Yarigatake in the Rain
Trip Start Jul 24, 2011
27Trip End Aug 21, 2011
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But in fact this place is called Shinshimashima - and the train we've just arrived on hasn't come from Glasgow or Crianlarich, but from the city of Matsumoto in central Japan. Also, the bus company employee is giving us a short briefing (in English as well as Japanese) on the next stage of our journey - something which doesn't usually happen when you board a bus in the UK.....
The bus does some serious climbing up a busy road. It looks like it's a constant battle to keep this road open - there are the signs of landslips on the steep slopes above and there must be at least a dozen sets of roadworks in progress today
The bus ride (and the road) end at a place called Kamikochi - a very crowded tourist resort with a couple of large hotels and a huge coach park. Large numbers of people are ambling along short walking trails near the road, all of them under umbrellas. It's still chucking it down. Using a toilet here costs 100 yen (=80p).
After lunch in a cafe, we start walking at 12.30pm - passing quite a few monkeys which appear to live by scavenging from the campsite. It's still very crowded at first, but the crowds are gradually getting a bit thinner as we cover the 11km to the hamlet of Yoko. After Yoko, the trail steepens and gets a bit rougher, but we reach Yarisawa Lodge, our accommodation for the night, before 5.00pm - which is a good thing as we have to be sat down and eating our evening meal by 5.15pm! And after we've eaten, there's a further deadline to meet as the onsen closes at 6.00pm - it's amazing to find this large, luxurious, steaming bath tub in a basic hut in which about 200 people are sleeping on the floor .....
Yarisawa Lodge works on a different timetable from the rest of the world. Lights out is at 8.30pm and we'll be getting up at 4.30am - so there's an extra couple of hours to be tacked on to the jet lag I'm already suffering from
I go to sleep as soon as I get into bed and then wake up thinking I've had a great night's sleep - that's until I look at my watch and find out it's still only 10.10pm! Only a bit more sleep before morning ..... Still, breakfast is worth waiting for - it's not every day that you get soup and a salmon steak to start your day.
Although the rain stopped for a while in the night, it's coming down in bucket loads again as we start upwards at 6.00am, passing a large group of senior citizen Japanese walkers who are doing a complicated warm-up routine outside the hut. I make a private bet with myself (which I later win) that at least some of them will make it to Yarigatake before me - there's a big ascent in front of us, as Yarisawa is at about 1800m while the summit of Yarigatake is at 3180m.
The first part of the walk is on a rising path, through the trees, which gradually thin out. I've started out wearing t-shirt, shorts and cagoule, but the wind gets up, so I add overtrousers and eventually my fleece too. After a couple of hours and progress to 2300m, our group agrees to split up with everyone carrying on to the Yarigatake Hut at their own pace - soon the only other people I can see are various Japanese walkers who are roughly the same pace as me
The trail is well signed with white circles painted on rocks and the occasional signpost. It's got patches of old snow on it and is constantly steep. After about 2400m I'm beginning to feel the altitude and start using the altimeter to measure progress and take rest breaks at intervals of approximately 50m ascent. As well as the rain, which is now on-and-off, we're now walking through a thick veil of mist which is covering the tops of the mountains (back in Scotland again, I think).
The last bit up to the Yarigatake Hut is a really knackering zig-zag, with the rest-stop intervals down to 30m. The markings on the rocks now include a countdown of the distance to the hut. Although it's virtually stopped raining (at last), the mist is so thick that I can hear the hut's generator before I can see any of the buildings. It's only 11.10am and the day's walk is over!
The hut is on the ridge, about 150m below the summit of Yarigatake, although that final ascent involves a steep scramble assisted by chains and ladders. It's capable of sleeping around 700 people, although the shortage of water means there is no onsen here (or indeed much washing water at all)
We make three postponements on the decision of whether to go for the summit, but at 2.45pm, with the clag still swirling around the hut, we call it off for the day in the hope that the weather will be clear first thing tomorrow. There's a TV in this hut and it's showing pictures of wild weather and flooding on the Japanese coast - not too far away from here! The rest of the afternoon is idled away until dinner at 5.00pm and then bed at 8.30pm. The hut is silent by then, but I'm still not getting any sleep because of a rattling door, a draught, and light shining into the room.
Up at 4.30am in the hope of getting to the top of Yarigatake, but the weather is still completely clagged in, so I decide there's no point in doing the final scramble, although three of our party do go for it. The rest of us start the walk back down in intermittent rain. It's a heck of a lot easier than the walk up here, though still no views until we're much lower down. The main attraction on the trail back to Yarisawa is the variety of wild flowers. The Japanese walkers who we pass (many of them slogging upwards in the hope of better weather than we've had) are all very friendly and I must have said Konichi-Va over 100 times in the space of a few hours. They're well-equipped too, mostly in very bright colours.
After a break at Yarisawa (during which it rains more heavily than ever), it's a long drag back to Kamikochi as the lack of sleep catches up on me. We're back at Kamikochi by 1.00pm, about 7 hours after leaving the Yarigatake Hut. Here, there's an excellent pizza waiting to be eaten, with salad, unlimited juice, and a complimentary dessert - and they didn't seem to mind us taking off our soaking cagoules and overtrousers, as well as our muddy boots, in their very posh looking lobby! And while we're waiting for the bus, the sun comes out ......