Monday, February 27, 2006

Tree hugging, and other winter sports

Just some stupid shots from last Monday's day out. The cameraman told me to hug a tree, so I did.

Like I said before, I got really excited that day and when I get really excited I sometimes have the urge to take off my clothes. Not really, but it all stemmed from a joke passed between folk on the ropeway about what a lovely day it was and how you could almost whip off your gear and ski down in the noody. Being as excited as I was I decided to have some harmless fun.

I wore the gloves just in case I fell over, and so that I wouldn't catch a cold I strapped my helmet on too.

Got to get a pair of those shades.

Me, with some sensible clothing on.

I like this shot because it quite rightly portrays the mass of snow around the ropeway car park. I might just mention that these shots aren't in fact my own, but were taken by Ian in Aomori. Thanks mate.

I went up today as well, and foolishly forgot my camera. I didn't consider it to be honest because I knew before I went that the ropeway had closed and that I was facing the possibility of a miserable day. As it turns out, the potential for good shots was immense. I hiked up to the top station again, for the first time since last year when I had my eye-lashes frosted together by the wind. This morning's wind speed had picked up and had reached the mid to late twenties (metres per second), which happens from time to time and forces the ropeway to stop running. I wasn't deterred though, and made it up there in pretty good time. I capitalised on what I'd learned from my last attempt at climbing in high winter winds and made a slight detour away from the full clout of the wind at the top. Most of the climb was straight forward, but when I did peer from out of the bowl below the top station I was face to face with one of the strongest winds I've ever known. It down right nearly threw me over. The station was open, so I ducked in there, had a quick drink of water, exchanged a few 'otsukare's' with the only other group of snowshoe folk on the mountain and buggered off back down again. I took the Moke, naturally, since that's where all the snow get's blown when the wind comes in from the North East, and even then I had to negotiate a lot of difficult snow-pack. The woods were sweet though, and made the whole physical exertion worthwhile. But the clouds were dramatic, and a camera would have been well appreciated.

I'm considering what mountains I should climb this year. I'll have a few days around Golden Week and a couple of weeks in the summer, and I really want to get some serious Hokkaido peaks under my belt. I'm pretty set on Hokkaido, both for the mountains and the vibrant bouldering scene up there. I won't be able to do everything, but I know that the North East stretch of the island has goods on offer so I'm going to start looking into it a bit more. The North Alps as well, maybe. The possibilities are vast.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

If only a day at the office.

I won't even begin. I'll just say this: couldn't take the grin off my face for hours after the last ride on Monday.

It's probably even more of a buzz on days like this for the regular mountain slaves like myself. For every one day like this you have to go through at least ten where the wind and snow rip the skin off your face. This kind of visibility at Mt. Hakkoda is like being married to an ugly person who gives you everything you need in terms of stability, support, friendship etc, but then you wake up one morning to find that they've turned into a bloody super-model. You might not follow, but that's exactly how it is.

I got so excited I started taking my clothes off. I really did. I should have the pictures through this week.

It was in the strictest of terms a 'whole mountain' day. I made sure to go places yesterday that are fully off bounds any time else. Lucky as well, because me and Ian went pacing out of regular territory with only our noses and inner senses of co-ordination to guide us and we ended up bumping into a very distressed young Japanese girl who was on the verge of tears. She hadn't a clue where she was. When we found her she was strolling even deeper into the no go of gullies and ravines.

The Ropeway.

Every cameraman and his dog should have been up there yesterday, but it wasn't too crowdy at all.

One skier and his dog.

O dake to the right, and Akakura dake (Hakkoda version) to the left. Not sure about the peak in the middle.

Now I know my ski pants are bright, but this guy has goods.

The lucky lads, from right to left: Ward, the all-mountain Canadian; Ian, the half mountain Welsh boy; Eric, the Mt. Hood fat-ski maniac, and Abe san, who I don't really know but draughted him in because he's regular and he was kind of half in the shot anyway.

Be on the look out for topless snowboarders, and have a good day at the office.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The times they have changed.

A friend of mine sent me this picture this morning, which he took back around 87/88. It knocked me over when I downloaded it and gave it a good look. I couldn't resist posting it on this blog. Nick was into photography at school, as I was a few years later. In fact, his photos were probably what inspired me to take photography as a subject. His own black and white processing was fantastic considering it was all done at home or at school. This shot, which must have been scanned as well, has kept it's quality well.

