Christmas hiker sitting in a tree

Christmas Day, 2017. There was rain through the night, but clouds were expected to clear off early in the morning, and we were expecting blue sunshiny skies. We weren’t sure exactly how cold it had gotten, overnight, up on Aozasa Mountain (1550 m), and weren’t sure whether we’d meet up with snow—or maybe even drifts of snow . . . and we remembered, from last year, snow up to our hips.

As always, red-coat jizo welcomed us to the neighborhood.

And it was that beautiful round face of his—or hers . . .

. . . and the beautiful blue sky that was everywhere that together—the roundness and the blue together—brought the photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972, the one famously called “the blue marble,” into my mind . . .

. . . made me understand—or maybe, feel keenly, is a better way of putting it—how that single image could, in a moment, have affected so strongly the perceptions and a shifting consciousness  of so many.

An atmosphere of swirling white that knows no borders.  And no point on the surface of that slick blue globe from which you could ever imagine yourself walking in a straight line, the sort of straight line that would lead you to a place that you could declare your very own, a place you might “own.”

Private Idahos on the blue marble?

No. At least I can’t imagine it.

And no, not all, not everyone, but many.

Ended up that there wasn’t any snow up on the trail. Just the blue and and that sunshine, and the roundest of the round things, the one that seems to circle around us wherever  we go.

Yes, I’m refering to our dearest of friends, the one and only Fuji-kun.

Along the main Aozasa ridge we walked, for more than an hour, the whole time Fuji-kun right there on our left shoulder.

All along the way, we felt, right there with us, embracing us, the blue . . .

. . . and Fuji-kun.

The blue . . .

. . . and Fuji-kun.

If you can read the top part of wooden sign (currently Fuji-kun’s bellybutton), you know we’re now standing at 1550 meters, which of course, is the top of Aozasa. If we spin about, counter-clockwise, we can gaze out on the bay in front of the city of Fuji . . .

. . . and if we spin a bit more, the mouth of the Abe River.


Well, when you’ve got roundness in your head, you tend to see it in places you’ve never see it in before. Along the ridge, we came to . . .

. . . this tree. Yes, we’ve walked this ridge a dozen times, and never spotted these big fat branches. These big fat round branches.

And what’s that sitting there, sitting right there on the bottom branch. Why, indeed, it’s our good friend Fuji-kun—and he’s brought all the blue with him.

Now who could pass up an opportunity to sit in a tree with Fuji-kun and that perfect blue?

Certainly not a Hearty Hiker.

Hiker and Fuji sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

First comes love . . .

Then . . .

Wait a minute. Once you’ve found the love, what else is there of any consequence? Once you’ve found the love, everything else  works itself out.

Once you’ve found the love, then you see there are no straight lines, then you understand that a story always has an “arc”—it brings you round.

Round to the ONE.

Which is where compassion lives.

Hope you’re having, or have had, A Merry and Round and Very Blue Christmas.

Yatsuyama — a verified mountain

For the thousandth time, I’ve been asked is Yatsuyama, rising to a mighty 108 meters above sea level, really a mountain—if a person can say, without being deceptive, that after climbing to the top she has indeed been mountain climbing.

Yes, that eternal question: Is it a mountain?

Well, I cannot possibly put forth all the evidence in a single blog post, so I will just make a few points—and encourage you to check out the alleged “summit” for yourself and make your own judgement.

Point 1: Would there be guides along the way, encouraging you, saying, “You can do it, you can make it to the MOUNTAIN TOP, keep going!”—if it weren’t a mountain?

Point 2: Would it be called YatsuYAMA if it weren’t a mountain?

Point 3: Would there be both a shrine at the foot and a shrine at the top, both the homes of mountain spirits if it weren’t a mountain?

Point 4: Would you feel as light as you do were it not a mountain?

Point 5: Only 108 meters, you say. What on earth does that have to do with it, I reply. Why, I once saw a cicada nymph that had just clawed its way out from the ground, its head stood above the ground no more than a millimeter or two—and let me to you exactly what its expression said: MAN, THAT WAS A HELL OF A MOUNTAIN.

Point 6: On Yatsuyama, as with other mountains, you soon discover that your eyes have become your ears—and that you are  taking tremendous joy in listening—only in listening.

All right, enough of this nonsense, up we go, up from Gokoku Shrine, up the side of the MOUNTAIN, along the ridge, to the SUMMIT, down to the Kiyomizu Temple.




Chasing Fuji and the blue

November 26. It was hard to say whether we were chasing Mt. Fuji, and it just happened to be surrounded by a lot of blue—or we were primarily chasing the blue and Mt. Fuji just happened to be smack in the middle of it a lot of the time.

All the Hearty Hikers had been recovering from colds and we weren’t sure how much energy we could muster, but the forecast called for nice blue in the morning, and we couldn’t bear not heading off into it.

But the blue never faded—so we had to make a longer day of it than we had intended.

Had to.

If you do get a clear blue sky that stays with you, and you’re in the more-or-less-leafless season, then this hike is a really good one.

From the parking lot halfway between the town of Umegashima and the Abe Toge (road only open through mid-December), up through . . .

. . .  the blue . . . for about thirty minutes . . .

. . . occasionally crunching through the needle ice. . .

. . . up to Fujimidai (“Spot to See Mt. Fuji”) . . .

. . . where, yep, you’ll see Mt. Fuji. In the blue.

Or the blue. With Mt. Fuji in it.

Then on up the ridge, up to the top of Mt. Hakkorei, about an hour from Fujimidai.

In the leafless season, Fuji is always there on your right shoulder . . .

. . . there, through the trees.

And over your left shoulder . . . oh, my! Look! Through the blue . . .

. . . there, at the end of the winding Abe River, some 50 km away, the rosy Suruga Bay.

This brings a pretty good smile to your face, so maybe it is the blue.

The blue—and the clarity that seems to live in the blue.

On up you go, chasing the blue (and there’s Fuji, too, between the trees, if you look close) . . .

. . . and then we’re in the snow. No need for clampons—but it’s below freezing, and a bit icy here and there.

Remember, as lovely as the blue is, you only need a patch of ice the size of a coffee-cup saucer to fall and break your neck—well, more likely, your ankle or your hip. Let’s avoid that, okay?

Can’t see all that much at the summit—and it’s a cold day—so let’s keep moving. Back to Fujimidai, down another ten minutes, then a sharp left, to cut across to the Abe Pass.

Along the way, you’ll come to these two ridges meeting up, and you can look out to the ocean if you like . . .

. . . or out into landlocked “central” Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture.

Or you can just look out into the blue. Can’t see Mt. Fuji from here, so yeah, there might be something to the appeal of this blue.

What do you know of this blue sky? Why do most of us love it so much?

As you get closer to the Abe Pass, you find yourself face to face with the Bara-no-dan ridge. When you get up on that ridge, you’ll have another good view of our friend Fuji.

Here we are descending down to the Abe Pass. You can make out the top of the ridge that leads up to Bara-no-dan. From the top of Hakkorei to here, we’ve walked about an hour and thirty minutes.

Up to the ridge from the pass is a fairly steep five or ten minutes. But from there, well, you look out and realize there’s just you,  your friend Fuji, and all that blue. It’s a good time to close your eyes . . .

. . . and find a balanced view of things.

Thirty minutes later, you’ve climbed along the ridge to Bara-no-dan.

Yep, the blue is still with you. Amazing. Count your blessings.

Then it’s back to the Abe Pass, down along the Sakasa River valley, and back to the parking lot. Maybe five and a half hours in all.

Five and a half hours. I’m trying to figure out our milage. How much blue we got for the minute. But first, you know you’ve got to figure out how much blue you go.

How much blue did we get?


Above, the view from the top of Daibosatsurei, 2057 meters tall, in Yamanashi Prefecture.

