ABOVE THE CLOUDS

OCTOBER 2007

#61 – GORYU-DAKE

cloud sea

The shuttered huts below the summit of Shirouma-dake bore the brunt of the gale that howled all night.  As sunrise lit up the eastern wall of the tent I willed my frozen feet to thaw out.  I’d been warm and toasty all night except for them and it was time they were getting back to work.

Fed and packed I trudged out to the rear of the huts and face first into the gale, that had forced them to creak and wince all night, and onto the trail running south from Shirouma.  The official campground behind the hut was a wind blasted  bowl of cold, stony, grey ground.  There, another hiker was preparing to set off.

‘Ohayo!’  I hollered over the wind, though he stood right before me.

‘Ohayo!’ he hollered back. ‘I camp here.  All night, very, very windy,’ he related in English.  It was freezing out there, though we stood in sunshine.  A glob of clear, bubbly snot hung from his nose across to his jacket hood, tightly fastened around his head.

‘I see,’ I replied, nodding and sensing my lips begin to lose feeling in the cold.

‘W-Where – are – you – f-from?’ he was having trouble too.

‘Au-dray-di-bah,’ my lips felt like fat, numb, sausages.

‘You,’ he pointed a gloved finger at me, ‘You – go – to – Karamatsu – today?’

‘Bes,’ I blubbered as we were buffeted by an extra fierce gust, forcing us to adjust our footing.

‘Ahhh,’ he howled miserably as snot bubbles popped out his nostrils.  ‘This – is – strong – wind.’

We wandered southwards together, line astern before I left him behind.  A wave of ‘Sayonara’ our farewell as he sat to rest and I continued.

in the Kita Alpskita alps

By noon the winds had subsided enough to allow me to remove my gloves without fear of losing fingers and I sat on a rock above a big drop beyond another shuttered hut at Tengu-daira.  Cloud banks swelled against distant ridge lines.  Contrails streaked through the blue overhead.  Dropping down into a steep, loose stoned descent I and slowly clambered along a jagged, saw toothed stretch of ridge, tripping the light fantastic, over cold, rocky points and along chain laced minor peaks that sported gaping drops into ice and brush pine clogged ravines all the while rapidly filling with clamouring cloud banks.

Out to my right rose the much revered peaks of Tateyama and Tsurugi-dake.  Between us, the seemingly bottomless maw of the Kurobe Gorge, through which the waters of the mighty river of the same name churn their way to the sea, having been released through the soaring ramparts of the Kurobe Dam.

blue tsurugi

As the afternoon grew long, I stepped up onto the summit of Karamatsu-dake, cloud had swallowed all views in any direction and the air was harbouring a wintry chill.  A few rugged up souls had made the short walk up from the hut mere minutes beyond and laughed and chatted around the summit marker.  A pair of them sported beers, unperturbed by the conditions.

At the hut, I spurned the terraced camp ground lining the western slope and forked out a fistful of yens for a warm futon inside.  I was to be tent bound the following night, so took the chance to live it up while I could.

Well rested I was up before the sun and out on the trail traipsing over the crags towards Goryu-dake: mountain number 61.  To the east a cloud sea stretched as far as the eye could see and I watched the sun rise over it and into a thin layer of higher cloud as I moved on south.

Tateyama and Tsurugi

Tateyama and Tsurugi

Goryu soon appeared directly before me, a massive rising wall of imposing rock, challenging anyone who dare approach.  We eyed each other off for long minutes.  The mountain’s presence, immense, even when reflecting the pastel hues of the soft morning light.

I grabbed a coffee down at the Goryu Hut, then a second.  Hikers milled, others dotted the easily visible trail high on the rock face ahead.

Goryu-dake

Goryu-dake

The climb passed beneath my feet in no time and I was on top of another of the revered Hyakumeizan by smoko.  A few souls remained up there with me.  The ones I’d watched as I supped coffee had either pushed on or I passed me on my ascent as they returned.  I found a nook in the rocks and dry grasses pulled my beanie down tight, relieved my pack of a box of chocolate almonds and looked back to the north, to Karamatsu, Shirouma and beyond.  These were spectacular days and I savoured every moment being out there amongst some of the best mountain country Japan has to offer.

Looking north from the summit of Goryu-dake

Looking north from the summit of Goryu-dake

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