Diary - November

Thursday 1st November
Day 263 - 36km

"Hello, you don't know us but..."

Ben - Waking up, we realised again how fine our campsite was.

We were situated on the Western side of the Eastern most peninsuler of Aomori ken. We could see the other two peninsulars and the axehead at the top of our peninsular which we were heading for.

As we walked, we talked about the trek:"has it been worthwhile?" We all found reasons to say that it had been.

Tom, Shane, and BenTowards the end of the day the weather closed in and rained heavily. A truck totally soaked me and Paul from the waist down. Darkness found us stood outside our second supermarket. It was still raining and we'd got lost trying to follow Shane's directions to his house. Hutch, still helping us out, had given us Shane's number the previous night, but had not been able to check himself to see if it would be okay for us to stay. Consequently we once again phoned someone out of the blue to ask if we could totally invade their house, watch their TV and dirty their shower. Once again a total stranger welcomed us into their home and went out of their way to help us.

Shane picked us up from outside our supermarket, plucked us from the rain, gave us a warm, dry place to sleep that night, and dropped us back in the morning. We had a wonderful evening vegitating in front of American TV that Shane had taped last time he was home.

Friday 2nd November
Day 264 - 45km

Final Day on Honshu

Ben - We knew today was going to be a big day because we needed to get to the port for our 7:00am ferry the next morning.

It was a long day, long enough for Tom to read the first of the Harry Potter books. It was a chilly day, me and Tom were envious as we watched Paul cook up some noodles for lunch as we munched our egg butties. Two to three layers had to be worn all day and we even had to cover up our trade mark shorts (which never fail to bring out some brilliant expressions) as the sun went down and the trousers went on.

As we walked into the night after a brief stop sheltering from the chill in a posh seaside toilet block, the moon resembled a floodlight as its initial golden glow warmed up the higher it got in the sky. By 8:00pm we were setting up camp 700m from the port.

Saturday 3rd November
Day 265 - 13km

Ferry across to Hokkaido

Hokkaido ahoy!Tom - We had set our alarms for 5.15 as the ferry we had to catch to Hokkaido was to leave the the port at 7.30. The sunrise was gorgeous and it was a short walk to the port past dozens of squid-fishing boats. On board, Paul wrote up his log, Ben caught an hour's combat kip and I tried to read the second Harry Potter book although I found it hard to concentrate. The ferry was heading to a port called Hakodate, a city port 15km south of a town called Nanae where I went to Chefoo school between 1980 and 1986. From the deck of the ferry I could just make out some the landmarks from my childhood including Hakodate-yama.

As we walked off the ferry we were met by a reporter from the Hokkaido Daily newspaper. After a short interview we started to walk in the rain towards Nanae where we had arranged to meet some friends of my parents called the Haymans. Nanae had changed a lot in the 15 years since I was there and I had a litle bit of trouble finding the correct turn off. At the school we met some friends of the Haymans who gave us a lift to their house.

Once there we were treated to a delicious lunch and a very relaxing afternoon in their gorgeous wood cabin of a house. We were really pleased to see that we had received a massive parcel from a guy called Jack (who we met at the Tokyo conference) who runs a company called Tengu Foods (see sponsors page). The box was stuffed with organic cereals, bread, cheese, biscuits, beans, pasta, and beer! All of this will certainly help us tackle the cold weather of Hokkaido.

The generous youth groupIn the evening we went to the Nanae church were we met with the youth group. At the end of the meeting we showed them a video of the programme we were part of in Nagano (about our walk and the charity). At the end of the meeting the kids had a collection and decided to give the money towards the charity! About 15,000 yen in all.

Back at the Haymans we hopped in the shower, put our cloths in the wash and crashed out on comfortable beds...

Sunday 4th November
Day 266

Chefoo Revisited

The church serviceTom - We all enjoyed sleeping in past 7am (something we have only done a handful of times on this trek). For breakfast we ate some of the organic cornflakes (the best I've ever tasted) Tengu foods had sent us. Bellies full, we headed down to the church. The service was in Japanese (needless to say) although Robin did a sterling job translating for us. At the end of the service we were asked to introduce ourselves and talk about the trek and the charity. The church had decided to have a free will offering for the charity and about 60,000 yen was raised (10,000 yen of which was raised by the sunday school group ages 5 and below!!!).

Tom and Yamaguchi-sanAfter the service we enjoyed a meal with the church including a lady called Yamaguchi-san who had worked at Chefoo for decades! I enjoyed chatting to her, although it became clear she had told some of the members about some of my childhood indiscretions! We also met another missionary kid (both Paul and I are MK's) called Peter who had married a Japanese lady and taught English at a local high school. After the service he took us in his electric/gasoline car to see a tree (the largest chestnut tree in Hokkaido) which he had saved from being knocked down by a new road development (a true eco-warrior!).

Ben in the biggest chestnut in HokkaidoAfter this I decided to show Paul and Ben another interesting tree in the Chefoo school grounds. One of the birch trees on the drive has a distinct band of discolouration around its trunk. This is the remains of a scar caused by my stripping off the bark 20 years ago (I received a severe telling off for this and if I remember correctly was called 'a murderer'!!!) We opened the door to the school and had a quick look around. The rooms brought back a lot of memories but it was a little depressing not hearing the sound of children playing...

Back at the Haymans we wrote up the diary dates, sorted out the food package, decided what to take and what to leave behind for Hokkaido. Later in the evening we enjoyed a delicious meal with the Highwoods, two guys from the church (Mr Hattori and Mr Ito) and a Korean lady called Mrs Kim who used to work at the church. Our stay with the Haymans has been fantastic and a much needed rest before the hard work that awaits us between now and Rishiri...

Monday 5th November
Day 267 - 27.5km

The Final Leg Begins

The Haymans with Ben and PaulPaul - Even though we were up in good time, eating wonderful breakfasts, having good chats, and confirming plane tickets all take time. It was 10:00am when we actually wobbled our way away from the Hayman's with bags stuffed full of delicious, heathy food kindly given to us by Tengu Foods (see sponsor's page).

The day was dry and fairly warm to start. All of us were immersed in our books before lunch - it must be a strange sight, 3 gaijins in shorts wondering along busy roads reading!

The rain started shortly after lunch and continued long after we'd thrown in the towel for the day and parked ourselves under a roof, behind a closed souveneir shop. So day one of our Hokkaido attempt over and we fail to meet the 40km requirement. Much happier was the news from Mary that she would be meeting up with us that weekend.

Tuesday 6th November
Day 268 - 45km

And the Clock Keeps Ticking

Cloud viewPaul - I felt totally drained yesterday night and seriously wondered if I'd be able to walk a 40km day again. It is simply a matter of time though; if you can ignore your head, which is crying out for you to sink into a heap on the floor. Start walking by 6:00am like today and you can finish by 6:00pm (or before) with a respectable distance behind you. Start at 10:00am like yesterday, walk hard all day and feel like you've got no where. Days have always counted on this walk, unfortunately (or thankfully), this concept, until now, has been too abstract for my head to grasp. With 39 days max left the preciousness of each day hangs over us as heavily as the clouds that clung to the mountains hemming us in on three sides as we headed up the coast of the thin neck of Hokkaido.

Tom got a small but quality haul out of a 7/11 bin which we happily consumed in a plush bus stop. I can't really remember the day. I spent most of it in America fighting a legal battle. Tom and Ben spent it at Hogwart's putting the world to rights.

Wednesday 7th November
Day 269 - 45km

Meeting Aya

Ben - The coldest morning yet, but the view is well worth the shivers as we crawl out of toasty sleeping bags. The early morning sun seemed to be burning the slopes of the distant mountains that had a dusting of snow.

The morning passed quickly as we all chatted together and I retreated into my new refuge - Harry Potter. We are all reading the story and conversation often revolves around who we think the bad guy is. For those of you aquainted with Mr Potter we are all beginning to look like Hagrid - a giant with a bushy beard and big hair.

The team entertained by AyaAs the sun began to set Aya rang again and we arranged to meet her that evening 15km away. We put a spurt on and cooked her some dinner in the train station. She had read about our journey to raise money and awareness for landmine clearence and wanted to meet us and join a day of walking with us. She was great fun and a real encouragement to us and as a result we had a late night (10pm before we got into our pits!!)