We Hearty Hikers, a few days ago, drove up through Yamanashi Prefecture to climb Daibosatsurei, one of the “100 famous mountains of Japan.”

From the time, we got on the expressway in Shizuoka and headed toward Fuji, we knew we were in the right lane.

The hike was only going to be an hour and a half up, less than three hours round trip, so we were in no hurry to get to the starting point. We stopped repeatedly when a bit of beauty caught our eyes.

The persimmons, along the way, once we were in Yamanashi, of course got our attention. The combination of light orange fruit (mostly ripe) and dark, shiny orange fruit (sugars running, probably going soft) is lovely, don’t you think?

Yep, it was that time of year when the last of the persimmons on the limb have ripened . . .

. . . and so many folks are drying the astringent variety of the fruit out in front of their houses.

Another sign that we were on the right path.

And another.

And another. Could it be that the persimmons and the maples are sharing some common knowledge? They DO seem to be expressing the same feelings this time of year.

The golden beeches, in the sunlight, are pretty special, too.

Well, we got to the trailhead and got started around 11 AM. We went about everything very leisurely–and were back where we’d begun around 3 PM.

For the record: from the parking lot at the Kamihikawa Pass, you just follow the signs up. You can do the loop in either direction you like. It’s just 15 minutes or so to the Fuku-chan Lodge (where you’ll see the sign that tells you that Princess Masako and her hubbie, the Emperor, stayed there), then either left or right. We went left, the more direct route to the top. After an hour or so, you come to the main ridge, a collection of rocks (rocks big enough to lounge on) called Kaminari Iwa, or “Lightning Rocks.” This is where people like to sit and have a snack or meal and look out on the marvelous view of Mt. Fuji. Most likely it’s this view that makes this mountain one of the “famous 100.”

Turn left at the Lightning Rocks and five minutes later you’ll be at the summit, but here you’ll be in a little forest, so nothing much to see.

Then you can walk back, past the Lightning Rocks, and on along the ridge, to the Daibosatsurei Pass—and then turn right and you’ll be going  down the path that leads you back to the Fuku-chan Lodge. 

I’ve seen many blog posts describing this hike on overcast days, saying it was nothing special. Well, everyday in the woods is special to me, though it’s true there’s nothing unique about this walk, nothing especially special unless the skies are clear enough to get the really good view of Mt. Fuji.

The day we chose, fortunately, came with the bluest sky you could hope for—and we Hearty Hikers were ecstatic. Blue does that to us.

Recently I’ve been thinking about Alexander Humboldt, the German scientist/romantic who became the first naturalist/geologist to undertake a primarily scientific expedition to South America. His trip began in 1799 and ended in 1804. Charles Darwin and John Muir were big Humboldt fans.

Humboldt took with him a cyanometer, an instrument designed to measure the degree of blueness in the sky.  This instrument was invented by de Saussure, a Swiss scientist. Basically, it was a color wheel with 53 degrees of blue painted onto pieces of papers along the wheel’s circumference. One could merely hold up the wheel, rotate it, and match the sky to the most similar degree of blue.

At the top of Mt. Blanc, de Saussure “measured” a blue to the 39th degree.

Humboldt did him one better. On a climb in the Andes, up on Chimborazo, he measured a blue to the 46th degree. Humboldt believed in the unity of nature (who doesn’t?), and he theorized that the clearer and bluer the sky, the more lucid the thinking of those who spent time looking up into it.

Well, I’m not so sure about any lucidity of thought, but a person definitely finds joy in the blue, as any human being who has ever looked up into the blue can tell you, and she can also feel a little of that unity that Humboldt believed in so strongly. Well, understanding that unity, maybe it does lead to lucidity of thought. I’ll think about it a little more next time I’m under a really blue sky.

But up on the Daibosatsurei trail, well, I myself had no need for de Saussure and Humbolt’s cyanometer—because, to tell the truth, one of our heartiest Hearty Hikers is a cyanometer—I’d dare to say a more accurate cyanometer than those used by those two great scientists.

