I made it down off Kinpu to the hut below Mizugaki as the last of the day’s sunlight danced in the treetops. Campers lazed in front of their day-glo coloured domes outside the hut and casting a glance over the ramshackle structure, I wasn’t so sure they hadn’t made the right decision in taking to their tents.
Tentless myself, I had no choice and climbed the stone stairs leading to the rickety old joint. I summoned up the attention of the master, a weathered old coot, who poked his head out a window and ordered me inside.
The place resembled an old farmyard barn or stable, get half a dozen old buggers in there and the place – if it stood – would probably sound like one as well.
The crusty old coot, bent cigarette, dangling from the deep ravine doubling as the corner of his mouth, shoved a pen and registration form at me as I waited for further instruction at the check in counter. He screwed his brown, weathered visage into knots as we deciphered where exactly I was to fill out my particular details. Once that was all sorted I was directed to find a place to settle into within the long, dark hall. A couple of other packs sat unattended at the sides of sleeping bags at intervals on the flooring. Wires criss-crossed between posts, nails and beams in the gloom overhead and I slung my damp jacket over one above the piece of faux tatamied floor I claimed as my own. I dug my sleeping bag out of my pack, rolled it out and settled down on it to feast on a Calorie Mate and chocolate almond dinner, scrawled a bit in my journal and was asleep by 6:30.
The following morning dawned grey – nothing to write home about there. September was persisting in its shittiness weatherwise. Could I squeeze in another peak before another expected drenching?
From the entrance of the hut up and down Mizugaki was to be something in the range of a three hour affair. I thought about the rain gear in my pack, sitting inside the hut and decided, “She’ll be right.” I was heading out of the mountains, Tokyo and hot showers and clean clothes beckoned.
At a point on the trail, where the trees parted I peered upward and saw that I stood below a cathedral of stone, hewn from the Earth by the forces of Mother Nature herself. I hadn’t been so struck by a mountain’s beauty since laying my eyes upon Tokachi-dake way back in July. That day the vision splendid emerged from over the barren, rust brown rim of an ancient volcanic crater. Mizugaki’s soaring turrets and sculpted domes, in contrast, emerged out of a sea of emerald woods.
You don’t climb this mountain. She draws you in via towering portals. As you enter her sanctum, she embraces you. I, risen before my fellow hikers, explored her depths in reverential silence, a solitary soul, the day’s first pilgrim, moving ever higher amidst the cleft rock. The wind whistled through small stands of trees that had found safe haven in the folds upon her higher reaches.
Emerging out of one of these mountaintop copses onto Mizugaki’s summit of riven stone I was greeted by the sight of skies clearing from the north west. I cast my eye over the jagged spine of the Yatsu-ga-take Range and the more distant line of the Southern Alps stretching over the horizon. Ever so briefly, I was even afforded a glimpse of the very summit of Fuji-san poking out above a swirling mass of brilliant white cloud.
Something like the sun shone and I found it was t-shirt weather again. Alone atop Mizugaki I, like Fukada-san and undoubtedly many before and since, sprawled out like a lizard on a rock and took in the sights.
In time others arrived and I left the summit, returning through the mountain’s inner sanctums and making my way down to the old hut. There I packed my remaining gear and walked westwards, down and out of the mountains, a light rain falling from reconvened cloud.