#85 – TEKARI-DAKE
Hikers breakfasted in the Chausu Hut with views toward the east, of the rising sun, appearing just to the left of Fuji’s crown. Whisps of cloud sailed on high winds over the roof of the hut and down across our field of view. By the time our breakfasts were done and the dining room was filled with the sounds of clattering plates and chairs being pushed back and shuffling slippered feet a cloud bank had swallowed the hut and the sun illuminated us all in a miraculous orange glow, and it shone like a burning eye through the curtain drifting between us.
Soon I was out on the trail once again. Clambering back up to the ridgeline I’d dropped off the day before. I walked into a strengthening gale and face full of cloud sweeping in from the west. The summit of Chausu-dake was close by, I leant into the wind and after locating the summit marker in the whiteout, quickly pressed on. From Hijiri-dake the mountains of the Southern Alps plummet in elevation. Hijiri is the Alps’ southernmost three thousander, Tekari-dake the last twenty five hundreder.
I dropped out of the tempest into a forest of light and mist. Shafts of sunlight shot through the canopy of spindly pines to the moss carpeted forest floor. Dew drops hung off tips of branches and fronds of pine. I looked back through a gap in the trees as the trail skirted an escarpment and was rewarded with one final glimpse of Hijiri-dake, all but free of cloud, the winds and rising sun having conspired to sweep the impenetrable glug cloaking the mountains for the past twenty-four hours away.
It was a silent early morning stroll through a splendid woodland. I only passed a couple of fellow hikers before I dumped my pack at the junction where the trail went on to Tekari and another dropped down, out of the mountains to the west. No public transport came this far into the hills of the Southern Alps. It had been a while but I was ready to thumb my way back to civilisation.
Before that, though – Tekari!
Soon the lay of the land began to incline once more and I spied Tekari’s summit through the tree tops, a hint of cloud still clinging on stubbornly to its wooded crown. A congo line of half a dozen or so men marched through the trees in my direction, they greeted me heartily as I let them pass. The way ahead took me up a broad sawa strewn with boulders, leaning trees and clutches of gorgeous purple, iris like wildflowers standing out amongst the deep green undergrowth. Along the path the only other hiker I met on the climb stopped and informed me that the blossoms were known as Torikabuto.
At the top of the gully I turned toward the summit and walked across a boardwalk that dissected a small, grass filled marsh. A hut sat on the rise looking back at me across the expanse and beyond it, Tekari’s summit. The dwelling was empty. A woman reclined in the office behind the reception. She pointed me on to the summit.
A constant companion to the alpine hiker in Japan is the haimatsu, the creeping pine or Siberian Dwarf Pine. A variety of conifer that blankets swathes of mountainside above the treeline in thick impenetrable tangles that at times reach over head height. On Tekari-dake, one can stand at the southernmost extent of haimatsu’s range – not only in Japan or in Asia but on the planet.
After a quick rest on the summit, I turned tail and made the long walk back to my gear stowed at the trail junction, my summer in the Japanese Alps was all but at an end. The path down to the trailhead was a vicious one. A kneeknocker. I made a mental note of never entertaining the notion of entering the Alps in the future from that point. Gravity swept me by groups of hikers. I passed the six blokes I met on the trail up the mountain, as they remarked at the speed of my morning’s progress amongst themselves, I realised I mustn’t have been in such bad shape after all.
Ahead of the group a solitary man stopped me and on discovering I’d hiked in from beyond Warusawa informed me that there was no public transport out of these parts. He asked where I was headed. I said back to Osaka and I showed him my thumb and told him I’d hitch my way out…or walk if I had to.
I guess he wasn’t going to let that happen. At the trailhead where a few vehicles were parked up against the edge of the narrow road he spoke to the group of men following us out of the hills and pointed to me, as I turned to walk the road.
Moments later, after they’d loaded up their duo of Landcruisers, they pulled up alongside me and one of the men asked me in English if I wanted a lift. ‘Where would you like to go?’
I said it’d be great if they could drop me off at the nearest railway station.
‘Where are you heading after that?’
‘Osaka,’ I replied.
‘Well, we can take you to Kyoto if you want. We are dentists there, get in!’
And so, I was delivered from the bottom of the Southern Alps to my doorstep (more or less) just like that.
I’d never been happier to see a bunch of dentists in my life…