanto Plains and the blue Chichibu Mountains.

Wes on Soumasan

Wes on Soumasan

The Kanto Plains from Soumasan - 1,411m

The Kanto Plains from Soumasan – 1,411m

Wes and Kanako with Soumasan in the background

Wes and Kanako with Soumasan in the background

From Soumasan we headed over to a large volcanic rock tower known as Surusu Iwa. Though it looked imposing – like a rotten molar jutting up from an otherwise toothless jaw bone – there was a steep gully on one side with a ladder near the top that we scaled. Surusu Iwa afforded up an inspiring view of Haruna Fuji and some lesser neighbouring mounds.

Surusu Iwa

Surusu Iwa

Me on Surusu Iwa with Harunafuji and Lake Haruna behind

Me on Surusu Iwa with Harunafuji and Lake Haruna behind

After some fun photos we descended and returned to the road to hike back to the car. Interestingly, we came back to the road right along the Melody Route. Parallel grooves have been etched into the asphalt with different groove spacing so that when a car drives over the grooves at a steady speed, the tune to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” can be heard. We played the tune ourselves as we drove back to the lake.

We stopped for a lunch of noodles near the Haruna Fuji cable car entrance. This was also where a great display had been set up for night time illumination. Wes showed me a photo he had taken the night before and also a snippet of a video he had captured of fireworks over the lake.

The Haruna Story: Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Haruna was a conically shaped strato volcano. Explosive eruptions destroyed the cone and normal eruption activity restored it at least twice. The most recent eruption was about 1,400 years ago.

The Haruna Story: Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Haruna was a conically shaped strato volcano. Explosive eruptions destroyed the cone and normal eruption activity restored it at least twice. The most recent eruption was about 1,400 years ago.

There was one more stop planned and that was at Haruna Shrine. For this we had to drive back down the mountain a couple of kilometres. Maps both new and old showed an exciting walk to various shrine structures through what appeared to be a forest of rock towers. Earlier at Surusu Iwa I had noticed that the rock was similar to the breccia that composes Myogisan, a mountain famous for its rock towers and pinnacles. Unbeknownst to me, Haruna apparently also had a rock tower area. I went up the trail with high hopes and soon we came across our first natural feature, a stone arch up on the cliff side opposite us.

The arch near Haruna Shrine

The arch near Haruna Shrine

We were in the late afternoon light as we stopped here and there to photograph the temples and occasional natural scenes as well. There were some very impressive cedars of noteworthy girth and ice in the ravine below. The rock towers, however, were not easy to appreciate because they loomed over the trees immediately behind the temples and at least one was cloaked in wire fence to prevent rocks from tumbling down. In the shade of the deep ravine there was no sunlit to illuminate the rock towers and against the bright blue sky they did not make for good photographs. At the end of the temple area there was a wall of concrete in the ravine serving to control the erosion of the ravine, and just beyond that I spied a pillar of rock reaching into the sunlight. This was the Rock of Nine Folds (九折岩), and indeed from a certain angle it looked as though it had been folded in zigzag fashion like origami. I managed a few shots before I had to dash to catch up with Wes and Kanako who were already on the way down the path that followed the water’s edge back to the entrance.

The Rock of Nine Folds - 九折岩

The Rock of Nine Folds – 九折岩

The final stops for the day were at a frozen waterfall and then at the arch again. There was a hasty pullover on the way back up to the lake as the moon rose up behind two peaks. After dropping off Wes and Kanako at their accommodation, I made another quick stop at the lakeside to shoot the twilight glow over the water. And then it was time to go back home.

Moon over a hotel at Lake Haruna

Moon over a hotel at Lake Haruna

Now that I know a little about Harunasan I think I will likely return sometime in the near future. I would like to see those rock towers in different light and hike up past the Rock of Nine Folds. I’d also like to get up to the highest summit. For now, I think it might be a nice place to visit with the kids when things warm up a bit.

Harunafuji and Soumasan viewed from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Harunafuji and Soumasan viewed from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

It’s Up to You

Sometime in late May or early July, I received a message from a Mr. Kamiya in the editorial department of Yama-to-Keikoku magazine. Kamiya-san had been my contact when YamaKei (Yama-to-Keikoku’s nickname) published four of my photographs earlier this year in their Mountaineer’s Data Book, an annual supplement that comes with the January issue. Kamiya-san’s message said that YamaKei was planning to hold a discussion forum with foreign mountaineers, the theme being mountain manners and etiquette. I was certainly pleased to be asked and responded that I would be interested in participating. Details would come later.

