JULY, 2007


The hikers began stirring before three in the morning.  Sleep muddled voices, the unzipping of tents, the incessant crunch of plastic bags and the click and whoosh of igniting camp stoves heralded the beginning a new day in the mountains.  I lay there listening to it all.  It was still dark and my feet were cold.  It hadn’t blown a gale but it hadn’t been a warm night either.  I was up and half out of my sleeping bag scrounging around in the dark for extra layers a couple of times through the night.  When I finally forced myself out into the throng of hikers frantically disassembling their tents and stuffing their packs against a lightening sky, I found that the long drop toilets behind the hut were connected to a line approaching fifty souls.  By the time I made it to the front of that queue the long drop may well have become a disturbingly shorter one.  A peaceful spot to go about my ablutions off the trail seemed a lot more inviting, even if it was along the notorious bear ridden Kuma-kaido.

From Hakuun most hikers take a day and a half or so to make it to Tomuraushi, overnighting at the A-framed Chubetsu Hut.  Studying my map, I backed myself to make it all the way to Tomuraushi and down to the Minami-numa campsite on the southern side of its summit by dusk that day.  In so doing, turning my planned five day traverse into four.

“You can do it, I’m sure,” Satoshi-san encouraged me.  “If you start soon, I think it’s no problem for you.”  He, on the other hand, was going to take things somewhat slower and after summiting Tomuraushi a day later than I, head down out of the mountains.  So with a handshake and a promise to meet up in Osaka at Christmas time we wished each other good luck and I stepped out onto the Kuma Kaido, bear bell a jangling on the back of my pack.

I need not have worried about bears as plenty of hikers had departed ahead of me.   Randomly spaced groups stretched out along the trail.  More that would be following from the emptying Hakuun Campsite were going to make it difficult for me to surreptitiously duck off the track in search of my own private wilderness poo spot.  Adding to my difficulties, cover was at a premium.  The terrain was flat, open and covered, in parts only, by waist high swathes of creeping pine.  But there soon came a point in time when desperate necessity overcame desire for complete privacy.  Soiling my one and only pair of trousers early on day two of a four day traverse was not on.  My trusty Lonely Planet had prepped me well for the eventuality of lightening one’s load out in the wilds:

“Away from the trailheads and mountain huts toilets are a relative rarity.  A small, portable shovel is a handy, instant toilet digger which will be very useful on longer hikes.”

Strategically distanced between the people ahead and behind I dumped my pack on the trail and with toilet roll and trowel in hand scampered off into the pine to hunt out a suitable spot to poo.

“Bury all human waste at least 100m from the camp site, the track and water sources.”

I found as good a place as any about a hundred yards off the trail and quickly ducked for the marginal cover available before anyone saw me.

“(Dig) a hole dug at least 15cm deep.”

Six inches…

“Fuck,” that was a hell of a hole to dig with a king brown knocking on the inside of my back door demanding immediate release.  I was sure some enviro nazi obachan was going to appear at any instant, having sniffed me out amidst the creeping pine and stand over me in a finger waggling frenzy and holler all manner of accusations as I guiltily squatted over a steaming mass of indefensible evidence.  My crime against mother nature on display for one and all.

Bears weren’t far from my mind either.  Urgency reaching a crescendo and a cool sweat on my brow, I plunged my hundred yen trowel into the soft moss covered earth and the bloody thing snapped in two.  I paused there for a moment, unable to fathom what had just happened, down on hands and knees staring at the little wooden handle in my white knuckled fingers.

Anyone walking by at that moment, taking in the glorious views of Daisetsu-san may well have bore witness, about a hundred yards out to their right off the trail, to a small green trowel handle shooting straight up out of a tuft of brush bound for Earth’s inner orbit, accompanied by some muffled ire trailing off into the blue.

Responsibility is all good and well when your sphincter isn’t holding back a broiling pipeful of brown, but right then rapid action was called for.  It was down with the dacks and let loose the hounds time.  Things were coming to a head in my bottom.  Squatting, eyes closed, awaiting the release with bated breath、suddenly everything bowelwise, as it was want to do in these crucial moments of ultra high anticipation, seized up.  All progress ground to a halt and the cheeky little shits pulled up stumps and crawled off back into my arse.  It was worse than being stood up.  Worse than the bride running off with the milkman on your wedding day.  It was even worse than a test match, heading for a certain result on the last day after tea, suddenly fizzling out to a draw before your eyes.

Well, let me tell you, I was having none of it.  I was crapping there and I was crapping then.  Inhaling a cubic metre of fresh Hokkaido mountain air I gave my guts a good old fashioned wringing and pissed all over the inside of my pants.

“Christ!” I cursed yet again.  My left eye nearly shot out of the front of my head and I could have sworn I’d dropped a third ball.  Teetering on the brink of insanity I grasped for my last sprig of composure.  There was no point ranting like a loonie in the bushes with my pants around my ankles.  I had time, plenty of it.  Life was beautiful.  It wasn’t everyday one got to poo in such stunningly gorgeous surrounds…

Anyway, I think you get the picture.

Minutes later with the issue having been resolved and blood pressure returning to normal I was back on track, strolling the Kuma-kaido.

Annoyances are quickly dispelled amidst the beauty of the Hokkaido landscape and on a rise overlooking a pair of icy ponds below the climb up Chubetsu-dake I reclined amidst the rocks and flowers and took in the views across to the proud bluff.

The blue skies and mild temperatures of the morning didn’t last though and by mid afternoon, sitting at the base of the famously long approach up Tomuraushi, I was damp and glum from hours of viewless graft amongst head high brush pine, wet cloud and cold wind.

As I commenced the long ascent the cloud began to cooperate, swirling around me as I crossed a field dotted with silent sentinels of rock standing in the greenery behind veils of thinning mist.  At times, when the mist thickened and restricted the views down to the immediate surrounds, one could have all but sworn they were standing in a private garden in Kyoto, amidst the manicured shrubbery and rock features and ornamental pools.

I had a wonderful scramble up through a series of shallow valleys of boulders, over rocks marked with yellow circles and arrows and for a moment, as I reached one of the many crests of the day, the cloud hemming me in suddenly parted like opening night curtains revealing all that I had traversed since breakfast.

Soon the crown of Tomuraushi appeared, the ground slowly passing beneath my weary feet.  As fast as the cloud had departed it moved in again and swallowed the peak’s rocky turrets.  The weak light shining through the mist silhouetted a group of hikers ahead of me.  There were less people on the trail now, at least that’s how it seemed.  We were all lost in the fog on the hulking shoulders of the magnificent mountain.

Climbing above Kita-numa, the North Pond, I caught the group ahead of me and together we reached Tomuraushi’s rocky summit.  A strengthening wind brought with it few random spots of rain.  Hikers already on top huddled behind rocks and sipped hot Japanese tea from their thermoses.  Sadly I was blessed with the familiar views of claustrophobic white in all directions.  But it didn’t matter.  Nothing could detract from the hardest and most visually stunning day’s hiking I’d ever done – not even the young bloke who insisted he take my summit proof photo, but for the love of God, Buddha and all the kami sanma combined, couldn’t get it right no matter how much I politely instructed him.

With camera retrieved there was no point hanging around up on top, so I clambered down the steep southern face of the summit to the Minami-numa Campsite, well and truly satisfied with the day’s efforts.


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