New. Maybe also improved..

Mountains are big. I could feel them strain against their cramped borders in the 500×300 images I’d forced them into. They demanded space to breath, and accused me of covering up my deficiencies. A small image hides a multitude of sins. It was time to come clean.

One rainy night in Tokyo later, and here’s the new version. I hope it looks OK. The vagaries of the browser world and propensity for wordpress to render layout differently depending on the installed version makes consistency difficult. I went for fixed sizes, so sorry if you have an enormous screen with a lot of white-space now, or a tiny screen you have to scroll across to see the photos. 56k dialup guys too, I apologise unreservedly – the photos are heavy. But Google Analytics tells me that there’s only two of you out there. And really, it’s 2008. Join us on broadband. You’ll like it better there.

Google also tells me there’s a surprisingly large number of people coming here from UBS and Lehman (hi guys) – thanks as always for taking care of us.

The posts back to last November have been converted to the new large format, I’ll get around to the ones prior to that shortly. So stop back again in a week or so if you want to see them in their enlarged glory.

Finally, there’s a Japanese version of the blog going up soon too. I stopped posting to a while ago when they unilaterally changed their policy to one which would allow them unfettered use of any and all content. I know the technical background, but it still made me uneasy. There’ll be a link at the top of the page, and I am slowly working back through the translations for the English entries so far.


I’ve noticed some of the photos have lost a little resolution as they get scaled from 1024×685 on flickr down to 800x(something) on the site. Anything with diagonal lines looks ugly. I’ll probably make some 800 width versions specially to use instead. Sure beats packing the apartment for the move next week..

Snowmen on Kaikoma

There it was, perched precariously on the side of the mountain right in front of me; a perfectly formed snowman. Or rather, the body of one. No head to be seen, just its round body, a meter and a half across and forlorn in the snow. I looked around and spied another a little further up, sitting stately as a rotund East Island head and staring out across the snowy valley. Headless snowmen at 8000 feet made no sense.

Suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I crouched without thinking, just in time to witness another giant snowman hurl itself down from on high and explode into a tree below, which shook the snow from its boughs in anger. Then I understood. Clumps of snow and ice were dropping off the rocks in the warm spring sun and rolling, gathering snow, before launching themselves off the cliffs above me. Some settled on the slope below like snowy Moai, while others barreled and exploded on whatever was in their way. I was in their way. It was time to go home.

Getting into Japan’s mountains in the winter is to be a trespasser, a burglar of their cold secrets. The roads are closed off, some more securely than others. I spent half of Friday night looking for an entrance to Mount Kaikomagatake, moving blockades and dodging the rockfall on unkempt, potholed tracks. Rentacar companies don’t like me much anymore. I saw tears in the eyes of one of their girls last time I returned the car, caked as it was in mud and with half a bush stuck in the bumper. And missing a hubcap. I’ve learnt always to take full insurance.

Eventually I hit upon an unblocked track, but as suspected it terminated at Todai, a good seven miles from the foot of Kaikoma. I grab a couple of hours of sleep before rising and starting the long walk up the Todai-gawa valley. At its head the Kaikoma ridge shimmers in the early morning sun, its face still streaked with snow, and looking impossibly far off. I feel very small. The route along the river looks easy on the map, but the distance conceals the 3000 foot rise in elevation along its course. And this just to reach the foot of the mountain, itself another 3000 foot climb.

By midday I was sitting in the sun at the Kitazawa hut, melting snow to drink and studying the ursine footprints in the snow. Didn’t think they’d have woken up so early this year, but clearly they are on the prowl already. I punch on through the snow, post-holing in the springtime slush, until I am standing in the middle of the decapitated snowmens’ garden.

Go down or go up. I choose down. It’s late in the day, and getting hit by one of these cannonballs would not be a good thing on this slope. There’s no-one around for miles and it’s a long drag back to the car. Not the kind of place to have an accident. As I walk back down the valley, Kaikoma’s snowy head watches me until the clouds roll in and close it from view. I’ve figured out some of it’s secrets and it knows I’ll be back soon.

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