About a week after our initial dialogue, I received further information which included a list of topics that we’d be asked about. Questions included things like, “What are some aspects of Japanese mountaineering that you find odd?” “How does mountain etiquette in Japan differ from that in your home country?” and “What aspects of Japanese mountaineering etiquette impress you?” In addition to the questions I was told that one of the three people they had originally asked had had to cancel, and as I had previously mentioned that I knew of some other foreign mountaineers of Japan, they asked me to contact them on behalf of the magazine. I sent messages to a Briton in Yamanashi and an American, Wes Lange, in Osaka. Of the two, Wes was free to come up to Tokyo. I was really pleased about that because Wes and I had exchanged comments and messages on the Net but had never actually met. This would be a chance to finally meet a new friend.

Wes and I met up a little before the meeting and took a moment to discuss our answers to the questions, he having given it a lot more serious thought than I had been able to conjure up. The meeting itself went very well, I felt. The third foreigner was a Frenchman named Matthieu Lienart. His command of Japanese was truly remarkable, certainly leagues ahead of mine. I was just grateful that the freelance writer who was recording our words and guiding the discussion was able to understand what I was trying to say. Matthieu is a licensed mountain guide who has worked in both Japan and France, though at the time he was looking for steady employment.

Three weeks after the discussion, I received my complimentary copy of the September issue that included four pages of us. Reading it over, I was able to further appreciate (and understand) some of the points that Matthieu had mentioned. One thing that really intrigued me was the European view of human activity in the mountains. Pointing out that Europeans have a long history of activity in the high mountains (hunting, cutting trees, mining, etc.) versus the fact that in Japan (where there are not the high valleys and plateaus that there are in Europe) religion dictated that the high mountains were the sacred abodes of the gods, Matthieu said that national parks in France are created not only to protect nature but to protect the historical livelihoods of the people who live there. This means that the maintenance of old houses is encouraged and the ways of life which include bringing livestock up to the alpine meadows for grazing in summer continues to be permitted. Matthieu expressed disdain for the stringent rules of the national park systems in North America. According to his perception, these places were not true nature but natural systems managed by human beings. I thought his perspectives were very important to our discussion because they added a third dimension to what was supposed to be just western ideas contrasted with Japanese ones. Now we had European, North American and Japanese views to compare. Had the third person not been a European but instead an Australian or New Zealander, we might not have had the same degree of contrast between the westerners’ viewpoints.

Matthieu’s other beef with the North American way was that there was too much regulation. In his blog (see link below), he wrote further explanation for the points he was making but which had to be edited down due to space constraints in the magazine. (Some of my points were cut too brief as well, I thought, but Matthieu’s arguments are more interesting to consider.) Reading over his post (entirely in Japanese!) I picked up on his point about over regulation. One thing that regulation leads to is user fees, and by chance or by design, the same issue features an article about the possibility of charging for entrance to some mountain areas in Japan. In addition, as Wes pointed out, some parks in the U.S. (and definitely in New Zealand as I have experienced and probably also in Canada) have a checkpoint where hikers must register and respond to questions about appropriate gear. If the warden deems you to be ill-equipped for the hike or climb then you will be denied access. Matthieu argued in the magazine and further on his blog that being properly equipped is a personal thing. He mentions people walking in sneakers on a glacier in France but points out on his blog that these is on the lower region of the glacier where there is no snow and the hard ice is easy to walk on. I have to admit that even though I pointed out at the discussion that Japanese often fail to change their climbing plans in spite of severely adverse weather (and as such there are deaths reported during every holiday period) I agree with Matthieu that each person is responsible for his own level of preparedness.

Let’s start a new paragraph here as I cite a couple of my own examples. One year in October I reached the trailhead leading up to Kasagatake and found that an unexpected blizzard had delivered 40 centimetres of fresh snow to the ridges and summits. A man at the hiker registration office advised me not to go up unless I had crampons with me. He said I could probably make it to Kagamidaira but after that I was advised not to climb higher. I went with a new plan in mind: to reach Kagamidaira and see how things looked from there. The day was warm and the snow was melting. From Kagamidaira I had not trouble reaching the Sugoroku tent site, and I hiked up on hard ice that night to the top of Momonokidake to see Yarigatake in the moonlight. Had the man at the registration office had the authority to deny me access to the trail due to my lack of preparedness for snow, I would have missed out on some beautiful views that led to a few great photographs. In May of 2010 I planned to climb Kita Hotakadake and knowing that there was going to be deep snow I ordered my first real pair of crampons. But the delivery was delayed and I did not receive the crampons in time. I went anyway and figured that I would see how far I could go with ascension snowshoes and small four-point crampons. The snowshoes were good in the early morning when the snow was iced over and the grips on the snowshoes could hold me on the slopes. But as the day warmed up, the slush only had me slipping around. There were so many people were climbing, however, that the deep foot holes made climbing relatively easy and I used the small crampons just for extra grip. When I reached the summit, a man said, “He climbed up in only small crampons!” Why not? I had been able to do it, hadn’t I?

A final note that Matthieu writes about on his blog: someone in the magazine mentions comfortable and safe experiences in the mountains. Matthieu rightly points out that comfortable and safe are not what mountaineering is about. I would add that it is exactly for the reason of moving out of our comfort zones and challenging ourselves in a dangerous environment that we go to climb. Since I have been climbing in Japan as opposed to hiking in Canada, I have learned a lot about myself and my ability to make quick decisions or change plans when necessary, or about challenging myself to get past some difficult section on an icy patch or rocky drop. Perhaps I ventured very near danger when a false move or a little too much applied weight could have had me tumbling down to broken bones or worse. But that I made it without a scratch was thanks my ability to feel the situation and find my way through it. I have learned and grown in the mountains. If mountain visits are meant to be comfortable and safe, says Matthieu, then you have places like Murododaira where the ease of access (trolley bus and cable cars), the abundance of comfortable lodging, and the certain paths that can be traversed in high heels make the place look like a “mountain-themed Disneyland”. His comments brought to mind remarks made by the late great climber/photographer/journalist Galen Rowel, who listed the Tateyama area and the Japan Alps in general as a Zone 1 (second worst out of ten zones) for wilderness experience, in a piece he once wrote for Outdoor Photography. Indeed, I firmly believe that the over-development around Yarigatake was the reason for the continuous chain of hikers waiting to climb up to the summit during my visit in 2007, and I brought this up at the meeting.

Perhaps Matthieu and I are not so far off in our ideas about the mountain experience. In a post-discussion message I sent to the writer, I mentioned that in Canada there are no mountains (that I know of) with lodging constructed near the summit. Minimal damage to the natural environment is encouraged, especially in national parks. This regulation of human activity is Matthieu’s number one gripe, but on the other hand, it prevents Murododaira’s from appearing in Canadian mountains. Furthermore, outside of the national parks there are plenty of wilderness provincial parks with no facilities whatsoever and also other places that are not even designated as anything other than wilderness. In these places, hikers are free to roam wherever they wish. Etiquette is left up to the individual, as is preparedness. In such places, wilderness is all there is to see. Only cairns mark the way sometimes. Here no one will tell you what you can and can’t do, and there are no hotels or huts with sleeping mats and duvets, or hot food and cold beer. Perhaps the paradox to proper wilderness management is to simply leave it alone and let the few hikers who are willing to venture into the true wild follow their own common sense. Overuse brings about environmental degradation. If the Japan Alps had no huts above the 1,500 metre mark, how much more pristine and lonely would the mountains be?

For further reading about the details of the discussion, please check out Wes’s post here.
And for Matthieu’s Japanese post explaining his views in more detail, read it here.

Look closely. Can you see all the people climbing up to the summit of Yarigatake? Talk about a popular peak!

The morning before I was warned that 40 cm of snow had fallen and without crampons I would not be able to climb up to the ridges and peaks. I went anyway and 24 hours later this is all that remained of the snow. Washibadake is the central peak.

My face and bio. Matthieu Lienart’s quote. Yama-to-Keikoku magazine, pages 40-43, September 2012 issue.

