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February 28, 2007

Healthy Obsessions

Hiking Over Okutama Dam

What started out as a healthy obsession to "hike more than I work" has turned into an even healthier obsession to "hike every trail in Okutama". This weekend (top map) we got a few kilometers closer to achieving that goal (bottom map).

Feb Two Days in OkutamaHiked Trails in Okutama

One of the main to-dos on my list after 40 days away was to get out hiking with Tomoe. We had hoped for four days, but nothing ever goes as planned and when we finally left we were anticipating only three days. We knew we were out of shape, but didn't know to what extent until day one. Dang were we out of shape! Despite being on an outdoor educators course for forty days, I found myself getting *way* less exercise than while at home. This, combined with a late night of preparation and a 4:30 wake-up to catch the early train, left us beat.

Resting in OkutamaWorn out

As we have already hiked most of the trails near the station, we decided that day one would have some of-trail elements. We soon learned however, that anyplace in Okutama that is not listed on the "official trail map", yet is remotely accessible with a compass and topo-map, already has an unofficial trail. No matter where we went there would at least be signs indicating the right direction. Where is the fun in that?

I think we're lost

So we hiked up a clearly marked non-existent trail to Takanosu emergency shelter where we saw our first human of the trip. (two actually). They appeared to be university "mountaineering club" members out for some winter hiking training. They had the winter tent, the crampons, the gators, the ice-axe, and they were even cooking with water from melted snow.Unfortunately , the only snow to be found was a dirty patch on the south side of the hut. Later the next day when we encountered a three meterlength of ice in a river-bed/trail, we hoped that they would be coming in the same direction so they could at least put on their crampons and practice their self-arrest with ice-axe.

The night was warmer than those January nights before I left. We probably didn't even need to set up the tent in the hut. But then again, maybe I just *think* it was warm because I am comparing it to the -15 nights a few weeks ago in Japan's alps. Thebiggest problem this night was not the cold, but rather tomoe's hay fever. We woke up (she woke me up) many times during the night - once at 2am when she said "can we just get up now?" I relented but, after having prepared myself for the very early day, found her once again fast asleep.

The actual wake-up time was 4:45 and we were on trail by 6:00.

Highlights of the second (eleven hour) day included an off-trail adventure that required descending a very-almost-vertical slope, crossing the Okutama dam, a long walk back up and down Gozen-yama covering new trail, and finding a great place to pitch a tent next fall among hundreds of chest-nut trees. If we spend an entire day gathering nuts, and bring a big back-pack to carry them home, we should be able to get a years worth.

OkutamaOkutamaTomoe in Okutama

February 25, 2007

Nagai toneru o nukeru to, yukiguni de wa nakatta.


When I was a kid I used to go to bed on snowy nights and have dreams that when I awoke the snow would be up to the roof of the house (school would be canceled of course) and the only way to get out to play would be to tunnel to a friend's house.

I'm back from 40 days in Japan's yukiguni (snow country) - the area at the border of Nagano and Nigata which is said to be one of the snowiest regions in the world. Everyone I met took great delight in relating how last year the snow was above the first-floor windows of the village homes. Indeed, last year was a record year for snowfall. This year was a record year for snow-less-ness.

I knew the snow would be less than hoped for when I arrived in mid-January, but I was filled with hope that it would soon become the winter wonderland I had come to expect. In anticipation I brought along my copy of Yasunari Kawabata's Yukiguni to re-read on those long, cold winter nights in a snow-cave.

Camp At Akadakekosen

The big snow never really came. In fact, a few days after I arrived it began to rain and several of our planned hikes and climbs were postponed in the hopes that snow would fall soon. It did fall once, and we took advantage of the fresh snow before it rained again toward the end of the course, resulting in a wonderful day of back-country skiing in the rain.

Don't get me wrong. There *was* enough snow to do most of what we had planned - waist deep trudging through snow in kanjiki (traditional Japanese snow-shoes), sleeping in snow-caves dug three meters deep, and back-country skiing in powder deeper than I have ever experienced on Michigan's 500ft slopes. Still, by the time I participated in the village Snow Festival, there was little more than a layer of slush on the ground, and by the time I left Nagano a few days ago, the lower elevation mountains were bare.

I am scheduled to go back in March to help out with a winter hiking course for a group of students from an international high-school in Hong Kong. With luck there will be snow at the higher elevations (nearby Shirouma-dake).


February 24, 2007

I Have Returned

View From Akadakekosen
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