Ben, Aya, and PaulThursday 8th November
Day 270 - 40km

Getting to Know You

Ben - By the time we had packed, Aya was back with us after staying in a B&B and we began our day of walking. The usual getting to know someone chat filled the morning and later Aya was a patient teacher as I tried to learn new Japanese vocabulary. As we passed through one town some school children followed us and warned us of the danger inherent in winter mountain climbing - they were perhaps 8 years old and very funny. Aya walked about 30km with us, then we waved goodbye as we left her by a train station. It is these kind of memories that I think will be so precious when we get back from the trek.

Yortei - 1898m Mt No.92
Friday 9th November
Day 271 - 21km

Tom - Despite being woken numerous times by late night drivers needing the loo, all of us managed a fairly decent night's sleep.

By 7:30am we were packed up and walking towards the trail head where we had arranged to meet Mary Feeney (remember her from Gunma?). Mary met us after a nightmare of a journey which involved driving, hopping between numerous trains, taking a monorail, flying in a plane and finally riding a taxi. Her first words to us were, "I could have got to the States in the time it took me to get here!" To make matters worse she had only managed to catch 3 hours of sleep (not bad considering she was under a bench in the rain!)

Paul in thee forested lower slopesThe trail up Mt. Yotei took us through the forested lower slopes where we came across our first fresh snow of the winter. The higher we climbed the deeper it got, which made the trail hard to follow. After forcing our way through a particulary dense patch of snow encrusted shrub we decided to take a short cut to the crater rim up a shrub-free gully. When we reached the crater we were hit by a ferocious wind and we had to force our way around the rim to get to the highest point. Once again we were denied views due to clouds.

On the way down we bounded down the gully and as we dropped below the clouds we were treated to some great views of the surrounding countryside, including Lake Toya where I used to go on family holidays (if Mt Usu wasn't erupting at the time!!)

Back at the base of the mountain we found a gazebo where we sat and drank cocoa and marshmallows, whilst Ben cooked up an interesting rice dish. By 8pm we were all fast asleep.

A rather cloudy wade through snow

Mary - Yesterday I had snuck out of school early, and of course passed the vice headmaster on my way out of town! This is what happens in a one road village. After an exhausting journey which included a car, a bullet train, subways, a monorail, a plane, and a few more trains, I found myself in Hokkaido at a closed train station at 12:20 a.m. I quickly settled in for a cozy night in the handicapped stall of the ladies restroom, when the station master came in to kick me to the curb. At 1 a.m. I found myself trying, rather unsuccessfully, to sleep under a bench in the rain.

Today I was Up at 5 a.m. I boarded a one car train to Niseko. Then, much to my dismay, after over 12 hours of travel, and only 10 km from the team, I found myself at the wrong bus stop! Apparently, this sob story was just what I needed to pull at the heartstrings of the taxi driver. Because, what was quoted as a 3000Yen ride, ended up costing me 1000Yen.

Upon meeting Ben, Paul and Tom it seemed that after 2 months only their clothing and facial hair had changed. We had a quick chat, a change of clothes, packed a bag, and were soon marching up the road to Mt. Yotei.

The peak of Yotei

The top half of Mt Yotei was covered in a gorgeous layer of snow. The trees had in a light layer of ice which made for a magical, peaceful scene. Approximately 500 meters from the summit we lost the trail and headed up a snow covered boulder field. The wind and deep snow made for a slow hike up, and guaranteed that a whitewashed photo is all we will have to show of our hard work. Hiking down was certainly a lot more enjoyable than going up. We managed to walk, jump, roll, ski, slide, sled, and fall down the snow covered top.

Back at the base of Mt. Yotei the sky cleared, the sun set, and we turned back to marvel at the immense beauty of the snow-capped mountain, glowing in the reflection of the moon. Mt. Yotei is a magnificent mountain and seeing it was worth every minute I had spent getting there. That night was very cold, but I was blessed with the generous gift of Tom and Paul's down jackets. With an inner layer of down, I was able to upgrade my 3 season sleeping bag to a 4.