If the year was 1988, which is my own guess, I would have been twelve years old. I can't really explain the hair-do, but my best guess is the influence of Bob Dylan that I was under around that time. I know it's no excuse, but I've got to justify it somehow. As far as I can remember it was part of a series of shots that Nick took of me and my brother for my mum, who wanted some 'nice ones of the two boys' to hang on the walls. I remember seeing another from the same series when I went home at Christmas.

The hair-do, believe it or not, stayed with me for a while. Through most of my comprehensive school days I earned myself the nick-name 'Henry' after Henry off Neighbours, the Australian soap opera. Henry was played by the inimitable Craig McLachlan who was a big hit with teenagers around that time. I actually had a small kid come up to me one day and ask me if I really was Henry off Neighbours. I remember telling him 'yes'.

Anyway, that was seventeen or eighteen years ago; quite a blast from the past. Thanks Nick.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Itching to climb

Temperatures are up, and for the first time in what seems like months the weather forecast is showing some sign of decent weather ahead. I am getting the most I can out of this season, having just bought a brand new snowboard and a brand new month pass for the ropeway.

Hakkoda mounds get no smaller, just bigger and bigger.

There's one thing I'm starting to miss though, and that's the quiet, hidden ridge leading up to Akakura dake. With temperatures as they are right now, it's looking likely that I'll make this year's first attempt at it. It's only 1400m or so, but with the heavy snowfalls this year it's bound to be very unfamiliar terrain even to a veteran like myself.

The 394.

Among the boards that were on offer to normal sized people like me, I could only find a handful of interest. There was a fine looking French job, with a swallow tail and a spear-head, but that's only good in the deep stuff. It'd just be difficult to turn on spring snow. There was a Karrimor board at Xebyo, which really took my fancy, but I got myself into wondering just how good a board could be made by a company that specialises in bags and camping equipment. There were a few others as well, all of which were just tall enough for me to even consider. In the end I bought a Head Matrix, for a cheap price. It supposed to be for begginers to intermediate level, though I can't really say much more about it.

Here she is having a face-lift.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Not a lot

I haven't been doing anything different lately from what I was doing this time last year. And I know I flooded my blog last year with shots and tales of the deep, deep snow. However, just to let you know that I haven't quite been snowed off the face of the planet, I've compiled some shots here that probably resemble closely those that I took last year.

This shot was taken on route 7. It was probably the last time I take that route since I've now discoverd that the 394 is open pretty much all the time, except for when there have been phenomenal snowfalls. What you can see are the fences that protect the road from being covered by snow drifts, and some nice clouds.

Can't remember when I took this shot, or where, but it was a good day.

I've been getting more stick for my bright blue pants this year. Maybe folks thought they'd give me a year to come to my senses. However, I think they look nice, especially when I'm biting the air from under the ropeway. This was one of those days when the ropeway got closed at noon due to high winds. Be safe, be seen.

Along the 394.

Also along the 394, before the big bridge. This part of the route can be hairy in high winds, with blizzard conditions forcing drivers to progress at very slow speeds.

The tunnel where Hugh took a late turn one time.

Here's the waiting room for the ropeway. Except, this year, with me being a private English school teacher, I ride on weekdays, which means the snaking queues are a thing of the past. Oh, and who might that be sat on the bench? It's only everybody's favourite little French Canadian, Franky. He's back, and he's been a bloody good mountain buddy.

So, what you do is you climb the stairs, strap your board onto your feet and head into that zero-visibility mist. That's got to be a good day out.

At the top, where the ropeway dumps it's willing victims. And we love it.

Earlier that day I played a game that I'm always hesitant to play called 'follow Francois'. It was good with Francois because of his canny knowledge of the tiny knooks and crannies of the mountain range. The shot above is when me, Ian and his mate Kengo went down the same route later. I kind of forgot Francois' route, and we ended up skiing in deep mist in unknown terrain. Luckily, I have a lethal sense of direction and we ended up safe and sound, but there were moments that day. At the bottom, Kengo explaind that he hadn't cared in the slightest for our safety because he didn't understand English words like "Shit, where the f**k are we?"

Hakkoda has been blessed with an equal amount of extraordinary powder this year as last. It's all been good for me. Though when I spoke to Francois this morning, he did tell me that a young girl had to be rescued after a tree collision yesterday resulting in a broken hip. Play safe, wear a helmet!!