Sunday, April 30, 2006

Open Mountain Hike

From the south, last autumn.

I finally did it yesterday. I arrived at the top of Mt. Iwaki for the first time this year. I took the usual route for the first half, and then cut across mountain, avoiding the upper ridge. It was easier that way and cut around thrity minutes off the length of the hike.

The weather wasn't what I expected it to be. It was supposed to be sunny, but the whole sky was run with a thin layer of cloud and the sun was one of those you could actually stare at without damaging your eyes. I had the view just as I would on a sunny day though. The most notable part of the landscape yesterday was the many plumes of smoke from the burning of rice fields all the way up the Tsugaru plain. From such a distance they seemed completely motionless, like in a picture.

Didn't spend much time at the top. I wanted to have some time to think, but I started late and found that it was already knocking on four o'clock by the time I'd got there. One funny thing I saw was that the little hut at the top which sells crappy, and extremely expensive souvenirs to tourists in the summer had collapsed under the weight of the snow. Either that or it had been knocked down by the wind off the coast.

There's a nice feeling with cutting across ridges in the springtime. Places you can only observe from a distance any other time become just a short detour across the snow. Seeing a mountain never really gives you much of an idea of it's real size, not like when you can cover it all on foot.

I forgot my camera again, so here's another picture from last year.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Using the ropes

The highlight of my week this week was when I successfully completed a route on the Rat Walls known as Junne. Junne comes with a red sticker, which means it's not as easy as routes with yellow or white stickers next to them. The tricky bit is a long monkey leap from one hold to another, leaving you in mid air having to hold your body weight with your arms stretched right out each side. After many, many attempts I cracked it.

I used ropes for the first time yesterday and learned a bit about belaying. I've always been more interested in the physical side of climbing, sticking to shorter, more technical routes. But I'll be using them more often from now on because yesterday was a lot of fun.

I went up to the mountain this morning. Took the same route as I have done these past few weekends and struggled with the wrong hiking equipment as I have done on several occasions before. The snowpack was like a big sluch-puppy today and I chose crampons over snowshoes. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I'll never make that mistake again.

I got up to the rocks and decided to turn back because of the rough wind and hard, wet snowfall. The top was lost in a thick band of cloud and the wind was really quite powerful, so without any more than a second of thought I turned around. I decided to cut down into the ravine though, and took a different line than usual. It was interesting, though a little bit nerving as I stumbled down steep forest into the base of the wide ravine. The last time I was down there was in the Autumn so things looked a lot different. It all looked very lonely today, and things weren't helped at all by the overwhelming noise made by the wind through the trees. It was very aggressive and I was worried that things might come flying out of nowhere and whack me all of a sudden. All in all an interesting hike, however.

On Saturday night I went over to see Romanian Chris and Julian at Chris's house in Joto. I wasn't expecting to drink that much, but one of Chris's Japanese friends called and he insisted that we let him take us all to a hostess bar in town to sing karaoke. It was good, and I wish a had my camera with me because all the girls were dressed up in school uniforms, lighting cigarettes and pouring drinks for drunken Japanese guys. What would be called an outrage in Britain was just another interesing night out in Hirosaki. Not my cup of tea though.

About a week ago I put a stop to my beard growing attempt which lasted for the best part of two weeks. I wasn't surprised by how little stubble formed on my chin, or by how soft and unmanly it was. It started to look greasy though, so I whipped it off.

Chinny, chin chin!

Monday, April 10, 2006

You go, no, I want.

And believe it or not, I took these as wise words today. A lady dressed in almost expedition level mountain wear greeted me on the upper ridge and somehow convinced me that the snowpack was unstable. Even though I could clearly see that there was no fresh snowfall. I followed a couple of middle-aged climbers up most of the upper half of the climb, making use of their tracks for walking stability. They must have noticed me early on because they kept looking back, probably wondering who the hell else would be interested in climbing in solitude on such a grey day.

Hakkoda, under a high layer of Stratus cloud.

The guy in yellow turned back and started walking towards me. I thought he wanted to talk and perhaps check out who it was following them. He wasn't curious at all, and explained that he'd had enough of the toil and had decided to go back down for something to eat. I said goodbye and carried on. When I got to the upper ridge I met the other one and she said that she'd looked at the final stretch of ascent and that it wasn't fit for climbing. Then she said to me, "You go, no, I want", then she said, "danger". I smiled at her and said that although she was probably right I still wanted to stand at the bottom of the last stretch and check it for myself. As I walked on she said, "I hope you go, no".

The burden of ice.

I knew exactly why she thought it wasn't safe. I was sure she'd taken one look at the red poles that had been laid out as ski routes for the coming spring ski season, and thought that they were there to warn climbers away from the top. So I strolled along the ridge towards the peak, waiting for her to duck down out of sight before I made it up the steep finale. However, I couldn't remove the idea from my head that, against all odds, if I did hurt myself and leave myself stranded without any help, I had been warned. So, after some serious talking to myself out loud, as is permitted on desolate mountain tops, and looking out onto what I had achieved already, I thought twice about making this year's first full ascent of Mt. Iwaki, and instead found myself dissuaded by a mistaken woman who simply said, "You go, no, I want".

The Tsugaru coastline, under that same layer of cloud.