Monday, September 19, 2011

Mt. Bandai in Fukushima

It sounds dodgy, but the mountain itself is just as far away from the nuclear power plant as our apartment in Tochigi. I didn't bother to go out and buy a brand new geiger counter just for today's climb, lets put it that way!

We climbed from Urabandai ski ground, which isn't as dull as it sounds. You soon get out of the desolate summer ski area and on to the first small sulphur lake below the main incline. It was a really cool place to stumble across and set a benchmark impression for the day.

The sulpur lake at the bottom of the first incline. Reminded me of Planet of the Apes.

Same lake, different view.

This was taken quite close to the top. We were really lucky with the weather, considering there are two typhoons raging just off the Pacific coast right now.

Bandai is a recently erupted volcano. By recent I mean 1888, when it erupted violently killing 500 people and reshaping the local geography into what it looks like now. There have been minor eruptions since then, but that's the last big one according to my own sketchy translations.

Six accomplished hikers.

Inawashiro lake in the distance, where our friends camped the night before.

Clouds over the adjacent ski runs. I love desolate ski grounds in the summer time. They bring back great memories for snow sports enthusiasts and they have an ironically empty atmosphere when they're full of crickets, lizards and cicadas.

It's a very orangey mountain, due to the sulphur I suppose, and it's surrounded by a bunch of lakes that were created by the big blow in 1888. Some of these seem to be sulphur lakes, some of them are good for fishing.

It was a busy mountain due to the holiday weekend, but there were a number of different trails to choose from which thinned out the crowds. The only place where everyone gathered was the summit, of course. We took a very scenic route back down though, and saw very few people on the way. The down trail reminded me of something out of a spaghetti western. I half expected Clint Eastwood to come riding towards me on his horse. Getting his hyakumeizan in!!

I also managed to pick up some volcanic souvenirs from Bandai san for my indoor displays. The rock field towards the bottom was a real gold mine for anyone looking to add elegance to their ornamentals! I've got to clean the rocks first, but when that job's done I'll be posting pics!!

Me in my Arabian head gear.

The field of rocks, ripe for picking.

Aki, amid the rocks, sporting Kazu's mountain hat.

If you look closely, you can see cigar smoke and glinting spurs.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Two more mountains and a new sofa

This post is generally about my failed attempt at climbing Mt. Sukai on the border between Tochigi and Gunma. It was a real challenge and I was out of bed at 3AM to get cracking with it. At the trail head by 6AM and at the first peak, known as Koushin dake by 9AM. I gave myself a noon cut-off, whereupon I was to turn around and start walking back.

Our new house (I wish!) This is the hut close to the trail head. Behind you can see the dramatic rock face that stands between you and Mt. Koushin.

Now, if it weren't for the fact that I'd decided to run the day before, and do a couple of hours wall climbing, I probably would have been in much higher spirits and charged on ahead with it. However, the rare twinge in my hip was apparent that day (most likely due to the leg contortions from wall-climbing the day before) and I was being hounded by horse flies every freaking step of the way! Shortly after joining the ridge after Mt. Koushin, I could see the distance over to Sukai and I thought that it was going to be easily doable.

From the ridge, looking at Mt. Sukai which is the high point in this shot.

I was on my own though, and when I came across the chain work just before Ginzan (little peak between Koushin and Sukai) I started to doubt whether I would be doing the right thing by carrying on. I usually climb alone, and to be fair the amount of successful climbs I've pulled off to date without any serious injury is something to marvel at. I always pay my respects to the local mountain Gods at the trail head and I am careful about preparing for the day (enough food, water, torch, bear bell etc.), but I stood looking down the sheer rock face that I was supposed to negotiate with one lousy chain to assist me and pondered the maths.

Down this chain...

Then along this one and up the rickety ladder. It'll be fun to do at some point, just not this time.

Out of about 100 climbs there should necessarily be a risk of hurting myself, which is why I decided to stay one step ahead of the game and turn back around. It was already nearly 11AM and I could see that, even if I were to make it to the top, I would be pretty damn weak on the return leg and I would not only have to do the vertical from Ginzan to the ridge, but also the vertical back down from Koushin to the lower trail.

Random shots:

Fresh water at the trail head. Time to fill up.

This little fellow was the only living thing I saw between Koushin and Ginzan. There were loads at the bottom though, a whole tribe staring at me.

Nikko skies.

Towards Saitama, Kanagawa etc.

I want to complete the 100 famous mountains of Japan. And to do this I have to accept that some mountains will require more than one attempt.

I knew that Sukai would be a toughy though, and to be honest I'm pleased that I still have an excuse to go back there and do it again. Next time I will go with fellow climbers rather than on my own, and if I slip and fall then at least there's someone to stand there over my crippled body yelling "what the hell are we going to do, there's no signal and we're miles away from anything!!" Yep, that'll be much safer!

On a much lighter note, Aki and I climbed Mt. Nasu together, just a couple of weeks later. This is a much lighter challenge and equally as beautiful. It's an active volcano and there is sulphurous steam rising in some areas. It's very popular with hikers so there is no risk of being stranded anywhere like there is at Mt. Sukai.

Nasu shots:

Aki is a real tough climber.

Looking at Asahi dake on Mt. Nasu.

Finally, we have finally (a long-awaited event) got ourselves a new sofa. We just need a couple of foot rests now!

The sofa.

Proud of my corner display.

Just as I go for the publish button, it occurs to me that there is one more mountain that I have climbed recently, and that's Mt. Shibutsu. Pete, Shea and I climbed it just before the end of the summer break. All I will say is that it's a very pleasant climb overlooking the Oze marshland. And a couple more pics:

Looking quite camp in this one, stood next to a couple of burley Yanks! (Sorry Shea, that's probably a bit of an insult to a Texan).

The Oze marshland.