Saturday 10th November
Day 272 - 38km

A Taste of the Road

Paul and Ben walk with the sunny MaryTom - Mary had now climbed 4 mountains with us and it was time for her to have a taste of the road. As usual, cars roared past, workmen stared and dogs barked, but the normal drudgery of road walking was alleviated by breathtaking views of Mt Yotei, gorgeous weather and a new person to chat to (who hadn't heard all our stories before).

The day flew by and was made even better when we received a phone call from Aya (who walked with us on Thursday). On top of all of this we were given 5,000yen for the charity by a restaurant owner who spotted us walking past (he had seen us in a newspaper). We spent the night on the veranda of a huge log cabin by the side of the road.

The view back to Mt YoteiMary - Today we awoke to clear skies, sunshine, and of course a stunning view of Mt. Yotei. Paul said it was the best weather they've had in Hokkaido. I credit the sunshine to the 4 previous days I had dedicated to praying for good weather. God was looking out for me.

Walking all day meant that I could spend a few hours chatting with each of the guys. Of course we found an adundance of topics to canvass: Paul's stellar beard growth, AAR, Harry Potter, Ben's ankles, politics, Tom's childhood in Japan, and so forth. But I couldn't help wondering what they could possibly have to say to each other after 9 months of walking together.

Walking 40 kilometers was challenging. However, as the day progressed I began to realise that the mental challenge of walking long streches of highway is much more intense than the physical. I can see how one could go crazy counting the hours, the kilometers, or even the steps. And, as Ben pointed out, it is the last 2 kilometers that seem the hardest. This was exemplified as our conversation rapidly slumped to a remedial level. But, our energy and spirits were rejuvinated by heated toilets and a warm, delicious bowl of ramen noodles.

Sunday 11th November
Day 273 - 44km

Goodbye Mary

Paul - I have always thought that a good pair of trainers would be a good thing to walk in. Mary's well worn trainers however literally ate her feet. After wandering over a bit of a pass, and bravely walking round a lake and past the mountain Tom learnt to ski on, Mary left us with feet covered in blisters that would have stopped me long since. As she caught the bus back to the airport we charged off into the night down a cycle track and the dullness of our life sunk in like a fog.

Why am I racing down a tree-surrounded track into the night? Why is Ben saying we will need to walk a good 15km before we find water? Why didn't we think about this before, get water when we could and not have to break our distance record now? Will we ever learn to think before charging off somewhere?

Thankfully when we actually looked at the map we found a river well before Ben's estimated 15km.

Mary - Sunny, clear days make for beautiful walking and a bit of colour on the cheeks, but also bring very very cold nights. This morning we awoke to a gift of hot canned coffee, which when strategically placed can warm your entire body. We walked over a pass and caught our last glimpse of Mt. Yotei before walking along a gorgeous lake. After about 30 kilometers I said my goodbyes and hitched a ride to the bus stop. Once aboard the bus I realised how exhausted I had become. So as my bus, enroute to the airport, passed Ben, Tom and Paul, I cannot deny that I was a bit relieved to know that I would be teaching 30 thirteen year old children the next day, and not walking another 40 kilometers.

My three day adventure in Hokkaido opened my eyes to the daily monotony and struggle of their walk. The team is now pressed for time, and the threats of snow and foul weather have made safety a bigger concern. The motivation and dedication it requires to plod along a highway from 5 am to 8pm, day in and day out, is mindboggling. I cannot begin to illustrate my respect and admiration for Tom, Paul and Ben. But, most of all, I am excited for them to finish the lastleg of their adventure so that they can return safely to the warmth and comfort of their families ( and possibly lie in 'til 10 a.m. in a soft bed! )

Monday 12th November
Day 274 - 40km

Floods, Fighters and Farriers

Paul - It didn't actually flood today but the clouds did try their best in the morning. What started as a muggy, drizzly morning turned into a chilly down pour as we walked to the end of our cycle track and into Chitose City. Mary, it seemed, had taken the good weather as well as her happy enthusiasm with her as she flew back to Gunma last night.

Paul and Ben getting some free tastersAs we drifted from taster to taster pretending to shop for the next couple of days, the big thunder heads moved on leaving a dramatic sky for numerous Fighter Jets to roar into. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours walking past Chitose International Airport watching all sorts of planes fly over head. Turning left from the airport we walked into horse country and I got called "a bit keen" (being in shorts) by a Kiwi farrier who drove past and stopped to find out what we were doing.

