JUNE, 2007


“Hello, my name’s Willie-san.  I called yesterday from Towada-ko about accommodation for a few days,” was pretty much my introduction to the man with a thick grey beard and hair went when he opened the door.  “I’m climbing the Hyakumeizan, but right now I can’t walk…” I’m not too sure what he thought he was getting he and his wife into, but I was quietly invited inside with a nod and a gentle smile.  He was Ikuo.  His wife Yuki, a slim, grey haired woman with an equally friendly and serene disposition, greeted me from where she sat on the tatami floor alongside a low table.

Two days after struggling off Hakkoda-san walking was barely possible.  Forget hiking poles, I needed a zimmer frame.  Both knees now were wracked with pain whenever I dared take a step.  I swore I could see a heat haze rising off them.  The right one, red and swollen, was even bursting into painful protestations when I rolled over in bed.  Had I stripped tendons from bone? Were my legs faulty?  If they managed to recover would hitting another serious climb bugger them again?  Having gotten over the Iwaki ordeal I was mentally ready to take on any mountain challenge that stood in my way.  Sadly, all my knees were ready for was mutiny.

I slept until six then showered before dinner.  In the dark, stone floored bathroom I grabbed hold of

the  hand-piece turned up the water temperature to 50 degrees with an adjustable tap and directed the spray onto my knees until the skin nearly burned away.

The following day my legs had gained nowhere near the strength to attack Hachimantai and Yuki and Ikuo were kind enough to allow me to stay and rest alone in the quiet little cottage while they went to visit his mother in town.  I slept most of the morning away and after a lunch, kindly prepared by Yuki,  I sat in a square of yellowing sunlight and leafed through a small book of haiku by a fella called Basho, a well known 17th-century Japanese poet.  Abandoning all comforts, he had travelled throughout the Tohoku region relying on the generosity of the people he met on the road.  The way my budget was going I could see myself having to do the same bloody thing.

The sun set early.  Dropping down behind the highlands above the cottage.  Upon Yuki and Ikuo’s return, I thought I’d give the knees a try out down on the rocks in the river.  To my surprise and relief, as long as I took things easy the pain wasn’t as severe as it had been the day before. I didn’t want to bus to the top of a mountain and merely stroll to the summit, as was possible on Hachimantai, but discretion persuaded me to call in my first mulligan on mountain number five due to the extenuating and excruciating circumstances I found myself in.   It would be a good second try out nevertheless.

Trails criss-cross the top of Hachimantai.  They weave through woodlands of stunted, fragrant Aomori fir and around the edges of alpine pools and lakes barely demanding ascent or descent all the while.  Off the edges of the plateau, on Hachimantai’s steep flanks, hot springs and mud pools broil to the surface reminding all who venture there that the innocuous mountain is part of a volcanic chain which undulates southward towards the rather more dramatic Iwate-san volcano.

That night, having summited and showered, I announced over dinner to Yuki and Ikuo that my legs were in fairly good order, they’d come off Hachimantai still attached and it was time to move onto Iwate-san.  It would have been fantastic to have stayed with them for a few more days but I knew I had to keep going.

Early Monday Ikuo left to visit his mother in town again and although having hurt her back the previous afternoon in the garden Yuki came out to see me off.  Farewells and good lucks exchanged I tentatively strode out across the little concrete bridge spanning the rocky river, sunshine warming the back of my neck, I vanished into the pine trees.

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