Back in the saddle

July 13, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized 

The short climb up Mt Ryokami did not exorcise the demons. Under the summer canopy the air was humid and still, a warm and comforting bath when what I really wanted to feel was cold and alive. It took a little under two and a half hours to climb the 3,500 feet to the summit, where I gazed out at the explosion of deep green life that the Okutama region had put forth. Fuji hid its head in the cumulus that poured off the Pacific and mighty crashes far off held the promise of thunder storms advancing through the thick summer air. Getting off the summit seemed a wise idea.

Reversing my route would put me back at the Ryokami hut within a couple of hours. A good meal, a visit to the hot-springs, another tick on the Hyakumeizan list.. Instead, turning my face from the sun, I headed north along the ridge towards Higashi-dake and then east along the Temmusho ridge. On the map it is marked as a thin dotted line, copiously adorned with warnings of certain doom for those that wish to travel it. Four hours later as I stood on the summit of Tenri-dake, halfway down, I knew why. The rhododendrons grow thick along its spine, not only making progress painfully slow but also obscuring the edges of the cliffs; on more than one occasion my boot parted their branches and hung over hundreds of feet of air. The undergrowth whipped my legs like a martyr and the sharp granite cut into my hands and arms as I climbed down.

From Tenri the ridge drops away and back towards the hut. The vegetation grows thicker with every metre descended. I decided instead to rapp into the Nagaiya-sawa gorge that leads from the summit, back into the valley below. The cool waters of the gorge washed the blood away from the earlier wounds, and added a few of its own as I skated on the slick stones of its bed. The Nanatakizawa course at the valley floor took me back to the trailhead, where my appearance scared the old woman and even the dogs gave me a wide berth.

I felt better than I had in weeks, and the demons were nowhere to be found. Sometimes you just have to lose a bit of skin to let them out.


19 Responses to “Back in the saddle”

  1. butuki on July 13th, 2008 3:26 pm

    I had to stifle some laughs as I read this since I’ve often experienced the heart-stopping consequences of following those dotted lines on the maps! There was one time I led a group of friends along the spine of the dotted line trail west of the summit of Echizendake in Shizuoka and ended up straddling a razorback ridge so sharp that our feet stood on either side of the bamboo covered ridgeline. And since it was so sharp we couldn’t lift our feet to turn around!!! Ended up scrambling down a steep slope aided by strangler fig lianas. Taught me a lesson!

  2. Tom on July 13th, 2008 8:15 pm

    Wow. Nice pictures.

  3. Lionel Dersot on July 13th, 2008 10:21 pm

    I like the sharp writing style.

  4. Julian on July 14th, 2008 1:51 am

    Good to see you saddled up again and pursuing more than just peaks. Do you always carry a rope, even in summer?

  5. cjw on July 14th, 2008 5:01 am

    Miguel – those dotted lines, never a dull moment! Echizendake sounds fun, maybe I should check that one out..

    Tom/Lionel – thanks for coming by, glad you enjoyed.

    Julian – it was great to get back up there. I don’t usually take a rope in summer, but my father-in-law insisted. Probably would have been alright without it, but the extra security was nice to have.

  6. tornadoes28 on July 15th, 2008 2:44 pm

    So, were you on any trails or was it all bushwacking?

  7. Kirt Cathey on July 15th, 2008 9:13 pm

    The writing and the pictures are awesome! Keep up the good work. BTW… I am fretting over dotted lines on the Japanese maps as well. A couple weeks ago I came up on an area that was marked “dangerous – for advanced climbers only” but it was just a rope and wood walkway. Does anybody have any insight about the dotted lines and danger warnings off the west side of Hirugatake?


  8. cjw on July 15th, 2008 11:21 pm

    tornadoes28 – the route to the top is a very clear trail, almost too clear in parts. The route down the Temmusho ridge – not so much…

    Kirt – there doesn’t seem to be much consistency in what the dotted lines represent. Anything from “slight scuffing of your brogues to be expected” to “near-certain death”. I can’t help you much with information on Hirugatake I’m afraid, but I would have thought that it is well-travelled enough for even the dotted paths to be easily passable in good weather.

  9. George Baptista on July 16th, 2008 12:03 pm

    Those photos remind me of the mountains here in Niigata. Incredible greenery, and wild. There are some really remote areas here, part of the charm of it I guess. But too many bugs at the moment, so we sticking to mountain-biking for now.

  10. butuki on July 16th, 2008 2:27 pm

    For the dotted line trails, just be careful to read the warnings carefully. When there is information about “rotten volcanic rock” or “parts of the trail have slid away in mudslides” then I think it is time to really consider your alternatives. It’s no fun finding yourself part of the debris of a mountain falling away under your feet!

  11. cjw on July 16th, 2008 11:44 pm

    Hey George – ah, mountain biking – I’d been wondering what you get up to when the snows are gone. Okutama is just over from Niigata, so no wonder it shares the same great greenery in summer. Funny you mention the bugs, I was just reading about the midges in Scotland:

    Wise words, Miguel. I’m off to Daisen over the long weekend. I got the 2008 map yesterday – the thing is covered with dotted lines! Between the typhoons and earthquakes, probably half the trails over the top have eroded or disappeared. It’s the first map I’ve seen that specifically marked one ridge as 死亡事件多発 – fatalities. Probably no bad thing that my wife is coming with me, she has more sense that I do..

  12. Julian on July 17th, 2008 1:29 am

    Enjoy the long trip down to Daisen!

    The main path from the visitor center, etc. is a well-maintained staircase almost to the top. Near the summit with its hut and neat boardwalks, I found a rope across a path leading across a short ridge to what I thought was the true peak (will email you a photo), where it seemed a structure had been dismantled.

    The sign on the rope certainly suggested that the Devil was waiting to take trespassers’ souls, but I know such signs are like a red rag to you!

  13. Matt on July 17th, 2008 6:46 am

    Awesome photography. Crisp, clear writing. Soulful insights. Hardcore hiking. Awesome blog, Chris.
    I’ll definitely be back here.

  14. cjw on July 17th, 2008 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the info, Julian. Looks like there’s a typhoon brewing, so I’ll probably keep it straightforward and safe this time. Although there is a dotted line along the Amidagawa valley to the east that intrigues me…

    Matt – thank you for the kind words, I’m glad you liked it here. Hopefully I can get some good photos from Mt Daisen this weekend and post them early next week.

  15. Melanie on July 19th, 2008 9:20 am

    Wow! What amazing views! Another great post where I feel like I can live a little through you as I stay on my lazy butt.

  16. billywest on July 21st, 2008 10:01 am

    Glad to see you back after couple of months.

  17. Mountaingoat on July 22nd, 2008 9:55 am

    H Chris, good to hear/read from you at last. Almost wish I was back over there among those peaks and ridges, utterly alone, wondering what the hell I was doing…

  18. cjw on July 24th, 2008 4:22 am

    Hi Melanie – the views were great when I finally got to the top, made all the slogging through those hot forests worthwhile!

    BillyWest – good to be back! Hopefully shaping up for a decent summer, autumn and winter in the hills.

    MG – you’re right, the physical workout is one thing but the psychological workout is quite another. Sometimes when I’m up there I just kick back and try to observe all the mental states I’m going through. Elation, boredom, excitement, weakness, strength, determination, frustration, all tumbling around together..

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