In search of sunrise

August 9, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized 

I run through the dark, through Mt Mizugaki’s primordial forest. A Freudian nightmare of a pitch black mountain. I’m all alone, and unseen creatures scream and howl in the night. The forest beats a tachycardic rhythm of raindrops as it shakes the last of the rain from its leaves. On and on I run, praying for that first turn of the sky from deep black to dark wine. Suddenly it was upon me, and the dawn reaches for my shoulders and seems to pull me to the summit just as the sun clears the nearby ranges.

I’d come through the nightmare and been reborn here while the mountains gathered to witness the event. Fuji showed her outline briefly before pulling the clouds back around herself, and for a short while the Southern Alps loomed above the plain. The Yatsu-ga-take range maintained its steady watch. The sky was a jagged mess of mares’ tails, the remnants of last night’s storm, with no portent of what was to come.

Mizugaki’s spiritual connections to the region run deep. Early on the people made the obvious connection between the fertility of their rice crop and the proud granite spires that adorn the summit and so rent the clouds. Even in modern times, the mountain has a power and presence that belie its stature.

The mountain holds mysteries too. Under many of the boulders which lie strewn across its face, sticks have been placed as if to prevent the boulder from rolling away. They range from the biggest branches to innumerable twigs. For what end? Who places them? A joke, or something more serious? In the pre-dawn glow they loomed, anthropomorphic figures of decaying matter trying desperately to hold back the inevitable.

But this beautiful day took a dark turn by mid morning. From Mizugaki I decided to climb on to Mt Kinpu. Fast and felt strong I made the final ridge which leads to the summit. Forty minutes, maybe an hour on that exposed ridge. I was ten minutes into it when I saw the thunderheads on Mt Kobushi a few miles away. They were black, except when they ignited for a millisecond to arc out the summit. The flash was blinding; the rending of the air ten seconds later was worse, and they were moving this way. I didn’t need to think. I turned back in a split second.

Off the ridge I tried to outrun the coming storm, crashing ever closer, and ran straight into a team of four who were still moving up. I could scarcely believe what they were doing. Deaf, blind and stupid they continued. I told them the storm was coming up on the ridge fast, and was roundly ignored. I continued to run down. Flash – one, two, three, four, five – boom! Fifteen minutes later the lightning hit Kinpo. Flash – one, two, three – boom! then it hit the ridge repeatedly. Then the storm overtook me in a war of hailstones and turned its attention to Mizugaki.

It sickened me to watch those men go. How wantonly they gambled with their lives. Taking risks when you have some control over the parameters is one thing. Running headlong into obvious danger is another. I hope they came to their senses and turned back. But something tells me they didn’t.

They say zen is a cauldron of boiling oil over a roaring fire. My yoga is a vrksasana tree on a 100 foot column of granite.


9 Responses to “In search of sunrise”

  1. Kirt Cathey on August 11th, 2008 10:36 am

    That shot of Mt. Fuji is awesome…. way to trigger the D80!

  2. Melanie on August 11th, 2008 12:09 pm

    Amazing! You’re posts always leave me speachless!

  3. Tornadoes28 on August 11th, 2008 2:57 pm

    There is something about summiting the mountain that controls people even in spite of obvious danger such as from lightning storms.

    Several years ago I climbed Mt. Whitney in California, a 14,500 foot peak. When I reached the top, a very scary litghtning storm overtook the mountain. Me a dozens of other people rushed off the summit. And yet, many more people continued climbing into danger.

    People die in lightning storms all the time on that mountain.

  4. cjw on August 12th, 2008 1:03 am

    Kirt – the D80 and I have an understanding. I lug it, its lens and its tripod up to the top of the mountain, and in return it gets me some good photos :-) Fuji was looking great that morning. She always does.

    Hey Melanie – thanks as always for coming by – hope you enjoyed the vicarious workout!!

  5. cjw on August 12th, 2008 1:19 am

    Hi Tornadoes28 – it’s bizarre, isn’t it? Of all the dangers in the mountains, lightning has to be one of the easiest to both predict and avoid (with the possible exception of being stuck on a multi-day pitch on a big wall somewhere).

    The best case (best case!) scenario is that you get soaked to the bone. The worst case, and a not improbable one at that, is that you end up fried. Quite what possesses people to ignore such obvious danger is beyond me.

    More reports of lightning strikes over the weekend – one dead on Mt Takao, 2 injured on Mt Hinokiotake. Judging from the times, it was the same storm that hit the Southern and Central Alps on Saturday.

  6. C-chan on August 15th, 2008 6:48 am

    Those people continuing to climb despite the storm coming.
    I’m pretty sure that they were 100meizan hunters who had just this one day to check Kinpu off their lists. That’s what makes people do crazy things like this.

    I also wonder, would they have reacted differently if you were Japanese?

  7. cjw on August 16th, 2008 8:33 am

    C-chan – I think you’re right. Sadly, something seemed to be driving them on to the risk that summit ridge, and it wasn’t sense.

    I don’t know if they would have reacted differently if I were Japanese. Older, maybe…

  8. wes on August 19th, 2008 11:52 pm

    wow, sounds like an adventure. Sorry you couldn’t make it to the summit of Kinpu this time (though I know you’ve been there before, which makes it much easier to turn back!)

    lightning is the hikers worst enemy. i remember camping in Kamikochi valley and watching a wicked lightning storm illuminating the surrounding peaks. I felt sorry for all those people camping on the exposed ridgeline.

  9. cjw on August 24th, 2008 9:53 am

    Hey Wes, good to have you back from Hokkaido. Having been up Kinpu once before certainly eased any pangs of regret – but regardless, there was no way I was going to risk that ridge! Seems like a dangerous year this year – just heard of another lightning fatality in the alps, and a couple more from a rockslide on Shiro-uma..

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