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Minami Alps Day 1: Close Encounters

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As I stopped my hand instinctively reached for the whistle hanging at my chest, but I hesitated.

Just 20 meters up the trail, over a small hill, the screams continued and my mind raced to connect their chilling echo to something, anything, I have heard in the past - some clue or point of reference to orient my panic.

Nothing. These screams were like nothing I had ever heard before. Without help from my memory, my mind turned to imagining what it could be...

VERY angry monkeys? VERY angry wild boars? VERY angry monkeys fighting VERY angry wild boars? Or, perhaps, a monkey or boar being eaten by a VERY hungry bear.

Just two hours into my hike it was too early to turn back. I had no choice but to pass by, hoping that the beasts were too engrosed in whatever evil ritual they were performing to notice me.

I almost blew the whistle - which I keep around my chest for when I am walking through bear country - but curiosity got the better of me. I had to see what it was.

I approached the top of the hill quietly, waiting until the very last moment to blow - ever so slightly - on the whistle, giving the beasts enough time to flee, but not so much that I might not catch a fleeting glimpse at them.

As soon as I blew the whistle the screeching stopped. I waited three seconds, took a breath and, armed only with a fist sized rock and my fourth-grade old little-league pitching skills (although I played right field), I cautiously charged over the hill.

It was like a scene from Planet of the Apes (the remake). You know, the scene where hundreds of apes are all running and leaping into battle... except this time there were only little monkeys (though probably big enough to tear my arm off) and there were only about ten of them - all running (well, more like walking actually) into the forest. One passed within ten meters of me without so much as a glance.

I stood there clutching the rock and wishing I had not packed my camera away (for fear that they might steal it).

Soon, the monkeys were gone and I continued on my way, climbing the foggy autumn forest to my first camp at the Hokora unmanned hut.

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Before the monkey incident I was regretting my decision to start from Minami-Alps City. The reason I started here was because it was the best place I could find where a camp site was accessible by foot from the bus from Shinjyuku before dark. Of course, this camp is on a small mountain that is not really connected with the larger mountains I aimed to spend most of my time in. The plan called for me to climb up the first day, camp, then climb back down to a road and climb up again into the "real" mountains. (I could have paid more money to take a bus directly to the enterence tp the "big" mountains.)

The first hour and a half I was walking in ugly forest filled with plastic bags, beer cans, and cut and abandoned tree limbs. even the beautiful fog was not thick enough to hide human impact.

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After a while however, the garbage dissapeared and the forest grew more dense and "natural" looking. At one point, I came across frogs as big as my foot lounging on the trail. As I approached, they would scramble to get out of my way - often opting to launch themselves over the cliff (only about five meters) on the outside edge of the trail. Unlike cats, these frogs almost always seemed to land on their backs.

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While the map indicated that the hike would take five hours, I arrived at the hut in just over two, encountering two wild-boars along the way (it was reassuring to know that even if I get lost I would not go hungry). The map also indicated a water source, which had a sign saying "drinkable", yet was nothing more than a mountain stream coming from the same forest filled with angry (peeing) monkeys and boars. I boiled my water.

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The hut was almost brand new and a welcome treat as the fog grew heavier and turned to rain just as I arrived. At least my tent would stay dry one more night.

I couldn't have planned a better first day.

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I deviated slightly from the original plan by getting off one stop earlier and saving 200 yen. This is the route I took for Day 1.

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Comments

Wow, great post. Your photos are absolutely beautiful. Looking forward to more.

Your blog keeps getting better and better. Your doing all the things i hope to do once i'm out of school.

I have a question though. How does that little hut work? Do you pay to stay there? How did you find out about it? Please respond via e-mail.

Thanks-Curtis

That’s relaly shrewd! Good to see the logic set out so well.

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