Saturday, 30 October 2010

Climbing Mt. Kaikoma

Last Saturday I joined two teachers from my school on a mountain hike/climb a ways from Ina-shi. The mountain, Kaikoma, is nestled deep in the famous Japanese mountain range “Minami Alps”, and stands just under 3000 metres in height. The journey to the top was a hard 4-hour hike/climb and a 3-3.5 hour return.

At the bus stop as the sun rises over the Minami Alps

So I arose before dawn and joined them at Matsukawa IC for the drive north. After reaching Ina we headed east through Takato and up into the mountains. We parked and caught the bus deeper into the mountains. The drive up was really enjoyable; the Autumn colours here are simply breathtaking. We also saw deer and “mountain deer”, which look a lot like really butch and leathery goats. I managed to get a fleeting photo of one before our bus disappeared around the windy mountain road.

The "mountain deer"

An hour passed by and soon we found ourselves overlooking the great valley we'd travelled through, the Kurogawa (黒川; “Black River”) snaking it's way through the mountains far below. A few minutes more and we arrived at the base encampment to start the climb. At this point it was just before 8 in the morning and the sun had been up for about an hour, although it was still horrendously cold. I'm so very glad I wore my skintight longjohns under my jeans! And my proper walking boots of course.

On the bus we'd managed to pick up another Japanese hiker who spoke good english. He'd also done the hike several times, so just like that our group became four, including a "guide", and we hiked together.

Our destination in the distance

The hike itself was the hardest I've done since I've been here. For a substantial portion of it we were actually climbing, hands and feet on rocks and boulders. I enjoyed it of course, but it was really hard-going. The route we followed took us through a beautiful Autumn-coloured forest, along a stream, then up through a forest, across a really alien-looking mountain of boulders, another really steep trail (which we climbed as much as walked), until finally we broke through the trees at the top at about 10.30. Exhausted, I collapsed onto a rock and was in the midst of breaking out my sandwiches when one of my colleagues laughed and pointed into the distance (upwards). “Lunch is there, the top of the mountain.” Yes, we were just a little over half way to our goal. I munched some peanuts dejectedly, then hauled myself up for the next part of the climb, which saw us struggled over more boulders and lots of scree on very steep slopes. One thing that always amazes me here is how many people go hiking, yet there are no safety measures should you find yourself heading for the edge of the cliff. None at all. Not even signs. You'd bounce and cartwheel all the way down too!

Anyway, after our final slog we arrived at the top, and I was unsurprised to find a small shrine at the top, with offerings from the travellers over the years. I was surprised however to realise how many mountains I could see. We couldn't have picked a better day to climb – the sky was clear, the sun warm, the wind just a little chilly – and there before me I saw the great range of mountains moving into the distance. And low and behold, there was the top of Fuji-san, another 800 metres above us. I must climb that next year!

Kofu (Yamanashi Prefecture) from the top of Kaikoma

Windswept, sunburnt and absolutely knackered. But victorious!

After salami sandwiches and coffee for lunch we headed back down, taking a slightly quicker route than the one up. It was still gruelling – my toes kept sliding into the fronts of my boots because the mountain was so steep: the following day I would still be suffering with sore feet. Other than that though, I was fine, which surprised me a little.

Hello Fuji-san!

Shrine at the top. The offering: a bottle of tea

The route down took us back down the scree and boulders, then through another part of the forest. The Autumn leaves blossomed above us, and I jokingly called out to any wandering bears, much to the horror of my colleagues. Apparently bears are dangerous. I told them I wanted to eat bear ramen and they looked at me with a mixture of reactions, but mainly mirth, which was the idea.

Climbing back down

After the long hard hike we settled into an onsen at the camp near the carpark to ease the pains away. We then head back to Iida to a restaurant I hadn't been to before. While I love Japanese food and find 99% of it really tasty, it had been a long time since something had stood out to me, and the restaurant's udon/soup/broth was quite simply, divine. And well-deserved, I think.

The last leg through the forest

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