March 1, 2009

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...

February 9, 2009

It’s time to find out who you really are.

Strip away the convenient lies, the lovingly crafted self-image, the layers of false beliefs you’ve let accumulate over the years. You’ve done this, you’ve put yourself here. There’s no papering over the mistakes, no extenuating circumstances, you don’t justify this one by blaming others. You not even going to blame yourself. You’re in a tent, on a mountain at 10,000 feet, in a storm in the middle of winter. So you’re just going to have to dig into...

January 27, 2009

With hands buried deep in our pockets, we hurry off the deserted platform at Mitsutoge station and into the grey morning. Mt Fuji funnels a cold wind down onto the plain, icing the lakes at its foot. The station master scurried back into the warmth of his office as soon as he has taken our tickets. We try to ignore the clouds which cruise the peaks above us and make our way through the frozen fields to the base of the mountain. Yuka groans. Apparently the mountain looks a little higher than...

January 19, 2009

Yuka’s retreats have acquired a certain notoriety. Native American medicine men, Hawaiian Kahuna, Japanese witches, at some point all and more have been called upon and woven into the rich experience she runs. A counterweight to Japan’s mechanistic materialism, few are the participants who return home without a renewed sense of where they belong in the world. Or so I am told.

Her first retreat of the new year was going to be different. A connection to nature, and the wilder places of Japan....

January 1, 2009

Am I dead? Did I die in the night? Somewhere in the storm did the wind rip my little tent from its moorings, casting us down into the icy maw of the mountain? Everything is white. The blizzard shines in the pre-dawn light and the flickering beam of the headlamp. I can’t remember why I’m here any more. How long have I been climbing? A minute? A week? A hundred years? There doesn’t seem a time when I was not on this mountain. Right foot, left foot, kick, axe, rock, ice.

The day before, I’d pi...

December 14, 2008

I love her dearly, but Nina Simone is a terrible climbing partner. I sat in the car trying to find the energy and motivation to go another ten rounds with Mt Utsugi, and Nina wasn’t helping. She was in the throws of despair, and I had enough to carry without her troubles weighing me down too. I needed climbing music, and as the sun crawled above the southern Japan Alps, I spun the iPod and found it.

The Prodigy may not be mountain climbers, but who else is going to start that fire?

What al...

November 24, 2008

My watch swings from a stunted tree on the summit of Jizo-ga-dake. It tells me two things. First, it’s been five hours since my conversation with the owner of the Houou-zan mountain hut. Second, the temperature outside is minus fourteen and falling.

At the hut some 1000 feet below the peak, the owner flashed his yellowing incisors at me, the only two teeth in his head.
“It’s Y6000 to stay, or Y3000 without food.”
“I’m not staying.”
“Then it’s Y500 to pitch your tent.”
“No tent. I’m bivvying...

November 4, 2008

The sun sets over the Boso peninsula, briefly illuminating the folds of the mountains which stretch like crumpled linen all the way to the Pacific. We dash down from our outlook and through the darkening forest, back to the deserted temple which will be our home for the night.

In fifteen years this was my first visit to the mountains of Boso in southernmost Chiba prefecture. Chiba is to Tokyo what New Jersey is to Manhattan. Or so it seemed to me. Scrap metal yards and freeways compete with...

October 6, 2008

Mt. Nantai doesn’t care about the rate of default on CMOs, the TED spread, bank runs, carry trades, TARPs, CDOs, PBRs or BRICs. It won’t lift the offer, hit the bid, get stuck on a downtick, or recall your short sales. Nantai has no breakeven rate of inflation to maturity, does not go limit low, and there will be no market made on Nantai 24 hours a day 7 days a week on Globex with a competitive 5 pip spread.

There will be no emergency midnight session to bail out Nantai. You will not wake u...

September 23, 2008

The plan was simple. A fast, light assault on the high peaks of the Southern Alps: Kitadake, Aino, Senjo, Kaikoma and Hou-ou. Just bivy bags and a three day wild spiral enchaining the high mountains of Japan. But the left-hand side of that spiral had a name.

C-chan called it “Baka Ohne”: the Idiots’ Ridge.

We stormed Mt Kitadake’s eastern ramparts, halving the map time, and hoping we could climb above the weather. The remnants of typhoon Sinlaku still clung to the summit, but we slept that...

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Climbing, mountaineering & hiking (mainly) in Japan

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