The biggest thing I remember about Nagano is how much my legs hurt and how incredibly hungry I was. The morning after I got there, I went and bought breakfast. I was ravenous and in all likelihood gorged myself far too quickly, which would explain the stomach cramping and overall body shock that resulted, leaving me to find a spot to sit in the shade until the discomfort passed. For a little while, though, I was worried I needed to find a doctor. Luckily, things got better.
Although some westerners find themselves too embarrassed to enter a public bath or onsen--where people bathe communally, naked--the warm, misty environment and the big hot baths (free from soap--which is a rule), the profusion of water, and the overall feeling that I can devote an hour to cleansing and relaxing--when usually showers are a hurried affair--appeals to me. First, you wash off at a cleaning station, where you sit on a stool, and use a handheld showerhead and soap to clean yourself. Then, free of both dirt and soap, you go into the hot bath and relax your body. After you're thoroughly de-stressed, you soap off again. It is an incredibly relaxing ritual to me.
So the next day I took trains and a bus to the stop up in the hills for starting to hike the mountain. The trail had many more people than Kumotori, and I was moving slow because of my soreness, so I had to let several groups pass me.
Apparently, some others did not think so, however. As soon as I got to the hut, checked in, was assigned my futon spot, and told the hut folks I'd be hiking to the summit and back, the two elderly men immediately told me I couldn't do it in time. Sunset was still four hours away. Perhaps the people at the hut doubted my ability, or couldn't tell time, or couldn't add. At any rate, I told them "anyway, I'm going" in Japanese. They laughed.
I confess that one thing that bothers me about Japanese culture, is the propensity of the Japanese to laugh at people condescendingly when someone has said something they either don't agree with or don't understand. I gave them no more of my attention, and set out to climb to the summit. I was hoping very much to see ptarmigan (an alpine bird with furry toes) on the way, as it's a rare bird and you can only see it on the tops of a few mountains in Japan--Hiuchi being one of them.
|Mt. Hiuchi, reflected in an alpine pond.|
I started out on my hike, having left almost everything at the hut, and thus lightening my load considerably. It was a beautiful hike. Definitely, the top of Hiuchi is one of the prettiest mountains I have ever had the luck to see. The alpine meadows and ponds were unlike anything I'd seen before. It was a steep, uphill hike most of the way to the summit, and the trail was a bit overgrown. It also started drizzling and got rather chilly near the top, but I made it there along with a Japanese couple, so luckily we were able to take photos for each other. I turned to head back down immediately.
|I made it! Mt. Hiuchi summit.|
I made it back to the hut well before dark, but did I rub it in to the Japanese men who had said I couldn't do it? Nope. I just went on up to my bunk to get my food. I then went back down to the common room, but was told I couldn't use the common room unless I'd paid for meals--which was an option during the reservation process, which I chose to decline (I ended up being happy I had, because dinner was curry-rice--one of the cheapest meals you can produce, and also one I dislike, and would have cost me about $20, including breakfast, too).
|Eurasian Bullfich -- female|
|The hut I stayed in.|
The new day's mission was to climb over the neighboring Myoko peak, and down to Tsubame Onsen to catch a bus back to civilization. It was the hardest part of my whole trip, and I'll write all about it in my next blog entry.
Thanks for reading!