#026 – IWAWAKI-SAN
A Friday Valentine’s Day: snows blanketed much of the nation and we strode the white streets and temple precincts of Kyoto beneath a flittering veil of icy confetti.
Someone around at the time commented Kansai was looking more like Nagano every day. Someone in Nagano at the time countered the latter was looking more like Antarctica every day.
By Saturday, snow had turned to a fat dropped, icy rain.
By Sunday, the sun shone and we headed for the hills.
Mountain country fringes the southern peripheries of Osaka Prefecture. There, along its borders with Nara and Wakayama, elevations flirt with, and briefly surpass, 1000 metres before fizzling out in foothills standing over Osaka Bay and the reclaimed, angular islands of Kansai Airport. In those mountains you’ll find the twin peaked Nijyo-san, the two Katsuragis and Kongo-san, Osaka’s highest ground. There’s a route traversing these peaks known as the Diamond Trail, an alluring multi-day endeavour, especially with the abundance of onsen in the district and the promise of a bath at the end of each stage. The full traverse would have to wait for another time. We’d opted for series of daylight raids into the far reaches of Osaka instead.
Between Kongo and the westernmost of the two Katsuragis, rises Iwawaki-san, a pampas grass capped peak topping out just a few metres short of 900.
We alighted our train at Kimi Pass, a convenient looking spot on the map to commence the day’s ambulations, and strode over icy ground into the towering confines of an all too familiar cedar forested scene. A trio though we were for the first time that year, with The Kid potentially out of his sneaker footed element on the frosty trails of Iwawaki, we left him to cause havoc at his grandma’s and welcomed The Con-man, an old buddy and colleague, to the fray.
A section of The Diamond Trail danced across the ridge line above us, lost in the snow spattered tree tops and cut the pass at a higher point than from where we had set out. Clambering up a log strewn gully and onto a steep, wooded spur, we lost the trail briefly beneath a towering electrical pylon that allowed the snow through to bury all trace of footfall. Regaining our bearings we sloshed up onto the main ridge line trail and from there followed the more heavily trodden main path towards Iwawaki-san.
The mountain is one of the ‘New Hyakumeizan.’* A re-tooled version of the 100 Famous Mountains compilation, it does away with nearly half of the original selection, slashes the average height in the process and is aimed at a seemingly more ‘silver haired’ hiking set. And didn’t we know it that bright, clear skied Sunday. The oldies were out in force. Most of them leaving me in their powder tracks as an hour or so into the climb I found myself struggling with a burgeoning load in my bowel that threatened to complete its descent before I even made it to the top.
Immediately off trail, an estimated three foot of soft, light, powdery snow prevented me from venturing into the woods to lighten my load. I feared the worst. An on trail dump would cause shameful castigation from the locals who seemed to appear at all ticks of the clock. I struggled along, losing sight of the other two at times, through a wondrous world of soft, white, virginal serenity. All the while an inner turmoil wrought havoc with my sanity. I silently prayed for regress and struggled onwards.
When the trail flirted with the northern edge of the ridge line the towering sugi was battered by a strengthening wind howling in off Osaka Bay. Curtains of snow dust showered down through the trees, sparkling in the sunlight as it drifted through the air.
And then the summit came into view. More glorious though was the sight of one dirty old toilet block standing off to the side of the snow clad trail before it began its final ascent to Iwawaki’s golden, pampas clad crown.
Hikers milled in that dip below the short, icy walk to the summit. The only milling on my mind was that of the chocolate logs I’d been hauling for far too long up that mountain. I traversed mini snow drifts clogging the men’s room and locked myself in a frigid cubicle, dropped my strides, squatted over the crap spattered, porcelained hole in the ground and allowed nature to take its course. Whilst the angels of heaven sang in exultant chorus I hit the flush lever and a torrent of water was released into the little trough between my feet. As I struggled with my belt I saw that the waters and their unholy load were rising toward the rim rather than washing away. Instantly I realised I’d soon be wallowing in a puddle of my own defecation. The system below ground must have been frozen solid! I shot out of the cubicle faster than I’d shot in.
The Missus looked me up and down aghast as I appeared back in the cold, brilliant light of day, trousers asunder. The Con-man thought the entire episode hilarious, took a peep in the cubicle out of some morbid fascination and found that all contents had somehow disappeared. And I nodded, that demonic, steaming, monster I’d parted with surely would have melted through a mile of glacier ice and the bedrock beneath it if given even half a chance.
The relief, as they say, was palpable.
On the treeless summit, golden grasses half buried in the snow, we munched on our lunches in a bitingly cold wind. A grizzly faced old codger, grumbled incoherently into a two way radio with antenna poking out of it nearly as tall again as he. Other hikers huddled in groups, sheltering themselves and their camp stoves from the wind. We didn’t stay there long and soon were plunging off the northern face of the mountain into a leafless, tangled wood in stark contrast to the straight, vertical lines of the cultivated, evergreen sugi forests we’d climbed through.
Emerging from the trail above Iwawaki Temple a long, snow smothered road walk ensued before we collapsed onto an Osaka bound train, a Mexican beast feast in town being the final order of the day.
Yep, it was time to pack that gut full again.
*The Shin-hyakumeizan: New is old: