“Good God! I am stuffed!”
The gentle morning stroll from Omi-Nagaoka Station across bare, early-season rice fields beneath a hazy blue sky turned snarlingly vicious as soon as I stepped into the woods at the foot of Ibuki. I mean, I should have expected the drubbing. You stare Ibuki in the face as soon as you step off the train. 1377 metres puts Ibuki three spots from the bottom on the Hyakumeizan height charts but, “on paper” and “in the flesh” are two different things. The mountain looked enormous. I walked a flat kilometre to and from work daily, but a kilometre flipped upright is hell of an undertaking.
Up its dry, treeless southern face I took to an endless series of switchbacks, the sky filling with the iridescent sails of paragliders gracefully harnessing the thermals conjured on that warm mid-spring day. Sailing in close, they sported nary a care in the world.
“Madmen, the lot of them. Jumping off a perfectly good mountain,” were words spoken in haste. Come high summer, I would find myself contemplating that very thing on a good few peaks. Parasail unnecessary.
Hikers descended cheerfully. The prospects of another hiking season, like the views off the mountain, lay before them. Some paused mid-conversation to offer the lone foreigner in their midst a “Konnichiwa” and spirit-rousing “Gambatte!” – “Fight!” – as my solitary struggle was reduced to an effort measured in feet. Then to mere inches by the time my head popped up over the summit crest adorned with the dry grasses of early spring. In the hollows, dirty patches of snow lingered. Up there the circus was in town, courtesy of the tourist road wending its way around to the back of the summit. Kids jostled and ducked through the milling crowds. Men in sports coats strolled with pretty ladies on their arms. People filled ramshackle tea houses eating, drinking and laughing, and all I could think about was the conundrum I’d found myself in: jobless in a month with a shitload of mountains to climb.
Excerpt from “TOZAN – A Japanese Mountain Odyssey” the upcoming unexpurgated account of Willie’s sweat-sodden Hyakumeizan adventure.