JULY, 2007


“Oh maaaaaan, I don’t want to die.  I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die…”

I floated through a white universe.  Like the cloud clinging to the mountainside, I clung to my ropeway seat.  Empty Perspex bubble after bubble came floating at me out of the glug on the descending cable.  It seemed like I was to be the only twit out on the mountain that day.  After its Sunday off, tsuyu – the rainy season – was back in business.  Weather reports heralded a cloudy morning followed by a wretchedly wet afternoon.  Optimum hiking conditions they weren’t, but the budget had been blown out in Bandai-esque proportions and the last paycheck from my previous life had been deposited into the bank two weeks previously.  Financially speaking, everything was downhill from then on.  So onwards and upwards it was on that ugly Monday morning; rain, hail or Armageddon be damned.

Out of the top gondola station, manned by a single attendant, I stood peering through the cloud, attempting to make out the pathway leading up a ski run.  Some six hundred vertical metres had yet to be negotiated.  I should have stayed in bed.

Near the top of the ski run the trail plunged headlong into a dark, foggy wood, dripping with moisture, a glutinous mud underfoot.  From there it was a steep, nasty climb that involved constant clambering over toppled trees and slippery boulders and detouring through sodden swathes of head high bamboo.  It was ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ stuff, though bears in the mist were more of a concern in this case.  At least the rains held off on the way up.  Things would have degenerated into a frightfully hellish ordeal if they hadn’t.  From the forests I emerged onto a relatively flat open trail, lined with wet, waist high brush pine. Bedraggled and uninspired, pimple on my tongue from all the cursing and filth uttered at the mountainside, I summoned up a higher pace, the ever approaching rains playing on my mind.  Dew soaked blossoms hung low at the trail’s edge and I marvelled at the endless panorama of pure white off the sides of the mountain.  The trail eventually veered around to the left and up onto boardwalks that ran into a copse of stunted pines.  There in the trees, I found the summit marker that demarcated Azuma’s western peak, the highpoint of the mountain.  I stuffed my camera into a scrappy little shrub, set the timer and let it shoot off the proof shot.  With the click of the camera a light rain swept in through the foliage and I packed up and got out of there as fast as I arrived.

I later realised that Azuma-yama is, in truth, quite a magnificent mountain.  In fairer conditions, and when climbed from the east, its splendour can be better appreciated.  Avoid the Grandeco Resort at all costs is my tip.

And check out Wes’s tips here.


4 thoughts on “MANIC MONDAY

  1. Yep, you’re right about avoiding the cable-car. Fukada Kyuya, the author of Hyakumeizan, made the ascent in winter, on skis – so that must be the way to go. Here’s what he says about his Azumaya trip:-

    “This renowned peak eluded me for years, but eventually I reached its summit on skis one mid-March day with two friends …. Concerned about the lowering clouds, we left our lodgings at Sugadaira at eight. Our young host, a ski racer, had never climbed Azumaya in winter, so he attached himself to our party. Crossing Daimyōjin-sawa, we found ourselves on a broad slope. As we passed the triangulation point at 1,919 metres on the middle slopes, we came out above the clouds and beheld a splendid view. Cut off from the skiing masses and the world below, all we had for company were the numberless mountains around us …

    The Jōshū shrine stands on this summit, separated from the Shinshū one by a short walk along the narrow, snowy ridge. Both are surrounded by large blocks of stone, now half-covered in snow. Rime-ice encrusted the buildings in frosty, prawn-like husks. Below us lay Neko-dake. There too were Donabe-yama and Omeshi-dake, with their names redolent of earthenware pots, steaming rice bowls, and other culinary delights. And beyond were arrayed all the mountains of the Jōshin borders.”

    So there you are – way to go!

    The cold wind did not invite us to tarry but, even while I was stripping the climbing skins off my skis, I could not take my eyes off the magnificent scenery around us.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I respectfully suggest that you’re a hundred or so miles off though.

      Both Azuma and Azumaya however, do share a certain notoriety in my Hyakumeizan reminiscences.

      Snow indeed does lend a certain air of grace to mountains otherwise marred by the overzealous hand of man.

      I have been foolish enough, on a few occasions, to venture forth into the wintry white and never regretted it – once back soaking in an onsen or baking beside a fire.

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