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Crack Addicts

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. It’s almost midday by the time we reach the bottom of the climb. The walk in was a vertiginous trail with steep falls into the churning ocean, and a rappel into the bay below. “OK gentlemen, we’re crack climbing today. Wristwatches off, tape on.” T announces. He leads the first pitch; K and I join him the belay some twenty minutes later. I score nul points for style. “Like Twight said, it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun,” T says. I had fun, I assure him. “Then you’re doing it wrong”. K leads next, a traverse and then a staircase-like gash in the rock, up to a narrow ledge which is studded with stunted pines. Half a dozen sun-bleached slings flitter from a dead tree which sticks out from the face; it’s stomach-churning to think people rappelled off it. T shoots off up the crack in the next wall, twisting impossibly through an overhang before disappearing out of sight. Higher up, a wide crack splinters the rock face in two; we jam our hands and feet into it and sacrifice some skin to the mountain gods. From a shady ledge at the top we watch the sun start to drop into the ocean. The crux is two pitches higher up, but we’re done for the day. We rap back to the forest below. Darkness is already settling as we scurry back along the cliffs and climb out of the bay. Then the unmistakable pac-pac sound of rockfall echoes up from the behind us, sending a shower of sparks through the darkness from the spot we’d stood just minutes before. A parting shot from the walls of Mt. Umikongo, and then stillness again, just the sound of the sea crashing against the shore below. We hurry back through the night, grateful that the dark conceals the drop off at our feet. Addiction is a dangerous thing, but sometimes you get away with it.

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