Friday, January 04, 2013

Nippon Extremeties: Hokkaido XI

August 16, 1997

Woke up late, hoping that the sun was well up and had already made everything warm.  Unfortunately, yesterday's cloud layer had risen over the tableland, so everything was dark and cold.

After a heavy breakfast I set out, basically a hike spent going over grassy ridges and dropping into meadows filled with wildflowers.  In one spot, stones rose eerily from a small pond, creating a medieval and somewhat evil feel.  The trail became quite steep, then led to a small clearing at the top.  I sat here awhile and ate jerky.  It was a blissful day.   Aside from passing Kazu earlier, I hadn't seen anyone else.  I didn't even see any animals, though there were many traces of bear in scraped rocks, partially eaten food, and in one case, four neat holes beside a stone, as if it had turned underfoot.  

Just below the summit, the sun finally broke through, so I stopped and rolled around happily in a meadow.  As I was looking for the trail down, the clouds parted even more, revealing a higher peak, and I realized that this wasn't the true summit.  I crossed yet another steep, crumbly volcanic ridge, then climbed.  Near the top, I lost the trail, so began to free climb, the weight of my pack threatening to pull me backward and over the void.  It was hard to get good grips, as two out of every three rocks broke away in my hand, but just enough were sound enough to help me scramble to the top.  In all seriousness, I truly ought to be dead now, rather than calmly writing this.  So it was that I sat on the peak a long while, too freaked out to do much else.  

My ability to find the trail down proved another source of frustration.  As I hadn't come up the true trail, I wasn't sure where it descended.  I simply stood there looking around, into thick cloud that revealed nothing.  Then, the clouds opened in a wink, and on the ridge below I could see my shadow.  For some strange reason, there was a ring like halo around my head.  I'd heard about the Brocken spectre, but this was the first time I'd experienced it.  Ironically, it led me to what was the most logical place to descend, and so, in a profoundly metaphoric moment of zen, I moved toward myself in order to find the true path.  Some mysterious portent?  Who knows, but I pondered the metaphysical for most of my descent through a gully filled with dusty rocks and gnarled grey trees.  At one point, I worked my way down an unreliable and melting snowbank, frightened of breaking through and shattering bones in a fall onto boulders three meters below. 

Finally the trail reentered the forest, leading eventually to a desolate area of steaming sulphur beds.  Sitting here, the clouds fully broke for the first time all day, revealing a tremendous seascape.   I had this in front of me as I worked my way down to the road below.

Near the trailhead was a scenic overlook with just enough space between the guard rail and the cliff's edge for me to pitch my tent.  Afterwards, I walked down the road for a kilometer in order to enjoy a hot shower beneath a waterfall whose waters were heated by the volcanoes above.   There was steam rising higher up the gorge, and I scrambled naked over the rocks until they became too steep, figuring then that I'd had more than enough for one day.  Sliding down, I scared the hell out of a young guy with this sight of a wild-eyed, wild-haired, naked Tarzan.

Feeling a bit refreshed, I walked back in the dark to my tent.  The moon was expected to rise full, and the night was clear enough that I decided not to use my flashlight.  When I was about 30 yards from my tent, I heard a thrashing up in the trees on a hill across the road, and I looked up to see a large bear silhouetted against the sky.  I was terrified, of course, but kept a steady pace until I was in my tent.  I sat in the center in my sleeping bag, hugging my knees, straining to listen.  Then it was right beside me.  Somehow it had climbed down the hill, crossed the gravel road, and climbed over the metal guardrail before I heard it sniffing at the side of my tent.  To move that far, that silently, was an act of incredible grace and nimbleness.  It circled to the front of the tent, and at one point, I could see the shape of its nose pressed against the nylon.  It lingered awhile at the tent's mouth, most likely smelling my hiking boots, wet and dirty after a two day slog over sodden ground.  Then, I heard another thrashing.  It had fallen off the cliff!  I sat for awhile still freaked, then began to get ready for bed.  It was only 19:30, but I didn't want to go outside to eat.  I didn't even want to go outside to pee, so I wasted a good water bottle.

As I was lying down, I heard some footsteps in the gravel, and that sniffing sound again.  The bear was back.  It hung around for a little while, and this time rather than being scared, I was a bit annoyed, completely exhausted but unable to go to bed.  I turned on my flashlight and swung it around awhile until the noises stopped.  But around ten minutes later, the bear was back again, so I reached into my pack for my bear bell and started ringing it wildly until I heard the bear tear off into the woods again.  It was a long awhile until my heart slowed enough for me to sleep...

Memory is funny in how much it is like a game of telephone.  It's curious how this journal entry from 1997 has morphed over the years into the version I told at The Flame event fifteen years later: 

On the turntable;  Meat Beat Manifesto, "Original Fire"

No comments: