#9 – GAS-SAN
I was climbed Gassan from Yudono Onsen, enduring an uninspiring climb, on a clear trail traversing fields of thick, chest high bamboo grass. Here and there takenoko pickers rummaged for fresh shoots of bamboo and had me jumping in fear of bear attack as they suddenly emerged out of the dense scrub, hacking and spluttering like wild animals. I traversed more tracts of snow and scrambled around hikers coming in from the ropeway off to the South as I huffed and puffed up a final steep rocky climb to the hut and shrine complex on top. Once there I feasted on a second breakfast of ramen noodles and washed it down with a ten o’clock beer – a little early I know, but it was 11AM in Australia.
On the summit, out behind the shrine, marked with nothing more than a small triangulation stone I sat in the sunshine and peered across snowfields of Gas-san. A thick curtain of blue haze obscured any view back toward Chokai-san or toward my next target, the Asahi Mountains to the south, but I sat satisfied, burping beer and noodles, knowing that even with a full pack I’d managed to overtake a few hikers on the trail. It seemed as though I was finally gaining my mountain legs.
Eventually, I trudged off back down the mountainside into the rising white cloud and hunted out the trail to the ropeway that whisked climbers southwards off the mountain. Crossing a vast, snow filled bowl I glimpsed, through the swirling cloud, distant figures with skis strapped to their backs – the famous summer skiers of Gas-san – clambering up the snow smothered sides of the mountain. By lunchtime, I was sitting in a grotty kiosk at the top of the ropeway where ‘Too Cool for School’, bleach haired skiers hung out amongst the hardy, old, plaid clad Japanese hikers. I ordered a bowl of udon noodles off the young fella behind the counter who wandered around the joint like a Thunderbird puppet with a gammy leg. His English was quite good but he seemed a bit slow like he’d been donged on the head one too many times by the chairlift seats outside. I got a beer off him too, slightly concerned, at least until the first gulp hit the back of my neck, that these mountains were slowly driving me to drink…
“Ah well,” I thought, “Nine down, another 91 to sober up.”