â€œI think the roof is collapsing.â€
Kevinâ€™s headlamp shone out from the small opening in his sleeping bag, illuminating the snow cave weâ€™d dug a few hours before, lighting up the ceiling. A ceiling which by this time had dropped to less than six inches away from my face. Pulling on his jacket he slithers out of the shrinking entrance, and I follow. Itâ€™s 3a.m. and our lamps sear through the snowstorm outside, freezing the flakes momentarily in their crazed descent. Kevin and Tomoe pull their gear from the cave, pitch the tent and crawl in. I drag my bivy bag outside and smother myself in its warm down, letting the snow cover me and the patter of heavy flakes lull me back to sleep. How deep would it be by morning?
We woke and pushed through waist-deep snow for a few hours the next day before taking stock and deciding to turn around. The storm of the previous night had given way to a cobalt blue sky, but our tracks had been obliterated by another couple of feet of fresh, heavy snow.
â€œFifty paces then switch?â€ Kevin suggested. We took it in turns to lead and break a path through the fresh, before swapping and resting. I managed no more than thirty paces before my thighs gave out in a blaze of lactic fatigue. The snow clung thick to my snowshoes which refused to float on the snowpack. Kevin ploughed ahead on his kanjiki, the traditional snowshoe equivalent of Japan, and pounded the snow into submission.
By nightfall weâ€™d reached the house, and an hour later we were at the local baths, swapping cold waist deep snow for blistering neck deep water. Sakae-mura is a small village, and news of our plans had traveled far and wide.
â€œSo you didnâ€™t climb Naeba?â€. No, weâ€™d abandoned that plan.
â€œHeh, why climb in this weather anyway?â€.
Thatâ€™s the kind of question that can only be answered with a grin and a shrug.
Kevinâ€™s (much better) account of the hike can be found here.
He and Tomoe run One Life Japan, an organization dedicated to tours and programs that provide unique participation in the rural traditions of Japan. What they are doing is both fascinating and important – Iâ€™d urge you to take a look.