THE DIRTY THIRTIES – S#!TBOIL

AUGUST 2007

#38 – MAKIHATA-YAMA

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

So much for the trusty, guaranteed for life Jetboil cooker.  All through August the thing had slowly been losing its spark – that little bolt of static electricity camp stoves shoot into the heart of the gas in order to ignite.  Said gas, in a covered shelter, in a deserted campground below Makihata-san, began to form into a cloud around my head.

For the best part of ten minutes I had been clicking away furiously at the switch of the useless, tarted up piece of drain pipe, unfazed by the fact that I could lose and eyebrow or worse if the confounded thing sparked to life amidst the gathering propane cloud.  A campsite version of Russian Roulette.  I’d forked out a hundred and fifty bucks for the damn thing, one way or another it was going to serve me for a lifetime.

“I’ll get breakfast faster rubbin’ two sticks together,” I muttered into the four o’clock gloom.  I shut off the gas and swore again, turning away from the bench in disgust.  My blood was boiling even if the water wasn’t.  I wanted to howl to the heavens and beat the thing into a battered semblance of its former self.  Oh, how I ached to release my fury upon that inanimate little black cylinder.  Alas, there was one other tent sharing my empty little island of grass in the forests below Makihata, mountain number 38.  They didn’t need to be woken from their slumber by a slathering madman hollering his lungs out in some foreign tongue.  Gas back on, I tried again.

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

The impotent snaps of the ignition switch cut through the early morning silence.  My mind seethed with unbidden rage as a soft, caressing breeze whispered through the pampas grass bordering my side of the campground.  I was sending morse code to the tengu – those mischievous, long nosed, goblin like creatures of the mountains, who right at that moment were probably nattering with amusement high upon Tengu Rock: a pyramid of stone, towering above the campground, gouged out of the southern flank of Makihata-yama.

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Fuck it then,” I cut off the gas angrily, as if twisting the head off a sparrow.  Contortions of fury gripped my frame.  I spat out a hoarse, barely whispered, animalistic gust of frustration.  It was unsatisfactory but it had to do.  This mountain lark had become just a series of drama upon drama.

“Matches!” I sputtered.  It suddenly dawned on me I’d stashed some in the top of my pack, salvaged from a hotel room somewhere (along with a collection of green tea teabags and those little handy hand soaps).  I dove into the tent headfirst.  If this adventure was the never ending Looney Tune I sometimes suspected it was, onlookers would have seen all myriad of things come flying out of the tent in my wake: cups, underpants, sleeping bag, bottles of whiskey and a bowling pin, a squealing cat and a yelping dog, a lamp stand and a kitchen sink, before I finally emerged, bloodshot eyed and sporting the visage of a madman, clasping a tiny box emblazoned with a glowing red flame.

Matches.

Eyeing it off with disdain, I stood back before my nemesis.  I could feel the softness of the tiny, flat cardboard box of matches between my fingers.  It’d been in my pack for weeks, soaking up the moisture of rain and sweat, absorbing the sultriness of that obscenely wicked Japanese summer.

The white tips were dry, but having been exposed to moisture, they crumbled off the sticks as I struck them.  A few issued smoke and the hint of a spark but snapped in two as I all too eagerly went for the second strike.  My panic rose.  Surely I was about to pop a fuse.  Soon more matches lay at my feet than remained in the box.  But then – hurrah! One of the matches held together and ignited. I went for the gas regulator.  Finger and thumb clasping the tiny dial.  But I’d twisted the damn thing off too tightly and the match fizzled in my other hand.

I threw the box into the scrub and spat venom, hissing like the embers of a campfire splashed with water.  I walked away, hands on hips to a narrow strip of asphalt road that entered the campground.  High over Makihata light wisps of cloud turned apricot as they caught the first rays of the sun.  I picked up a stone and hurled it into the grass after the matches and turned to face my adversary once more.  I shook myself down, expelling all fury from my soul and returned, a thin veil of calm – tenuous but holding – surrounding me.  I was not going to be beaten by that piece of inanimate shit.

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

Pause.  Deep breath.  “Hold it together, boy.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Click.”

“Whoosh!”  Ignition!

Yooou ignorant piece of shit!” I spat in disgust.  “About fuckin’ time,” it was getting no gratitude out of me.  For all I cared the goddamned thing could reincarnate as a Delhi hospital bed pan once its Lifetime Guarantee expired.

I slowly cooled down as the water boiled.  My gut untwisted and I filled it with some semi edible two hundred yen noodles and a pack of cashews then, at last, turned my attention to the more pressing matter at hand: Makihata.

Like on Shari-dake in Hokkaido one of the courses up the mountain follows a stream or ‘sawa’ virtually to the top.  I headed for the watercourse option where two streams slice down either side of the magnificent Tengu Rock.  Any lingering frustrations left over from the morning were relegated to distant memories as a fantastic scramble over the spectacular boulder laden course up the mountain ensued.

Beyond Tengu-iwa, with the sun finally finding its way down to me deep in the folds of the mountain, the trail left the sawa and led me up a painfully steep climb through the sasa on the right hand wall of the valley and finally to the top of Waremeki-dake, the western hump of the mountain.  There the scenery opened up and I took in the views across a wondrous landscape of rolling, verdant, sasa covered mountaintop.  A beautiful complement to the confines of the thrilling climb that led me there.  For the following hour I ambled across the mountain, traversing the unmarked summit area and soaking up the sumptuous, sun drenched scenery.  Time flew and I reluctantly descended via the other half of the loop, over Mae-makihata and down into sun dappled forests awash with fragrant white flowers.

Back at the bottom I slowly broke camp.  Summer and my days wandering the mountains of Northern Kanto were nearly up.  Despite the grim moods that swept over me like summer squalls at times, it had been another wonderful leg of the journey.  One mountain remained on the agenda before I turned tail toward Tokyo’s bright lights and so did one more Maebashi Indian beast feast.

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