Monthly Archives: August 2016

Mt. Kita — day 2


Good morning! Wonder why some folks prefer, over the lodge, their own tent, why they’re willing to haul tent, sleeping bag, mattress pad, cooking gear up 1700 meters of a steep grade? Here’s your answer.

They feel a dim light to the east. They crack open their eyes. And they enjoy the visual feast. Without moving an inch.


The night before, our legs had felt like two-hundred-year-old, hollowed-out tree stumps, ones you could easily pull apart with your hands, ones you could easily kick over, ones that even a sudden breeze might knock over—hollowed-out, decrepit stumps filled with thousands of buzzing bees.


This morning, though, they felt a little better, and by 5 AM we were on the ridge trail for the final ascent to the peak of Mt. Kita.

160826_green ridge_600

An hour in and we could look back down at the lodge—the red dot on the left side of the ridge. Yep, this is what an hour looks like.


Of course, we got the Big Eyes. The Big Eyes are great. Maybe you remember getting the Big Eyes when you were a kid at Christmas time. The hiking Big Eyes are much better. When you were a kid, you got the Big Eyes and then got things into your hands and probably, eventually, wore them out. With the hiking Big Eyes, you don’t actually touch anything with your fingers, which, perhaps ironically, makes your possession of them all the more intense. The hiking Big Eyes feels just like the thirty seconds of ascertaining what all’s beneath the tree—only it lasts for hours and hours.

Yes, possession. It’s a very special and important feeling.

Feeling that you can possess without owning or consuming is both entralling and invigorating.


Your eyes are ecstatic. With everything.


And then you scramble up through the last bit of rock and you look something like this.

There were maybe twenty people up there with us. They all looked like this. No one was moaning about anything. No mention of decaying tree-stump legs.


Okay, let the Big Eyes enjoy the moment. There’s the pointed Mt. Kaikoma, and floating in the clouds, behind, Yatsugadake, a run of eight peaks, Akadake on the far right.


The orange glow has vanished and a now blue Fuji floats in a sea of clouds.


By 6:45 or so, the mist begins to roll in, and you’re glad you stayed in the lodge (or in a tent)—it’s the only way to be up here this time of the day.


And then down the other side you go.


Back into the evergreen shrub range with your new friends, the spotted nutcrackers.


Back below the treeline.


Most of the way, we walked in strong sunshine.

We were glad we hadn’t had so much sunshine on the way up, but it wasn’t too brutal going down.

From time to time, the mist blew off the peak of Mt. Kita, and a bit of space would open up between the tree branches, and we’d get a good view.


This side of the mountain, this was supposed to be the less steep option, but for the most of it, it didn’t seem significantly more gentle than the way we’d gone up.

Still we felt good with the route we’d chosen.

Finally, for the last two hours we walked a forest that reminded us a lot of our regular hike up Ryuso Mountain in Shizuoka. Lots of cedar roots running through the trails, acting as steps.

For the record, we left the Mt. Kita Lodge at 5 AM, departed from the Mt. Kita summit at 6:55—and with only a couple of short breaks—got back to the trailhead (and a waiting microbus) at 11:35.

An hour later, we were easing our weary bones into a hot spring.



Mt. Kita — day 1


Mt. Kita. 3193 meters. The second highest mountain in Japan, after Mt. Fuji.

A good question: Along the ridge an 80-minute climb away from the summit of Mt. Kita, there is a a lodge (Kita-dake-san-so). Why would you stay there?

In the afternoon, hundreds of hikers arrive at the lodge. They have sweated for five or six hours, maybe more. There is no shower, no bath. But there is one changing nook available. It is about two feet by two feet wide–with a curtain. You can strip, wipe yourself off with a towel, dress. There is a plastic bottle crate to put your clean clothes on—or to rest your bare bottom on. Maybe only a few people will open the curtain to see if someone didn’t forget to change the “occupied” sign to the “now available” sign. Most people will just talk to you through the curtain.

You will sleep on a massive floor with hundreds of others, the foot of your futon touching the foot of someone else’s, the right side of yours touching the left side of someone else’s, the left side of yours touching the right side of someone else’s. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces fit together tightly.

