Mountains are calling and I must go.
That’s a famous quote by John Muir.
But what if you can’t see who’s calling you? What if you go all the way up to 2077m and see nothing? Is visibility, scenery, view from the top so important? Is walking in the unknown so scary? Or you just trust your gut feeling and trust the mountain you are going to climb?
This is a story of a mountain who is said to be shy by the locals, seldom shows itself. Always hiding in the cloud of volcanic gas. This is a story of magnificent Tokachi-dake. Tokachidake is an active volcano in Hokkaido. The last eruption was in 1988. After checking whether it is safe to climb or not, we packed our bags and went to a campsite just below the mountain. Hakuginso Campground. There is nothing more comfortable than a clean Campground with necessary facilities. And if Onsen at a walkable distance it’s a blessing. Onsen is a hot spring bathing facility. Because of the volcanic activities Japan has many Onsen. Two major mountains can be done from Hakuginso Campsite. Tokachi, which has very little foliage and Furano, which just bursts in different colored mountain flowers in summer. Both of these are covered with snow and if you enjoy snow unlike me, best time to visit is winter. This is truly Japan’s powder backcountry.
Despite of hearing about the flowers on Furano we were determined to do Tokachi which is highest in that volcanic group and also is one of the 100 famous mountains. When you aim to climb a tall mountain the hidden motive is the view from the top. Little did we know, we are not the ones to decide the weather on the mountain. Especially in case of this one.
That day we reached the campsite at four in the afternoon. Weather was alright but we were yet to see the peak. On the website of the campsite we could find few pictures of Tokachi taken from there. But in reality it was just smoke and fog in that direction. After visiting Hakuginso Onsen and having early dinner we called it a day. Around midnight it started raining. Although stopped by the morning, few people advised not to climb. We visited near by lavender fields instead and enjoyed another wild Onsen. Came back to the campsite, still no sign of the mountain. When we checked the weather forecast it was going to be cloudy next day. Better than rain we thought! Woke up early and geared up for the hike.
Before the hike I was sitting alone on the near by bench.. Thinking about the famous ‘Because it’s there!’ and my mind started wondering ‘Is it even there!’ and almost like a film, wind blew away the clouds and I could see the handsome peak. The mountain is barren so path was visible even from that distance. Top was still hidden. I rushed to get my camera, by the time I came back he had disappeared again.. that was the only time I got to see Tokachi. Failing to click a picture, I was disappointed but the impression he left in my mind is still fresh. Just for a moment, indeed a bashful one I thought!
The hike stared and we were greeted with beautiful green forest. We crossed a small river and started gaining elevation. At a distance we could see the emergency hut, just in case Tokachi decides to wake up. Till the hut hike was easy. But above us we could see a volcanic cloud. Are we really going to enter that!! This thought came in my mind several times. Took a small break in the hut and started the climb again. Just after few meters we noticed the visibility was getting worse. Smell of sulfur was strong and guess what, it was drizzling.. decided to go ahead anyway.. as we reached near the vents I couldn’t see my friend who was walking just ten steps ahead of me. Path was slippery with wet ash. The drizzle drenched my backpack and made it a little heavier. The path became narrow suddenly. When looked on the left, I could see the part of mountain was collapsed. This was during the 1926 eruption. When a snow covered volcano is erupted, the snow melts creating a muddy flow of derbies called ‘lahar’. The unfortunate disaster caused a massive damage to the town below. On my right there was a valley and on left this! From here snow surrounded the path. Fortunately path itself was comparatively dry. It was pretty chilly due to rain.
I continued to climb and so many thoughts started rushing. I was remembering Kyuya Fukuda’s essay. He was the mountaineer who chose 100 famous mountains of Japan. He wrote an essay about each. He must have climbed the exact same path I thought.. he had stated that from one point there are few big rocks and you reach the summit. We did reach the rocks but even after climbing few we did not reach the summit. I called my friend, no answer. I badly needed a break. 6 hours of walking in smoke and rain I was tired mentally. Sat down on one of the rocks and started feeling ‘it is impossible to do even one more slippery cold rock! My clothes were totally drenched by now and all I was thinking was how amazing it felt in the Onsen yesterday’. I heard someone saying something and the line of thoughts broke. That was the man we had met in the hut. He asked me what am I doing here and with dramatic expressions I said, ‘I just can’t’ he gave me a strange look and said ‘just two steps away from here!’ I felt a little stupid, quickly picked up my bag and climbed the last rock. There it was.. the summit! After having a rice ball and some ice cold water we started climbing down. There is something interesting about descending from a mountain. You know what’s coming. You are literally walking on your own footprints.
After the hike we hit the Onsen and the strain and fatigue just melted in the warm water. I was trying to make a whole picture now, the muddy path, then the small slippery rocks, collapsed side of the cliff and the summit which was just two steps away. Hiking teaches you lot of things, and I guess whenever I will decide to give up or be lazy Tokachi will be remembered.
Hope you enjoyed my story. For more, visit my blog once in a while and leave a comment to encourage me for writing more