Basically, she looks up into the blue–and you observe how big her smile is. And then you know how blue the sky is. I don’t believe there could be any more accurate measuring than this.

I see I took 326 pictures of this blue sky. You probably don’t want to see that many pictures here on this blog post. But if you had been there, up on the trail, you probably would have looked up into that sky about that many times.

After the walk through the bamboo-grass, silver-trunked hardwood forest, we popped out into the opening, and had a full view of the main ridge.

10 or 15 minutes later, we were sitting up there on Kaminari Iwa taking lots of Fuji shots. It’s a beautiful view. If you can imagine yourself looking at Fuji (below), then turning your head slightly to the right, then, if you’d really been there, you’d be looking at the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps—Mt. Akaishi in Shizuoka, and Mt. Kita in Nagano.

Sorry, no really good pictures of that.

Yes, it gradually clouded over. It usually does. We went on to the summit, then walked back down the ridge to the Daibosatsurei Pass, then descended to the Fuku-chan Lodge.

And yes, we found the local hot springs resort.

Soaking in the hot springs, with your eyes closed, you’ll probably see that your life spirit is looking something like this:  


A November world of color

Oh, man, that blue. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

October was rough. We Hearty Hikers had three big hiking plans all worked out . . when the typhoons (so late this year!) and the rain ruined them all. It was especially disappointing not to be able to get to Yakushima (an island south of the four main islands of Japan) and into the lush green forests in which the ancient cedars grow. Ancient, as in several thousands of years old.

When the blue skies finally returned, and I knew that outside, somewhere, the beautiful orange persimmons were bursting through that blue, well, it was just then that a Facebook friend challenged me to post on Facebook, seven days running, seven B&W photos.

Black and white! Those words nearly killed me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like B&W photographs. It takes some real skill to take those suckers well. But that’s not me. I mainly take pictures so that I have an excuse to go out and bathe in the color.

For me, it’s simple. There is sunlight. It brings us all the energy of the sun. When it gets here, it breaks up–into color. When we look at this color, we see the energy that sustains us, recognize how beautiful the energy we’ve managed to secure inside ourselves is. Plants really dig this light, and are kind enough to turn it into sugar for us–so I’m especially moved by the color of plants.

Well, I gave it a try. The B&W challenge. For three or four days. My grand-hopes-for-November spirit gradually typhooned down into grey once again. I knew I had to quit, when I looked into the mirror one evening, and saw that my soul had turned to cold steel.

Look away if you need to.

So I had to admit defeat. And boy, am I glad I did.

Because colors color me happy.

Atop Ryuso Mountain, a thistle, and a happy bee blessed with a great eye for color.

Chlorophyl breaking down at the source of the Sakasa River—leaving yellow and gold.

Dabs of color along the road descending into Yamanashi Prefecture, seen from the Bara-no-dan Ridge.

Cycling into work, the pampas grass—and a blue sky.

Our friend Fuji, from the Aozasa ridge.

The blue is special. Because when you have that clear azure sky, the yellows, oranges, and reds under it, are going to be all the more special.

You guys know that I like the way those local folk singers, Shizuoka Duo, put it:

I feel the love coming through the blue . . . uh-huh,

I feel the warm glow of the orange . . . uh-huh.

Yep, the orange under the blue is something special, full of energy and love.

Energy and love? That might be redundant.

Persimmon dreams are there for us all the year round, but it’s really hard not to have persimmon dreams in November.

Along the Aozasa ridge, the light, the gold leaves of the beech, the blue.

Along the Aozasa ridge, the maples, the beech, the  blue.

Along the Aozasa ridge, the gold leaves of the beech.

And in the neighborhood, the love coming through the blue.

In the neighborhood, colorful persimmon dreams.

On the Bara-no-dan ridge, fall colors and the blue.