The Climber Within

When I was 12 years old, I went to a week-long summer camp event – five days and one weekend overnight. On the first day I caught sight of a beautiful blonde girl about my age or a year older. Throughout the week, any chance I got I tried to get near her to interact with her. On the last day she sat in front of me on the bus and I managed to spark up an animated conversation with her. Her stop was one stop before mine and mine was the last stop. As we neared her stop I tried to sum up the courage to ask for her phone number. But I did not. And she disembarked and summarily went out of my life.

Twenty-nine years later I doubt that getting her phone number would have made any big difference in my life now. But from that experience I learned (in retrospect years later) that when the time is now you have to act. Otherwise you watch the pretty blonde walk away and out of your life.

Grass and shadows at Yunoko

February 11, 2012. My 41st birthday. My wife has begrudgingly agreed to let me out of the house, even though I say that if it were not a national holiday I would be at work until late anyway. There’s no climbing mountains or photographing landscapes when out with the family, only shooting pictures of the kids. Last year I went out only twice and this year I’d like visit the mountains at least three times. My wife complains that I am free while she is stuck minding the children. But I don’t feel free knowing there is great pressure for me to make the most out of this single day. The question that has nagged me since I realized I would get a three-day weekend was whether this should be a photography outing with the possibility of a climb or a climbing outing with some photography. Last year’s trips to Tateshinayama and Ryogamisan produced few usable images because I was on the move most of the time. My submissions to Yama-to-Keikoku calendars have produced no published winners in the last three years and I have run out of “fresh” material to submit. And I gave my stock agency all my work from 2008 to 2011 that they had not yet received. In short, I have next to nothing in fresh material, and a hike to the summit means making fewer photographs, therefore, I should choose the spend time photographing over climbing in order to have photographs to submit. That’s the logic, anyway.

My target terrain is the area known as Oku Nikko. Beyond Chuzenjiko (Lake Chuzenji) and between the mountains of Nantaisan and Nikko Shiranesan lies the wetland of Senjogahara and the steaming hot spring-fed lake of Yunoko. This was where I have decided to spend my day, keeping the possibility of climbing Nantaisan seriously up front. I left home at 3:30 and arrived at Senjogahara well before sunrise. The weather report said temperatures would be between -9 and -5 degrees in Nikko, but I am quite a bit above the city, at over 1,300 metres. The air is pretty chill and even with a few layers of clothing on and a woollen hat covered by a hood I feel the cold. I set up my 4×5 camera on the viewing deck and use a bench as a Stairmaster to keep myself warm inside while waiting for sunrise. When the light does appear, it is to either side of my composition. It seems the sun is rising behind Nantaisan which looms behind me. I manage a few shots in 35mm and one composition in 4×5 before packing it in. Now what? Climb Nantaisan or head over to Yunoko?

Winter beauty at Yunoko

It is not yet 8 A.M. and so I drive to Yunoko. In the background, a white mountaintop draws my attention. I feel the compulsion to get up there! Imagine the photographs to be captured with snowbound trees in the foreground and the rockier parts of the mountain coated in thick white. I approach the ski run with snowshoes in hand. Is there a way to go up the mountain from the ski run? A sign says that there is, but I imagine the slow climb in the snow and the time it will take and figure that I would be better off trying to shoot more photographs. Instead I decide to walk around Yunoko and shoot the sunlight in the steam coming off the lake. But the route around the lake is closed due to heavy snow.

I return to Senjogahara and seek out a good viewpoint of the mountains east and southeast. The snowshoes come on and I follow a cross country trail to a promising spot where I then leave the trail and began pushing deep holes into the soft snow.

Senjogahara with the trunk of Nantaisan on the right

I struggle with the scenery. It is beautiful but not coming together for me in the viewfinder. It’s hard work getting the right composition in 4×5. I tramp about in the snow, scouting for a better foreground, at last returning to the trail. Somewhere there is a great scene here but I can’t find it. By now it is nearing noon. I had said that if I were to attempt Nantaisan I would start at 10:00 o’clock at the latest. It is already too late and I am still not feeling that I have found that special place where I can easily lose myself and emerge with a heap of satisfactorily exposed film. At last I stomp down a depression in the snow just of the trail and shoot Nantaisan as seen from between two white birch trees.