If you decide to get up, say, to go to the restroom, between 6 PM and 4 AM (pitch dark after 8 PM), you will have to negotiate this sea of futons. Shielding your light, so that you disturb others as little as possible, you’ll dodge the feet. (Keep in mind that your legs are probably not feeling the most nimble they ever have.) If, when you return, you mistake your spot by one row of futons (and there are many!), you may lower yourself back onto your futon and accidentally flop down upon a stranger. Bad form. I almost did this!

If you are taller than about 150 cm, you will have to sleep with your head under a wooden shelf. All night long, you will hear–Whack!!! “AH!” You will probably whack your own head at least twice. I hit mine maybe five times.

You will, in the night, have the joy of playing footsies three or four times with the fellow whose feet are “facing” yours.

All night the plywood floors will creak.  Some will not be so good at minimalizing their lights. In the case of a strapped on headlight on high beam, you’ll feel a laser show has begun. This will only be every twenty minutes or so, though.

People snore a lot. Really. A lot.

So the question is: Why would anyone endure this? Why would you spend the night here?

Hopefully, the pictures that follow, in this post and the next, will answer this question sufficiently.


From Shizuoka, we drove two hours and spent the night at an inn near the public parking lot at the end of the public road. The next morning, we caught a 5:20 AM microbus that took us up the “closed” road—about 45 minutes—and to the Hirogawara trailhead. From the trailhead, if the sky is clear, you can see the peak of Mt. Kita (above). Our goal, on this first day, was to get to the Mount Kita lodge (about 5.5 hours it took), just below the Mt. Kita Peak, and then turn left on the  ridge and walk to Mt. Aino and back (about 3 hours it took), and spend the night in the lodge. We’d save the summit of Mt. Kita for the next day.

In the end, though, because of a couple of trail mistakes, we ended up walking about 9.5 hours. Mist and a rocky trail that looks pretty much like the rest of the  rocky mountain can be a dangerous combination. At least, it proved so for us a couple of times. Take note, if you visit Japan, you may not want to ask me to be your guide!


The first thing you do is cross the suspension bridge that spans the Noro River. Take it slow and enjoy it. It’s the last level ground you’ll experience for the next  six hours—and about 1700 meters of ascent.


After about twenty minutes, the trail splits. You can go right or left. Left keeps you snug to the Okabazawa Creek/River. It’s the straightest shot to the top, and naturally the steeper option. Steep uphills bother us less than steep downhills, so we turned left.

Purple. It was everywhere. Gave us a good chance to see how well nature could paint with a single tube of paint. This is a good thing to keep in mind if you want to take up painting. If you’ve got good technique, a single tube can take you a long way.






The flow of the stream gradually gets smaller.


Then disappears.


But the flowers continue.


Beautiful blue skies are great, but we were happy, most of the time, to be walking under the mist. We sweat enough as it was. A clear, blue sky may have done us in.



Regardless of the sky, though, it’s important to go at a pace you’re comfortable with.


Yes, climb at your own pace. The natives know to do that.


As we approached the ridge, there were patches of evergreen shrub all about, and there we spotted some Hoshigarasu (literally, “Star Crow”), called Spotted Nutcracker, in English. First time for us. Always, always, always something new.


We dropped our heaviest stuff off at the lodge, then headed along the ridge, back toward Shizuoka, and toward Mt. Aino, 3190 meters. Only three meters down from Mt. Kita, but enough to send it to fourth on the list of tallest mountains of Japan.


It was a grey, green, and rocky walk. And when the trail takes you close to the edge of the trail, which is often, you can see how steep the drop is into the valley opposite of the way you came up.





160825_hearty_hiker_ridge_600Of course, grey skies can be as lovely as blue. If not, why is this Hearty Hiker smiling so much. And after walking up for seven hours!


And yes . . .


. . . we made it to the tippity top of Mt. Aino.

Let’s enjoy the moment.


Okay, on the way back, we got turned around in the mist, and I’m ashamed to say, that after forty-five minutes walking back toward the lodge (ha ha!), we found ourselves back at the summit of Mt. Aino.

But apparently, according to one of our Hearty Hikers (Bless her soul!), this was a blessing in disguise.

Because while we were back up there, the skies went blue. They only stayed blue for about five minutes . . .


. . . but it did seem like a gift. Re-energized us for the long haul back to the lodge.


The flowers didn’t look much different in the grey or the blue.

And the Iwahibari below (Alpine Accentor, in English) seemed to be saying . . . “Just another day.”

9.5 hours of climbing. So much beauty. Put those two things together, and we were very very happy  to arrive back at the lodge and nestle into our little patch of futon.




August 21. Up Hakkorei, then over to Oyarei. And then back.


Lots of sunshine early morning.


Sunshine on the torikabuto (“bird with a monk’s hood”). In the olden days, the juice from this guy was used to dip the tips of spears and arrows in. Very poisonous. Look, don’t eat.


And just ask the sky and the leaves how red a berry can get!

A typhoon was not so far away–and that can do some strange things to the clouds. When we looked over the ridge, off our right shoulder, the Yamanashi side, we saw that our dear friend Fuji . . .


. . . had fallen into a hole.

Or so it seemed. Crazy thing, perspective. Just like my mother used to tell me: “When you think you’re better than the guy next to you because he’s fallen into a hole and you haven’t, well, you go calling him stupid—or genetically challenged, or some other crap—and that’s when you’re going to get a better look and he’s going to rise majestically into the sky and you are going to feel mighty stupid. Never judge a person by the size of the hole he’s fallen into. He may not have dug it himself.”

For the record, we were standing at about 1800 meters. The tippity top of Mt. Fuji is 3,776  meters.


Along the ridge we went, up Hakkorei.

160821_hakkorei_mountain_vista_2 We were lucky to have such a nice blue sky for the first hour, but the clouds finally closed in—and we turned our attention to all the little things.


Once you turn your attention to the little things, THERE IS NO END.


I, especially like the leaves. They are color magicians, superb painters. Especially, leaves that fall a little early. You can’t do this with your skin, can you!

And their grace and ninja-like movements are amazing.


Take the most decorated Rio gymnast and fling him out of a tree. No way he can stick his landing as this red fellow did . . . and on the tiniest of blades of bamboo grass.

Utterly amazing.

My hearty hiking teammate, however, got most interested in the mushrooms, and it wasn’t long before I caught her fever. No sooner do you tell your eyes there may be mushrooms growing here and there and nearly everywhere than, what do you know, there are mushrooms growing here and there and everywhere.

They, too, are amazing. Some liked sunbathing. Some just like nestling in between Ma and Pa.

Here are some of them.


160821_mushroom_16_600160821_mushroom_1_298 160821_mushroom_2_298 160821_maple_leaf_298 160821_mushroom_14_600160821_mushroom_2x_298 160821_red_leaf_298160821_mushroom_3_298 160821_mushroom_4_298 160821_frog_1_298 160821_mushroom_11_298160821_mushroom_6_298 160821_mushroom_7_298160821_mushroom_19_298  160821_mushroom_20_298 160821_mushroom_15_298 160821_orange_green_leaf_298160821_mushroom_9_298 160821_mushroom_18_298160821_mushroom_17_298 160821_mushroom_10_298

Once you’ve got your eyes down on the ground, there’s no telling what you might see—and that includes snakes—two I nearly stepped on. But it also includes this pale green stuff, below, growing up from the moss—first time for me.  If anyone knows what you call it, let me know. Some sort of lichen?


Lunch atop Oyarei . . .


. . . was a little misty. Most days the mist settles in and stays in, but this day, just as we were approaching to top of Hakkorei again, the winds whipped through . . .


. . . and the skies cleared again.

I wish you’d been there.


On the other side of the Hakkorei summit, the silver spirit tree rose up into that blue sky.

Rose up into it until, maybe a minute later, the blue disappeared again.

Everything is always changing. No need to try to fight it. Just enjoy the silver spirit tree in the blue while you can . . . wherever it is, wherever you are . . . whenever you come across it.


Specks of gold


It’s been hot, sure enough, but I never expected that the heat and humidity and relentless sunshine would ever get the better of Shizuoka Duo. But indeed it knocked them for a loop.