When you see a Hearty Hiker stand before this sight, and raise her arms to the sky, and smile bigger than the universe, then you truly understand the moral authority of blue.

In the neighborhood, the yellow of the rice—and the blue.

In the neighborhood, the greens and yellows of the rice. How sweet the light  golden grains look among them.

A deep sigh.

I’m feeling better now.

My soul has revived.

On campus, the cherry red cherry leaves.

On campus, the yellow and gold of the gingko.

And somewhere in the neighborhood, here and there, (keep your eyes peeled) . . .

. . . colorful friends doing what they can to get themselves up into that blue.

And, in November, after all the rain, everywhere . . .

. . . beautiful persimmon dreams.

The sky was so beautiful this morning, up on Yatsuyama, that I dipped down from the mountain and entered the grounds of Gokoku Shrine, so that I could toss a hundred-yen coin into the box—and express my gratitude for the color, for the love that lives in it.

And it just happened that today was Shichi-go-san—the Seven-five-three celebration. Boys celebrate becoming five, and girls celebrate becoming three or seven.

Where did they get the idea for all those colors? How happy do you think they feel in them?

A good day for persimmon dreams

How about that! It rains, and then the sun comes out, and the sky is the bluest blue.

“Bright!” one of my Shizuoka Duo friends exclaimed. We were all out in the neighborhood together, all three of us on bicycles.

It was a lovely October day. A good day for an outing.

“Wow! Lovely! Is it a couple? Mom and son? Best friends?” Shizuoka Duo wondered. (I don’t edit them, just report what they say. I like their spontaneous reactions—no matter the exact words. I don’t know why, but what they feel gets into me really fast.)

The light and the color had fallen in love. “I feel there are fairies flying among the flowers!” Shizuoka Duo sang.

On a day like this, you won’t be the only one out and about. Lots of folks know something good might happen on a day like this. “Music notes on a staff?”

You feel light-hearted, but at the same time, there’s a certain intensity, a natural sort of relaxed intensity (if there can be such a thing) in the way you see how the color and light are enjoying the day.

Not everyone will look in the same direction. No problem. The light is everywhere.

“What chord are they playing?” “What’s that instrument on the offbeat?”

“Looks like a gingko tree!”

Yeah, the pure joy of standing still, relaxed, your feet firmly on the ground (at times like this, it’s how you feel, even if you are on a tightrope), seeing the way the light and color sing and dance.

“I bet I’ll still be able to see it tomorrow!” Shizuoka said in a wondrous whisper.

It’s a good day to thrust out your chest, let it feel the warmth. If you know how to do the “bellybutton” (that dance number Shizuoka Duo sometimes sing), it seems like a pretty good time for it.

“Facing the truth!”

And yes, of course, it’s a good day for persimmon dreams.

But then again, every day is a good day for persimmon dreams.

“They’re going to be delicious!”


Ravished by the cosmos

In Shizuoka, an afternoon on a Saturday in late September is a great time to go for a bicycle stroll.

The farmers are out and about, cutting the rice—usually by machine, but occasionally by hand. I’ve been told that hanging the cut rice upside down allows nutrition from the stalks to flow down into the grain, but have not confirmed that.

But I’ve tried that myself, with my own body, and actually it works pretty well . . . if I don’t stay upside down too long—and I if don’t feint as I’m turning myself upright again.

Yes, it was a good day to stroll the fields, and to enjoy the cosmos . . . and to think about the cosmos. You know, the cosmos.

Walt Whitman said that he was a cosmos—and I suddenly thought to myself that it was as good a  time as any to wander about and see if I could find him. Honesty compels me to report that, from time to time, I thought that for just a fraction of a second, I had gotten a glimpse of him.

Of course, I must also admit that that may have just been the glare of the sun in my eyes.

Actually, it’s quite relaxing to search the cosmos for Mr. Whitman, and before long I’d fallen into a sort of contemplative bliss—and then it was quite easy to see Mr. Whitman, at least Mr. Whitman as cosmos. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what that was like . . . for the experience, the scene if you will, was not shot with sound.