Wind blowing through trees at Yunoko

Not sure what they were doing but they were carrying what looked like oxygen tanks and making holes in the ice

From Lake Chuzenji, Nantaisan looks like a neat conical heap of a mountain. It doesn’t look very high because the lake is at about half the elevation of the mountain. Simply, the mountain fails to inspire me to climb it. However, from this other view at Senjogahara, I can see how the volcanic crater had burst apart with a stream of lava on one side. From this view the mountain looks exciting. I am starting to feel a strong urge to get up on Nantaisan; the long arm of one side of the broken crater looks totally accessible. By now I have also learned to distinguish which peak is the summit of Oku Shiranesan. This mountain too, of which I knew nothing prior to coming, is looking very attractive in its mantle of white. But a winter mountain is not something one climbs as a quick jaunt up and down. It’s a project that takes hours. It takes three times longer to climb a route in winter than it does in summer. That much I know is sensible calculating. I am not going to get up very far on Shiranesan, and Nantaisan was said to be a short but gruelling climb. I have to remind myself that this is a photography outing by my own choosing and that climbing will have to wait for another day.

Ice at Ryuzu Falls

I go to visit Ryuzu Falls and shoot ice formations on the rocks. It is engaging photography and I experiment with multiple exposures while turning the focusing ring. Sunlight glittering off the ice formations becomes constellations of light in my viewfinder. But it is while running up the steps to the next terrace of the falls that it occurs to me that I am getting exercise for the first time today. As my heart pumps I feel the joy of physical exercise. I don’t like exercising for the purpose of exercising but getting a workout while climbing is a pleasure. Again I look back to Nantaisan.

Ice at Chuzenjiko

The last hour of my visit is spent around Lake Chuzenji just driving and exploring and looking back at the mountains. The wind here is viciously Hibernian. Water from the lake is freezing on the dock pilings. I look at the two mountains and consider how it would be to climb one on one day and the other the next day over a weekend. If I were a single man without a family I could come back the next week or later in the month. But these two mountains will have to wait longer for me.

Shiranesan from Chuzenjiko

Once down from the spaghetti noodle road of Irohazaka, I catch glimpses of Nantaisan in my mirror. Whenever I completed a hike in the past, I would always look back at the mountain whose summit I had just visited as much as possible while walking or driving away. But there is no sense of accomplishment when I looked at Nantaisan. I had not been to the summit and I was unable to content myself by thinking that I had chosen to make this a photo outing. I wonder what views I might have captured from the summit of Nantai. This was more than just photography. I needed to feel I had at least attempted to climb a mountain. But why was that so important? Twenty years ago it was all about getting the photographs. In the last few years, however, it has become more about reaching the top. The mountain is a challenge to climb. It does not care one way or another about who climbs it. But for someone like me, a mountain – a least one of these minor league proportions – offers me a chance to challenge myself, to climb over my own internal mountains. To reach the summit means that I have beaten any voices inside me that whined about physical strain, exerted muscles, a heavy pack, or cold wind. Life is not a beach. It is a mountain. And every time I reach a summit I feel satisfaction with myself. “I did it again!”

But I didn’t do it this time and more than ever I feel I have to get back to Nantaisan and Shiranesan. And so it has me thinking – though I have always maintained that I don’t need to climb all 100 Hyakumeizan, there’s nothing wrong with trying to climb more. Climbing them gives me an opportunity to visit mountains outside of the Alps upon which I focused nearly all my photographic efforts in the last few years. I have climbed 31 of the 100 by now. Could I reach 50 by the age of 50? That would mean 2 or 3 mountains a year over the next 9 years. Totally possible. I could make a list and begin planning. I could still expect to get lots of photographs. Hmm… The big question is what would the wife think? And is it fair for me to think of solely my own personal ambitions while she stays home minding the often difficult-to-handle children? At least with photography I can say I am working. But then again, the money earned from photography has until now gone towards paying for photography. Could I possibly get some good stories to write about as a climber? I sure think so.

It seems that somehow over the recent years, I have grown beyond just hiking and photographing. Now I really need to get up mountains. I can’t look at an attractive mountain without thinking how I would get to the summit. Somehow a climber has grown within. I don’t need to play in the big leagues. Even the little league summits can help me enjoy life more.

