Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nippon Extremities: Hokkaido IX

August 13

Awakened early by the usual campground racket.  I wandered over to the volcanic boulders of the shoreline, eating breakfast and watching men drag kelp from the seabed and into their boats.  Tied alongside were floating black 'megaphones'  through which they'd look under water to locate the plants on the bottom, then pull them up with long wooden oars.  On the placid sea of this particular morning, it looked such a splendid simple life.  

I had a quick coffee in town, then started up a road to the trail head.  About halfway up I thumbed a ride with a park employee to an observation deck.  After admiring the view a bit, I started up the trail, a hard muddy ascent up a narrow path.  I moved along quickly at first, but then time slowed considerably as the weight of my overstuffed pack caused me to slip often, and to take a two-minute rest for every five spent on foot.  This pace continued after the straight track going directly up the mountainside finally reached the ridge, then began to zigzag along a boulder field.  After a short rope assisted descent, the trail cut sharply across the scar of a recent landslide.  I slowly worked myself across the loose shale,  terrified at the sight of rocks shifting above me, the whole mountain seeming to move under my rapidly shuffling feet.  I found relief on reaching the other side, but I still faced a steep climb to the top of the ridge.  I dumped my pack, and used the ropes to pull myself up more loose shale to the summit.  On top was a small shrine and a few boy scouts resting nearby, including one with long blonde hair.  Off to the side, the mountain dropped away completely, certain death to anyone who misplaced a step. 

I descended quickly, grabbing my pack, and rushed down a trail of wet rocks that turned under every step.  This was punishing work and I fell often, cutting both of my palms and my wrists.  More troubling, I found my frequent urinations short and painful.  I later realized that this was due to the pressure of my heavy pack on my kidneys.  But I was lucky in comparison.  As I made my way down, a helicopter began circling the peak, signifying the obvious.  (On the radio the next day I heard that a college student from Saitama had fallen 300 meters and was now in the hospital in Wakkanai.)  I had run out of water hours before so was thrilled to find a fresh spring just before a small campsite.  I had been hurrying to catch the last ferry of the day, and at this point realized that I'd need a ride to catch it.  Two cars passed me by, and with fifteen minutes left I gave up.  As I sat in the road looking at the ferry schedule, a truck offered me a lift and I made my boat with minutes to spare.  

Back in Wakkanai, I set up my tent under the pitched roof which offered shelter for literally dozens of campers, away from wind and rain.  There was a bathroom, fresh water, and public baths nearby.  Unfortunately there was also a skate ramp, but thankfully the boys let up around ten...

On the turntable:   Laurie Anderson, "United States Live"

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