“I’ve left my i-phone in the toilet,” he said.
It was okay. We were still at the hut.
Ten days after my aborted foray deep into the Kurobe Gorge I was back at Asohara Onsen chomping at the bit for the trek up through the Shimo-no-rokka. My old hiking buddy Patrick had flown in from Vietnam and, as usual, we were stuttering to a start early on day two.
Fifteen minutes later he was stripping down on the trail, bristling as he shoved his great woolly brown jumper into his pack and slipping into a cold, sodden, black, nipple rippling tee, still drenched in the previous day’s sweat.
By the time we’d made it through the Cold War-esque tunnels of the Sennintai Dam and back up onto the right hand side of the river he was steaming up the shirt good and proper, filling it with half a gallon of new day’s perspiration.
Unlike the last time I was up that way the sun was shining down on our backs and the waters churning in the narrows below us were the most vivid of blues. Beyond the S-Bend (where the river carves an S shaped course through the rock) and the stunningly beautiful Juji-kyo (where two tributaries join the main river from both left and right sides forming a perfect cross) we made it to the famous Ice Bridge. Here, every year, the men from Asohara construct flimsy looking wooden walkways that are propped up against the sheer rock face to ensure the relative safe passage of hikers.
As we descended one of the wooden ladders, literally in the shadow of the bridge, two huge chunks of ice – the size of small cars – parted company with the underside of the arch spanning the gorge, accompanied by a couple of ear splitting cracks, and crashed into the waters below. Riveted to the spot, I wasn’t so sure if the contents of my bowels hadn’t parted company with the lower reaches of my digestive tract to boot.
At the bottom of the ladder, in the shadow of looming tonnes of precariously perched ice Patrick had his damned i-phone out capturing the scene on video. It was complete madness and I wished he’d left the bloody thing in the crappers back at Asohara. I was convinced the whole thing was ready to come down on top of us. Standing there unable to pass I took in the scene just in case it was to be my last. The bridge of white above us cried an endless stream of tears, the high walls of the gorge shot up vertically to the heavens and the deafening sound of churning waters filled our ears. It was an astounding spot to be standing. Utterly breathtaking.
We ran out of daylight before we made the mighty Kurobe Dam and set up camp where a lively torrent bounded down a boulder filled sawa and met the main river. As the gorge darkened and night took over, by firelight and starlight we soaked up the atmosphere of that amazing place.