#32 – HIUCHI-GA-TAKE
I walked in silence across the boardwalks into a golden, sunlit mist, awake before the crowds, crossing paths with a handful of lone hikers and photographers on my way north.
The rising sun chased away the mists as I walked into Jujiro, an enclave of huts at the northern end of the marsh, nestling at the edge of the woods, beneath the gaze of the imposing Hiuchi-ga-take. If conquering Shibutsu-san took barely more effort than a walk in the park, her counterpart at the far end of Oze, I feared, would extract much more.
Crowds, as I’ve come to find in Japan, is a relative term and soon through the trees marching toward me came hiker after hiker. I marvelled at how they’d got up and down Hiuchi at such an early hour. Further on a group of five gorgeous young lassies smelling of department store cosmetics flitted past then, catching up with a sprucely attired family of three at a small waterfall – kiddy obsessed Mum capturing every move of her tiny lad on video as he squatted with his softly spoken father over a small pool – I suspected things weren’t right.
“They are not going to the top of the mountain,” I silently assured myself. “Meaning I’m probably not either.” I pulled my map out of my pocket and there it was, the fork in the trail, back before the waterfall I now stood at. I’d walked right past it and into the realm of the Clean People. The parade I was witnessing was that of the daytrippers, flooding into Oze by way of the gentle trail from the bus stop beyond Oze-numa. I retraced my steps. On the correct path, I was instantly assaulted with a trail going straight up the mountain and degrading into a virtual rock scramble amidst a clamouring, humid, windless forest.
On top of Hiuchi-ga-take, I slid out of my pack and collapsed onto the red gravelly ground and valiantly attempted not to die there amidst the gaggle of other climbers already recovered from their efforts. On the final push to the summit, I had taken a hammering, willing myself upwards, gasping under my breath not to stop until I reached the top. With the sound of blood coursing through my cranium fading, I raised my sweaty skull off the dirt just in time to witness Fuji-san, sitting far out to the south, being swallowed by a rising bank of white cloud.