Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Five Mountain Odyssey: Mt. Kumotori (Part 1)

Part 1: Mt. Kumotori

I began my summer trip by taking three trains from Yokosuka, where I live at the time of writing, to Okutama. Because I live in Japan, I can't get the "Japan Rail Pass" which is a huge savings for anyone coming to visit Japan and planning to ride lots of trains. Instead, the best I could do, was a special pass that allowed unlimited travel on JR local trains for five days (which five days, I could choose myself). It cost me 11500 yen (around $145USD).

So I took the train to Okutama, which is a beautiful place, up in some low mountains, with lots of rivers and lovely scenery around. It was so refreshing to get out of the lowland city area.

The bus stop at Okutama St.
From Okutama station, I had to take a bus to the trailhead for Mt. Kumotori. There were few buses, so I had little option, and took the 12:35 pm bus. I began the hike as soon as I got to the trailhead, getting off at the Kamosawa bus stop. Kumotori is not a huge mountain, at just over 2,000 meters, but big enough to take me far from civilization. The name means "cloud taking."

There were few people on the trail, but I did encounter a pair of older Japanese gentlemen who paused to ask where I was headed, and when I told them Kumotori, they proceeded to tell me that I'd never make it. I, however, knew that I had no other choice but to make it, so I thanked them cheerfully and kept walking.

It was a nice hike, not too difficult for the first three quarters of the hike. I was carrying all my stuff for the whole trip, because I wouldn't come back through Okutama station, so I couldn't just drop stuff in a locker there, but I'd condensed as much as possible, including shelling out for a smaller, lighter sleeping bag, and I could handle the weight all right, even though it began to dig into my shoulders. I'd also splurged on some trekking poles that would save me from slips and falls a dozen times or more over the trip. I also happily took the turn towards a mountain hut (I think it was called Nanatsu) part way along, and got to refill my water containers. Unfortunately, although the weather was plenty warm and not raining, it was cloudy and misty, so there were no nice views of distant scenery.

Yeah, that's me.

I did make it to the emergency hut where I planned to stay the night, but it was a near thing. The sun had set and darkness was falling. The last part of the trail before the hut is uphill and quite rocky and steep, so I was trying to hurry and be safe at the same time. When I saw the square shape of the hut emerge from the mist, I was so relieved.

There were already six people sleeping in the hut, in sleeping bags, without any kind of pad between bag and wooden floor. I don't know how they managed to sleep, but then again, Japanese people regularly sleep on futons, which are just thin pads over the floor. I find futons impossible to sleep on because the hard floor makes my hips and shoulders ache, but perhaps for the Japanese hikers, the wooden floor was not that uncomfortable. I set up my stuff--using an inflatable pad--and got down to sleep.

The next morning, everyone woke with the dawn. I hadn't slept well, with my legs already starting to hurt, and feeling nauseous and restless, but I'd had far worse nights in my life, so I swallowed some pain pills, shrugged it off, got up, and continued my hike. I had no other choice but to keep going. It was only Day 2 of my trip, and I didn't intend to give up so soon. The summit was only a minute's walk away, and then I began the descent--eleven kilometers to the bus stop, but mostly downhill, although there were a few ups and downs. I had to climb over Mt. Shiraiwa, which is a smaller mountain than Kumotori, being one of its sister-peaks on the way down, so to speak.

The summit of Kumotori.
It was still cloudy and misty, so unfortunately, the views weren't too great, but as the morning wore on, some of the mist burned off. It was cool and refreshing, despite my achy body, and I was in good spirits. I also passed a mountain hut (one that you pay to stay at, and need a reservation for) where I was able to refill my water containers again.

The trails were almost deserted, which is exactly the way I like it (except for one point when a huge crowd of elementary kids passed me going the other direction). For me, a hike is a chance to be quiet and calm, to shed the burden of the city atmosphere and experience nature. Time vanishes. "Two o'clock" is no longer important. All that matters is when the sun rises and sets. Although humans have stepped out of the web of nature, and now really only have the power to make the choice to let the web be, or to destroy it, being in nature calls up primal feelings of vitality, freshness, cleanness, and serenity.

I made good time down the mountain to Mitsumine Shrine, and actually arrived a couple hours before the bus I'd planned to take. Mitsumine Shrine has its own onsen (hot spring), so how wonderful it was, after a two day hike, to be able to pay 500 yen (about $7USD) to have a hot soak and scrub my weary body of all the trail dust. I had plenty of time, so I washed, relaxed in the tub, and repeated several times. Also luckily, the bath wasn't crowded, allowing me some privacy and the chance to snap a photo.

I successfully caught the bus an hour later, and ordered a huge bowl of ramen in a shop by Seichichibu train station when I arrived there. After a diet of jerky, marshmallows (which are excellent for hiking--they don't melt, they're light, and they send instant energy to your muscles and brain), cookies, and energy bars, some real, hot ramen tasted fantastic. I devoured it. Afterwards, though, I sat in a patio by the train station and looked around at our plastic human society and longed to be back on the mountain, among the magic and mystery of nature, the beauty, the peace. It surpasses by so much the triteness, idiocy, and plastic fakery of the human world, where people stare entranced and mind-numb at TV screens and buy inane junk they think they need. 

I don't like the bugs much, or hard floors, or the cold, but I wish to return to nature as frequently as possible, just to sit and be unable to express the wonder, the poignancy, the vitality, the mystery and magic and miracles of nature.

From Seichichibu station I was able to walk to a nearby smaller JR station and hop a train for Nagano, where I would stay for the next two nights before hiking up the next mountain, Hiuchi.

Below, some additional photos from my hike up and down Kumotori.

Dawn, after my night in the emergency hut.

The trail down, with morning mist.

Wildflowers along the trail.

The best view I got.

Part of the trail down.

The shrine at the end of the hike.

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