I didn’t drown. I didn’t succumb to claustrophobia or cave ins.
There weren’t any bats.
But at the other end of the long tunnel I sucked in the fresh mountain air like I’d just emerged from a week lost in the catacombs.
More thrills followed in a leery section of trail cut out of rock face easily some two hundred metres directly above the gorge. From there it wended past a three tiered waterfall and down to the hut and hot spring at Asohara, a spot nestled in a nook where the walls of the gorge reclined slightly from their relentless vertical slant.
Bathed and beered I settled down in the hut for the night in a tatami matted room accompanied by seven other hikers, some of who’d come down the Shimo-no-rokka that day. I found myself amidst a choral section of snorers, and not for the first time in the mountains silently cursed to the heavens for not yet having gotten hold of a pair of ear plugs.
Then the rain came. And hard. And so did the image of a mischievous weather man grinning and poking his pointer at me – I’d been suckered again.
The morning dawned heavy and grey. Cloud clung to the walls of the gorge like the leeches I feared the weather would conjure up. Mountaintops for the most part were lost in the mist.
The options were to continue up to the Kurobe Dam for near on ten hours or retreat in five, back the way I came.
I had no desire to struggle through the Shimo-no-rokka in those miserable conditions. And with the forecast the way it was, I knew that when the rains arrived they’d be settling in for days. I’d timed things twenty four hours too late.
The Shimo-no-rokka is only open for about six weeks of the year during a period spanning September and October. There were still more opportunities to get up it in better conditions, so reluctantly I turned tail and headed back the way I came. The week I had off in October already on my mind.