No soundtrack. No words.

But a bit later, a gentlemen approached me (so to speak), and introduced himself, with a tip of his hat, as Somerset Maugham, and when I’d told him what I’d been doing, told him what/whom I’d been searching for, he told me that one of his acquaintances, a Mr. Larry Darrell, had once spent some time experiencing the cosmos rather fully (all of it, apparently, and all of it at once), and he told me with great precision how Mr. Darrell had described it to him.

Amazingly, Mr. Maugham, did not paraphrase. He quoted Mr. Darrell verbatim, for more than an hour.

I wish my memory were such! Unfortunately, I could, this evening, only remember a couple of minutes of Mr. Maugham quoting Mr. Darrell.

For what it’s worth.

“I’ve always felt that there was something pathetic in the founders of religion who made it a condition of salvation that you should believe in them. It’s as though they needed your faith to have faith in themselves. They remind you of those old pagan gods who grew wan and faint if they were not sustained by the burnt offerings of the devout. . . . 

“I have no descriptive talent, I don’t know the words to paint a picture; I can’t tell you, so as to make you see it, how grand the sight was that was displayed before me as the day broke to its splendour. Those mountains with their deep jungle, the mist still entangled in the treetops, and the bottomless lake far below me. 

“The sun caught the lake through a cleft in the heights and it shone like burnished steel. I was ravished with the beauty of the world. I’d never known such a transcendent joy.        “I had a strange sensation, a tingling that arose in my feet and travelled up to my head, and I felt as though I were suddenly released from my body and as pure spirit partook of a loveliness I had never conceived. I had a sense that a knowledge more than human possessed me, so that everything that had been confused was clear and everything that had perplexed me was explained.”

By the time I got home, evening was falling, and the sky, I noticed, had gone pink. It seemed to be calling me, so I went upstairs, and out on the balcony, and scrambled up onto the roof, sat down, and fell into a beautifully serene meditation.

On this evening, I was quite sure, I was not the only one who had done so.

Down from Mt. Shirouma

August 28th. The day before we’d climbed the up through the “Big Snow Valley” to  the top of Mt. Shirouma. After a night at the lodge, we were back up at the summit, around 4:50 AM, I think, to see a cloudy pastel-colored day dawn.

5:15 AM. The skies brightening–and time to look down the sandy, rocky ridge we were going to walk on our own way to the Big Hakuba Lake . . . and then on down from the mountains.

Lots of lovely views at your back, so be sure to stop frequently to peer over your shoulder.

And lots of rocks along the trail—sometimes it’s necessary to scramble across them.

This area is famous for raicho—grouse—and we saw other hikers scouring the slopes for the birds, but we neither saw one ourselves, nor saw anyone who’d spotted one.

And lots to see looking forward. The day before had been a clear, clear, blue blue day, and now it was clouds and pastel—and that was just fine. Very, very lovely.

We got to Mikuni at 5:50, a point where three prefectures come together, Nagano, Toyama, and Niigata.

One more look back . . .

. . . and then on toward the beautiful backlit, cloudy sky–and on towards Mt. Korenge.

We reached Korenge at around 6:35. From here, you get your first view of the lake.

By the way, this route down from the mountain is a little long, but, for this part of the country, it is a very easy (not so much up and down) walk.

The walk yesterday started at 1250 m and went up to 2932, but today it was only going to go down to 1700. Those 450 fewer m in descent make a huge difference. How do you get down from 1700? The only way down is two gondola rides.  The first time ever for us to end a hike with a ride in the sky.

The closer you get to the lake, gradually going down, the more green there is. Lots of the scrubby hemlock firs, and more and more flowers.

Close to the lake and around the lake, you can see the famous chinguruma flowers.

At first you might think that these are strange feathery petals, but actually these are just the seeds that remain after the petals have fallen.

