ON & OFF

JUNE 2007

005: HACHIMANTAI

My thoughts turned to Hachimantai. A broad plateau the size of a city suburb, crisscrossed by hiking trails and dotted with ponds and tracts of Aomori fir. Down off her steep flanks, hot springs and mud pools broil to the surface reminding all who venture to this highland playground that it rises on foundations of fire.

Feeble knees persuaded me that nothing more than a simple stroll to the summit was the sensible option so I called in my first mulligan of the hundred. The highland is serviced by a winding strip of baby bottom smooth asphalt known as the Aspite Line. The tourist road passes within spitting distance of the summit where visitor centre, bus stop and carpark ensure the mountain is easy prey for Hyakumeizan hunters. So, bus run it would be. I was lucky to have such an accommodating mountain at my disposal.

A man in a casual pinstripe suit, pointy leather shoes, blonde rinse through his hair; a younger dude in a polo shirt, his bare arms sporting strange tufts of inch-long hair in front of the elbows; a pretty girl and her pretty boyfriend in flip flops, giggling, slipping and sliding across snowy patches of trail; some hardcore snowboarders making the most of the last of winter’s snow. It was a blue-skied Sunday on the broad-topped Hachimantai and every man, woman and dog were there.

I had planned to hike to Iwate-san, the next mountain on the agenda, from Hachimantai via a spectacular highland trail connecting the two mountains but my knees encouraged me to save that option for another time. Instead, I set my sights on an overnighter up Iwate out of Morioka City – once I hunted down a pair of hiking poles and posted a pile of unnecessary kit home.

The Dragon’s Eye on Hachimantai – before it was the Dragon’s Eye.

Unenthused by a three-hour wait for a Morioka-bound bus, I decided to have a crack at thumbing a ride and dumped my pack in the grass just past the last parking area and waited for some vehicular action. I snagged the first car that came my way – a dazzling blue Subaru with a wing on the boot the size of a surfboard. A sultry woman, the size of the boot herself, squeezed into tight t-shirt and jeans, appeared from behind passenger window glass that slid silently into the top of the door.

“Doko?” her dark eyes flashed as she asked where I was headed, provocatively ashing her cigarette onto the road at my feet.

“To Morioka,” I proclaimed assertively as she blew smoke. “But any station at the bottom of the mountain would do,” I clarified, in stammering, hastily slapped-up Japanese. Hubbie hesitated. I could read his mind. “Hitchhiker. Male. Foreign. Scruffy. Ogler of my missus’s boobs.” All good reasons to leave me choking on his tyre smoke. Luckily for me, it appeared he didn’t wear the pants in this partnership, at least nowhere near the size his missus did anyway. Turning to her man, she placed a hand adorned with exquisitely manicured aquamarine nails upon his thigh and quietly instructed him to take me to the closest station at the bottom of the mountain.

Spliced and diced excerpt from “TOZAN – A Japanese Mountain Odyssey” the upcoming chronicle of Willie’s manic 100 mountain adventure.

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