MOUNTAIN MISERY

JULY, 2007

#15 – IIDE-SAN

I hit Koriyama Station before ten the morning I strolled sodden off Adatara-san and, holed up in a faux French bakery accompanied by a coffee and a couple of chicken rolls, I pored over my maps and mulled over my next move on the great Hyakumeizan chessboard.  Never one to deviate from a set course of action, the original third draft of Plan B, Version 7.2 had me set to make it halfway up Nasu-dake by nightfall.  Outside however, the weather was as uninspiring as the coffee in front of me.  Getting caught in the rain on a mountain was one thing; setting out in it – entirely another.  A little flexibility was called for.

July had well and truly arrived and the need to get back to Hokkaido weighed heavily on my mind.  There wasn’t a terrible amount of time to be sitting around on my arse supping coffee that tasted as though that was where it had originated.  “Nasu could wait,” I concluded.  Heading west to Niigata and tackling the 2000 odd metre Iide-san on the way before jumping on a ferry to Hokkaido was a much better option.

Reflections on Iide-san are best viewed in a pool of my own blood, sweat and tears.  Everything endured up to that point pales in comparison to the torturous savagery I was subjected to on the flanks of that mountain.  “Comprehensively brutal” pretty much sums it up.  She ravaged both body and soul, figuratively tearing out my heart and dancing around my open grave, willing me to capitulate and tumble down on in.  It was an ordeal of meticulously meted out hellishness from the moment my taxi fare to the tiny, half abandoned locality of Kawairi was quoted at something approaching a third world nation’s GDP.

My transmutation into a hollowed out soulless shell of a man, a walking skidmark skulking across the face of the Earth, entrapped inside some impenetrable, dark veil of misery, began within minutes of my leaving the trailhead.  Venturing up into a forest of resplendent greenery cloaking the malignance hidden beneath, she sensed the mood of disquiet that already clouded my motivation.  Once thoroughly embraced in her verdant beauty she sprung upon the crack in my psyche and metaphysically, iron fistedly latched onto my nuts with such paralysing force that I swear I heard the kami-sanma wince in horror from the comfort of their otherworldly realms.

Exertion with no end in sight whittled away at my feeble reserves of fortitude as I hauled myself up a heavily eroded, trenchlike trail, over rocks and roots, boots filling with loose dirt and rotten leaf matter as I went.  Above the tree line sunburn set in and then, once the sun had lost its bite, the mosquitoes gained theirs for good measure.  My lungs heaved for air and I was down on my haunches at ever decreasing intervals, too punch drunk to even blubber for mercy, lucidity reduced to the barest of minimums.  Just below the Miguni Emergency Hut and home for the night, my filthy, dehydrated, carcass, animated only by a singleminded need for water, tumbled down a steep, muddy side track to the source of a mountain spring.  There I succoured on the cool, clear liquid dribbling out of the mountainside like a starving infant latched onto a long lost teat.

Oh Iide.  She thrashed me up to the top of the hill and she thrashed me down again.  The only respite from the ordeal was to be found on the summit, the morning after setting out.  There I sunk down amongst the boulders crowning her and stared out into the dazzling blue, watching late rising mists drift heavenward from deep in the surrounding folds of snow splashed mountainside. Oh pray tell what it would have been like to just lie down amongst the flowers and sleep away the pain late into the afternoon.  A trio of cheerful old buggers passed by as I lay there somewhere between lucidity and sleep. They were bound for Dainichi-dake, two peaks over one announced standing above me, and I smiled or grimaced or maybe just bared my teeth in some sort of strange, animalistic acknowledgement. They were welcome to it. There was no way on God’s good Earth that I was taking even half a step more than necessary that day in any direction other than toward a hot shower, cold beer and soft futon.

The descent was no less diabolical than the climb.  Likening it to a swan dive into the fires of hell would have been the understatement of the young century.  The previous day’s exertions spent pulling myself uphill were replaced with the agony of toes being pummelled against the insides of boots until it felt like the nails were being peeled back like ring pulls on Coke cans.  Audibly gasping with each step I took, Iide spat me back out onto the dirt road leading down to Kawairi Village like a piece of flaccid, pale, over-chewed gum.  The only thing left I was good for: a second fiscal buggerising courtesy of the cabbie from Yamato Town.

On a small plastic stool beneath the warm waters springing from the shower head I squeezed a near teaspoon full of yellow gunk out of my right big toe.  Its counterpart on my left foot was completely numb, four toes away the pinky nail had turned black out of respect.  I’d been strategically hit by mozzies on either side of my head, such that it appeared as though I was about to sprout horns.  I was short on sleep and long on sunburn. My legs throbbed from my tits down.

Not long after, beer and ice cream soothed body and soul and I lay half propped up, half spreadeagled on my hostel futon secure in the knowledge that only 85 more mountains sat between me and whatever life lay beyond all this insanity.  Head spinning, sooner rather than later I guess, I passed out.  No cheaper drunk was there to be found on the planet that night.

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