I was just sitting here, sipping on some lemonade, when the doorbell rang. There Shizuoka Duo was, at the door, looking almost deranged. They were speaking at the same time, so it was hard to get the whole story straight, but apparently they’d taken early afternoon naps at the same time and dreamed, together, the very same dream, something about a couple of beavers out by the edge of a pond, arguing over the state of the universe. One of the beavers said she’d seen the sun sneer and that if she weren’t recognized as head honcho that some really bad things were going to happen to their pond. The other beaver claimed he’d seen the moon shift mid-orbit and head in a new direction and that if he weren’t allowed to make rules for life down inside the dam, then all cosmic hell was going to break loose. The other beavers (millions, Duo 1 said . . . trillions, Duo 2 said) were at a total loss. It was the end of the world, they were sure. The beavers were sure. Shizuoka Duo was sure.  A lot of the beavers started screeching, “Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!”

Shizuoka Duo said they had, in a matter of minutes, written it all down, the essence of it, anyway, and were ready to record. Here’s what was written on the coffee-stained paper they forced into my hand.

They’re throwing us puzzling curves / Spitting out weaseling words 

Serving up poisonous hor d’euvres / Chewing on our frazzling nerves.


They’re pouring hemlock deep down in our ears / Demagogues whipping up the fear

Dishing hate on all our living peers / Dismissing all whose consciences veer.


She surely said she saw the sun sneer / Knew that the end was all so near.

He said she’d surely drunk too much beer / Said that he alone was the seer.


He said he saw the moon take a dip / Like a wreck-less, perverted ship.

She said he just thinks he’s all so hip / When really all his wires have been snipped.


“We saw it,” Duo 1 said. “We went out, right after we wrote it all down–and the sun was sneering.”

“And the moon, you couldn’t see it, it was only 2:30, but somehow, looking up at the sky, you could see how its orbit might go wacky,” Duo 2 said.

I read it over, then asked them about the chord sequence.

There were just three chords, they said, and they were going to play them over and over and over forever, repeating the words as long as necessary, until the sun stopped sneering, and the moon stopped threatening to disrupt the skies.

Naturally, I sent them home. It wasn’t easy. But finally I got them to go home and “rest.”

Then I went for a walk. You know, to check, to make sure.


Everything seemed fine. Actually, everything seemed absolutely beautiful.

Maybe it was the angle, I thought. Maybe my perspective wasn’t right.


Nope, no problem with the perspective. Still, lovely.

I was on my bicycle—and I’d worked hard through the morning and early afternoon—so I thought I could afford to take the late afternoon and evening hours to investigate a little more. But everywhere I looked . . .


. . . it was the same. Everything looked lovely. There was my beloved Ryuso Mountain, up there in the left corner, looking perfectly fine. I turned around, looked towards downtown . . .


. . . and all seemed fine there, too. In those pink clouds, there was a hint of the sun, it was nearby for sure, but there seemed to be no sign that it was sneering. And so I looked up . . .


. . . but the sky was gorgeous, and the birds flew as they always did . . . downright merrily, I thought right then.

It was a mystery. Either that, or Shizuoka Duo had finally lost their marbles. I remembered them standing there at the door, remembered their frantic, dangerous expressions. I mean, they had feared. And then I looked up at the sky again.


And this time, I thought, from somewhere, a trickle of energy could be discerned. In a matter of moments, it became a flow of energy, I thought. But it was hard to judge. Was it a positive flow of energy? A negative flow? The longer I looked, the more confused I became.


And then the evening set in, and the sky here and there began to glow, and here and there it turned a bright water-color blue and purple. I almost thought I could see where the paint had dried thick and where it had dried thin.

The sun, I thought, wherever it’s hiding, is painting this sky.

But what kind of picture? A sneering picture?

Damn, I kept seeing those two panicked faces, Shizuoka Duo’s faces, ablaze with fear, and I was suddenly wondering if I hadn’t gotten wrong all those thousands and thousands of moments in which I’d looked up at the sky and felt so much joy.  160816_ryuso_lit_sky2_600

The light shifted. The glow shifted. It was glorious . . . or  menacing.

Geez, what was happening to me?

And the damned sky was changing too much. Every instant, there was something new to be interpreted. Before you could figured out what it was, it was gone.

And I took out my notebook. And I wrote this:

So what now will unfold?

Is my brain really all too old

To wipe away this thickening mold?

To think whose souls they wrongly sold?

Was I scared because they spoke so bold?

Can I just believe the things I’ve been told?

Is my heart really all this cold?

Aren’t there any, any specks of gold?

