Thursday, October 14, 2004

Kofu, Aka-dake and Kita-dake

I've been away for a week, just in case you weren't aware. I went on a short trip to Yamanashi prefecture to climb some of the mountains they've got down there. I've been staying in the city of Kofu. This wasn't the original plan as I'd been gearing up to spend most of my time in the mountain huts of the Southern Alps National Park. However, when I got to Kofu I found that the road into the national park was closed because of the damn typhoon that was on it's way to Japan, and the guy at the information centre was stood there telling me that it wouldn't open until the day before I wanted to return to Aomori. This was after spending about 5 man (250GBP/450USD) on travel expenses, so I was a bit put out to say the least. It turns out, though, that the road was actually re-opened on either the sunday or the monday, and I got to do all the stuff that I wanted to do anyway.

If you want to know how Kofu locals pronounce the name of their town, say the word 'cough' in an exaggeratedly posh English accent and you should have it. Kofu was roughly somewhere between Hirosaki and Aomori city in terms of size, and it had everything that your average Japanese city always has: red light district; castle and park; department stores; ramen restaurants; a MacDonalds; Key Coffee shops, etc. And since I had a bit of spare time to kill due to the typhoon on saturday I found myself roaming around the place, wasting time reading my book in various coffee shops. I also went to the cinema three times while I was there. Movie reviews are to come. Anyway, on the Sunday I managed to get out to Aka-dake(2899m). This peak is the highest of the Yatsu-ga-Take range on the northern border between Yamanashi and Nagano. It's down in the Lonely Planet hiking guide as an easy climb, but the route I took was not, and it turned out to be the most difficult climb of my life. I took a route from Utsukushi no Mori (forest of beauty) which led me along a very beautiful part of the mountain. It was very atmospheric, and from halfway up the clouds began to clear and I could see the peak and some clear blue sky. This didn't last, of course, and just a few minutes later I was scuffliing up the steep on my hands and knees in the howling wind and rain, trying to keep my feet on the ground, and with a very dizzy head and light belly. When I got to the top things looked more like this. And I'm pulling that face, not because I needed to visit the bathroom, but because it was bloody cold and windy at the top. The descent was long, wet and arduous as well, and I was feeling like I didn't much want to climb Kita-dake the next day. I did though, and I'm a hundred percent glad that I did. Here's a shot of Aka-dake that shows the peak from the rear (Nagano) side, which is supposed to be easier to climb.

So I went to Kita-dake the next day after a bath and a good kip in the same hotel back in Kofu, and I climbed the mountain that I went there for in the first place. Absolutely brilliant, it was. I enjoyed every bit of it. The Minami Alps National Park is one of the most beautiful places I've been to, and from the top of old Kita-dake you can see it all. And more.

Funnily enough I bumped into a group of Austrians on the bus, who were none other than members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra taking a couple of days away from their two week tour in Tokyo. One of the guys actually carried his horn all the way to the top of the mountain! This is the sunset (below) that we watched while he played the horn. It was surreal to say the least.

And over on the other side of the mountain, looking East, there was old Fuji just sat there looking pretty. See what I mean...

It was some of the greatest scenery I've ever seen. And the company that night in the mountain hut was pretty entertaining as well. I thought I was going to have to spend the night sat on the edges of a conversation in German, not knowing what to do with myself, but when I got to the top there was a small group of Nova teachers from Nagoya doing the same thing as me, and we had a few beers and a game of cards and it all turned out rosy. Of course, all the Japanese climbers were in bed at six o'clock. Why they go to bed that early I do not know.

The next morning I got up at 4.30 AM, so to make it to the peak in time for sunrise (above photo). I could only sleep for about three or four hours in the hut because it was uncomfortable and noisy due to strong wind. I was the first to the peak that day, followed closely by Harald the violinist. From the peak we could see Fuji and the other surrounding peaks, but it wasn't as spectacular as the sunset the day before. That wind kept blowing through to the next day, but we couldn't feel it in the valley on the way down. Blue skies for the most during our decent. This is harald, the Austrian violinist who did the descent with me. He was a really cool guy, and he said I could go to Austria some time to do some ski touring with him.

I'm going to cut it short right here, but I'll say that despite the ironic turn out with the weather, I had an amazing time in Yamanashi ken. I did everthing that I wanted to do, and I'm really happy with the photos that I've got (I took a load). Funny though, on the train coming back between Namioka and Hirosaki city I think I took the best shots of the whole trip. Old Iwaki and the Tsugaru sunset take some beating.