JUNE 2007


The sun set a course for the western horizon and I found myself at the end of the ridge, staring down into an ancient, scrub-filled crater housing a pair of mountain huts. Rising like a cankerous boil fit to burst, the barren cinder cone crowning Iwate-san filled the left-hand side of the expansive bowl and spilt over the northern flank of the mountain. I dug a water bottle out of my pack and flopped down into the gravelly dust. Sitting and soaking up the spectacular scene, the rhythmic tinkle of a bear bell caught my ear, and I realised someone must be on the move down in the crater. Leaning forward and squinting, I spotted him, out amongst a sea of chest-high scrub – a lone hiker on a determined march towards the ominous cone.

I set out packless for the summit. With the weight off my back, I virtually floated over to the base of the two hundred-metre-high pile of barbeque heat beads comprising the crown of Iwate-san and caught the other hiker up on the rim. He offered up a gruff “Konnichiwa” in response to mine, and together, we peered across the stony floor of the new crater, replete with a smattering of religious relics and an ominous, bulging dome of pinkish-grey earth and rock. The latter, causing me to wonder if the top of Iwate-san was really the best place to be spending the night. My new companion exhaled a “Humph” and set off into the crater, bear bells a-tinkling. A cool breeze whispered around my ears, and, getting a wriggle on myself, I took to the gently rising rim along a dusty trail lined with shin-high stone monuments. The sun descended into an orange haze smeared above the mountains lining the horizon, and a strengthening breeze sent specks of volcanic grit into my eyes. On the summit, I set up my camera on its little silver tripod and squatted down next to the summit sign and a reclining Buddha sporting a ragged red bib and waited for the timer to fire…

Excerpt from Willie’s Japanese mountain memoir: TOZAN: A Japanese Mountain Odyssey.


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