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January 12, 2007

15 meters up

P1010419_1.jpgHiking in Okutama

In our last attempt to get outdoors before I go away, Tomoe and I went to Okutama again this week. The first day we hiked a new trail to an old hut (the same hut we stayed in last time) because it was close enough to Okutama station that we could meet up with the volunteer tree-trimming gang at 9am.

The hike up was nice, the hike down was amazing. Starting at 5 am, seeing the sun rise above the city in the horizon, and passing many beautiful waterfalls (photos not processed yet). We met up with the tree-trimming volunteers and spent the day climbing 15 meters up with nothing but a rope around out waist and the tree to stop us from falling to our death. It was great. We will surely be back.

I wish I could write more, but I have a bus to catch in one hour...

For more info (if you can read Japanese) or photos (if you can't) check out Tomoe's new blog.

P1010322_1.jpgClimbing trees in Okutama

January 08, 2007

Going away soon

Archers in Meji Jingu

By the way, I will be off-line for a few days starting this Friday (Jan 12) until mid Feb. I hope to come back with lots of great photos and experiences that I hope I don't find time to write about! :)

After being off-line for two months in the summer I really enjoyed not being "drawn" to the computer when I returned. I would only log on to blog/email once every other day or so. Recently however, I have started spending *waaaay* to much time in front of the computer again, and not near enough time living.

I have several things lined up to keep me busy after Feb, so hopefully my "wasted-in-front-of-computer"time will be limited even after I get back. Unfortunately, at least some of the 2007 plan won't allow complete withdrawal from the web. I just hope I can get a grip and control it better. With the TV it was easy enough - just get rid of it, but then this web thing came along and getting rid of it is not really an option... yet.

In order to prevent any emergencies that I can't handle (like what happened last time I was away for two months), I will try to remember to turn off comments. I don't suspect that it will effect anyone, since only a few people actually leave comments anyway, but...

The photo above is from Meji-Jingu, nearby Yoyogi park, where we went jogging today in an attempt to simulate the great feeling of trail-running in Okutama a few days ago. I forgot, however, that it was national coming of age day so I was not mentally prepared for the throngs of kimono clad 20-year-olds, and the very unproportionate number of foreign (western) men stalking them with cameras. There were many Japanese people with cameras as well, but it has been a long time since I saw so many white guys in one place.

January 06, 2007

Trail run in Okutama

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I should probably spend more time actually hiking/running and less time sitting at home plotting past hikes and runs on GoogleEarth, but it has been raining all day today, so our plans to go for a half-day trail run were postponed. Last week we did get out though on Wednesday morning. Starting from Musashiitsukaichi station, across Hinode and Mitake, and down to Kori station. I haven't figured out how to find the distance of paths plotted on Google Earth yet, so I don't know exactly how long it was, but a portion of it followed the same path as the Japan Sangaku Taikyu Race, which is a 72km race through Okutama that must be completed in 24 hours. According to this, from our start to Mitake was 14km (we started at the end of the race route, and Mitake is the fourth point from the right - 929m).

I have to say that it did not feel like 14+km - usually I become so bored of running after about an hour. Running in the mountains though is nothing like running in the city. I think I have found a newhobby. Perhaps I will join the race next year.

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If I do, at least I know that there are *many* trails for me to train on without getting bored. I never realized, until this year, how great Okutama is. It is so close to Tokyo, and there are hundreds of trails. It will take several years to cover them all - especially since we have already hiked many of those close to the train stations. To get to the more remote trails takes either an extra day along previously hiked trails, or taking an expensive bus to a different trail-head. Of course, we covered all these (the red trails) after the leaves had fallen, so hiking them again next year will be just like a new experience.

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January 05, 2007

New Year Art

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No I don't spend all my time hiking. I also have been known to practice my painting skills every now and then (usually around new year). Last year I sent a total of three cards. This year I sent a whopping ten.

I have to admit that some of these are (poor) copies of paintings I found in a book. As the new-year deadline drew near, and I found myself increasingly upset with my own work, I decided to make it easy by worrying only about the technique, rather than wasting time on finding an original theme.

I can only hope that people would accuse me of stealing from Chihiro (my watercolor idol) when they view the painting of "Tomoe and Awii" at top. While it is impossible to copy her paintings, I aspire to achieve a style anywhere even close.

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Ironically, my favorite (Year of the Pig) is the only one that is is completely my own... the one that I painted in disgust, when I was just fed-up with my lack of skill - attempting to use up the remaining white space on the page. That one went to my sister.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this whole experience for me, is that I find myself searching for validation from Tomoe's father, who is a professional illustrator. While I send most people one painting each, I have taken photos of all of them to include in the card to Tomoe's parents, together with the original "Tomoe and Awii" painting at the top of this post, along with all the *many* paintings that didn't make the cut. (yes, I spent *many* hours just to get this modest lineup. The only way this "tradition" will continue into next year is if I start painting the cards now... then maybe I will have at least five that I am satisfied with by next January).

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January 03, 2007

Sometimes I get high

Mt Fuji

Sometimes I get high. When I am alone, I wish everyone I know could be there with me to feel the same thing I feel. When I am with someone who is not high, the experience is tainted only by my wish that they could feel what I am feeling. This time it happened on day two.

The first day was less than spectacular and left us wondering if we should just go home the next day. We arrived at Futamatao station at 8am and the sky was already sunny and clear - a "perfect" day. Winter was no where to be found. It was uncharacteristically warm, there was no wind, no rain, no struggle, no drama.