I called Shizuoka Duo right then and there, straddling my bicycle. They got to my house before I did. I showed them my paper, made a couple of suggestions for a few more chords. They smiled at each other. “Let’s do it!” their eyes said.

So I went in. Took the recording studio from my pocket. Fired it up.

When we’d finished, we stood by the sliding glass door and peered up into the night sky. The moon was full. A little yellow, but, or so it seemed, just fine.160816_river_houses_blue_sky_mountains_450


Mount Fuji


7:09 AM

Yes, we Hearty Hikers finally climbed Mt. Fuji.

Some of you out there might be considering it. There’s lots you need to know. Hopefully, this will help a little.

First of all, there are four different trails up the mountain. The Yoshida, Gotemba, Subashiri, and Fujinomiya trails. We chose the Fujinomiya.

For folks with a car, you need to drive to the Mizugatsuka parking lot, about 70 minutes from my house in Shizuoka City, and catch the shuttle bus from there—if you’ve chosen the Fujinomiya Trail. They don’t let you drive your own car up to the trailhead anymore. The shuttle bus takes about 30 minutes. If you don’t have a car, you can get shuttle buses from, Fuji, Gotemba, Shizuoka, Mishima, and Tokyo train stations.

The trailhead. That in itself is a bit confusing. Below you can see us standing at the trailhead, but actually this is the fifth stage of the trail.


8:25 AM

Almost everyone who climbs the Fujinomiya Trail starts from here, 2400 meters in altitude, but you can certainly start at Stage 0 if you like.

I don’t know where Stage 0 is.

Actually, there were four of us Hearty Hikers—but one was taking the picture. We were of four different nationalities. We were of four different nationalities because we were born in four different countries. None of us chose our nationalities. Nationality is, for better or worse, a club that is chosen for you, almost always based on the place you were born, which, unless you have special powers that I don’t, you cannot control.

That being said, Mount Fuji didn’t really seem concerned with our nationality. We weren’t concerned with it, either.

Anyway, there we Hearty Hikers were at Stage 5, the start . . .

160808_0828_two_deer_600 8:28 AM

. . . and what a pleasant surprise, the deer came out to greet us. I’m not sure whether they come to greet everyone.

Take a look at the “ground” they are walking, and you will see very clearly that you’re about to head up a volcano—in this case, one that likes to spew every one hundred years or so. The video on the shuttle bus, if you take it, will remind you that it could spew at any time.

Dust, and little bits of lava, and bigger bits of lava, and lava rocks and boulders, this is what you’re going to walk up for the next three to six hours, before you reach the summit at 3,776 meters.

Guidebooks will say it takes five hours to the top. We took a reasonable amount of rest and made it to the top in about four hours. If you climb, the main thing is not to worry about how long it takes you, but to climb while remaining comfortable and stress-free, no longer how long it takes.


8:33 AM

The weather was beautiful on our day up. The above is what the view looks like from slightly above Stage 5.


8:35 AM

Up, up, you go.

Some folks like to spend the night on top. The skies tend to be clearer in the morning hours, and you might get a spectacular sunrise. I’ve also heard folks say that at night they felt as if they could reach out and sweep up a whole armful of stars.

But no matter when you go, there’s likely to be swirling mist, and you may be in the middle of it for almost the whole hike, or for a good portion of it. We were lucky. We were pretty much enjoying the blue skies and blue bay and the blue peninsula and mountains below, until the last hour or so of the way up.


8:50 AM


8:55 AM

The tree line reaches Stage 5, but above that, you don’t see much growing. Just some clumpy flowers here and there.


9:21 AM


9:25 AM

This gives you a bit of an idea of the grade of the slope. The first two-thirds of the way up is something like this. The guy with the helmet is a rescue worker. Not many, but some hikers, also wear helmets. We didn’t see any falling rocks, but fall they surely do from time to time. And then there’s always the possibility of an eruption, though I think they can predict one to some degree.

The rescue worker was actually on his way to rescue an elderly gentlemen who had keeled over. A whole team of rescuers carried him to where they could helicopter him out.

It’s hard seeing someone in trouble and wondering how much you should help. (We asked the first two rescuers on the scene if we could help carry the stretcher, but they said a large team was on the way.)