Nantaisan from Chuzenjiko

Tateshinayama, My 31st

Family life with two small kids can keep a man pretty busy. And yet I am only home with the kids late at night and on weekends. My wife envies me for being able to go to work and spend time on doing other things than just keeping up with housework and attending to the needs of an eight-month-old who has learned to crawl around and get in trouble and her 3-year-old brother who has entered a phase of throwing tantrums whenever his carefully parked Tomika cars are budged from their precise positions.

So, it is really difficult for me to ask my wife if she minds me taking a Sunday for a tramp in the mountains.

I have good reasons for going. Any outing is work-related. Photographing Japanese mountain and nature may eventually help to bring a little extra cash home, though so far it all goes to pay off the previous outings and photo-related expenses. I might capture something that could end up in a calendar or magazine through my stock agency. I might have something to submit to Yama-to-Keikoku’s calendars that could possibly be selected (though nothing of mine has been selected in the last three years). And this time there was a chance that NHK Niigata might have been there. Alas, as I expected, NHK were out of the picture, so to speak. Two weeks ago, the guy who contacted me originally sent me a message saying that his superiors felt they had sufficient footage from the local mountains of Niigata and didn’t need to shoot a foreigner photographing the leaves in Nagano. However, I had no intention of letting go of such a connection and I thought that even if the TV folks were not going to be there, I should still go and send a few digital snaps to my contact, just to keep the flame of interest alive. He is after all, a fellow mountaineer and “camera man”.

A working father’s schedule:

19:40 – Finish work, check weather and maps, and head home

21:20 – Arrive home. Take son to the shower, wash together. Look after daughter while wife bathes, then bring daughter to wife for bath. Brush son’s teeth and own; receive daughter from bath; dry her and begin dressing her until wife comes to take over.

23:00 – Family goes to bed. Daughter is wide awake. Son has nose issues and requests tissues which he then refuses to use.

00:00 – Everyone goes to sleep.

01:40 – Wake up and put bags in car. Drive in rain to Tateshina, Nagano with Judas Priest on the CD player. (Needed something loud and familiar to keep me awake and knowing the lyrics since elementary school means I can sing along, though singing along to Judas Priest is not easy. Good thing I drive alone!)

06:00 – Arrive at parking lot (rain has stopped). Sleep in car for 40 minutes. Eat breakfast.

07:10 – Begin hike.

It’s cloudy and a fog covers everything. It’s windy and the trees are sometimes shaken roughly and showers of raindrop collections fall on the muddy trail that is a chain of puddles more than a hiking trail. But it’s not raining and I am in a silent forest inhaling the fresh cool and damp air. It’s almost like home (west coast British Columbia). The trees are sporting yellows and orangey browns but the colours are lacking vibrancy. Still, it’s the most beautiful setting I have been in since May – the only other time this year I dared insist on going out on my own for a day. The trail takes an upward turn and large lava rocks – mostly worn smooth but also scratched by hiking stalks – mix with roots to provide steps up the mountainside. I am climbing Tateshinayama, a Hyakumeizan and my 31st. Not that I am counting. Well, I am counting but only just to keep track. Today’s outing includes a Hyakumeizan but only as part of a circuit that will take me through forests, along crystal clear streams, and to some small lakes (large ponds) that have formed in the congested throats of long ago silenced volcanic craters. The main purpose is to shoot autumn scenery. And get some fresh air and exercise!

There are five other people on the trail and I pass them shortly after beginning the ascension part of the route. I am not racing up by any means and my pace seems plodding and sluggish. But at my pace I am comfortable and don’t require any rest except to take off my jacket as I am now sweating inside and more wet than I would be without it. The cloud cover persists until around 9:00 when a patch of blue opens for a minute or so. I am putting all my trust in the weather report that called for rain until morning and clear skies later in the day. So far it looks like the forecast will come true.

