JULY, 2007


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

Whisk me off the ground in some fandangled, man made thing and that’s the reaction you’ll be getting out of me.  Every bloody time.  Aeronauticists, roller coaster renderers, engineers of any ilk, whoever the hell you are, I don’t care, if you consider parting company with good old terra firma as the way of the future then I don’t trust you for a millisecond.  I’m not the least bit interested in how many letters you’ve got after your name, awards and accolades are stuffed into your hip pockets or years plying the trade are squeezed under your belts.  All I know is this:  Your stuff breaks.  It snaps, crashes, blows up and burns, it plunges earthward at breakneck speed, indiscriminately mangling innocent souls, rendering them nothing more than skidmarks upon the face of the planet from which you voodoo witchdoctors callously lured them.

That being said, more fool me: There I was, sweating bullets, perched inside a little ropeway bubble, a good twenty or thirty metres above some desperately steep mountainside, suddenly realising the pickle I’d gone and gotten myself into.  Like a goldfish in a bowl, teetering on the edge of a three legged table, in a house full of hungry cats, my life had been taken out of my hands and placed into those of some twat who’d scratched a doodle on the back of a serviette somewhere and claimed maths would hold it all together.  Fuckin’ maths!

The ‘Grandeco Gondola’ they’d dubbed it, this little string of bubbles strung together up the western edge of Azuma-yama.  Gondola my arse, I reckoned I sat about as far away from gondola country as anyone can get.  Mind you, being punted around the Venetian sewers by a little Albanian border hopper who passes himself off as Italian by donning and Elvis wig and greasing up with garlic butter every morning sounded like a pretty decent alternative to what I was going through right at that moment.  Sailing along between rows of condemned ruins slowly sinking into the silt, a hairy legged Barbara Streisand lookalike on my arm, old mate in the wig swooning Christmas carols and Celine Dion numbers that he’d translated into bad Latin learnt off the back of a cereal packet…mmm…yep, it sounded a damn sight better.

Alas the only woo-ing I was doing occurred when my little bubble lurched in the breeze towards one of the supposedly immovable pylons that held the whole, bloody, rinky-dink circus ride up.  Either way, immovable or not, if we collided, I was coming a cropper.

Seated bolt upright, more rigid than a three week old cadaver, I floated silently in space up the side of Azuma, trying to engender an air of calm, until the sudden shudders and clatters of bubble passing over the pylon arms sent my sphincter into dying-mullet-sucking-air palpitations.

I floated through a white universe.  Cloud clung to mountainside like I clung to my 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 pay check 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 marveled 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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