Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Peeks on Danger

While this website is littered with writings about walks of the old roads, I don’t write about my hikes very often. Mainly because a good number of my friends with links over there in the left column do it very well and are far better sources of information than I.  But I will make an exception for Minagoyama.

As the coronavirus has relieved me of the ability to work, I decided to drive out of town and do two hikes a week, on days with the best weather.  It felt like the right time to hike peaks listed on the Kansai Hyakumeizan, and the Kinki Hyakumeizan.  As there is a fair bit of overlap between the two, some friends have come to calling it the Kinkan 132.  Minagoyama is on both lists.

Like with many other peaks, I chose a circuitous route, parking near the end and walking up the road to the adjacent trailhead.  This usually adds a 20-30 minute slog up a road, so I try to get that out of the way first.  At any rate, traffic is pretty light these days.  

On this day,  I followed the same stretch of Route 367 as when I walked the Saba (Wakasa) Kaido, weaving along the older route to avoid tunnels.  Luckily this time was without slushy snow.  One family had set up a day camp beside the river, and a number of fisherman had staked for themselves large sections of water.  

When I reached the trailhead, I found it barricaded and closed off.  I just presumed as I usually do that's it's a bit of overreaction on the part of the local township, in response to one of the many storms we've had the past few years. Besides, an online resource showed that someone had done this exact route a few weeks before. It wasn't hard to get over the barrier, and up the old forestry road I went.    

But I should have taken a hint from all the tumbled hillsides, or from all the fallen trees.  The road eventually ended, and my path became a series of rock hops across slick boulders in lieu of where bridges once stood.   More serious were the land slips.  Where repaired trails have added ropes or alternate routes around these hazards, here I had little choice but to scramble around, grabbing footholds where I could.  Most of the time I wasn't that high above the river, but a few sections were pretty dicey.  Worst was the lack of trail markers, save for the odd piece of tape here and there.  Many of these were on the ground tied to a fallen tree, so I found myself facing a pop quiz on navigation skills.  

As I went, I pondered why there were so many fallen trees.  Through history, has this always been the case?  I don't recall this many alterations in hiking routes during the first twenty years of living in Japan.  Was it due to increasingly powerful storms?  Or perhaps that this neglected cedar monoculture had been allowed to grow to such a height that the soil could no longer support their weight, causing them to topple by the dozen in high winds.  

Not long after coming to a large Japanese horse chestnut tree, my path made an abrupt right angle  This trail is notoriously difficult, mainly because the final approach to the peak is literally straight up the gully at stream's end.  I grew weary of scrambling from rock to rock, and from treading over debris patches that would have made sound little nests for the vipers no doubt enjoying the same sunshine as I.  The slope to the left looked a bit kinder, so I diverted along what looked like the most user-friendly path.  This would subtley shift every dozen steps or so, as my eyes got a better sense of the lay-out.  Before long, I was literally hurling myself upward from tree to tree, in order to arrest gravity's pull back into the ravine.  

Then I was on the top.   For a few minutes, I was the highest thing in Kyoto prefecture.  Then I sat with my lunch and my guidebook, and rolled my eyes when I noted that today's hike was rated the most dangerous out of the 52 within.  And that was when the trail had been open.  

I began the descent, finding some relief in the fact that I was now on well-used trails.  But this mountain must be one of the most poorly marked in Japan.  I had a choice of three trails down, one of which I wanted to avoid since the map showed hazard marks.  It took some doing, but I found my intended trail, a steep drop that required me to use my trekking poles.

At some point the Yamap app that I was using showed that I had to make another 90 degree turn down into the next watershed.  There was no trail at all, and the pitch was so steep I could no longer remain on my feet.  I slid like a baseball player from tree to tree, leg extended in order to brake on the trunks.  

Finally I hit the stream, and in my growing fatigue was slightly annoyed that I'd have to rock hop again.  Here too storms had left sections in shambles, where I'd have to navigate over big drops down into the ravine.  At one point, I stopped cold.  Partly buried in the brush of a landslip were a pair of trekking poles with points facing up the hill, beside a hat and a half empty bottle of tea.  Somebody had taken a very hard fall here.  It looked like it had happened long before, but I called out, "Oi, Oi!" a few times just in case someone was still around.  I tried to peer down into the stream below, but I couldn't see too well from where I was precariously perched, and to get any closer would put myself at risk.  

I pushed on.  At some point the trail leveled off, near an old shack that was half collapsed back into the forest.  Finally, I reached the end of my descent, beside a wide, fast-moving river.  The bridge I had expected was gone, but I had one final water-crossing to make, moving through waters that pulled strongly at my calves.  

Climbing up the far bank, I sat awhile beside the logging road that would lead me easily back to my car.  There was joy in this final half hour, having come through what I considered an ordeal.  

But the hike was not finsihed with me.  Later that day I discussed with Wes my next intended hike of Minetoko-yama, who cautioned me about its beautiful meadow that was notorious for bears.  And as such, the night before going, I slept poorly, bullied by fear.  The high winds of morning gave me the excuse to put off the hike, which brought relief.  Then a week later, the same situation.  I'd awoken at 4:30, and while I'd decided not to go on this day either, over breakfast I essentially said, "Screw it," and just went.  And had an excellent day.

But I often ponder why I left Minagoyama feeling as I did.  I believe that the tracing of two watersheds, not to mention the tree scrambling on the slopes themselves, had triggered a PTSD of sorts, resuscitating the muscle memory of that near-fatal night on Jyatani-dake.  For the last decade, I've grown more and more afraid of the backcountry, with the ever-present possibility of peril.  I don't know if this is part of aging, or a subconscious concern about orphaning my daughter, or (most likely), a larger case of PTSD from the death of my son in the mountains.   But the fear is with me much more than before.  

So it is that I'll leave the house in the morning, with a furrowed brow.  Yet I inevitably seem to return with a broad smile.  

On the turntable:  Miles Davis, "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991"    


Oliver said...

Very nice piece
I hope your future expeditions will be less stressful

Unknown said...

Ah, good old Minago. It's a rough one. I get those same pre-hike feelings these days. I put mine down to 'old age' and, especially in summer, a bit of South Alps storm trauma.