Ben spent a cold half hour in the evening phoning various folks to get phone numbers, asking permission to send kit, and giving addresses for folks to send kit too. It does take a bit of logistical sense to arrange for our various smelly bits of kit to be shipped to necessary spots.

Tuesday 13th November
Day 275 - 44km

Shall I Make Something Up?!

Ben - Very little of any interest happened today, the roads were icy and we walked a long way, at least it felt a long way. Tom ran back to a town as it was getting dark to get petrol when Paul realised we didn’t have much to cook with. We stopped in a big yellow bus shelter which had a most wonderful feast waiting for us. There were all the things that I love to eat; roast beef, roast chicken, lamb chops, sausage butties, fish & chips and as we ate beautiful dancing girls massaged our aching feet! Oh, the power of imagination.

Wednesday 14th November
Day 276 - 49km

Back Country & Bear Prints

Ben - A noisy night in the bus shelter had prompted Tom to find quieter accommodation in a shed nearby. However, Paul and I were still rooted in our dirty, draughty bus stop. Just before heading into the middle of nowhere (the trail head for Poroshiri) we ate some lunch in a small settlement. The deputy head of the tiny school came out to meet us and took us to meet his wife and drink some Ocha (green tea) with them. Mr and Mrs Okada were very kind to us and made us promise to drop in on the way back from the mountain.

We walked just over 20km more that night down a very rough road towards our mountain. As we camped everything was freezing up (the temperature was about -6°C). We found a huge bear's foot print in the snow and ice, just three feet from our tents and so we put all our food in our rucksacks and then put the cooking pots on top of the bags. If we heard the pots falling we would pelt the huge brown bear with the rocks we had gathered… good plan huh?

Mt Poroshiri 2052m - Mt No.93
Thursday 15th November
Day 277 - 25.5km

Crossing the riverTom - After a bear-free night I zipped open the tent only to find there was about an inch of fresh snow. We walked for about 8kms along a gravel track to the start of the trail which closely followed the

Climbing the ridge

course of a frigid looking river. After 2kms we found that the pink tags that marked the trail were on the other side of the river. With a steep sided gorge ahead of us we had no choice but to follow the markers and get into the knee deep water. Over the next 2kms we had to cross the river no less than 15 times. We reached the hut at the base of the mountain at 10:45am,

The journey back, with poor visibility through the forest

changed into dry socks, hung out our wet socks, grabbed some food, put our mountain boots on and headed out of the door to tackle
the mountain.

The first part of the climb was through forest. The path was covered by about 3-4 inches of snow which covered some treacherous icy sections (I ended up on my bum a couple of times). After an hour or so we hit a ridge which climbed gradually towards the peak. The higher we climbed the deeper the snow got, the stronger the wind got and the worse the visibility got. The temperature was -10°C and the wind 100mph+ (by Ben’s estimation) at the summit. Needless to say, we didn’t stick around.

The sunsetOur descent was much quicker and just before we reached the tree line we caught an amazing sunset. We could see the Hidaka mountains stretching southwards and the Pacific Ocean beyond. The last 20 minutes of the descent were made by the light of our head touches. Back at the hut Ben chopped wood and lit the stove which made a perfect finish to the day.

Friday 16th November
Day 278 - 33km

The Friendly Okadas

Crossing the river againTom - We woke refreshed and ready to tackle the freezing river once more. Paul had developed a useful technique for keeping his trousers dry. It involved zipping the bottom of his sallopetes open and tucking them into the waist belt of his rucksack. It made him look like he was wearing a giant nappy but it did the trick and I followed suit. On the way down the river the straps on my sandals snapped yet again (they have carried me over 2000km and up two 3000m peaks!) so the path was made extra difficult.

Back on the gravel track we changed back into boots and spent the rest of the day walking the 30km into a small village called Toyo-nuka, where we had met the Okadas on Wednesday. The welcoming OkadasMrs Okada must have been on the look out because she met us 500m out of town and was very pleased to see us alive.

Back at the Okada's house we were treated to coffee, cake, a shower, a bath, a washing machine and the internet (they had checked our page and Mrs Okada had chuckled every 5 minutes according to Mr Okada).