The petals are white—and present quite a different face. We were there at just the right time that we could see both faces.

We got the lake at 7:55 and stopped for breakfast. Then around to the other side (no, those aren’t sand traps, they’re bits of remaining snow), up through the hemlock firs a bit and then down toward the gondola station.

The ragged cliffs of Shakushi are there on your right much of the way.

Much of the way.

And then you come to this day’s snow valley. The day before, though, we walked up the snow for about an hour. This day, we only walked across the snow for about three minutes.


The descent gets steeper from here. For a while you can enjoy the flowers growing so beautifully by the snow.

After that, it’s flowers and rocky trail for a good while.

More chinguruma.

And lots of miyamakinbai.

And flowers you’ve maybe never seen before.

And some you have. Down to the gondolas at 10:55.      


Up to Mt. Shirouma

From the parking lot, in the village of Hakuba, in Nagano prefecture, looking up at the three peaks in the Shirouma range–from left to right: Hakubayari, Shakushi, and Shirouma. In the mountains, looks are often deceiving. Shirouma, on the right, is the tallest of the three . . . and our destination.

SHIRO (white) + UMA (horse).

This was August 27th, the first clear day (we were told by people at the mountaintop lodge) in the whole month of August. Lucky us.

A twenty-minute bus ride took us the Sarukura Lodge, at the bottom of the climb. You can drive your own car this far, but we were planning on coming down a different trail a couple of valleys over.

The trail up was through the famous “Big Snow Valley,” which is covered in snow the year round.

From Sarukura to the summit is about 7.4km in distance, but with a 1700 meter altitude change. That’s about the same, for those of you on the other side of the pond, as the altitude change from the Colorado River to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The first hour and a half or so is a gentle climb—with lots of flowers.

Enjoy them. Just a few pics here.

Then you come to the snow valley. Time to strap on the clampons . . .

. . . and up you go.

And go and go and go.

Yes, there are cracks here and there in the surface snow. Be careful. The mountain folks keep a pretty good eye on things, and at least on this day, a safe course up the valley was clearly marked. Also notice that there are lots of fairly big rocks on the snow. Yes, rocks are known to come tumbling down the valley. No, we didn’t see any tumblers, but you need to keep your eyes peeled.

Rocks. Melting snow. Gravity.

Yes, a river is flowing under your feet . . . but the snow and ice is thick.

We were right around here when I began thinking that this was the most beautiful hike in the world. I’m guessing it was around 20 or 22 degrees Celsius at this point of the trail. Felt mighty fine in short sleeves and hiking shorts—for me. I really, really thought that if anyone ever asked me to take them somewhere, this would be it.

Up ahead is Shakushi. All throughout the climb it seems the most prominent feature on the horizon—but remember it’s the lowest of the triplet peaks.

When you get up and across the snow valley (it took us about an hour ) find a good rock to sit on, have a little snack, and  look back at where you’ve been–and beyond where you’ve been.

You may have thought the snow valley was a bit steep, but it gets steeper from here . . .

. . . and gradually gets steeper all the way to the top. The snow valley got you up about 600 m, but the second half of the hike is another 900 m or so. But it’s also glorious. Green fields of flowers and rocks all the way up, maybe two-and-half or so of this beauty. Lucky, lucky you.


Once you hit the main ridge, just past the first of the two lodges, you’re about forty-five minutes from the summit. Thirty minutes to the second lodge where we spent the night . . .


. . . and another fifteen-minute loose-rock scramble up to the top.

More flowers up there.

And you may discover that some folks have had an easier time getting to the top than you have. Don’t obsess over that.

You are you.

Though you might give some thought to the advantages of traveling light.  From the summit, to the left, look out and over  the ridge that leads to the “Big Hakuba Lake”—our destination in the morning.

And then back down the way you came, yet another nice view of Shakushi.

And lots and lots of peaks all around. All around you.         

Late Summer Dream

“If we think no worse of them than they do of themselves,

they might pass for excellent men. ”

(Billy S.)

