#84 – HIJIRI-DAKE
Two days down, two to go.
I climbed out of Hyakkanbora. Cloud sailed on high winds against the backdrop of blue, end of summer skies and green, brush pine clad mountains.
Over Rabbit Mountain I bounded and down into a merciless drop on the other side. Hijiri-dake soared overhead. Every step down needing to be reclaimed on the way back up. I paused at the tiny ‘Rabbit Hutch’ Emergency Hut that my dog eared Lonely Planet hiking guide book described as ‘not luxurious’ and thanked the mountain gods that I didn’t have to hole up in that crumbling little concrete bunker.
At the bottom of the deep saddle I steeled myself for the long climb up to Hijiri’s summit. Summer flowers clung to gaps in the precipitous stone walls of the mountain. Snow gnarled branches made for convenient handholds. Cloud masked most of the views and cloaked the trailside grasses in a soft morning dew.
I clambered onto the summit of Hijiri-dake well and truly spent. Where once I may have taken more breathers, my newly acquired dread of bad weather had pushed me onward. I threw myself down on a bare summit shrouded in a thin sunlit mist, illuminated like a wedding veil, but driven by a howling mountaintop gale. Grit stung my eyes. I pulled my straw summer hat down low on my brow. Hijiri-dake is the southernmost three thousander of the Southern Alps and indeed, in all of Japan. Beyond Hijiri the mountains tumble toward the Pacific, fizzling out before they reach the coastline. There in those dwindling undulations Tekari-dake rises, the last peak on my Southern Alps swing that summer. With Hijiri’s crown underfoot, the focus was to get far enough along the trail to be able to take care of Tekari the following day.
But, before pressing on, I gave the mists a chance to lift while wandering around the elongated summit. I sucked on a bottle of water and chilled by the winds, slipped into my windbreaker. The views never materialised. No glimpses of Akaishi-dake to the north or Fuji-san to the east. The mountain remained strafed by the winds and that brilliant thin veil of cloud. I snapped off my summit shot, gathered up my gear and dropped immediately off the summit on a slippery, gritty trail, never escaping the cloud filled air.
Halfway down two hikers stood pointing into the shining white mists.
“Kamoshika!” one said to me. Pointing at a blob through the swirling glug.
There was something there, beyond a clump of pine, whether it was one of those elusive Japanese mountain goats I’ll never know. Might’ve been more scrub for all I knew.
Below Hijiri, and beneath skies heavy with cloud I entered an open glade and ordered up a plate of curry rice at the Hijiri-daira Hut.
I was tempted to stay there. The next hut on the trail was a four hour ridge walk away. The cloud wasn’t bright and airy anymore. Ominous would have been a good word to describe it. But holing up at Hijiri-daira would turn the next day into a fifteen hour monster according to the times indicated on the map. I guessed I could’ve probably knocked a couple of hours off that estimate but more trail behind me today meant less tomorrow.
I went for it. Chausu Hut or bust. Climbing up out of the woods to the ridge line, spatterings of rain began to fall. My heart sank. I strained my ears for any indication of distant thunder as I slowly, unenthusiastically hauled on my rain gear. Wind buffeted the pine and stumpy trees surrounding me.
Up on exposed ground it was a white out. The wind had turned gale force, buffeting me from the right. A hiker strode past me. His pace left me for dead as he vanished into the curtain of whiteness ahead. It was comforting to see someone else out on the trail though. Slightly more reassured, I pushed on, raindrops stinging when they hit my face.
I imagined the worst of the weather was up there in the hills with me. Down at sea level, it was more than likely people were out basking in the summer sun. Getting in last barbeques and swims before the end of the Obon holiday. The spattering rain ceased fairly quickly but the wind whipped cloud caused an icy dew to form on my windward side.
Arriving at a trail junction a few hikers milled in the racing mists. Someone was putting up a tent. I could hear the tapping of rock on tent peg but assumed the camper was somewhere out of sight in the fog. But no, it was an old bugger standing with his back to the wind, hunched over and fighting a losing battle, clicking away at his cigarette lighter with a fag clasped between his pursed lips collecting moisture. His wife offered up a grim konnichiwa. Squatted on a rock nearby, hugging her knees, and with spectacles fogging up, she appeared as though she could think of better places to be.
A group walked into the mists along the spur trail to Kamikouchi-dake, a fifteen minute hike away, though in those conditions you never would have guessed it. I pressed on. The trail eventually dropped out of the wind into a tree lined hollow. A few men in day glo rainwear wandered along a boardwalk laughing and chatting enjoying their day out in the hills.
Not long after passing them, over another short stretch of exposed ground, I dropped off the ridge and out of the gale and climbed the stairs to the door of the splendid Chausu Hut, just below the peak of the same name. Relieved and spent – ninety minutes knocked off the advertised trail time from Hijiri-daira – I paid for a sleeping space on the floor and reserved my place at the table for dinner and breakfast.
Tomorrow Tekari-dake would be mine.