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The first three hours took us past a few shrines and other ancient looking monuments to 902m (2,959ft) in elevation to Mt. Hinode. The view from here explained the multitude of benches (seating for 100?) situated to watch the sunrise/set over metropolitan Tokyo's city-scape.

It takes about 30 minutes From Mt. Hinode to Mitake, a well-worn tourist destination. It is actually a small mountain village (inns and restaurants) centering around a famous shrine, but the only access is either on foot (2.5 hours hike) or a cable car. One can also catch a bus from the train station to the cable car station, ensuring that one need not break a sweat to enjoy nature.

The hike from Mitake to the 1,266m Ohdake (4,m155ft) was the highlight of day 1. A popular area for day hikes from Mitake, there are beautiful waterfalls and steep valleys to hike through, culminating in a beautiful view from Mt. Ohdake, our first siting of Mt. Fuji. While we were struck by its beauty here, the Ohdake view would be all but forgotten when compared to the views that awaited us on days two and three.

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From Ohdake we still had a 3+ hour hike up to the emergency shelter at Mt. Gozen. This leg of the trip was characterized by tiredness and waning interest in hiking. It was not until we reached the hut just before dawn, got ourselves situated, and got dinner started, that the joy of the hike began to return. Perhaps it was because of the large glass wall of the hut which allowed us to watch, from 1,405m (4,609ft) in the comfort and warmth of our own sleeping bags, the lights of Tokyo and Yokohama flicker to life as darkness descended . It felt special to be up there alone (save one other older couple that was sharing the hut that night) and realize just how few people - living their everyday life as one of millions - actually see this.

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While the glass walls provided a great view, they weren't very well insulated, making this a cold hut. I only own a "summer" sleeping bag,unable to justify buying a second winter bag (I have spent many a night sleeping on tiny wind-swept islands in the Baltic sea off the coast of Sweden with that sleeping bag without even a therma-rest between me and my cold stone bed). In an effort to use what existing resources I have, I brought along one of those thin silver sleeping pads to place inside my sleeping bag like a pocket. It was light-weight, it was free, and it worked well - I have never been so warm on sub-zero nights with that sleeping bag. Unfortunately it does not breathe well and I awoke to find myself in a puddle of my own condensation. Still, I was warm and thankful - specially when we awoke to find our water frozen. (The photo above shows Tomoe warming her hands on a nalgene full of fresh-brewed coffee).


Day two was supposed to be a short hike, ending at a hut nearby the 1527m (5,022ft) Mt. Mitoh. The short distance allowed us to linger in the hut and have a leisurely breakfast, watching the sunrise over Tokyo trough the picture window. We did not get on trail until past 9:00, and took our time hiking despite worries that the emergency hut we planned to stay at would be filled as today was the first day of the new-year vacation and most people have the day off. I wassurprised however to reach the hut just before sun-set and find it empty. How can it be that in a city the size of Tokyo, not even one other person would take advantage of their day off to watch the sun-set from a mountain hut - this time with a brilliant view of Mt. Fuji?

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Aside from various views of Fuji, each one closer and better than that before, the actual trail did not seem out of the ordinary. yet, for some reason, I was getting high. It is a feeling that I have had a few times before. Similar to a "runner's high", I suppose, in that I cease to feel any soreness and I feet like I can walk forever, but it is more than that. It also opens my eyes to everything around me. I begin to notice things in ways that I usually miss - sights, smells, the freezing wind on my face. I am struck with the urge to scream and whoop and holler (something that annoys Tomoe sometimes). I can't stop without literally feeling sick from the excitement and realization of where I am.

This feeling followed me for two days. Tomoe, though enjoying the hike, did not appear to have the enthusiasm that I did. It reminded me of an amazing six-day hike in the Pasayten wilderness of northern Washington where I had the same feeling, but one of my companions was having a terrible time. The only thing that kept her going, according to her, was knowing that she would never have to do it again. While she was suffering from 12 hour days with several thousand feet of elevation gain and loss, I was suffering from the knowledge that she, and others in thegroup, were not feeling the amazingness that I was. It sucks to be high alone.

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Anyway, day two ended at an empty hut with a perfect view of Mt. Fuji in the sunset. If only I had brought my heavy tri-pod... After making a water run to a nearby stream, we set up camp inside the hut. This time we set up the tent (which I carry "just in case" we can't make it to a hut) inside the hut to help trap ourbody heat. While we awoke to another frozen water bottle (kept outside the tent), inside the tent it was 7 degrees at 4am - a considerable difference. From now on we use the tent even in the huts.

Fuji From Sasa One (ridge)

Day three was equally as awesome as day two, if not more. We set out in the dark hoping to make it to a nearby peak to watch the first rays of sun striking Fuji.Unfortunately , we arrived too early and the sun was too slow. We got tired (and cold) of waiting so decided to move on. Luckily, the ridge we were walking had fabulous views of Fuji for the entire morning. When the sun did finally peek over the horizon, we were conveniently located at one of many Fuji viewing areas - complete with bench.

Shotou Yama, Guntouri Shrine Oku-no-inShotou Yama, Guntouri Shrine Oku-no-inDSC_1024.jpg

While we didn't make it to our planned end-point (opting to stop at Uenohara instead of Sugamiko), we were thankful for the opportunity to be dumbstruck by the beautiful and steep final section of trail from Mikoku Toge down to the temple and waterfall in the photo above.

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