I’m crap at poker and chess.

I fall for the sucker punch every time.

It was the same story leading up to Silver Week 2010.  With a clutch of days off just around the corner, the Weather Man and I were playing chicken.  Who would blink first?

Right at the last minute, amidst a seven day forecast dripping with predicted rain, he dangled a couple of sunny days before my eyes and goaded me to take the bait.  Two days.  Sunshine laced with a good dose of cloud and a 40 percent chance of precipitation.

I’d been ogling the Shimo-no-rokka Trail deep in the Kurobe Gorge in the Japanese North Alps for a couple of years.  It’s part of a route chiseled out of cliff face back before the Second World War during the rush to harness hydro-electric power.  Running southwards, upriver from the end of a rinky dink tourist railway at Keyakidaira, it is initially referred to as the Horizon Trail before becoming the Shimo-no-rokka beyond Asohara Onsen.

I didn’t just blink, I threw some gear into a pack and jumped on a midnight train to Toyama.  By nine the following morning I stood yawning in Keyakidaira blearily eyeing a set of flimsy metal steps leading up into the woods between the station toilet block and a silent construction site.

Straight up seems to be the MO of all hiking courses in the Japanese mountains.  At least this time I knew it wouldn’t last.  The Horizon Trail is just that, virtually as flat as the horizon for five hours after the initial half hour climb up from the station.

But flat in this case does not translate to monotonous.  It’s a seriously good hike.

It seems the trail is still used to maintain the power lines that run up toward the mighty Kurobe Dam at the end of the Shimo-no-rokka.  The wires sizzled and hummed out in space beside me as I followed them upriver.

I’ve always maintained that after a trusty hound, wire is a man’s best friend and in some parts up on this track you want to hang onto it – and hang onto it gooood.

Along with the knee knocking drops you have to contend with four tunnels.  Three of them are nothing much to write home about.

Especially when you compare them with the lunacy of the old route…

But bring a flashlight for the third one.  It’s a hundred and fifty metres, that feel more like three hundred, of low ceilinged, flooded floored,  stuffy darkness that curls around a big bend beneath an icy stream.

Wonderful stuff- at least when earthquakes and cave ins weren’t on the mind.


One thought on “THE HORIZON TRAIL (PART 1)

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