Forget Hiuchi-ga-take and its ‘Sound of Music’ scenery, Aizu-koma-ga-take takes the cake.  From the top of Hiuchi, the mountain to its immediate north looks an uninspiring prospect.  No peak to speak of, appearing more like an over sized hill than any highly regarded famous mountain.  If the bloke on Hiuchi-ga-take the day before hadn’t pointed it out, I wouldn’t have imagined it to be the next stop on my Hyakumeizan march.  However, up close, having emerged from the forests sweeping up the flanks of Aizu-koma on a blue skied Monday, the landscape that revealed itself was nothing less than unbridled highland gorgeousness.  It was a panorama of rolling green mountaintop fields, dotted with small ponds reflecting the dazzlingly clear heavens.  Brilliant blue mountain country rolled away to the northern horizon, a couple of chalet like huts sat on high ground, the pointy topped pines and cool mountain breeze had me all but forgetting about the skanky, oppressive pall of stale sweat stench hanging over me.  Merrily, I waltzed across the Aizu-koma highland like that old stinker, Pepe le Pew.

This was a mountain to be appreciated up close.  I, on the other hand, was not.  Anyone foolish enough to even consider doing such a thing would have been in for a dose of something rivalling toxic shock.  The fact that I’d remained in the same perspiration pickled gear I’d worn since walking into the hills above Minakami over three days before pretty much negated any benefits reaped from the previous evening’s soak in the onsen.  Back at two thousand metres plus, having ascended from the valley floor a thousand metres below, the surviving sweat supping bacteria lodging in my clothes, plied with a fresh drenching of perspiration had clearly been revived and got back to the business of multiplying by the billion in my pits and my pants.  I was a walking Petri dish.  At spots where I paused to marvel at the beauty of the area or take a photo, I dare suggest, that even to this day, the surrounding flora has yet to fully recover.

Resting at a picnic table outside the Aizu-koma huts I savoured the view across a small pond to the summit, a rising nubbin of ground, swaddled in greenery on the long, north-south running Aizu-koma highland.  Well, I savoured the view, until the unsavoury reek rising off my frame assaulted the backs of my nostrils.  Startled into action I marched out across the boardwalks leading to the summit before I caused any serious distress to the few other hikers nearby milling on the mountain that morning.  I imagined bugs and ants imploding in the grasses at my feet, small, twittering birds falling out of the sky as they flitted through the vapours swirling in the air around me.

On top, I could have only hoped for half as much.  From out of the sweet smelling pines and bamboo cloaking the summit of Aizu-koma, I was ambushed by a squadron of those wretchedly annoying horseflies as I settled down to soak up the sunshine.  I waited for them to drop like little yellow and black stones out of the air around me as the hit the poisonous air surrounding me, but all they did was persist with their endless dive bombs.  The buzzing whirred in my ears.  They began to get cocky, touching down on my hat and my back for a second or two.  Then braver still, they started proboscisizing away through my clothes and into flesh.  I yelped like a dog kicked awake from a midday snooze in the sun.  Four or five needle like spears slowly piercing the skin on my back withdrew and to resume their haranguing swoops and dives from overhead.

I swatted at them with my folded map but the hard headed bastards just kept on coming.  Seeing that no real respite was on the cards I hastily scrawled a ‘33’ onto the palm of my right hand, screwed the small silver tripod into the bottom of my camera and set it up in front of the large summit marker emblazoned with kanji characters.

Timer engaged I lowered myself down on the rock in front of the marker.  The horseflies descended, sensing my motionless.  There was a ten or so second delay before the timer released the shutter.  By the time the beeper started bleating in time the final few seconds, minuscule incisors that felt like hot pokers were hacking deep into the flesh of my back. As the camera fired off the shot it felt as though the malicious little buggers had struck bone and I was barely able to constrain myself as I swatted them away.

Hastily, I packed up my gear and left. If I was five minutes on top of Aizu-koma, I wasn’t a minute more.

Just before ducking back into the forests on my descent I ran into a cheerful band of hikers, three women and two men, who pulled me up and tried out some of their English.  Upon discovering I was Australian they all oohed and ahhed and one middle aged woman announced that they were heading off to Perth the following month and I responded with a couple of hearty oohs and ahhs of my own.

“Are you going down the mountain?”

“Did you sleep in the mountain lodge?”

“Do you like the mountains?” They fired off questions as if it was the Japanese Inquisition.

“Yes, no, very much,” I said, answering them all at once.

Their cheerfulness was infectious and they seemed not at all perturbed by any of the reek issuing off me and floating their way.

“We’re going to Australia next month, we’ll have to get used to this kind of smell at some point,” they probably thought.

“I’ve pretty much walked from Minakami this week and climbed Hotaka-yama, Shibutsu, Hiuchi and now Aizu-koma,” I boasted, cloaking it in an air of modesty.

The ladies in the bunch were quite impressed.

“I want your power,” the woman leading the pack demanded and thrust out a hand for me to shake.  “This mountain is too steep,” she continued as I shook her hand, thinking nothing of it.  I warned them of the horseflies at the top and, wishing them all a safe trip to Australia, slowly made my way down the mountain, back to the bath, to lunch, to my gear at the campground.

I was feeling good.  Change of clothes donned.  I’d eaten Aizu-koma up.  ‘Pissed it in,’ as they say in the classics.  It was time to bus back up to the visitor centre below Hiuchi and transfer to another bus heading to the trail head of the next mountain on the agenda, Hira-ga-take.  Unbeknownst to me, one of the most brutal episodes on my hundred mountain quest lay little less than a day away.


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