Minami Alps Day 2: Explosive Diarrhea Mud Slides
Sometimes things don't go as planned, and when that happens, we find ourselves eating off the out-house floor.
- Cameron Family Traditional Wisdom
I awoke feeling energized and refreshed (this may also be due to the fact that the previous days hike was only just over three hours) despite haunting dreams concerning a portion of the trail marked only as "difficult". It wasn't that I was afraid of the difficulty, but more the fact that none of the local maps hanging on the hut wall or at the trail head indicated that such a trail even existed.
I wanted an early start just to be sure I make it to my planned destination and so I bid farewell to the hut before sunrise. The off and on rain seemed to be inching toward "off" and I started off making excellent time, consistently beating the "average" times marked on the map. Then I came to the "difficult" trail. From far away I could see a sign post with a arrow shaped board pointing down the backside of the mountain - the direction I wanted to go. As I got closer however, I realized that the sign was covered up with another board purposefully nailed over top, covering any mention of my desired destination.
There was a slight trail which I followed for about twenty meters before it began to fade. Thirty meters... I think I am still on trail. Forty meters... What trail? Apparently "difficult" on the map does not mean "rugged terrain" or "steep". It means "No trail exists".
I decided to assess the situation.
- Although I have a general idea of where the trail goes, if I am off in my direction by even a few degrees to the left, I would completely miss the road I am aiming for, and I would end up deep in a valley, possibly hours of course.
- Even though the massive Kita-dake is looming behind me, the fog prevents me from seeing it, or anything else that would allow me to triangulate my location if I end up lost, and the map is not detailed enough to use smaller, closer features.
- Turning back is not really an option because this trail is the only connection to the "real" mountains I was hoping to enter.
On the other hand...
- I have shelter.
- I have six days (or more) worth of food.
- So long as I err to my right, I will eventually run into the road.
- I am uninjured.
- Given all this, getting "lost" would actually be more of an adventure to savor than something to fear.
The choice was obvious. I decided my best bet was to follow the right-most ridge, keeping (what I believed to be) Maru-yama in sight on my right. I spent about thirty minutes of pretty random wandering, using my digital camera as a "photographic memory" of distinctive trees and rocks every thirty meters or so in case I want to backtrack (I had lost sight of Maruyama after only five minutes). Soon, I ran across a sign with an arrow and the name of my destination. A littler later I came across another sign, and still further ahead... what's this? A red ribbon on the tree, presumably marking the trail!
Before long I am happily following red ribbons until - you guessed it - the ribbons stop. Despite a desire to keep going in the direction the ribbons seemed to have been taking me, I decided to once again hug the ridge to my right.
Once again, I brilliant plan. While I still don't know how I saw it, there was, hanging tattered from a thin branch in the corner of my eye, not a red ribbon, but a weathered, old, thin clear plastic ribbon. Yes, CLEAR plastic to mark the path.
This is where my plans for the day fell apart. I had long since become disoriented as to where I was on the mountain and in relation to the road, and my only indication of the "correct" direction was almost impossible to see. I would search for five minutes or more sometimes for the next clear plastic ribbon, turning what should have been a one-and-a-half hour section of trail into four hour ordeal of searching and backtracking.
It was great!
A word of advice to anyone who may happen to find themselves on this trail - There was always a "next" ribbon within ten meters of the last. If you don't see any, you are not on trail. Go back to the last one you did see and look again.
I had set a turn back time of noon - thinking that if I had not hit the road by then, I was probably off course and could still make it back to the previous hut and a stream for water. The slope grew steeper and I found myself sliding down more frequently in the loose mud, raising fears of starting a land-slide (the signs of previous landslides were all around me, and the day before I saw a sign similar to the photo below depicting the various types of landslides in Japan - the vomit-slide, cry-slide, booger-slide, and explosive diarrhea-slide). I realized that I might not be able to make it back up in the five hours before nightfall.
Luckily, just as I was considering changing the turn-around time to "now", I began to see more trash - beautiful beer cans and plastic grocery bags. Within thirty minutes I was walking up a curvy road, passed several times by empty buses capable of taking people from the train station to the trailhead in under one hour.
By now, my whole schedule was shot. I would never make it to the intended hut by nightfall, so by 3:00 I had arrived at the furthest reachable hut just as the rain started to pick up.
This time, however, the hut was locked up tight. Not wanting to cook and eat in my little tent, I decided to set up temporary camp under the only roof available - the outhouse. I quickly grew accustomed to the odor (which was actually caused by foul-smelling air freshener), and spread out on the spacious floor to wait for the rain to stop as I ate my noodles cooked in water collected from the nasty roof, strained through a nasty bandanna which someone had long ago fastened to the end of the gutter.
The rain stopped and the fog thinned out just enough to see the glow of the sun disappear behind the mountains. I set up my tent alone in the camp. So far I have seen no humans but for the bus drivers who passed me on the road.
The forecast called for clear skies for the next few days.
Life was good.
As I mentioned, I didn't make it as far as I had originally planned. The actual day two hike went like this: