Roppongi station is a Gomorrah at five in the morning on a Saturday, but a long figure with the helmet hanging from his pack slips unnoticed through the red-eyed crowds and into the early morning. I meet T and K at the crossroads, and we point the car onto the highway and towards the west coast of the Izu peninsula. The city melts into sparse towns, which in turn dissolve into tiny fishing hamlets which huddle in rocky bays on the cold shore of the Pacific.
So, what do you do? Three days of good weather, a bivy bag, and those winter routes aren’t going to scout themselves. How about what Fukada Kyuya called “one of the hardest routes in Japan”, the 8000 foot vertical ascent of Mt Kai-koma via the Kuroto Ridge?
Yeah, that’s what you’re going to do.
Put some Hendrix on the iPod, hit dark streets of Tokyo and seek out the first train heading west for the mountains.
“Well I stand up next to a mountain,
And I chop it down with the edge of my hand...
Some call it a sickness. To swap warm beds for nights on cold granite, high above the clouds where the air is thin. A willing choice, a desire even, to leave comfort behind and instead carry your home on your back through the high places of this world. What else could account for all this, if not some tragic disease of the mind?
Mt Kita-dake shines brightly in the autumn sun, defiant against a cobalt sky. Our packs are heavy with the eight days worth of provisions for the long climb ahead,...
Sachiko once hit an American soldier over the head with a flower pot.
Her nose scrunches up as she laughs at the memory, and her face dissolves into a myriad of deep laughter lines. It’s hard to believe that in four hours time, she will turn eighty years old.
We pitched the tent high in the mountains before negotiating the perilous road down into the valley, where the map pointed to an onsen hot spring. At the end of a narrow track, the remains of the onsen lay, its neat perimeter walls no...
The dull thwack of rotor blades cuts through the thick summer air. We hurry along the knife edge, trying desperately to gain a vantage point. And then we see it through the foliage; a few hundred meters further along, a helicopter hovers motionless above the spire that marks the northern ridge of Mt Kondo. I marvel at the skill that keeps it so close to the trees that crowd the peak.
“Fuck. Someone’s come off Taka-modoshi.” I say, and the Other Englishman nods in silent agreement.
The Philippine tectonic plate crashes into Japan like a beaching battleship, it’s prow rising from the surf; this is the Izu Penninsula. Still it judders from time to time, showering earthquakes up and across the Kanto plain, while its many hot springs are a reminder that Vulcan’s forges hammer away not far from the surface. Yet the folds of its hills and valleys lie within an hour of Tokyo, and so it is that we dash headlong to it at the first sign of a break in the monsoon rains.
I pulled the rope from the pack, and with it flooded the aroma of sunlight and the memories of the previous day’s climb on Mt Myogi. This morning, though, long unused belay muscles twinge, while somewhere under the mess of slings and karabiners in the corner sleep my boots, still dusty with the trail. On the way back from Myogi, the Other Englishman had phoned.
“I’m back in Japan. Fancy a walk tomorrow?”
Tanzawa is the easiest of the hyakumeizan, the hundred famous mountains, to reach from...
The three minute warning. In the dark days of the early 80’s, it was a key part of every schoolboy’s lexicon. When Mother Russia pressed the button, that was all the time you’d have until the mushroom clouds blossomed above the craters where every English city used to be. What would you do in those three minutes? Where would you go? It was unacceptable not to have a snappy answer. Boil an egg. Jump off the school roof. Punch a teacher. Try to feel up that girl in the next classroom.
I packed my gear and told myself it didn’t matter. I’d made the sensible decision. A prudent judgment call. “Summiting is optional, getting down is mandatory”. And all the other comfortable homilies and half truths, salves on a wound of defeat. Climb back down and tell myself I’d done my best, but that the conditions were simply wrong. That I didn’t need this and that I was here for the experience of being here, and not simply to get to the top, and that Yuka would approve and that everyone...
Mt Ibuki towers like a fist over the shores of Lake Biwa, north-east of Kyoto. Almost twelve metres of snow were measured on its summit in 1927, a record amount for a Japanese mountain, and one which stands to this day. Freezing winter winds sweep off Siberia and over the sea of Japan, loading the air with moisture and fueling the snow storms which batter the mountain. Its western slopes, the remainder of a long-collapsed volcanic caldera, are notorious for the avalanches which slip with dev...