ruins along trail

So much for that weather forecast.

Overnight, seven days of predicted sunshine had turned into seven days of rain.

‘Well,’ I reasoned, prepping for a five dayer through the Chichibu Mountains, ‘What can change so drastically one way can change the hell back just as fast.’

The following day, atop of Kumotori-san, the highest peak in Tokyo, thick cloud and strengthening rain seemed to be conspiring against my logic.  I stepped inside the empty emergency hut on the summit and munched down my lunch.  The famous views south to Mount Fuji confined to the ballpoint renderings of previous visitors decorating the hut log book.

From the top of Kumotori you can traverse the width of the magnificent Chichibu Tama National Park along a ridgeline trail, straddling the border of Saitama and Yamanashi Prefectures to the Hyakumeizan peaks in its western reaches: Kobushi, Kinpu and Mizugaki.  In hindsight this would have been a sufficient enough plan but I was prepared to bite off more than I could chew, as thoughts of my crumbling schedule played on my mind.  Before hitting Kobushi, I would firstly bear south for Daibosatsu-dake.

My boots, meanwhile, were continuing to chew everything they ravenously bit off.  Down into the forests off Kumotori I hobbled along a trail ridden with washouts, toppled trees and fallen branches.  Typhoon Number 9 had certainly left its mark.  It was to be expected, I supposed.  Down in the village, at the trailhead, old men in helmets were still digging cars out of rubble.

Ultimately, as rains fell through the resplendent green canopy overhead I came upon a towering wall of tangled branches, saplings, roots and dirt, brought down across the trail from on high.  An enormous old tree had lost its grip on the steep mountainside and toppled headfirst down the slope.  The mess appeared to be perilously close to resuming its descent further into the valley below at any moment.  Not enthused about the prospect of rodeo riding that conglomeration of timber and mud down through the woods I determined the only way onwards was to climb up and traverse the landslide at a point from whence it had come.  Off trail the ground was ridiculously soft, all leaf matter and humus, loose rocks afloat in the mulch offering nothing in the way of hand holds as I clambered clumsily upward, boots tearing at already raw skin inside my socks.  With the help of saplings still lodged in the earth I arrived beyond the landslide and found myself staring at a vertical drop of ten or so metres back down to the trail.  I commenced wiggling out of my pack and the sodden ground gave way beneath me.  I grabbed hold of a spindly tree.  Fall arrested, I let go of my pack, hoping it would hit the trail below without bounding off down the hillside.  It landed safely.  After that it was up to me to follow it.  Laying against earth as best I could, while still gripping the tree, I eyed off the best looking ground to slide down on and let go.  I landed on trail, tumbling to save the ankles and knees, got up and brushed myself down.

“Well, that wasn’t so difficult,’ I muttered into the woods as I wiped my muddy hands on a tree trunk before heading onward, down off Kumotori.

Just below the Hut at Sanjo-no-yu the waters filling the Sanjo-zawa bounded rambunctiously down through the woods around and over the boulders.  A footbridge spanning the surging waters had been swept away and I and a man, I presumed to be from the hut, stood on opposite sides of the torrent staring at each other.

I hurled my boots over to him then allowed the turbulent waters to massage my tortured feet a little before reaching the other side.  After being handed back my footwear we climbed the trail up to the hut.

Signing in – the first and last person to do so that day – the quietly spoken master asked me my planned route out, as was the custom at those places.  Pulling my map from my pocket I traced the trail running towards Daibosatsu-dake, some ten hours away on paper.

“Oh!” he exclaimed, surprised, “Hai, wa-kari-ma-shita.”

I dried out.

Then went and got wet.

I slid gently into the boiling bath waters and allowed the heat soak into my weary bones.  I’d been a hundred days on the trail.  A hundred days since leaving Osaka for Hokkaido.  Forty two mountains down.  In less than two months, some 50 days, I had to do at least that again.  In the last two weeks I’d knocked off three mountains.  Had I let things slip?  Taken my eye off the ball? Was I cutting things just a tad too fine?  I massaged my shut eyes and rubbed hot waters into my scalp.  Doubt lurked.  My old job had convinced me to stick around for an extra month, delaying my departure for the mountains until June.  Agreeing to that wasn’t looking good as I soaked in the bath crunching numbers in my head.  Going directly to Hokkaido after that wasted another clutch of days, as had the crook knee.  This latest lull in proceedings was not helping matters at all.  I had to make it beyond the Alps –  North, South and Central before the snows hit.

“Arrrggghh,” I didn’t want to think about it anymore.  I was starting to poach in the bath waters anyway.  I dried, dressed and went off to rustle up an instant noodle dinner.

As for my birthday?  Day one hundred and one dawned with a downpour.

“Faaaaaaaark,” with no desire to face reality, I buried myself in my futon upon realising the state of affairs outside. “It’ll stop by breakfast,” I reassured myself and shut my eyes.

It didn’t.

The heavens had been torn asunder and sheets of white water fell to the earth, drenching the glistening forests, swelling the swollen sawas to bursting point and soaking the already waterlogged ground.  As I was putting my gear together after breakfast the hut master knocked on the door to my quarters and in an earnest tone advised me not to push on towards Daibosatsu.  Multiple river crossings dotted my route, and the rains were sure to be making the ground very unstable over a course already typhoon battered.

“Take this trail out,” we sat over my map, examining alternatives.  “There’s a road, not far, thirty minutes.”

He wasn’t kicking me out of the mountains, but advising me strongly not to stay in them.

I decided not to push my luck.

He smiled and thanked me.

I’d walk out, return to Tokyo and give the mountains some time to dry out.

Time, of which, I was fast running out of.


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