Mañana, Utsugi-dake, mañana

December 8, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized 

I’d broken a trail through snow that grew from knee to thigh and then to chest deep, climbing almost six thousand vertical feet, alone all day. Less than five hundred feet from the summit the snow was just too deep, and I was too exhausted. With two hours of daylight left, I slid back through the snow to the treeline and the leeward side of the mountain to dig a snow hole and bivvy down for the night. Mt Utsugi could wait another day.


15 Responses to “Mañana, Utsugi-dake, mañana”

  1. Our Man in Abiko on December 8th, 2008 12:03 pm

    Stunning photo (as usual). I hope you don’t mind, I’d like to post a smaller screen shot of this on my blog with a link to here. It’s usually a roundup of Japan politics, but when you see shots like this, it fills you with awe and deserves more attention.

  2. Jason on December 8th, 2008 1:45 pm

    Sounds like a great way to spend a solo day.

    That said, I’d love to see video of how one makes one’s way through chest high snow! Anyone capable of following you on such a trail toting a video camera?

  3. Tornadoes28 on December 8th, 2008 9:18 pm

    Were you not planning to stay the night which is why you dug a snow hole or do often go really light and not take a tent?

  4. cjw on December 8th, 2008 11:57 pm

    Our Man in Abiko – absolutely, please feel free – if you click the photo it will take you to the Flickr page where there is a smaller version should you prefer.

    Jason – it was a fun day. I was annoyed with the weather though – in the valley and across the Minami Alps it was beautiful, but on Utsugi it was awful, snow and horizontal freezing winds all day. To answer your question, I think a video of someone ploughing through deep snow would be pretty dull – it’s a laborious process of stamping the snow into submission literally inches at a time. It would be more Ingmar Bergman than Warren Miller…

    Tornadoes28 – I’d planned to stay in the emergency hut just off the peak, but it’s some way down off the ridge and with visibility so low I didn’t want to risk missing it. I think that’s my last bivvy trip for this winter, it’s the tent from hereon in!

  5. Clint on December 9th, 2008 5:07 am

    Exactly why you should carry skis everywhere you go. You never know when they might come in handy.

  6. George on December 9th, 2008 7:19 am

    Another amazing photo. Sounds like you’ll be hiking throughout the winter?

    Also envious to hear of the amount of snow you experienced there. Here in the Yuzawa/Tanigawadake area we are still waiting for the real winter to begin. Only seeing about 1 meter of snow at the 2000m level, and we really need 2x that to open up the usual descents.

  7. cjw on December 9th, 2008 7:47 am

    Clint – not sure about skis, but I definitely wish I’d taken my snowshoes. “Surely not necessary this early on in the season”, I thought…

    George – thanks, I just wish i could have got some photos from the summit instead. Sounds like the snow was about the same on Utsugi as it is around you up to around 2000m, and a little deeper above that. It snowed all day long up there, so it was unconsolidated powder – good for boarding, not good to climb up! I’m thinking about spending time at year end in the southern end of the minami Alps if the weather is OK, and maybe take some time out from hiking in Jan and Feb to try to get my ice climbing up to scratch.

  8. damian on December 9th, 2008 9:25 am

    cjw, it is a bit of a drive for you, but or you info – consistent good weather has opened up the local Hakuba peaks, which are full of snow yet not chest deep (I ache for your effort in that kind of snow). The only reason I have not skied from a summit above 2500m in the last week is a want of partners interested in that type of trip. The early snow, good weather and lack of follow up storms has created a European Alps type of Hakuba. It is great!

    For your next winter trip, highly recommended:

  9. Peter Skov on December 9th, 2008 10:19 am

    I can’t say I have ever been chest deep in snow but two years ago I had to stop just below 燕山荘 because the snow was up to my thighs and I couldn’t find the trail and sometimes slid off down the slope a little.

    I did 空木岳 in October. It was pretty good but the weather was too good. At least it was good enough for me to sleep on a small mountaintop in only my sleeping bag. I had planned to reach the 避難小屋 but spent too much time photographing at sunset.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your winter hikes since I won’t be going out until February maybe.

  10. wes on December 9th, 2008 12:36 pm

    glad to see you embarked on another adventure but sorry you couldn’t make it to the summit.

    which route did you take? The gondola up the the base of Mt. Hoken/Kiso-koma or did you do the long vertical ascent from Komagane village?

    You shouldn’t checked the Kiso-koma webcam before you departed. Those peaks are solid white with meters of snow.

  11. KamoshikaBob on December 10th, 2008 12:35 am

    I have fond memories of climbing Utsugi solo from Komagane in Sep. 1999, as it was the highest vertical climb I’d made. But seeing as how that mountain boasts several unmanned 避難小屋, I’m curious as to which ones we are referring to. I recall one by a stream in the woods on the lower half of the climb, and though there may have been one or two more on the way, I remember walking past a roughly built hut that seemed to say “use only in case of emergency” in a valley about 30 minutes or more from the top. But the map showed one more 「避難小屋」immediately below the summit, and that was my target, encouraged by descending hikers who told me that the hut attendant was on his way up ahead of me. What I found was was a nice, clean, two story hut, that charged a fee for staying there whenever there was someone there to collect it, as there was on that 敬老の日, a national holiday. Since the weather was starting to get nasty, I didn’t mind too much having to pay, since the hut kept the typhoon out very nicely, and the attendant’s radio was on to inform me of the damage this unexpected typhoon was causing. So the next morning, I abandoned my plan of traversing to Kiso-Koma, and after fighting the wind up the 200 meters of trail to the actual summit, I retreated down the ridge line (which does not pass the grimy 避難小屋), destroying my foldable umbrella in the process.

    Sorry for the long reminiscence, but I am trying to picture which hut(s) we are referring to. Thanks

  12. cjw on December 10th, 2008 1:06 am

    Thanks Damian, that’s some nice kit, we might have to see if Santa can manage some of that. Conditions look great up in Hakuba – it’s just that it seems to be raining/snowing every weekend….

    Hi Peter – just a sleeping bag and a mountaintop, that’s the perfect way to do it!

    Hey Wes – the long vertical, of course :-) In a fit of hopeless optimism, I thought I might be able to get up to Utsugi and over to Kumazawa-dake on day 1, then along to Kiso-Kaikoma on day 2 and back down via the gondola. But it wasn’t to be. Actually, I did check the webcam before I went and it looked OK – a lot of the snow you are seeing now actually fell the previous evening and during the day I went up. I definitely would have made it otherwise.

  13. cjw on December 10th, 2008 1:21 am

    Hi KamoshikaBob – the emergency hut I was aiming for is (I think) the one you mention as being in the valley about 30 mins from the peak – south of the ridge at about 2500m maybe?

    The 「避難小屋」 just below the peak is the 「駒峰ヒュッテ」, the Komamine Hutte, maybe? I wasn’t sure whether that was manned or not, or whether it would be open – either way, no chance of getting there on Saturday for me.

  14. Melanie on December 11th, 2008 5:07 am

    That’s some serious hiking! Sounds amazing though!

  15. cjw on December 12th, 2008 12:54 am

    It was good to get out, Melanie. I’m going to give it another shot tomorrow, forecast is looking good..

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