#92 – UTSUGI-DAKE
The forecast was glum, and so were our moods. After breakfast I bade farewell to Yasu-san and his party and headed back, through thick cloud, over Kisokoma then across to its neighbouring peak of Naka-dake before dropping down into the high walled cirque of Senjojiki where the ropeway up into the Central Alps deposited visitors at a heady 2600 metres. I plonked myself down on a bench outside the doors of the souvenir shop at the top of the ropeway, satisfying myself by putting off my inevitable retreat, at least for a few minutes anyway. People had already ridden up on the ropeway and were wandering about taking in the cloud obscured views. A few hardy hikers, packs on back and poles in hand, ventured out into the cirque on their various missions and I wondered if they’d paid attention to the forecasts. The cloud lifted a little as I sat there and I noticed many more people, further out, heading up the steep path lining the southern rim of Senjojiki. Most were probably looping around over the rocky pinnacle of Hoken-dake. I wondered if any of them were taking a punt and heading further south. A sliver of blue sky appeared over those high walls. It was the only sign I needed. I stocked up on water from the vending machines at the souvenir shop and got back to it. If worst came to worst there was an emergency hut on the ridge, about three hours hike away, halfway between Kisokoma and my next target: Utsugi-dake.
Atop the southern walls of Senjojiki I stood at the trail junction. More fair weathered skies appeared through swirling cloud clung stubbornly to the spine of the slender alpine ridge. Everybody up there was turning toward Hoken-dake, and vanishing into a wall of white. To the south, where Utsugi lay, I could see a fair distance along the ridgeline. By the look, it was possible the conditions would hold. Travelling light, I moved fast.
The path was wide and easy to follow, rising and falling along the ridgeline. Gnarly nubbins on the ridge, boulder strewn and crowned with twisted, weatherbeaten creeping pine conspired to make progress difficult.
I arrived at Kiso-den Hut as the weak afternoon sun was swallowed in cloud. Checked in, I asked when dinner was to be served as I thought I might attempt Utsugi-dake before then. The bearded, bespectacled master said I had about ninety minutes. The map said I’d need ninety up and sixty down. I restocked with water and, sucking air into my lungs, hit the towering 300 metre climb sitting right on the hut’s doorstep and was up it in forty-five minutes. Over dirt, over stone, over slabs of rock face impaled with bolts holding timber steps. The sun was a white disk strafed by grey cloud. I collapsed amongst the pillars of granite on the summit, chugged water, fumbled with my camera for a mountain top proof shot, then got around to catching my breath.
A wall of black cloud clamoured behind the peaks south of Utsugi. Like an army held in pattern yet baying for blood. I trembled, fearing a repeat of my Shiomi episode. At least I was on my way down. I trod carefully over the wooden footholds bolted to the summit rocks and then, full focus on my footfalls, attacked the downhill. Fifteen or so minutes above the hut, the clouds could resist no more and spilled in over the mountains. Ten minutes later fat drops began raising puffs of dust on the trail, but I was almost there. The hut master nearly fell off his chair upon my triumphant return. I bought a water but need not have bothered, as the heavens opened monumentally outside.
Chinamini (FYI): If you’re climbing the Hundred and fancy being immortalised on the Kiso-den Hut’s Wall of Hyakumeizan Fame, make sure Utsugi-dake is your 100th summit and, I assume, stay at the hut. I don’t know what proof you need, it was just a conversation I had in passing with some other gentlemen staying there that night. Call ’em at the hut and see.