yake lr (12 of 12)

I stood at a closed mountain crossroads once more. Like Rishiri and Kusatsu-shirane before, there’d been little time to grapple with the fact an extra, unexpected, closed summit existed. Just climb and hope.  Hope some sort of trail exists.  Hope it’s not as life threatening as one imagines.

yake lr (1 of 12)Smatterings of hikers were scaling Yake that day, but it seemed the cloud that hugged the ancient gas billowing volcano was going to spoil the party and  snaffle out the views. Rotten smelling vapours, loudly jetting out of sulphur encrusted vents mingled with drifting cloud. I shuffled my feet in the yellow hued earth unsure of my next move. Behind me was the path I’d followed up out of  resplendent forests and over boulder strewn ground from Naka-no-yu. To my right the trail curled up and around a raucous fumarole to the North Peak – the safe summit – eleven metres lower than its southern counterpart. To the left, black cliff face rose abruptly into cloud and vanished from view.  The South Peak was somewhere beyond that curtain of white. Ahead of me a thin little trail dropped down into Yake-dake’s crater, but within a few metres it too was lost in cloud.

I knew what I had to do. Doubt and fear swirled like the vapours in the air. I put off the moment of truth and headed up through the fumaroles to the open North Peak.  Maybe up there my desire to top out would be sated. There on the cloud darkened, muddy, bald summit hikers hunched their backs into a strengthening breeze and slurped hot noodles cooked on camp stoves.  It was a grim scene.  I tried to be satisfied.  Everyone else seemed content enough.

yake lr (2 of 12)

Nope, that wasn’t going to do it.

“Fuck this shit,” were the actual words I mumbled to no-one.  Fed and watered though I was, nothing but a feeling of gut aching emptiness hung over me.

Back down at the crossroads the cloud miraculously lifted off the mountain just long enough for me to spy a gap in the black rock face up on the southern side of the narrow saddle in the crater wall. A group of hikers milled, readying themselves for a descent down to the bus stop.  I dumped my pack and bit my lip and walked straight for the darkened wall, readying myself for wails of protest to follow in my wake, as had been the case on Rishiri. But nothing.  Not a peep.  Not a hint of concern, the buggers.

“Let the mad gaijin go,” may well have been the general consensus. Soon I was up into the towering black ramparts and obscured behind a returning veil of cloud. I was left to my own devices – just the way I preferred it.

Clambering out of the dark rocks and hauling myself up onto the crater rim I then traversed a narrow place, where I supposed people could have been blown off on windier days.  Having covered ground more leery mere days before on the hike from Shirouma, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Up there my spirits lifted, like a hound regaining the scent of its quarry. Not a view was to be had, but that was fine, I followed a faint trail over soft ground until I spotted a wind blasted signpost poking out of a small cairn of stones.  Yake-dake was mine.

yake lr (3 of 12)“Now, surely, only Daisen remained,” a cocktail of high spirits and relief flowed through my body as I wandered off the barred trail and back down to the crossroads. The weather mirrored my moods that day.  Abruptly, the cloud cloaking Yake-dake lifted off the mountain and views down into the famed twin craters opened up. There a shallow, emerald green pond filled one depression, alongside it a dark, smoke issuing fissure, backed by the ominous looking crags of the volcano’s western rim, appeared to be nothing less than a bottomless pit.

yake lr (7 of 12)

For the moment, I’d done all I could.  A multi day traverse of the North Alps was next on the agenda but rains were imminent.  It was time to rest up and move on out of Matsumoto to Takayama, on the western side of the Alps.


2 thoughts on “BURNING MOUNTAIN

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