#97 – KUROBEGORO-DAKE
I think I mentioned somewhere a while ago that I didn’t research the hundred mountains on my hitlist much before heading to their trailheads. Other than ogling the red line depicting the trail leading to a crescendo of contour lines on a map I never had much of an idea as to the finer details of the appearance of the mountains I was bound for unless, as in the case of a Fuji or a Yari, their images had been plastered across hiking and tourist paraphernalia the length of the land.
Employing – or rather confined to this tactic (due to my utter uselessness in attaining any Japanese language proficiency worth a damn and not being able to source that treasure trove of information on the internet) led to some jaw dropping experiences when laying eyes on a peak for the first time. The arresting first glimpses of Tomuraushi and Tokachi-dake come to mind as does topping out and strolling Naeba‘s highland plateau and peering up Mizugaki‘s magnificent cathedral-like facade.
And so attention turned to Kurobegoro-dake. Apart from a few brief glimpses between cloud banks on the preceding couple of days when my mind was already rather preoccupied with the Washibas and Kuo-dakes of this world, this particular peak had remained decidedly beneath the radar across the entirety of my Hyakumeizan journey; even as the remaining mountain count dropped into single digits. Kurobegoro, in my mind, remained just another lump to get over between Yari and Yakushi on my way out of the Northern Alps. I mean, I’d knocked off 96 of the hundred. What surprises could the mountains hope to conjure up now in the hopes of flooring this grizzled old mountain man?
After admiring the sunrise, breakfasting and packing up my gear, I departed the Mistumata Hut, farewelling Naomi and Yukari, I vanished into the creeping pine. I had an eight-hour hike ahead of me: westwards to Kurobegoro before bearing north along the ridges to the Tarobei Hut and a final night in the Alps in the shadow of Yakushi-dake.
The trail hugged the northern flank of Mitsumata-renge before mounting its western ridge as it decreased in altitude to my left. Here the sun, no longer blocked by Mitsumata’s bulk, warmed my chilly bones. Across the valley gathering up the various spring fed headwaters of the Kurobe River, Kurobegoro and Yakushi held sway over their respective kingdoms. It was there I first paused to fully take in Kurobegoro’s fine lines.
Trail weary and flighty after a couple of days of less than favourable weather, she welcomed me with open arms, assuring me I was on the home stretch now and imploring me to take some time out and enjoy the rewards of a long journey through the mountains. I strolled down over an ice encrusted trail to a closed hut and ogled the way ahead, up between a pair of plunging walls enclosing one of Japans most gorgeous alpine cirques. A relatively overlooked spot in the Japanese mountains, Kurobegoro’s cirque hosts clutches of woodland, open rock strewn meadows dotted with patches of creeping pine manicured by the elements, boulder fields and small streams when the winter ice commences its melt – a veritable lost world in miniature.
I heeded the mountain’s call and savoured the walk. A final rock hop over a small field of boulders yielded views back to Washiba framed in the cirques rising walls. And then the ground beneath my feet began a more concerted incline up to the lip of the cirque beneath the gaze of Kurobegoro’s towering crown of rock. Reaching the ridge I once more found myself trudging over trail sporting the first layers of winter’s snow. All morning I’d walked alone and to my fortune, I found the summit to be abandoned as well. The views in all directions were astounding, back to Washiba and Kuro-dake and north to Yakushi, Tateyama, Tsurugi and the Hakuba peaks beyond them. To the west an endless deep blue sea of undulating terrain swept to the horizon.
With no need to hurry I lapped up the warm sunlight and nestled atop the cirque, allowed the late morning to drift into early afternoon. With a mere three mountains left before the hundred were up I began to long for more. Hell! Three hundred more – if days in the hills promised the likes of what stretched out before me!
Ahh, Kurobegoro: unbeknownst to me until that moment; one of the best of Japan’s Hyakumeizan had been saved for last.