Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.

Water – falls

Yesterday, we Hearty Hikers went up to Umegashima for a quick trek up to the Great Abe Waterfall to . . . well, to see the water fall.

We walked cedar shade, looked up at the canopy light, the sparkling jade. (“Cedar shade” and “sparkling jade” are Shizuoka Duo’s words not mine.)

Our eyes feasted on color.

One of the Hearty Hikers hadn’t been with us for a while—and seemed a bit concerned about getting lost in the deep, deep wilderness, so we took her on a route that enabled her to . . .

. . . climb the Eifel Tower. You know, just to calm her nerves a bit.

But mainly we walked the water, enjoying the world’s most perfectly-tuned air-conditioning system.

And I thought about the water.

A lot.

I tried to think of something profound to say about the water . . . and finally remembered a dream I’d had once.

I had dreamed I was applying for a position as an assistant professor in philosophy—a subject I’d never studied. All of a sudden, a member of the interviewing committee was asking me this: if there’s one thing, one simple-to-grasp thing, that you think all philosopher students should come to comprehend before completing their undergraduate degrees, what would it be?

Yes, a prickly situation. I was shaking. I was sweating. I tried to remember a time, any time, that I’d felt philosophical.  And I remembered, being a boy of five or six, and standing before a little waterfall, a very little waterfall in a creek near our house, and thinking . . . “Water . . . falls.”

So that’s what I said. At my dream interview.

“Water falls.”

And in my dream, I got the job.

Ah, the mystery of job interviews!

But, indeed, water does fall. A drop or two might bead up on a level surface (surface tension?), but you can’t make a big mound of water—it falls.

Falling, for water, is an effortless action.

You can apply force to water, squirt it out of a hose or a water pistol, but if you leave it to itself, it falls. You can dam it up, stop it for a while, but the instant you pull the dam away, it falls. And here’s the amazing thing, you can wait a day or a thousand days to pull the dam away, and the water will react just the same. The very moment the dam is gone, it falls.  Years of imprisonment affect its will not one iota, affects its temperament not one iota.

It has looked within. It knows what it is.

You might compare that to your feeling when lunchtime is over and someone says, “All right, everyone, back to work.”     To fall, or to flow (if you like) is water’s inner nature. Prevent it from doing that (put it in a concrete pool, for example) and it does nothing. Just waits. It’ll wait for all eternity if necessary. Because all it wants to do is fall. It’s all, really, that it can do. Don’t get mad at it because it can’t program a computer.

I’d say more, but would surely expose that I still haven’t studied philosophy!

On the way back home, we of course stopped at our favorite onsen.

Lots of water there, too.


Mt. Senjo


August 11. In Japan, “Mountain Day.” On the 10th, a long haul up Mt. Kaikoma, a lot of direct sun, and a whole team of tired legs.

Somehow, over twelve hours, our legs recovered, and with talk of rain (and at least the fog rolling in early), we were up by 3 AM . . .

170811_moon_600. . . and out under the moon and onto the trail by 3:55, hoping to finish by noon.

Walking in the dark is wonderful. Very peaceful. Birds just waking.


Soon the sky had brightened, though, and we could see the trail and the firs clearly.


It was not going to be a day of clear, glaring, blue skies, but for a couple of hours it was a lovely combination of candy blue, lavender, and grey. That’s Kaikoma on the right edge of that range. (One of the Hearty Hikers suggested walking that entire ridge some time or another. Sure, but one mountain at a time!)


Finally out from the firs and into the scrub pines where . . .


. . . the spotted nutcrackers thrive. (In Japanese, hoshigarasu, “star crows” . . . I like that.)


The nutcrackers are crazy about the scrub pine’s soft, pink cones.


And then a scramble up some rocks and up to the peak of Mt. Little Senjo, at 2864 m.  It was 6:25 AM. We were two and a half hours in.


Then it was across the ridge to the main peak, Mt. Senjo. A lot of good places to stop and breathe slowly and deeply. Go ahead. Imagine you’re there. Stop and take a couple of good breaths—deep ones.

170811_along_senjo_ridge_fog_450  The higher you go, the rockier, and foggier, it gets.

170811_senjo_top_S&T_600And then you’re there, at the top of Mt. Senjo, 3033 meters. 7:30 AM.

Breakfast time!

A grey day for the most part, but actually a very pleasant day after all the sun of the day before. And as Shizuoka Duo sings to us about grey days, “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.”

There were lots and lots of small plants and flowers up there around the peak.






And . . .


. . .  rocks, as beautiful—and as alive—as any of the flowers.

Then . . . down, down, you go. After an hour or so, the trail runs into the Yabuzawa River.


After an hour or so along the river, you come to this point, where you cross back over into another fir forest.

But the hour that you walk along the river is one of the most wonderful hours you’ll ever experience. The riverside is a long, long rocky field of flowers. It’ll probably take you thirty seconds or a minute at most to scroll down through the pictures, but please, for my sake, imagine that the scroll-stroll down along the river, over the rocks and through the color, lasts an hour.








Oh, along the way, I found a waterfall to take a head shower in. Felt great!

Okay. Cooled down. Ready for the last hour. Back into the firs, and down, down, down.


How proud of the Hearty Hikers I am. Six hours of walking and still raring to go.


An hour in the firs—and then out in the open again. Yep, the skies cleared here and there.

From here, it was only another fifteen minutes—fifteen minutes through the woods and back to the Komorebi Lodge.

A wonderful day.


Mt. Kaikoma


Above, Mt. Kaikoma.

Our goal, for August 10th and 11th, was to get up both Mt. Kaikoma and Mt. Senjo.

