Sunday, July 17, 2005

Climbing Mt. Iwate

I decided on the above title for this post because of the lack of results you get when searching the net for information on the said mountain. It's widely listed as one of Japan's Hyakumeizan 百名山 (one hundred famous mountains), but there seems to be so little written about it in English.

Anyway, in basic report style, I'll give you my thoughts.

Getting There:
We drove, so I can only give advice to drivers. It's simple enough. You just have to look at a map and follow the Tohoku Expressway to the Takizawa exit. From the exit, follow the signs towards the mountain unti you come to a big car-park where you'll see the usual sign for the trailhead 登山口。

The Climb:
We climbed the South Eastern face of the mountain, following a trail that runs along a huge gauge created by it's last eruption. I suppose at this point I should mention that it's an active volcano, and just a few years ago it was restricted due to suspect levels of activity. The climb was called Takizawa 滝沢 (forgive me if that's the wrong kanji) and most of it was a trudge up volcanic dirt, which can be tiring. I'm sure that at any other time of year the views from this face would be spectacular, but with the summer haze this weekend it was mediocre. It's an open face though, so there's the potential to see for miles and miles.

The Hut: This is where it gets good. The eighth station (八合目) is where the hut is and it's just a 30 - 45 minute trek to the top from there. The hut sits at 1770m, which, yesterday, was above the haze and in clear view of crisp blue sky We decided to continue up to the top after stashing our bags in the hut and we managed to do the whole top circuit and back in around two hours. The hut itself is plush compared to others I've seen and used. It's 1500 yen a night and it can fit up to a hundred people. We cooked our food along with all the others out front on the benches. There's really good fresh mountain water there, too. What I liked most about the hut was it's power set-up. There were loads of these solar panels all over the outside, and something that looked a lot like a thermal generator next to the toilet. (methane?)

The Summit:

When you get to the volcano ridge from the eighth station the view is wicked. There's actually a peak within the volcano mouth, and from the point you reach on the volcano ridge climbing from the eighth station, it's just fifteen minutes up to the summit at 2039m. Being the nancy boy that I am, I forgot to take my camera up to the top so I can't offer you any pics. Don't know what was going through my mind when I left that behind. It was well worth the relatively mundane climb up to the hut though, just for the volcano mouth further up. You can actually climb down into the mouth and get yourself a free facial from the steam coming out of the rocks. I look beautiful now, I can tell you.

The Next Day: Well, from here on there's nothing else of any use that I can offer to other potential climbers of this mountain, so I'll just give you some pics of our experience.

Rocking sunrise:

Although the sun first had to show it's face in order to burn through the thin clouds that had enveloped the mountain overnight, by around 4.30am it was shining like hot coal. I'd had a bad night sleeping next to an old man who snored like mad, so I could do little the next morning but float around the hut taking pictures of the sun.

Fresh mountain dew:

Fresh water poured out of the ground and into these yellow tanks at the eighth station.

Great scenery around the outside of the volcano mouth.

I didn't see a TV in the hut, but there was an antenna.

My two climbing pals for the weekend.

After several attempts, Naoko got one shot which didn't make me look camp in my red shorts. It's not easy.

Driving back I just had to have one last snap.

Actually, we got off the mountain at around 10.30am, and with the three of us smelling like mirky onsen water, we decided to go and clean ourselves off.... in an onsen. There are loads of onsen nearby, but if you're not into the smelly ones I wouldn't bother. This is volcano country, don't forget; volcano onsens reek.

We also visited Koiwai Farm, the famous dairy theme park where people line up in a queue for an hour in the burning sun to pull on a cow's udder and have their photo taken. There's also a wierd sheepdog show there, where a Japanese guy, wearing an Australian rancher's hat, publicly humiliates a sheep in front of about two hundred people, and messes up what they call 'The Great Sheepdog Challenge'. It's a ball!! The beer tents were suprisingly good though, and the food got damn near full marks.

Now, I'm not going to post a picture of my misfortune, but on Saturday night I was bitten by a very violent little mosquito on the forehead. As a consequence, and I promise I haven't been scratching it at all, I now have a huge bulge sticking out the front of my head. Moral of the story: don't forget your repellent. And don't forget your earplugs.