kiso (1 of 8)

I took the train to the valley town of Agematsu on the Kiso River.  There, an old pilgrim’s path, romantically named the Agematsu ‘A Course’, shot straight up the mountainside to the summit of Kisokoma-ga-take.  The trail took a little time to locate and once spotted, I spent a few minutes poking around a quiet, relic strewn sanctuary, before gritting my teeth and commencing the monster 1800 metre climb.  The goal of the day was the summit, no more, no less.

With my light load and a gorgeous forested trail to climb the day was nowhere near as strenuous as it could have been and once I popped out of the tree line the views, though somewhat cloud obscured towards the summit and out to Ontake, were tremendous.

View down the A course

View down the A Course

Central Alps, Japan

Central Alps, Japan

Though I’d met absolutely no one on the climb there was quite a gathering of hikers strolling around the summit as I topped out latishly in the afternoon.  Most of them, I assumed, had ascended via the ropeway on the other side of the mountain.  A cheerful man in his fifties or so addressed me loudly, ‘Oh! Gaijin-san! Where are you from?’

And upon hearing my response of Australia, his brusqueness melted away and he began waxing lyrical on the beauty of Tasmania – one of his favourite spots on the planet.  He took my camera from me and had me pose for my summit shot before I even thought about getting to it myself.

‘Where will you stay tonight?’ he enquired.

I shrugged, a few huts dotted the summit area.  When I pointed to a large structure below us in a wide stony field with a few tents dotted around it, the man, who had introduced himself as Yasu-san by then, advised against it.

‘Down there is cold.  The toilet smell.  Very bad.  Come with us.’

View from the summit of Kisokoma-ga-take

View from the summit of Kisokoma-ga-take towards Hoken-dake

He was part of a small group, another man, sour looking and silent and a trio of cheerful ladies.  I fell in with the party.  Good company and a night away from smelly toilets seemed like a preferrable option.

‘We are from Shikoku.  We are staying down there,’ he pointed toward a hut I’d climbed past, hunkered down in the boulder field just below the summit, large rocks spaced across its red roof to hold it in place when conditions grew grim.

‘Tomorrow where will you go?  Utsugi-dake?’

Upon seeing the number ’91’ I wrote on my hand before I let him take the summit photo, Yasu-san guessed I was doing the hundred mountains and became intrigued with my adventure.

‘That’s the plan,’ I answered.

‘Bad weather is coming,’ he said and I nodded in response.  Down at the hut, checked in and shown to my sleeping space on the top platform of two stretching the length of the dormitory I accessed the forecast on my telephone and it looked wet.  I lay back and shut my eyes, a pre-dinner power napthe efforts of the day beginning to take effect.

At breakfast the hut master advised everyone that it was best to make their ways out of the mountains.  Heavy rain was indeed bearing down upon us.

‘Will you take the ropeway?’ I asked MrYasu.

‘No we will take this course, we are prepared for rain,’ he indicated a trail running to the north east off Kisokoma as we studied my map.

I longingly stared at the red line running south along the high spine of the mountains.  It constituted something like a nine hour hike if I included the dash to the top of Utsugi-dake and back down to the hut at the bottom of the summit assault.

Surely retreat was the only sensible option…


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