#2 – YOTEI-ZAN
The old, droopy eyed, flannelet shirted driver swung my pack into the boot of his cab. As far as he was concerned, Hokkaido was a no go. June was too early in the season for climbing in Japan’s northern frontier, especially where his local mountain and my target, Poroshiri-dake, were concerned. He was more adamant than he had been the day before when I’d knocked on his door inquiring about a ride into the mountains. The rivers were too high, awash with snowmelt, the bears were too aggressive, having recently awoken from their winter slumber and I was obviously either too inexperienced or insane to be allowed to head into the hills alone at that time of year. He drove me down the street to the bus stop free of charge, foregoing the hundred buck fare he would’ve pocketed had he driven me to the trailhead instead. I guess I should have been thankful he didn’t drop me off at the nearest loony bin. My mood was as heavy as the skies that hung low over the tiny, nondescript town of Furenai, deep in the Hidaka region of Hokkaido. Sent packing at mountain number two – I was shattered.
Two days later, on a brilliant blue skied Saturday, as a towering white thunderhead grumbled threateningly halfway between me and the horizon, I hauled myself skyward over rotten snow and crumbly rock and poked my head up over the crater rim of Yotei-zan. Eighteen hundred vertical metres of pure, unadulterated torture lay behind me. I stared down into the gaping ice walled crater, a perfect bowl of white, rimmed with brown volcanic crags, at its centre a small round pool of aquamarine water stared back at me like an opaque pupil in a giant inverted eye. I wanted Ibuki back. That day in April suddenly resembled a walk in a slightly inclined park. Where were the crowds of happy daytrippers and tea houses selling refreshments? Where was the bus off the thing? Yotei-zan was virtually deserted. I could’ve counted the people I met that day on the palms of my hands. Apart from the trails up it and a solitary mountain hut on its western side, Yotei-zan is a mountain left to its own devices.
Halfway around the top of the rim, on my way to the summit proper, a vicious cramp rippled through my right thigh sending me hobbling and gasping for a pile of rocks. Sprawled on the small, roughly piled cairn of stones I slid out of my pack and fumbled around inside for sustenance, scoffing down a handful of chocolate almonds and a few gulps of water. That was all my gut could handle. The cramp and exertion set me on the verge of throwing up.
To my left the best part of two thousand metres below me a patchwork quilt of farmland stretched away to the feet of distant mountains. Niseko in summer; lush, verdant, smothered in greenery, a stark contrast to its famed wintery white scenery. Another rumble of thunder broke the trance and I slapped my thigh into action and dragged myself over the last stretch of rocky ground, past a couple picnicking amongst the boulders, to the summit marker and a well-deserved sit-down.
At last, the adventure was underway.