woensdag 23 december 2009

My last night in Tokyo - Tomorrow is the big day

All pictures can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com/f6.popkorn

I haven't been sitting still for the last few weeks. Since I will be walking 30 kilometers a day from tomorrow on, I have done quite some preperation to get myself ready for the next few months. First there was the necessary preperation to get all the equipment that I will need on my trek. So I got myself a huge backpack with which I can probably steal at least 10 babies if I wanted to. (IF i wanted to, just to be clear, this is just a metaphor)
Got myself good walking shoes, a tent that hopefully won't rip apart the first night I use it, a very warm sleeping bag, a basic gas stove to make myself some food during the hungry hours, and much much more, enough to fill up the space of the 10 babies. I opted for quality stuff that hopefully won't get me in trouble.

Another piece of the preparation was to get my physique ready for walking these vast distances. I went hiking around the hot-spring region of Hakone, followed by a stay at an awesome Japanese style ryokan, hot-spring included. On this trip, I was honored by the company of my 2 year long friend Sachiko.
Another piece of preparation was walking the tour of Tokyo, passing through every station of the Yamanote trainloop. This is the major trainloop in Tokyo that passes most important places in Tokyo. That was mostly a flat walk, and I did this one alone, but it was nevertheless enjoyable. I took a picture at most waypoints, the Yamanote line stations.

The most serious and most challenging walk I've done was about two weeks ago. I planned to climb the Kumotori-yama. This is the highest mountain in the provinces around Tokyo, reaching slightly higher than 2000m. The starting point of the hike I planned was at a height of 1000m above sealevel, and obviously this was not a single-day trip. (the original plan was 1 day going up, one day going back down, following a different trail)
The main purpose of it was giving all my equipment a test in the field, and also checking out where my stamina was at.

This little hike actually proved to be one of the biggest adventures of my short life up until now. On departure day, the weather was looking great, and the weather forecast for the next day, the day that I was planning to arrive at the final destination (back down), was looking good too. I arrived at Owa, 320m height, at about 1pm. I was one hour later than planned because I had underestimated the journey getting there. In my guidebook where I found out about this hike, there was written about a cablecar ropeway going from this place to the starting point of my hike at 1090m, called . I got out of the bus at Owa, and practically found myself in a ghosttown. All buildings looked like they could implode at any second, and there was no living soul to be seen. There was also no ropeway to be seen, although I could find a direction sign pointing to the destination of the ropeway, Mitsumine Shrine. After a few minutes I found a guy of about 70 years old. 'Where is the ropeway?', I asked him. 'Nowhere. It broke down a while ago.' The weather was looking good, and I was in a good mood, so I decided to just walk my way up there, adding a 770m climb to the plan. I quickly came upon this sign:



In short, it said that this is bearcountry, and that you shouldn`t walk alone here, and that you better talk in a loud voice to let the bears know that you`re coming. I kept on going, and it was 3:30pm when I was past the shrine and at the point that was actually my planned starting point of the hike. I wouldnt be able to get to the checkpoint that I was planning on getting to on day 1, because it was already getting dark at 5pm. The original destination for the day, was a mountain hut with a camping ground, and where I could buy some food. But since I wouldnt be able to get there I bought some kiwi`s at the shrine, the only food that they were selling there. Then I started walking. I brought a flashlight, so I was prepared to walk a little bit when it was getting dark, so I could look for a fitting place to put my tent down or spend the night. It got dark earlier than I expected, because it was getting cloudy, and I was walking in a forest that didn`t allow a lot of sunshine anyway, and so, I was walking in a dark forest, with possibly bears that were nocturnal, on my own, with a backpack and a flashlight. I don`t usually get scared easily, although this situation did creep me out quite a bit. I was whistling now and then to scare away animals on the trail, and at some point I whistled, and somewhere in the direction in front of me I heard a whistle back. I thought there was someone else coming from the direction in front of me, so I whistled again. Then I heard the noise again, that I before thought was a whistle... It was an animal, I have no idea what exactly it was, but it was moving through the bushes near me, not really moving further or closer but just moving around, making that weird whistle-like sound now and then. It moved away after a while, but it sure had been creepy. I`m still not sure what it was, a boar or maybe a deer. Although situations like these are not that enjoyable at that time, it does make you stronger, and more able to make the right decisions when you get yourself into situations that are scary and might be dangerous.

After this I was pretty lucky. I got to a mountaintop of a mountain called Kirimogamine, at about 1500m height, 6pm, and there was a small building where they usually sell drinks in the hiking season. It was closed off, but I found a way in, and spent the night there. As you can see in the pics, in the morning I was in for another surprise. It had been snowing for a few hours, and it was still snowing steadily. The snow was not that deep (initially :D), and I was equipped for snowy walks, so I ate some of the kiwi`s I bought as breakfast, and started walking at about 6.30am towards Kumotori-yama. It was probably the toughest hike I`ve ever done. Not so much the snow, but the combination of the heavy backpack with the steepness of the trail was very hard on the stamina. When I was nearing the top of the mountain, I got so exhausted sometimes that I just dropped myself in the snow for a few minutes to rest, that had gotten pretty damn deep by now. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable for the most part, and the snowy scenery was amazingly beautiful. Near the top of the mountain, there was the mountain hut. I was extremely hungry, and got in to have some food and regain some stamina. There was an old lady. `Can I have a meal here?` `No, we got nothing`
I felt pretty fucked. `But we got some cup noodles if you want any...`
That was good enough for me, and I asked another one after I finished the first one.
I had gotten there around 11am, and I continued towards the top about 30 minutes later. The hardest part was over, and I didn`t waste much time at the top, because it was snowing to hard to enjoy any view at all. My guidebook told me that it was still about 7 hours to the finish, a village with a train station, in the valley.
It was 5 hours until it would get dark again, but I was thinking of maybe going all the way to the finish anyway, if I had the energy for it.

From there on, it was just an enjoyable hike, because going downhill though deep snow isn`t very tiring and it felt pretty safe. At 3pm, I got to what`s called an emergency hut. A hut at a waypoint where people can spend the night if they find themselves stuck during a hike. I took a look inside, and there was a guy there. I thought maybe he was keeping this place open, so I asked him if he sold any food, because the noodles that I had 4 hours ago were already well used up. He told me that he had food, and I quickly understood that he was another hiker, and not someone that managed this place as I had thought. He told me that the village was still pretty far away, and that it would be a good idea to stay. He was offering me food, so I decided to agree to stay there for the night. He was one of those Japanese veteran hikers that had hiked most of the European Alps, and even the Himalaya. He had his own cooking equipment, giving me good idea`s of what stuff to get myself when I would start my big trek. He first gave me another cup of noodles, and then made rice&curry for both of us later on. There was another guy in a tent near the hut, although he was more of a loner. Akiya, the guy I stayed with in the hut, told me that both he and the guy in the tent stayed here the whole day, because they thought the weather was too tough to hike in. Apparently there had been only one idiot crazy enough to go through this weather :P.

The next morning Akiya and me hiked together downhill towards the village. The weather was perfect, offering great views of the surrounding mountains, giving me the opportunity to see Mount Fuji for the first time in my life in its full glory. Definitely check those pics out. We found bear tracks in the snow at some point, walking on the same trail as we were walking. I took a picture of it. We didn`t see any bears though.

All in all, it had been a great hike, with a lot of new experience, making me feel completely ready for the real adventure to come.

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