Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hiking Mount Kisagatake

After weeks of planning and anticipation, we finally headed for the Japanese Alps for a three day backpacking trip on Caitlin's birthday weekend. Somehow we managed to convince ourselves that the forecast of 40% chance of rain on Saturday and 100% on Sunday and Monday just wouldn't happen--it being Caitlin's birthday and all. We were wrong...
After about a 2 and 1/2 hour bus ride from Nagoya, and then a winding hour long bus trip up the side of the mountain, we took a spectacular gondola trip up another 3000 feet. The shot above is looking back down at the cable-car towers (center). The clouds were just rolling in--you can see that the valley below is still sunny. I was sweating in a t-shirt before we got on the gondola, and it was sweatshirt temperature once we reached the top.
Here's a shot of me on the steps up the first leg of the climb--note the dry clothes and hopeful smile!
Here's a shot of Caitlin also on the climb up. At this point we couldn't see more than a hundred yards because of the mist, but the rocky crags everywhere were still spectacular.

There aren't any more pictures until we started back down the next day--that's because we were becoming more and more concerned with survival from this point. We reached a couple of Mountain Huts (small lodges where Japanese trekkers can get hot noodles and a dry piece of floor to sleep on for about $80 a night) by late afternoon as the rain began to steadily increase and the visibility was down to about 10 or 20 feet. At this point it was too late to make it back to the last gondola. We got instructions from one of the lodge owners that there was a campground just on the other side of an intermediate summit (Nakadake) only 30 minutes that-a-way, so we set off.

The wind on parts of this leg was so severe you couldn't walk in a straight line for being blown off course. Luckily, the trail was marked with a green rope staked into the rocks. We were completely soaked through and our hands were stinging with cold. At the summit we came upon a group of a half dozen or so other Japanese hikers and we all started down together. If it weren't for the comfort of there being other hikers carrying on I don't know if we could have kept going--but it was too late to go back anyway. I found I could actually see better by taking off my glasses they were so wet and foggy (that's saying something as I am nearly blind without them).

We finally made it to another small lodge where the "campground" was. The campsites consisted of some flat areas that had been cleared of rocks with the rocks piled into low semi-cirle walls on one side of each little tent clearing against the wind. We got the tent put up and I spent some time trying to shore up our little wind shelter wall. We went inside where there was a kerosene stove and warmed our numb hands. There was also an area where they let us set up our cook-stove and make our dinner of instant spaghetti--which couldn't have tasted better.

We went back to the tent around 7:30 pm and spent the next 10 hours or so listening to the gale force wind and rain whipping at our little tent. I think the only thing that kept the tent from flying away was that we were in it weighing it down. But the tent held together and our sleeping bags kept us warm and everything was only mildly soaked by morning. I think I slept maybe an hour or two before the sky lightened a little at dawn. We waited about an hour to see if the rain would stop or let up before deciding it wouldn't--so we jumped up and packed everything and got the tent down and packed in the rain. We actually felt alot better once we got up and moving. It was still raining, but not as foggy so you could see maybe 50 yards ahead.

Here's a rock cairn coming back down from Nakadake but before the first lodges where we got directions to the campground the night before.

Here's a soaked but smiling Caitlin on the trail back--the little blue monster.

And here's me...
Here's the same crag again where we took Caitlin's picture on the way up.
Looking back up at the misty crags from which we came. The ride back was blissfuly uneventful and we actually had a couple of other friendly hikers on the same bus back to Nagoya who tried out their English with us. We were happy as clams, showered and fed back in our little Nagoya apartment.