#79 – KITA-DAKE
I arrived in Kofu City – main gateway to the Southern Alps – late on a scorching afternoon and took to the town’s old castle ramparts to see if I couldn’t catch a breath of one of those breezes I’d put in an order for. The mountains filled the western horizon beneath a heat bleached, smog smeared sky.
Later, settled for the evening in a clean, pokey business hotel, I took my last shower for the week, stuffed my pack with water and trail snacks and my belly with convenience store cuisine: pork and rice, sliced salami and cheese, yogurt, fruit jelly and a chocolate sundae. Pre-dawn breakfast was more of the same, minus the ice cream.
The mountains were filling up for the summer. Before sun up, in front of the station, hikers were already being herded into lines by bus company staff. Some chatted in groups, some smoked, some stood stoically, fighting sleep or plugged into their headphones. I bought a pair of tickets for the bus ride into the Alps, one for me and one for the pack and waited patiently to be loaded into one of the grumbling buses pulling to a stop before us.
The bus ride took us up and over Yashajin Pass, from where Patrick and I had ventured up Houou-san that past spring, and down into the valley beyond to the camp at Hirogawara. Kita-dake’s summit shone high overhead in the morning sun and I strode into the forests beneath her gaze, fully expecting nothing less than a pummeling at her hands for the remainder of the day.I took to her steep trails at a snail’s pace. As the heat of the day soaked into the woodland I began taking frequent breaks and swallowing water, trying to sense if any hint of altitude sickness was waiting to kick in. Climbing out of the forest into the alpine zone where the creeping pine held sway the views opened up out to a dark blue, snowless Fuji to the east while surrounding Kita-dake to the north, Houou, Kaikoma and Senjo-dake reclined under blue skies.
Hikers congregated at the hut below the summit crown. I found a spot to sit down and take a break and knocked back some snacks to keep me going. Feeling fine and with plans to overnight at the campground of the hut on the far side of Kita-dake, I climbed up to the summit past lines of descending hikers. At my feet clumps of summer flowers poked out of cracks in the rocks.
Looking south, the mountains lined up in front of me. Ai-no-dake, Shiomi, the Arakawa peaks and on and on. I couldn’t wait to get on and get up them. Afternoon cloud, sweeping in from the south and slowly swallowing the panorama had me moving off the summit and heading to the campground below, along the trail to Ai-no-dake. It had been a fantastic, trouble free opening salvo to my summer in the mountains.
Basking in the afternoon breeze in the crags of Japan’s second highest peak, little did I realise that I was less than a day away from receiving a few well directed salvos of my own…