The summit of Mt. Kaikoma is 2967 m, that of Mt. Senjo, 3033 m. Kaikoma is the 24th tallest in Japan, Senjo the 10th. But don’t let the statistics fool you: of the two, Kaikoma is the real bear.


We stayed at the Komorebi Lodge, at the Kitazawa Pass. From Shizuoka, we drove about two hours, to Ashiyasu, then took two different buses through the mountains on the restricted roads, for another hour-and-a-half. Think long dark concrete tunnels, guardrails on the edge of huge cliffs, a lovely river below, and numerous waterfalls—one of the longest in the southern Alps. Think of a busload of hikers, anticipation lighting up their faces.


All sorts of happy faces greeted us at the lodge.

The food was great. The lodge, some other hikers said, was ranked number two in Japan.


The idea is to get to the top before the fog rolls in. You never know when the fog will roll in—but often in the morning, often early in the morning. Thus, the 4:30 AM start. We had a light in the sky, and lights on our foreheads, so no problem, though we had to remind one of our  members that she was going to have to open her eyes before we could begin.

Does 4:30 sound early? The lodge and the mountains are a different world. Everybody is up by 3 or 4. No private rooms. Rows and rows of “bunks.” Throats clearing.  Boots pounding the plank floor. You can’t sleep through it. And really, it’s a good time to begin.


There are two trails up. So you can do a loop—or take the counterclockwise or clockwise approach—and come back the way you came. We ended up doing a counterclockwise loop.

So, it’s 4:30 and we’re off. First through the forest, along the Kitazawa River. Then . . .


. . . out from the forest and up to the Sensui Pass. We got to the pass about 5:40. Above, we’re looking back at what we’ve just walked. The moon was still with us.


From the Sensui Pass, you get your first view of Kaikoma, on the left. The other peak is Marishiten.

From the Sensui Pass, you head back into a fir forest—and the steep climb begins.


Lovely views when you look back.

170810_up_komatsumine_600 Nope, you don’t get to go directly up Kaikoma. First, you have to climb Komatsumine, at 2750 m.

You eventually, come out of the forest, and into the scrub pine. We reached the summit of Komatsumine at 7 AM.


On the horizon, to the left, was Mt. Kita, the second tallest mountain in Japan.


And further to the left, and way off, behind Mt. Houou, our dear friend Fuji.


And even further to the left, Kaikoma.


And sorry to say, but you have to go down before you can go up Kaikoma. It’s a rocky way, with boulder fields that you have to scramble across.


Very rocky.


Some rocks want to think they’re little mountains. Let them. As Shizuoka Duo sings, “Hope-despair are living where the thinking makes them so.”

Just as you start to go back up, up Kaikoma, you come to a choice. You can scramble-crawl straight up the side of the mountain—or take the “winding” road up. Seems most people opt for the winding road, but lots of ordinary-looking hikers chose the steeper way.

But the winding path is steep enough, believe me.

170810_kaikoma_rocks_sky2_600  And because it winds . . . 170810_kaikoma_trail2_600

. . . you’re likely to think you’re ten minutes from the top . . .


. . . for about an hour.


Sand and rock.

You are a great climber, sure, but you have not conquered the moon. You’re still on Earth.  170810_kaikoma_trail4_600

And just when you think, you’ve gotten through the worst of it . . .


. . . oh . . . more rocks between which you’ve got to figure out how to pull yourself up.

You’ll do it, don’t worry.


And then you’re at the top. It’s 8:37, and you’ve beaten the fog.  Take a picture before it rolls in—because  it’s going to roll in before you can finish breakfast.

Ahhh.  Mt. Kita and Mt. Fuji have disappeared.

Back to Komatsumine.

And it’s farther back than it was coming. An amazing phenomenon that you’ll  experience often on hikes like this one.

From Komatsumine, we could have gone the way we came, back by the Sensui Pass, but we decided to go the other way, via Mt. Futago.


There’s Mt. Futago right in front of us, the green guy. It wasn’t until we’d come down from Komatsumine quite a way that we realized that the trail was going to take us up to the top of Mt. Futago. Yes, we have a silly leader.

But we made it. Then back into another fir forest—and back to the lodge at a little before 1 PM.

Would our legs recover to hike up Senjo the next day? We’ll see.


Cedar shade


They’re about the sappiest couple I’ve ever met, that young man and woman who like to call themselves, collectively, “Shizuoka Duo.”

A couple of love birds. Always smiling.

So there they were, back from a hike up through the Ryuso cedars, still holding hands, still glowing, saying they’d hummed out a song together, la-la-lahed it out as they walked through the woods (“our” woods, they said, “we were the only ones up there”), standing at my front door, asking if I could pull the Persimmon Dreams recording studio out from my pocket and record them.

What was I going to do? Whatever I think of their singing, well, they were awful cute standing there.

I . . . love to see you

Smile . . . smile like you do

Your eyes . . . always say . . . something so true.


We . . . walk cedar shade


Above our heads . . . sparkling jade


Canopy light . . . really knows . . . . how to persuade.  


 Needles soft . . . under our feet

Azaleas bright . . . dancing so sweet

Nightingale . . . melody . . . oh what a treat.


Sometimes . . . we do kneel


Moist green moss . . . our fingers feel


These woods . . . now just ours . . . cool and tranquil.


 I . . . love to see you

Smile . . . smile like you do

Your eyes . . . always say . . . something so true.

(Photos, as best I remember, from recent climbs up Yambushi, Hakkorei, Bara-no-dan, and Ryuso.)