The video on the shuttle bus reminds you: “Climbing Fuji is not an easy task.” That is perfectly correct. You need to be in shape, you need to be prepared for hot weather, cold weather, and rainy weather, you need to have a plan—so that you don’t overextend yourself—and you need to know the symptoms of altitude sickness, and what to do if you start feeling “a little funny.” The main things you can do to avoid altitude sickness are 1) hang around stage 5 for a while (20 minutes? an hour?) before you start hiking, so that your body can adjust, 2) go slow, 3) take breaks at the hut at each stage up, so your body can keep adjusting, 4) stop and rest any time you feel your heart/lungs stressed more than they usually are when you hike similar grades, 5) be willing to quit if you start to feel bad, and 6) have some canned oxygen with you, just in case.


10:12 AM


10:27 AM

Occasionally, the going get’s “rocky” and a bit steep, but there’s not so much of this.

Much, much, much more of the dusty, pebbly trail.

Another word about altitude sickness. Lots of families come with lots of young kids. That’s fine, if the kids want to climb, and the parents keep a close eye on their conditions. But of the people I saw who seemed to be suffering from altitude sickness, most of them were young kids. If you do take your kid, please don’t push them past what’s safe. They have many, many years to climb Mt. Fuji.


10:44 AM

This little fellow seemed to understand the importance of rest.

He is, by the way, a bit of a sacred fellow—for Mt. Fuji is actually a shrine, a sacred place.

And Mt. Fuji is a sacred place, for the most part, because it is attached to this earth, which is in itself a sacred place.  And that is because . . . well, you probably know all about exploding stars and star dust, so I’ll skip that.


11:00 AM

Up the Hearty Hikers go.


11:02 AM

These two “poles” may, at first glance, look like the stumps of two dead trees, but actually they are the remains of a torii gate—a gate that lets you know you’re moving deeper into sacred territory. In the past, there was a crossbeam that rested atop these two poles, and another crossbeam, a tad lower, running between them.


People still like to give small offerings, though. A man standing there as I took this picture told me that there was only one thing that anyone could pray for—and that was for everyone and everything’s well-being.

He is right.

I think.


11:04 AM

Oh, and here we have the fourth of our Hearty gang—our inspiration.

She was born and bred in Shizuoka. Which is not a country. Just a city. So she can stay or leave as she likes. She likes Shizuoka so she stays.

I like Shizuoka, too.


11:21 AM

A torii gate intact.


11:23 AM


Then there was the final leg, a bit steeper, and thus, I didn’t take my camera out of my pocket, and then we were up on the top—and in typhoon-like conditions. It had begun to get a bit gusty twenty minutes earlier, but literally, the conditions changed drastically in the last ten meters up to the top. I said “typhoon-like,” but there wasn’t any rain, just mist blowing around like crazy and a lot of volcanic dust-bead bee-bees pelleting us. When it gusted most, it was very difficult to stand.

160808_1400_summit_torii_60012:20-ish, when we first got up to the “top.”

It looked like this, from the front of the shrine, when it wasn’t so gusty.

As a group, we decided to head into the lodge and have some lunch and let our bodies adjust a bit to the thin air.

I wrote “top,” in quotation marks above because we had gotten to the shrine that is up on the top, and we were on the trail that circles the crater, but we were not yet at the highest point. That was another twenty minutes away, and another 40 meters up.

A very, very tough 40 meters.


It may not look like I was holding on to the peak marker for dear life . . . but I was.


Back down at the shrine and inside, things were suddenly very peaceful.

Of course, we prayed for everyone’s well-being. Everything’s.


There’s more mist (“GAS,” in Japanese), in the afternoons, and the view tends to get obscured. But this provides the opportunity for suddenly clearing views, which can be delightful.


A delighted Hearty Hiker!


In the clouds.


A Hearty Hiker in the clouds.


To be honest, it was a long, tough hike, and the Fuji I climbed was more than enough for me. Some folks, however, don’t seem satisfied with just one Fuji. They brought their own.


Just like the views? You don’t even have to climb. Just enjoy standing at the railing behind the gift shop at Stage 5.


The deer left these for us. We had prayed for them, too, but I can’t say whether or not that influenced them so quickly.

We made it back to our car around 6 PM.

Maybe we’ll have slightly different feelings for our friend Fuji now, when we look up to her, as we drive and walk the streets of Shizuoka, 70 kilometers away.