January 31, 2020

Yasuji Tamura was a man of vision. A vision bequeathed, stolen even, but no less audacious for that fact. He would build a shining Shinto shrine, a tribute to the spiritual glory of Japan, a sublime ruby in the crown of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The setting for this jewel would be the heart of Singapore, newly liberated from the British by the Japanese Imperial Army, and re-christened "Syonan-to" - the Shining Southern Island. And thus, Syonan Zinzya1, the Shrine of that i...

November 20, 2016

The sun stole over the horizon, touching the golden spires of Bangkok's temples, and lighting the blue touchpaper of a hangover 36 hours in the making. The city had been underwater for weeks, as the Chao Phraya river exacted its slow, fetid revenge for decades of mismanagement and overdevelopment. The previous night, I'd watched a go-go dancer in 6 inch platform heels and little else stand on a pile of sandbags outside a club, swatting ineffectively with a broom at the bodies of dead cats an...

September 24, 2014


We sit on a rocky ledge above the cloud, the icy autumn wind numbing our toes through their thin rock shoes. A line of hikers creep up the valley below and I wonder if they could see us up here, a kilometer above their heads, two tiny pinpricks of sentience on an otherwise lifeless canvass of grey stone. We were on the Kita-dake Buttress, the alpine classic of Japan, and we were quite alone.

Twice before Tony had escaped the maul of the Buttress, skirting disaster and each time leaving a...

October 6, 2011

The old man and I sat on the peak of the Gendarme, watching the early evening clouds boil around the summits of the North Alps. From our seat in the skies, the world below appeared as a sea of white foam dotted with an archipelago of dark mountain tops. The pyramid of Yari stood tallest of all those islands, an unmistakable black spear thrusting into the heavens. The old man pointed slowly towards that distant peak,

“There’s another route up Yari, you know. You won’t find it on any of the m...

January 14, 2011

Wake up, it’s six thirty already.

For two months I’d seen nothing but the dance of tiny numbers on a screen, the gasps and shouts of a world so intangible that it scarcely exists from minute to minute. The real world, where low pressure fronts locked over the Sea of Japan loaded the mountains with deep snow day after day, was far away.

“What’s your plan for New Year?” she’d asked.

A warm breeze blows in from the Strait of Malacca, sending beads of condensation down the stem of my glass an...

September 1, 2010

Call it what you want. Boredom. Frustration. Fin de siècle ennui. Tokyo is a white hot skillet, a spitting stir fry of twenty million people, and I needed out.

The Kamikochi bus terminal at the foot of the Alps is as crowded as anywhere in the capital. And it’s only 5:30 in the morning. A human log jam of plaid shirts and last minute cigarettes. But speed and bad terrain are your friends when the August weekend crowds show up, and in minutes I leave the masses far behind and work my way up t...

July 21, 2010

But can we trust the Soviet? Is he really on our side? He’s a genius, they say, but your neck is on the line and the valley floor glimmers three hundred meters below the tips of those razor-sharp monopoint crampons. How are we to know it’s not just another plot to rid the world of one more 21st century capitalist? The febrile mind of Vitaly Abalakov is all that is keeping me from tumbling into the icy maw of the valley, taking the eternal fall where the sky is never bluer and the rope never...

May 24, 2010

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope, there’s no early train, I just called them. Best we can hope for is the 6:24, which puts us in Kamikochi at 8:30” said the OE.

It was going to be tight. The map shows ten and a half hours from Kamikochi to the top of Yari-ga-take, and that’s in good weather. In early May, the snow lies still deep in the Yari valley, the slushy remains of the season peppered with avalanche debris sometimes a few meters high.

Under a peerless blue sky we set out from Kappabashi...

March 5, 2010

The sound of my footsteps echoes across the empty Hayakawa valley. No other footprints in the snow, no signs of life ahead or behind.

I really am all alone here.

A hundred square miles of wilderness, population density: One.

Pttac pttac, the sound of rockfall from above, and I dive for cover. Close into the cliff, I pull the heavy winter pack up and over the back of my neck and cinch the helmet a little tighter. Forty feet away, a volley of grapefruit sized rocks scar the fresh snow.

I re...

January 11, 2010

When I was a small boy, I had a sandscape. In a thick wooden frame, two panes of glass sandwiched a mixture of black and white sand in a viscous liquid. When turned on end, the sand would slowly filter down and form stark monochrome landscapes at the bottom. I would dream of walking through those black moors streaked with snow, the desolate ranges of rolling mountains. But occasionally the sand would funnel itself into a single, impossible cone. An abominable Olympus of obsidian ridges and c...

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Climbing, mountaineering & hiking (mainly) in Japan

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