At last the trees give way to a jumble of volcanic boulders and the summit is very near. At around ten o’clock I stand near the summit marker – 2,530 metres in elevation – with a blasting wind that attempts to knock me over and clouds furiously washing over the summit. Visibility is down to less than 50 metres and I can just barely see a raised rim of rock curving off to the right and a lower flat area, which suggest that this is indeed a crater summit of a volcano. A view opens up briefly to the northwest and I catch a glimpse of the valley below near Shirakaba Lake. More clearings come with increasing frequency. I walk along the crater rim to a concrete cylinder standing upright with a circular metal plaque identifying the mountains visible from the summit. The clouds part and I recognize a distant spire of rock as Yarigatake. The clouds are coming from the northwest but views below and to the southeast and east are nearly constant now. I can see Asamayama and Myogisan easily and soon Ryogamisan becomes distinct as well. Particularly interesting is to note that the base of Asamayama, where Karuizawa in located, is nearly as high in elevation as Myogisan. Basically, Myogi sits near the end of a volcanic plateau though independent of it. The plateau swoops down, drops, and Myogi rises up like a rotten stump. Then beyond, the cliffs drop hundreds of metres down and the slope of the ancient volcano of Myogi slides down to the even lower valley of the Toné River below. What one can perceive from the top of a mountain!

The wind remains cold but the summit is nearly clear by the time I head down the other side around 11:00. Not far below is a hut which is near a mountain road and many people are coming up in the warmth of the sun and quiet of the leeward side of the wind. Two families have small children with them wearing only sweatshirts. I warn them of the strong cold wind at the summit. Past the lodge I make my way through more forest and along the soggy trail. I begin descending but more than I think I should. Did I miss a turnoff? I am heading north. If I am where I think I am I should be heading east. I check the guidebook just as two people come climbing up. I ask where I am and they point out my location. Oh, foolish me. I somehow thought I had passed one hut too many. I am on the right track.

What a surprise to see the next hut right beside a road with a full parking lot and a tour bus! I could have driven up here! But that wouldn’t have been as rewarding. It’s 12:40. From here I figure I should reach the Twin Ponds (Futago Ike) by 1:30.

Looking at Tateshinayama from Futagoyama

I do the easy climb up Futagoyama and then descend into a larch forest. Orange needles fall gently like golden slivers of snow until a gust blows a wild swirl of needles through the air and lodges one in my mouth. And then through the trees I see the shimmer of sunlight on water. At last I reach the two small lakes (or big ponds). The water is beautifully clear though the shore is choked with larch needles and mountain ash leaves where the wind has blown them. It’s two o’clock when I sit down for lunch and then begin hastily trying to find compositions for my 4×5. Without looking at my watch I know instinctively when it’s time to pack up in a hurry. At three o’clock I have to hit the trail again. I have two hours before sunset and the route back promises to be as long according to the book. But I know I will want to stop for photos again.

I leave the open air of the lakes for a thick green mossy forest, then come to another small lake – Turtle Shell Pond. From here I climb up and then descend through more larch trees while having a view of Tateshinayama filling the valley ahead of me. Down in the valley the trail is seriously flooded. I have to walk with my legs apart in order to step on the dry ground below the bamboo grass. In some places, the larch needles make a flat mat, completely smooth, alerting me to a hidden puddle. A couple of times I splash in the water but my boots keep out most of the water. Leaving open valley and meadows for forest again the trail becomes dry. A stream that is so clear it looks like thick glass pools below mossy boulders and roots. Through the trees the light is becoming golden. The return hike goes smoothly and at one point I catch a glimpse of the higher peaks of Yatsugatake in the evening light. I also see a fox languidly stepping over boulders by the stream in a ravine below the trail.

It is just five o’clock when I reach the road and start the short walk back up to where I parked. At a pullout I enjoy a twilight view of the peaks of Yatsugatake, the Minami Alps, and the Chuo Alps. It has been sometime since I last set my eyes on those lofty peaks.

10:00 – Arrive at summit of Tateshinayama.

11:00 – Begin trek down the east side of the mountain.

13:40 – Reach Futago Ike and do some snapping with the digital and reconnoitering. Eat lunch and do some “serious” shooting.

15:00 – Begin heading back to car.

17:00 – Reach the road. And walk back to car. Change pants and footwear. Eat last of food.

18:00 – Start engine and begin drive back.

21:30 – Arrive back home in Saitama

22:00 – Take son to shower, wash together. Look after daughter while wife bathes, then bring daughter to wife for bath. Brush son’s teeth and own; receive daughter from bath; dry her and begin dressing her until wife comes out to take over.

23:00 – Family goes to bed.