Dinner was gorgeous (although Mrs Okada claimed to be a bad cook). We plugged in the cam-corder and showed them some of the footage of our Poroshiri climb - I think they thought we were a little crazy tackling the mountain in such bad weather… We got a fairly early night as we needed to be up at the crack tomorrow.

Saturday 17th November
Day 279 - 47km

Floor Flush

The team leave the Okadas for the Daisetsu MountainsPaul - Mrs Okada was catching an early bus to Sapporo, so everyone was up early.

By 6:30am we shouldered our packs and headed off. We walked for a long time. It snowed on and off - a drizzly snow fall but it wasn’t cold.

That however changed as we pulled into a Road Station (toilets, food during the day etc.). The air temperature dropped dramatically and Ben and I pulled on as many layers are possible as we wandered around the Road Station scouting out for the best sleeping spot. As all the other buildings were locked for the night at 6:00pm we settled on the toilet block which was heated and had a nice foyer area.

Unfortunately as we sat in there cooking and eating dinner a load of folks and a cleaning lady trooped through. The cleaning lady was lovely. As Tom had left to camp and eat in the peace and quiet behind the toilets there was a lot of guess work, but Ben and I are convinced she told us to stay where we were while she cleaned. She told us it was much more sensible to be indoors as it was a cold night. In search of peace as well as warmth we covered the Disabled toilet light sensor and locked ourselves inside. The only problem was that tight floor space meant that Ben had to sleep with this mat over the floor flush - every time he rolled over in the night there was a thunder of water!

Sunday 18th November
Day 280 - 47km

Rider House

Paul - Another long walking day. It snowed virtually all day but again was never that cold until evening when everything froze and the sidewalk became slick with ice. We paid for accommodation for the first time while walking, and stayed in a Biker's hostel in Ferano that Tom had stayed at while he was a JET. Over lunch Tom had a phone interview with a 2nd Outdoor Magazine arranged by AAR.

As dust fell the snow halted briefly and we walked into a wide valley with wintry mountains rising beautifully on either side. Several km’s past easily as first Hutch, then Ingrid, then Mary phoned. Darkness brought snow again. The final 7km of the day were covered with slippery steps and weary legs. My bag endeavoured to break my back and my will to move. Ben’s ankles hurt, but that never stops him. Tom seemed full of energy and powered along the road as per normal. It is always lovely to stay with folks, but it was nice tonight to be given a room, a heater and left alone.

Monday 19th November
Day 281 - 35km

A very good Samaritan

Tom - This had been our first "paying night" in a hotel on the trip and we made the most of it. We kept the heater on until the room was tropical, we recharged all our electrical gear (cameras, phones etc) and we all made use of the showers.

I would have loved to hang around but we had arranged to meet Mr. Kawai from the Hokkaido newspaper for an interview at 9 am. I set off to meet him whilst Paul and Ben waited for Tim who we had sent our winter kit to.

The interview was really good. We talked about all aspects of the walk, landmine clearance and the situation in Afghanistan. It was over at 11:30. After a quick photo shoot, Ben and I headed to the supermarket to get the 5-6 days worth of food we would be needing for the Daisettsu traverse. We were packed and ready by 12:30. Paul had decided to walk around the mountains and meet us on the other side. Ben and I hugged him good-bye and set off knowing that the next week would probably be the most physically challenging and dangerous of the trip so far.

The walk was hard as we knew we had to cover 30 km in half a day. To make matters worse it was icy and walking was difficult. We stopped at 4 pm for a bite to eat and to get our head torches out, when a man driving a bus asked if he could give us a life to his ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel with a hotspring bath). We told him that we were walking but asked if he would take our bags, which he did willingly.

Three hours later we were still trudging along when he passed us again and asked if we would like to stay in his ryokan which was very close to the trail head. I told him that we didn't have that kind of money. He laughed and said he wanted us to stay free of charge! It was a short walk to the ryokan, where we were shown a gorgeous traditional Japanese room. We were then led to the onsen and rotenburo, an outdoor hotspring, which were open all night. I could have wept. I had no way of re-paying Mr. Toda, the bus driver and owner. He left us to settle into our room and we never saw him again.

