Monday, December 02, 2013

Fuji, Once Around (The Hills)

The bear prints in the mud betray what may be lurking in the  kumazasa that lines both sides of the trail, grown as tall as I am this late in autumn.  But I don't scan the bushes for any dark, black shadows, as the act of holding up my head takes too much effort.  I'm tired.

This morning at 6:30, when I walked toward my bus, I was still a little drunk.  I don't usually drink to the point of drunkenness, but it is no surprise that I love good beer, and my friend Patrick had introduced me to a brewhouse that served loads of it.  As we downed our pints, I could feel them conspiring against me.  I hadn't eaten much that day, and was quite fatigued from a week long tour.  As fun as guiding can be, I usually don't sleep well.  Going for one last pint had seemed like a good idea at the time, but it proved to be a beer too far.  I found an empty seat in the reserved compartment of an express out of Tokyo, and later, rode as far as Fujiyama Station, my inebriated head bobbing along with those of the handful of men who seem to do this long journey every day.  

A bit of bread and coffee had helped ground me by the time I got off the bus at Hirano.  A year ago, I'd hitched a ride from this intersection, after a 6-day tour over the low peaks that frame Fuji's five lakes.  In fact I'd started not far from a sixth, Tanuki-ko, which lies a short flight away from Shiraito Falls by crow, yet what had proven three tough vertical hours on foot for me.  With Fuji serving the center of a clock's face, Shiraito would be at eight, and Hirano at two.  Sixty-five clockwise kilometers lay between, a distance I'd try to cover in two long days.

It was still quiet this early, Lake Yamanaka visible between B&B's and tennis courts.  I found my trailhead after 20 minutes or so, and began to ascend up a narrow ravine carved out by the feet of pilgrims and hikers.  The trail was covered in leaves ankle deep, and in warmer seasons I'd be thinking of snakes.  But the temps this morning had yet to pass zero, so I figured I was safe until March.  

Before long, I came to a viewpoint, to find a film crew setting up.  A couple of black vans parked nearby had "Patagonia" written on their sides.  The day was incredibly clear.  I considered this a reward for my head start.  Fuji loomed majestically on the left, and the crisp blue of Lake Yamanaka offset the brilliance of the snow capped South Alps further out.  The moon too lingered in the sky as if wanting a little more time with this million dollar view.  Myself similarly sated, I pushed upward into the kumazasa.

The top of this mound, Mt. Myojin, is completely bald and a good place for a long rest.  The sign pointing south tells me it is only 20 minutes to Mt. Mikuni, but nearly an hour passes before I arrive at the top, puffing and sweat drenched. As I attempt to catch my breath, I am beset upon by a handful of elderly hikers who ask their usual questions.  We have a pleasant chat before they leave me to my chocolate and the quiet.

I pass them not long after, as I make good time along this flat part of the ridge.  A bit too quick perhaps, as I surprise something large and grey which races through my eyeline and down the ridge.  A deer, based on the way it moved, but the coloring and size suggest a frighteningly large boar.  Yet the day is too nice to ruin with worry, and I move onward beneath the beautiful buna, shorn of all leaf. 

The ridgeline rises and falls over four peaks.  Each climb takes considerable effort, and I wish each time that I had slept more and had drank less.  Atop the last of the peaks I find a sign pointing to an overlook, which I find to be covered by 30 hikers quietly eating their lunch.  They are a friendly hiking club, one member seeming convinced I'm German.  After they leave, I spend a long time here, Fuji sitting just before me.  She tells me stories as I have my lunch.

Then downward, downward.  Toward the bottom, the trail is well cared for, with woodchips lining the earth.  I step from these onto the narrow streets bisecting holiday homes.  Something, the color of the sky perhaps, makes me sing the lyrics to "Tangled Up in Blue" as I follow the hilly roads down to the trailhead for the Subashiri Route.  Here, as at the start of all of Fuji's  trailheads, stands an Asama Shrine.  This one is pretty elaborate, with lots of little stones and stele nestled amidst the cobweb of little paths through the forested grounds.  In one small afterthought of a building, there's even a video about Fuji's World Heritage status.   

When I leave the shrine I find myself in Gotemba's outer suburbs.  As such, the next stretch is not a particularly interesting walk, skirting as it does a military base.  This entire eastern face of Fuji seems to be covered by a chain of bases, on land isolated enough on which to train, yet strategically close to Tokyo.  For the rest of the day, the majority of vehicles that pass are of the same drab shade of green.  As a kind of counterpoint, I find a racetrack, with men wheeling through figure eights and gunning along the straightaways in colorful vehicles not much larger than bumper cars.  I watch them awhile, then leave the main road.  

Gravel crunches beneath my steps as I move quietly through the trees.  The only traffic through here are trucks,  either the military variety, or else dump trucks toting earth somewhere.  I could be in Alaska here.  Midway along I pass a massive works project, which a guardman tells me will be a dam.  But there is simply no water anywhere in sight. 

I make an abrupt left and am back in suburbs, these a little nicer that the last set.  It actually looks a pleasant place to live, with little veggie plots, rustic country architecture, and as always, the mountain looming above.  I'm completely reliant on my GPS through here, zigzagging as I am.  I'm pleased that the plotted course also takes me along dirt paths through sections of forest, rather than sticking simply to the roads.  And I know I'm moving away from the bases when I see traces of the old ways again:   Jizo and stone markers; bamboo groves and tea bushes.  The stones help me imagine centuries of men being drawn toward Fuji like it's a beacon.  

Yet I am different, a man of my own times, being led away from the mountain -- and from the sacred -- by the latest in handheld technology.  

On the turntable:  Rolling Stones, "Let It Bleed"
On the nighttable:  Sarah Bird,  "The Yokota Officer's Club"


PM said...

Thursday, one o f my longer days, was a bit rough for me as well. It looks like you still managed to have a good outing.

wes said...

I wonder if that grey creature could have been a kamoshika instead of a deer or inoshishi?

Zacky Chan said...

It's been so long since I've been around Fuji. I'm still keeping my eyes out for inoshishi all the time.

I just found your comment on my blog about trying to send me an email and I haven't received any! Maybe you could try one more time to and I'll check my spam folder in case it comes through. I've tried to send you emails before through your blog ... could you just write me your email and I can try to send it from my hotmail? Let me know! I'll check this comment again in the near future in case you reply.

ted said...

Pat, yeah, I knew you had an early start, and wondered how you fared.

Wes, I thought so too, but it moved pretty fast. Kamoshika usually move with the speed of a stoner.

Zack, I thought not. I've answered all the mails you've sent, and found it pretty weird that you didn't reply. Your comments here always find their way to the spam filter.