Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A long run on Adatara

Looking down at Numanotaira, the crater of Tetsu-zan in the Adatara range

The Adatara group of mountains in Fukushima, Japan consists of several stratovolcanos, including the highest, Minowa-yama 1718m (5,636ft), the active Testu-san 1709m (5,607ft), Funamyojin 1667m (5,469ft), Osho-yama 1601m (5,252ft), and Adatara-san itself 1699m (5,574ft)

Checking  out the route of an epic 53km (32 mile) mountain race provided a flimsy excuse to do the magnificently irrational and unreasonable, which is all that is ever required. It follows a star-shaped route over the tops, across and through the valleys of this dramatic and slightly scary area. A two hour drive, on which I was overtaken at speed by a demon grandma screaming along in her K van, brought me to the foot of Minowa-yama at the north end of the range. I had my revenge on the old folks though. Such was my blistering speed, I overtook at least seven septegenarians over the day. Ha. Eat my dust suckers....literally, no teeth you see.

Looking back northwards to Azuma volcano from the 'path' on Minowa-yama

How far you get on days like these depends a lot on the terrain , and what looks runnable on the map can turn out to be a battle through vegetation, as the paths grow back in so quickly, so I was prepared with an open mind and a full pack. The last 2k up to Minowa-yama was up a slippery clay path obscured with bamboo, so running risked clouting rocks and protruding branches. It would be fun and games in the rain, requiring a rich Anglo Saxon vocabulary.

A long spur heading down to the east was luckily more used, so provided you are slim enough you could see your feet, but the trees closed overhead at head height, forming a green tunnel strewn with blue flowers. Very pretty, but requiring running in homage to Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, hunched over and lurching to avoid branches. Running isn't supposed to hurt your neck, is it, master?

This utterly pointless height loss took me down to a river cutting down from Tetsu-zan. An elder was relieving himself in a smiling sociable kind of way, facing in my direction and barring the far end of the log bridge. Public peeing is not a matter for embarrassment for middle aged Japanese men, who stop willy nilly. He was decent and friendly by the time I reached him, and he had all his teeth. He was checking the bridge on behalf of the local onsen hotel, which depends on walkers, and he gave me a sweet. 

Chained waterfall routes in the valley east of Tetsu-zan

A gentle beginning to the climb back up, following the river on the other side of the valley, became more dramatic with drops and tumbling waterfalls, which had attracted a group of solemn women gorge scramblers. Further up I refilled my bottle. The water was a surprise, tasting strongly of minerals, which are probably either very good or very bad for you. There turned out to be a mountain hotel further up, so I hope their cesspit is in good order. Perhaps it wasn't minerals I was tasting...

Sanctuary! Adatara san from the bell near the top of the cable car

Popping out of the valley the hotel's rough track allowed some ordinary running, before more height loss and a climb up the ski ruined slopes up to Adatara. It was a busy path near the top, as most people get the cable car most of the way up, ideal for children and the elderly, like the man keen to try his English who was revisiting the peak after climbing it in his youth. There is an exorbitantly expensive cafe at the cable station, made more expensive by their habit of filling the glasses with ice before putting drinks in, halving the measure.

Such human irritations were wiped out by the panoramic views from the top of Adatara-san. I decided to give the 8 or 9 km southern loop of the race a miss, as it climbs Osho-yama to the south, then drops into the valley below before climbing to Funamyojin-yama, which is only 1km along the ridge from Adatara-san.

Osho-yama (1601m) on the southern end of the Adatara range

Tetsu-yama (Iron mountain) looking north from Adatara-san

Pretending not to be knackered 5 hours in

The rich ochre of the bare mountain path, gravel like gold nuggets spitting out from my studs, led to the rim of the volcanic crater itself. Let's be clear, this is not altogether a safe place to be. It was last active only in 1996, and fourteen years does not seem nearly enough when you are standing on the edge looking down at Numanotaira , the flat crater bottom, 350m below, which just looks plain wrong. There is a strong sulphurous smell, and steam or gas rises in places on the steep weather-worn orange and white slopes, down which it would be a very bad idea to go.

The crater from Tetsu-zan

In 1900 an eruption claimed the lives of at least 72 people, mostly miners digging sulphur - actually from the crater itself, god help them. To bring this closer to you, and to help you feel lucky if you are feeling a bit jaded at the computer (or tired from a hill run) it is worth looking at contemporary sulphur mining in Indonesia in a similar situation. The explosions and subsequent flows also swept away the refinery, lodging houses and hot spring buildings in the valley blow the outflow from the crater. I would shortly cross it.

Funamyojin-yama 1667m on the southern edge of the crater

Rejoining the race route over Funamyojin-yama, another descent and climb followed, this time very rough through the crags that rim the crater. The valley of the Io-gawa (the sulphur river) is littered with the remains of the 1900 disaster, and a tangle of modern pipes taking down onsen water and sulphur. The water in the river was hot enough for two people to be bathing their feet in it as an impromptu hot spa. It is an oppressive place I wouldn't want to linger in. Half the victims were caught trying to escape down this valley.

The sulphur river

Piping down hot sulphur-laden water for extraction

Some happier people in happier times were encountered on the next hill. Whoops and yells came from the slope strewn with house sized boulders where some young climbers seemed to be not settling down for the night. After getting over the bad step onto the crags at the top of the northern side it was up to the emmergency hut 500m NW of the top of Tetsu-zan. A happy couple just beat me there, and didn't mind me having a look at their love nest.

He drew a line down his chest, the gesture to explain that he had had an operation. That must lend an added edge to the pleasure of still being able to get up here and spend the night in such a place, cosy at 5,000ft with miles of space all around, mountain silhouettes receding into the evening light. Just look at the smiles on their faces. I forced some chocolate on them to buy some sitting down time, then headed off to re-climb Minowa-yama, which had been my first peak in the morning.

Testsu-san and the emmergency hut at dusk: what were they doing now?

I knew the light would fade fast now - it is dark by 6 o'clock in September, and the night can fall like a door shutting. I was glad that I could still run after 9 hours, and by now I was tuned in to these washed out boulder and root strewn paths. The sun put on its best evening frock and twirled its way into the night over the lakes of Urabandai as I quickstepped it down. 

I only needed my puny little light for the last few yards on the road so that the cars could see me. That demon grandma might still be around.


  1. Cor blimey Geoff, you aint harf cool!

  2. True Mike - I'm only about one fifteenth cool at best.