#14 – ADATARA-SAN
Mars. That’s where I was.
Outside my tiny space capsule, a howling stellar wind blasted the barren red landscape. An alien mist had reduced visibility down to something approaching ten metres, twenty at the most…
It wasn’t hard to imagine being perched somewhere tens of millions of miles above sea level rather than the measly 1700 metres or so, atop Adatara-san, the third and final peak of my Ura-bandai sojourn.
Spirits were high as the shape of the Tetsu-san Emergency Hut materialised out of the afternoon gloom. I knew I was heading for a hut, I just couldn’t see it until I damn near well ran into it. Despite the ever present cloud, it had been a spectacular ascent.
Hitching a ride out of Ura-bandai with a generous couple who’d just made it down off Iide-san, (another of the revered Hyakumeizan, situated some thirty miles west of Adatara) I made it up to the remote trailhead in no time. My appearance at the entrance of the hike, late on a morning overladen with cloud piqued the interest of a pair of wizened old sansai pickers as they emerged out of the woods. One old girl simply konnichiwa-ed and toddled off, bent over beneath her long simple frock and headscarf, while the other, similarly attired, commenced a brief interrogation.
“Adatara?” she looked me up and down with a shiny pair of black eyes nearly lost in a tapestry of wrinkles.
“Hai,” I replied stuffing a half loaf of bread, presented to me by my chauffeurs, into my pack.
“Ohh, gasu, gasu,” she waggled the curved blade of her sansai knife at the heavy looking cloud above our heads.
I smiled and assured her I’d be fine, zipping up my pack and slinging it onto my shoulders hoping my knees wouldn’t buckle beneath me.
“Kiyotsukete ne,” she seemed unconvinced but at the same time not overly concerned as to my potential fate.
“Hai, okay desu.”
Soon after leaving the ladies and being swallowed up by the damp forest the very same woods parted before my eyes just as rapidly as they had enveloped me. Ground dropped away in front of me and I found myself staring into the maw of rocky, scrub lined valley through which a milky, pale blue stream wended its way. Following a steep goat track down into the depression I was assailed by the pungent sulphurous gases rising off the waters in front of me. The fumes hung in the thick, humid air, a lurking nausea circled in my gut.
Dilapidated ruins of what I assumed were old sulphur workings sat at the water’s edge. Scattered planks, broken glass, wooden boxes and an assortment of rusting paraphernalia harked back to more prosperous times. Numerous synthetic pipes and a timber conduit clogged with yellow sulphuric deposits siphoned water downstream to onsen hidden in the forests on the lower reaches of the mountain. I strolled over a flimsy wooden bridge and past the silent, tumbledown wooden huts half expecting some toothless old mountain hermit to stick his head out of a darkened doorway and tell me to bugger off in some rough, mangled, slapped together Japanese. Poking around a tiny shrine with a bent torii gate I sensed my nausea was on the verge of reaching the point of no return and came to the conclusion that where I stood probably wasn’t the best place to be hanging about in any longer than necessary. I slowly got the legs going again and set off up, along the trail paralleling the pale blue watercourse, trying not to swallow more than half a lungful of the rotten air at a time. Beyond a small waterfall, the trail left the stream and climbed higher up onto the opposite side of the valley where the stench of volcanic gases abated and was slowly replaced by the aroma of the surrounding flowers blooming in the thick vegetation.
Nearing the top of the valley wall I skirted the base of a towering, dark rockface that took on the appearance of some ancient keep mired high in the clouds. Coming to a crack in the walls I dragged myself up higher, straining beneath the weight of my pack, having been spoiled by three straight single day hikes lugging only minimal weight. Squeezing through a small hole in the rock I once again had two feet planted solidly on level ground. The view was as stifled and intimate as it had been on Azuma the day before. Birds twittered deep in the brushpine, ruffled by a breeze heavily laden with moisture. Taking a breather I sat, back against my pack, and took in the expansive panoramas of white and gargled some water to wash away the sulphuric tang clinging to the back of my throat. I conjured up images of finer weather and imagined Bandai and Azuma rising above the summery green landscape dotted with sparkling lakes. Iide-san reclining some distance beyond, its silhouette darkening as the sun descended toward it, afternoon gradually turning to dusk.
By the time I reached the hut the breeze had grown into a gale and I was glad I wouldn’t have to make use of the tent that evening. I dumped my gear inside and scoffed down an obligatory handful of chocolate almonds. Tetsu-san, Adatara’s high point, sat a few minutes further along the track. Though I would pass close by the following day on my descent into Dake Onsen, I was quite taken by the idea of knocking off four summits in four days so I donned my jacket, slung my camera over my shoulder and wandered back out into the winds once more, all the while quietly satisfied that, for the second day running, I was the only soul silly enough to be scampering about in the mountains.