Or women.

Yes, once again we Hearty Hikers were on the road to Ryuso.

Again? Didn’t you just go a few days ago?

Well, yes. But when it comes to Ryuso, there can never be too many agains.

And I think you know every day is different.

But last week when we came to cheer on (cheer up?) the chabohototogisu, well, they weren’t blooming yet. Of course, we had to come again.

The chabohototogisu, you see, have a confidence problem.  Their green leaves are “mottled with ugly black spots,” and they grow close to the ground, so they’ve got that height inferiority thing, and because they are so small, and like to stay alone, a single plant growing here and there, hikers really do trod their leaves “fifty times a day.” All summer they save up their energy, if they don’t get stepped on, and then burst forth in bloom, but only for a few days, and then they are gone. They wonder if it’s worth it.

They are a most lovely “demure yellow,” a yellow we love, but one they feel somewhat ashamed of. I don’t know why. True, it’s not the most photogenic yellow.

Well, simply put, they are the most lovely and precious things we’ve ever seen, and it’s a sad, sad thing to be out on the veranda reading a book, or grading papers, or maybe downtown bowling—when you know how they may be feeling.

So up there we went, with Shizuoka Duo and their assorted instruments (those are their words in the quotation marks above), to sing them a song. You can hear the song we sung them HERE. Or not, as you like.

As we approached the realm they demurely bloom in, we felt energized. This is, of course, partially because we were optimistic of success, but also because we were surrounded by . . .

. . . some incredible light-to-energy converters—ones manufactured with the most cutting-edge technology this world has ever known.

We were also buoyed by an unusually clear view of . . .

. . . our dear friend Fuji (if you ever decide to come along, don’t expect such clear skies in August), and by a lovely view of . . .

. . . the big, bold, and blue southern Alps.

Man, I wish I could show these views to Chabo.


Finally, we were entering Chabo’s realm.

We were walking the trail, beginning to feel, maybe even understand, their loneliness when—don’t you see her, there on the left? No? Now do you see how she feels? Look again.


We gathered around. Shizuoka Duo had me count in. The Duo played, and we all joined in.

Here and there we went, singing to each and every Chabo we found.

We did the best we could. I was proud of our effort.

And I think we did cheer them up a bit. But as soon as we finished singing and headed back down, I began to worry. They were so young. If we think no worse of them than they do of themselves, they might pass for excellent men—or women. Were they too young to know what that implied?

Well, as the older statesman of the Hearty Hikers, I know what it implies. Most of the time, you don’t have to worry if “they” are thinking worse of you than you think of yourself, because most of the time “they” are not thinking about you very much at all. (I added the “very much” later, so as to not seem too pessimistic or misanthropic or whatever.)

But they need to know that. They need to understand that. Jeez, most of the time, they’re up there all by themselves. Most of the time, we’re all up there by ourselves.

Yeah, if they’re so danged hung up on the self esteem thing, the first thing they’ve got to realize is that they are, with very few exceptions, the only ones doing the esteeming.

But it was a good day for me. When you’re searching the ground for Chabo, you really look, and when you really look, you really notice all sorts of things that you might not have otherwise.

Or as Shizuoka Duo sing in another song, I think it may be a song they call “Hangnail”—

When your eyes are on the ground,

There really is so much to be found,

Walk the misty woods and see,

At tiny flowers fall to your knees.

And that’s what I did. Saw what I could see.

Hey, what’s that?

Oh, an apple mushroom!

And a toad lily! (A close relative of Chabo’s.)

And who’s this squirmy wormy guy?

And what subterranean magic kingdom did this fashion king spring up from?

Once my eyes combed the ground with such intensity that I could see down, down, down . . .


. . . to the bottom of the sea, where all the colorful coral grows.

Thank you, everyone. A special thanks to you, Shizuoka Duo. And a special, special thanks to you, Chabo. I feel really good about today. I hope you do, too.