August 6th. The Hearty Hikers team had left Shizuoka early morning, and were now bearing down on the long stretch of peaks known collectively as Yatsugadake, in Nagano.
Don’t ask if that was the driver who had his arm out the window taking the above shot. Just focus on the silhouette of the range. Try to keep the shape of the individual peaks clear in your mind. Probably you can’t. Because they are going to look different a zillion times over before the next two days are through.
There’s about a zillion routes up into the “hills”—but we chose to start at Minoto Guchi. Actually, we chose to start at Minoto itself, not the Guchi, the “gateway” to Minoto, but three or four minutes over the deeply rutted road up to Minoto had me fearing that my poor little Aqua might not make it, so we backed up, and parked at the Guchi (half price), and walked forty minutes or so extra.
This is part of the fun of a first experience. You don’t know what’s coming, whether or not it’s going to be completely safe or problem-free. Or maybe that wouldn’t be part of the fun for you.
We left the parking lot at about 9:15.
At Minoto, you can choose to go up along the North Stream (Kitazawa), or the South one (Minamizawa). As we had our eyes set on Io-dake (“Sulphur Mountain”), we took the North Stream.
There were flowers galore.
We came across numerous types of thistles, most of them still in bud, and some, like this one, looking an awful lot like jet engines about to let it rip. What energy!
These guys, ibukitorikabuto (what a name!), love hanging out by the water. Don’t get too close, though, they’re said to be rather toxic.
My Hearty Hikers companion suggested that this cluster of buds looked like a gathering of pigeons. Yeah, yeah, I can see that, but she also said that . . .
. . . these light-hearted creamy yellow lovers looked like swans dancing. Yes, they’re swans, obviously, but they’re way past dancing—they’re necking!
Whether there was sulphur in the water coming down the “sulphur” mountain or not, I don’t know, but there was definitely some sort of heavy mineral content.
Speaking of heavy mineral content, I don’t feel comfortable going on these more-than-a-day trips without a book in my backpack. I know I’ll be too tired to read a lot—so it has to be a book from which a sentence or two can do wonders for me.
I took the same book that I took with me to climb Shirouma in Hakuba, Nagano, a few summers ago.
Atop Shirouma, I read just three sentences (I think) to my Hearty Hikers buddy:
Who sees the many and not the ONE, wanders on from death to death. Even by the mind this truth is to be learned: there are not many but only ONE. Who sees variety and not the unity wanders on from death to death.
Sometimes the flowers were small and tucked in among the grass, so you had to look close to find them—but they were there in plenty, that’s for sure.
And it’s little wonder that when I spotted these guys, I turned to my Hearty Hikers companion and said, “Look where we are now!”
We came upon the Akadake Kosen Lodge around noon, had some wonderfully delicious rice balls, and some chicken sauteed in pesto (the perfect combination, rice balls and pesto, that is), then headed on up, no longer along the river, and no longer in the land of flowers aplenty.
In the woods, sans river, we began to anticipate the tree line—and a panoramic view.
But we remained tucked inside the woods until almost the very moment we stepped out on the ridge.
Not flowers aplenty maybe, inside those woods, but there’s always a fellow here or there who jumps out and surprises you.
Yes, yes, “Here we are!” she exclaimed.
You can expect, in the afternoon, that the mist is going to roll in, and when we stepped up onto the ridge (at 1:40), it was there to greet us.
The signs were clear enough, even if, for the moment, they were in the middle of grey, and pointing, in both directions at nothing but grey.
A moment later, though, the mist cleared a bit, and the peak of Mt. Io-dake came into view. Not so steep.
The ridge provided a completely different environment for the flowers. These guys loved it up there. They were partying like crazy.
As we neared the peak, and the rocks came into better focus, we began to sense what might be awaiting us the next day.
And what do you know, but just like that the breeze blew away almost all the mist over the entire length of Yatsugadake, and there we were atop Io-dake with a stunning view of Yoko-dake (the sharp tooth), and Aka-dake (the tallest peak of the group, in the middle), and Amida-dake (where the clouds are gathering, and of which we’d consider, the next day, making our fourth peak, before consulting our knees and deciding to save it for another trip).
So many ridge flowers!
Yes, yes, I’d memorized the one sentence I was going to “read” from my book once we’d settled into our lodge, just fifteen minutes down the ridge on the opposite side of Io-dake.
Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.
I remember someone pointing out that passage to me a while back and asking me if I thought that that “all beings” bit included those flying black bugs that buzz around like flies, then flip across your skin like somersaulting Olympic gymnasts, then sting the hell out of you . . . and I could only reply that I suppose it did.
But those ridge flowers, what a delight.
As we approached our lodge (around 3 PM, I think), they opened their hearts to us.