Friday, 10 September 2010


A 1,624m (5,328ft) mountain near Tadami in Fukushima, Japan
The long summit ridge of Mt Asahi, from the only clear path to it. The top is on the right

If you feel, as I do, the occasional  need to scourge the flesh, scrub the eyeballs with some blinding beauty, and give yourself a good corrective battering against the laughably grand forces of gravity, the weather and geological time, then Asahi-dake, with it's 3,800ft of climb in 4km on the path approaching from the north east, will assuredly do the trick. Sitting on the edge of a wilderness area with few paths, it's scrub-covered summit ridge stretches from north to south, cut by cliffs and snow-scoured sweeping slabs.

Creepy mannequins slump by the signs around the 'cook your catch' fish farm, the only house at the end of a ten minute drive up a single track black top deep into a steeply cut valley leading off route 239 south of Tadami. Though they had an acre of empty grass, the man in the lean-to workshops asked me to park at the official mountain car park up the rough road beyond, which threatened to bottom out the car. Having nursed it, and an uncharitable thought or two, through to the empty car park, I jogged jingling into the salad, disguised as a runner, rucsac well stocked with gear, bear spray, and 2 and a half litres of water for the hot and humid day.

Into the salad - the lush beginnings of the path
After a gently climbing 1500m of recently strimmed path following a stream, the route kicks up into the regular zigzags of the climb proper. A spring near the bottom of this was the last water, and the serious business of sweating began, dissolving into a solution equal parts blood, salt and foliage, the skin loosing it's usual power as a barrier between the self and the landscape. It was hot and heavy, frogs and grasshoppers leaping from the path, always upwards and under trees, until the gaining the ridge gave some respite and an expansive view of an avalanche scarred wilderness.

Snow erosion scars, with only the ridge crests sustaining mature trees

The top of Mt Asahi was now bobbing in and out of view, as the path climbed the ridge butting onto it from the north east. Beautiful trees contorted by snow and age live here, their mangled roots grappling the path for control. The biggest are  labelled with their girth and height, lending a disconcertingly park-like air to this wild place. The substantial unmanned metal hut 500m NE of the top was also disconcertingly locked - something that should never happen in a place where emergencies might easily demand it to save someone's life. Mine for example! The poetry of sweating prose aside, I have no desire to merge entirely just yet...

Easy roped rock slabs amongst long grass lead to the ridge of Asahidake itself, and a welcome slump gazing over the crags and pathless depths to the west.

 Looking back not far from the top

Looking west from the summit ridge

The top itself is defaced by an ugly aluminium cylinder with plaque on top. It looks like a prop from a failed 70's science fiction plot and it is not actually on the highest point for some reason, but don't hold that against this wonderful mountain. Suitably scourged, scrubbed and battered by the climb, I had the place to myself, and was feeling all roughty-toughty, he-manly and terribly adventurous.

Cue cursing and thrashing from the bushes on the overgrown section of the ridge leading in from the wilds. Out popped two exhausted young men, throwing their big sacs down and laying down by them. They had only been and gone and done five days backpacking through the trackless mountains. That means fighting your way through scrub, bamboo and trees on the ridges, cutting a way where needed, carrying a lot of water as well as gear. Their three mates were still thrashing through it as we chatted. It also meant they got through the huge electric storm the night before, camping at a high level. They wouldn't own to have actually enjoyed the whole thing, but they at least had enough humour left to suddenly strike poses when I asked to take their pictures. Nice.

Hero 1: perky

Hero 2: pensive

Distant rumbles and a darkening sky heralded a repeat performance of the previous day's storm, and I was glad to be able to run down and get off quickly. I hoped that they weren't depending on the hut. As the rain became a downpour and the very convincing (if a little overdone) sound effects came closer I hoped the boys were OK. Of course they were.

The thunderheads piling up

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