The whole of July was rainy in the Japanese Alps, except for just a few rare days. I was lucky to be there on such a day at the end of the month, aiming for the most classic of the alpine classics in the Kamikouchi area, the North ridge of the Maehotakadake.
We were looking forward to this route a lot with Asahi “Rebouffat”, but then Nakahashi-kun and Suginaka-kun came to ask us to take them along. And foolishly we did. They are great guys, no doubt about that. Funny to hang around with, both of them with good level of fittness and lots of experience in the outdoors, but neither of them has done any much climbing. We knew that and thus the blame for this failed attempt lies solely on us. But there is no reason to be dramatic. Nothing special happened, which is also part of the reason I didn’t post anything earlier.
We started in Kamikouchi, ascended the Panorama course up to the beginning of the North ridge and climbed it from there over the Peak 8 and 7 to the col before Peak 6. This is the bushy section of the climb, most of the time non technical, consisting of breaking the way through thick haimatsu with occasional scrambling over not difficult rocks. I enjoyed it. Every other rocky section was making me more and more excited. But it was also making us slower and slower. I was leading the way, setting the rope where necessary, while Rebouffat was explaining the other two how to ascend it.
I knew it is not good. If they are nervous on these scrambling parts, how could we possibly take them to the exposed, climbing ones higher up between the Peak 4 and 1. And so my excitement was cooled down fast when we arrived at the 7,6 col. The Roppou (Peak 6) was thrusting up in front of us in a violent and sharp line to the sky. It made us wonder why most of the climbing parties skip this part and climb up to the 5,6 col from Karasawa below. Why nobody mentions this? Is it because of some hidden severities there? Looking at the wild crest rising from the col, I had my doubts.
“This is full fat alpine climbing”, said Rebouffat. “I didn’t expect anything like this today.”
Sure, we thought the first day will be mostly non technical, all the way to the 5,6 col. But now it was 4 o’clock and scaling this would probably take us quite some time.
“We are not ready for this”, said Nakahashi-kun. “Sorry Maiku!”
I was battling the wish to go on by myself and let them descend to Karasawa. I was burning to go. But at the same time I knew I am inexperienced and had my doubts about the risk and safety of such a decision. Rebouffat was the most experienced of us and I knew he would not leave the two. For him it was still just going to have some adventure with friends. For me it was the route that mattered and partners were there just to elevate safety of the whole undertaking. In my heart I know I am a solo climber.
All their eyes looking up at me, I could see them filled with worry. Fuck it, I thought.
“I am going down with you. The mountain won’t run away”, I said.
The night at Karasawa was very peaceful. My friends stuffed themselves in a two person tent, while I was laying outside on the snow in my bivvy bag. The sky was full of stars, I could see the Milky way and the black silhouette of the Kita one clearly cut against it.
By 2 o’clock I was back on my feet and slowly getting ready to move on.
“If you come with me up Okuhotaka, you can still easily make it down to Kamikouchi through Dakesawa for the bus today”, I said to Rebouffat.
“No”, he replied. “We will just go down today.”
I couldn’t comprehend such a decision. The sky is clear, the weather forecast for the day is sunny for the first time in a month. And yet there is someone who let go of such a chance. Each to his own, but we are simply different., I thought.
The sunrise was spectacular. See it many times and it doesn’t fail to amaze me over and over again.
I was pretty much alone on the top of Okuhotakadake, the third highest peak in Japan. The weather was flawless. Clear visibility all over the Alps down to Mount Fuji on one side and Mount Haku on the other. From all the mountains I have climbed in Japan, this view I love the most.
In the morning cool breeze, under the golden light of the still young sun, I started the walk in the sky towards the Gendarme. I always wanted to do this route, probably the most feared of the normal routes in the Alps.
The knife ridges around the notorious Umanose were transcending the border between heaven and earth. People say it is dangerous and hard place. I felt it was liberating and completely safe.
On the way to the Gendarme I keep looking for my own ways, resolved never to touch any chain or ladder on the trail. I am climbing at leisure pace, not in haste anywhere. This is not an adventure, this is just pure pleasure.
The top of Gendarme sees me by 7.20 in the morning. The words of George Mallory keep resonating in my head.
“Is this the summit crowning the day? How cool and how quiet. Have we vanquished an enemy, none but ourselves.”
The Okuho-Nishiho ridge is a long one, climbing up and down over many peaks lined up between these two mountains. Enjoying the route as much as I did, I felt happy when I finally reached the Nishihotaka summit. At last I got to the place I couldn’t reach in January because of insufficient time.
The same day I made it down to Kamikouchi and spent there one more night sheltered by roof of a pergola built on a small meadow. It was a bad night. Heavy rain was constantly eating off my piece of dry space under the roof and the whole place was swarming with mosquitoes, spiders and various kinds of pretty scary insects of huge sizes. I was zipped to my chin in my waterproof set to prevent the bites, but it was too warm to sleep in the sleeping bag and so I was just sitting there and watching the night and the rains pass by. Until the tiredness of the long days and two more or less sleepless nights before overtook me and my body fell flat on the mat, indifferent to the creepy little things coming to check my face any more. I was sleeping the sleep of the dead.
You can watch a short movie from this trip at Vimeo: