On a brilliant, blue-skied Saturday, as a towering white thunderhead grumbled threateningly halfway between me and the horizon, I hauled myself skyward over rotten snow and crumbly volcanic scoria and poked my head up over the crater rim of Yotei-zan. Eighteen hundred vertical metres of pure, unadulterated torture lay behind me. I stared down into the gaping, ice-walled crater, a perfect bowl of white rimmed with dark brown volcanic crags, at its centre a small round pool of aquamarine water stared back at me like an opaque pupil in a giant inverted eye. I wanted Ibuki back. That torturous day in April suddenly resembled a walk in a slightly inclined park. Where were the crowds of happy day-trippers? Where was my Beer Lass? Where was the bus off the thing? Yotei-zan was virtually deserted. I could’ve counted the people I met that day on the fingers of my hands. Apart from the trails up it and a solitary mountain hut on its western side the soaring volcano is a peak left to its own devices.
Out to my left, the best part of two thousand metres below me, a patchwork quilt of farmland stretched away to the feet of distant mountains. Niseko in summer; lush, verdant, smothered in greenery, a stark contrast to its famed wintery white scenery. A rumble of thunder emanating from the towering column of brilliant white cloud broke my trance and I… dragged myself over the last stretch of rocky ground, past a happy couple picnicking amongst the boulders, to the summit post and a promised twenty-minute sit down.
The descent was no gentler than the ascent. Rotten snow gave way underfoot, sending me arse over tit more times than I could count, loose rocks threatened to snap my ankles, a fire erupted inside my right knee and, just when I thought the worst was over with, down on level ground, in the depths of a cool, dank forest, thick swarms of mosquitoes, hell-bent on devouring me, rose from the undergrowth. So dense was the swarm, it was as if a black wraith of the forest was attempting to materialise before my eyes. An incessant whine rang out through the trees. No patch of bare skin was spared. They swarmed onto my arms, neck and ears, into my nose and the corners of my eyes. I stopped and went for my repellent, but that only encouraged more of the vampiric mass to rise out of the undergrowth. A random clap of my hands in front of my eyes would easily splatter half a dozen of their number so laden had the air become with them. I gave up on the spray and ran, hoping my protesting right knee would hold up. Going down on the trail there in those woods guaranteed any passer-by the following day would be tripping over my blood-drained carcass.
Excerpt from “TOZAN – A Japanese Mountain Odyssey” the upcoming blow by blow account of Willie’s 100 mountain adventure.