#94 – YARI-GA-TAKE
Along the ridge that links the Hotaka massif to the soaring pinnacle of Yari-ga-take, the notorious Daikiretto lies in wait. It’s a three hundred metre deep gap in the ridge, adorned with ladders and chains and splashed with dollops of paint to guide you across the plunging slither of terrain. On the day Patrick and I stood atop Oku-hotaka along with a host of other hikers, (who unlike us, had slept comfortably in the hut below the summit rather than in a frigid tent somewhere on the edge of a precipice on the wrong side of the mountain) we eyed the way ahead. The mountaintops around us and beneath our very feet were encrusted with a few inches of ice and snow, not the best conditions to take on a stretch of ridgeline renowned for its difficulty at the best of times. The Daikiretto would have to wait. Frustratingly, the only other option was a fifteen hundred metre descent off Oku-ho via the Karasawa to the headwaters of the Azusa-gawa River followed by a climb of similar proportions the next day. It was going to hurt but any descent off the side of the iced over Daikiretto headfirst into the rocks would have hurt a hell of a lot more.
We made it to the door of the large Yokoo Hut just beyond sundown after a march through the woods that had Patrick wailing, “Christ man! Why do you always hike faster the closer we get to the end of the day!” I hadn’t even thought about it. Maybe I could smell the beer. Or could I already feel the allure of the cozy warmth of a soft futon enveloping my exhausted frame?
I quickly paid up for a dinner, futon and breakfast deal. Patrick always baulked at the exorbitant hut prices and even with the scars of the previous night’s ordeal fresh in his mind he said he’d take to the tent yet again. It seemed on the descent, while I’d been dreaming of beer and futons his mind was wandering farther afield to his adopted home in the tropics of South East Asia where frostbite and alpine exertions were harder to come by.
The hut was packed to the rafters. I was squeezed into an enormous sleeping room that I swear appeared to hold hundreds. White bed linen clad futons lined the floor from wall to wall. I feared snoring would keep me up all night. I feared being trodden on when some beered up hiker had to make for the bathroom. In reality I was beered up enough myself and exhausted enough from the sleepless night before that I passed out pretty much as soon as I was snuggled up in the warm little cocoon that was my sleeping space for the night.
After my breakfast in the hut, where bleary eyed hikers slurped miso soup and shovelled rice into their gullets with chopsticks, I unzipped the tent out in the camp ground to check on Patrick and he’d made up his mind. “Will, I think I’m gonna head back to Osaka. I’ll get an earlier flight back to Saigon from there. I can’t see myself climbing all the way back up into those mountains today. I just don’t need to do it like you do, man.”
I knew what he meant and dug the apartment keys out of my bag and told him to just dump them in the mailbox when he left. I handed him a small bag of gear Hiro-san had left in the tent as well then double checked the money in my wallet and said, “Mate can you take the tent back with you? I’ll hike light and live it up in the huts from here on out.”
“Sure man,” we shook hands and with “safe travels” all round he told me to get my arse down to ‘nam sometime. He curled up for another few hours of sleep and I took to the trail, to Yari, and the final push through the Alps.
Yari-ga-take is arguably Japan’s second most beloved peak behind Fuji-san, crowned with a summit block shaped like a spear head it rises to 3180 metres, the fifth highest summit in the land and probably one of the smallest.
I walked out of the treeline with the waters of the Yarisawa tumbling past me. Sunlight filled the high walled valley and soon, backed by a cloudless blue, the summit of Yari rose into the heavens. A few hikers descended but mostly the climb was a solitary one, compared to the crowd infested Hotaka the day before. An endless series of switchbacks took me up to the hut perched on the ridge directly below the peak which appeared to hang out over my head as I made way upward.
At the hut, I feasted on a curry rice and Coke and leaving my pack made for the summit chains and the 120 metre climb to the top. A bit of a kneeknocker in parts, I clambered up the final ‘Up Ladder’ as opposed to its identical twin ‘Down Ladder’ a foot away, and onto the small abandoned summit. Immediately I peered out across the mountaintops to the northwest and gulped, Yakushi-dake, the northern most of the peaks on my final run through the Alps was smothered in white. It wasn’t a rugged looking peak and I prayed for deceptive first impressions and then turned to more pressing issues such as a summit photo and catching some rays on a mountaintop rarely unadorned with hikers.