Ben - It was with some anticipation that we awaited the arrival of Tim Borreson this morning (Furano Jet). Three parcels were arriving, via Tim, from three different areas of Japan. We needed them all to arrive on time due to our jealous schedule which has afforded us no rest time for almost a month now.

Winter climbing kit…I found it pretty exciting ripping open parcels to discover crampons, rope, snowshoes etc. The imminence of the climb and the unknown conditions awaiting us were foremost in my mind as the boxes fell open. I think at times all three of us have earned the title ‘Gear freak’, we did after all paw our way through innumerable catalogues in search of the ideal equipment for this trek.. In our defence though, I would like to add that we have worn and used precious little else in our 9 months here.

Next on the agenda was an interview with the Hokkaido Asahi Sinbun. Takeshi is probably the most thorough journalist that we have met to date, his enthusiasm for the job and pure interest in our efforts were really encouraging. It was also great to be able to speak a bit of English to him, as normally interviews can become hard work with Tom having to translate a lot and Paul and I not saying as much as we perhaps should. We even got the chance to comment on the war in Afghanistan.

By 1pm we were ready to leave Furano, Paul had made his decision not to climb the next three mountains that are without a doubt the biggest commitment in terms of climbing since the Alps. So it was only Tom and I that donned packs weighing in at around 35 kilograms, and began our 35km yomp to the trail for Tokachi dake.

I am an emotional person, and I have always found goodbyes a bit testy, and it was with no small amount of sadness that I said goodbye to Paul. The mountains are certainly going to be a different experience without him, and I recognise that for me that difference is going to be a great loss.

As we tramped towards the hill, we chatted, at times nervously, about our expectation of a lot of snow, the three peaks are joined by 50 km of ridge and windswept plateau, notorious for their exposure to the elements.

As darkness fell, there still remained 15 km of our intended distance, up a winding mountain road clad with thick ice. A guy who owned a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese onsen hotel) that was situated on the mountain offered to drive our heavy packs ahead of us, and we eagerly accepted this chance to walk a lot freer and more quickly. As our evening was drawing to a close the same fella found us again and invited us to be his guests at his Ryokan. Refusal never even crossed my mind, this is the kind of experience that has rekindled a belief in me of human goodness and on a lighter note, I love getting naked and having a bath! An hour later we were sat in a hot onsen, sorrounded by snow covered tress with a view back down towards Furano. Two things were in my mind as I snuggled into my cosy futon: I wonder where Paul is? and, How do I end up in situations like these?

Tuesday 20th November
Day 282 - 6 km

It’s all down hill from here! - Going solo

Ben - By 6am Tom and I were walking the last couple of km’s to the mountain. There was complete silence, apart from the thud of our boots on the compacted snow and ice. The sky was a wondrous site, the sun was slowly rising on the other side if the mountain. We could not see it but the salmon pink glow in the clouds capping the ridges gave away its intention to rise and shine. We became increasingly excited by the prospect of good weather…that really only leaves the snow to worry about. Our initial hopes grew as we started up the path which had been travelled a few times and upon which we had easy going.

As we reached the point on the spur we intended to climb we found ourselves in snow about waist level, progress instantly slammed on its brakes and the sweat began to flow.

Quite soon on in our push to the spur I had a slight slip. It was not a serious fall but it did have some serious implications. Try as I did I had been unable to wear my ‘storm trooper’ like ankle supports, because they wouldn’t fit in my mountaineering boots. I had had no choice but to climb without my supports because my crampons would not fit on any of my other boots.

The pain came immediately and with it, a debilitating weakness. Although my ankles felt so much better from stopping, in reality they are still incredibly weak, and the increased pressure of the footwork on snow and ice proved too much for them. I quickly fell behind Tom who hadn’t noticed me struggling and it was about half an hour until I reached close enough for him to hear my requests to stop.

I had had enough time to contemplate the extent of my ankle injuries, and what I might do by the time I reached Tom and informed him how I was doing. I did not think I could manage the 50km across the plateau but I desperately wanted to get up onto the ridge. Climbing up through the powder snow and vegetation was such laborious work that even Tom with good ankles was not able to race up, and so I decided that I could make the ridge, stay in the hut with Tom and head down alone tomorrow.

Determined, we proceeded and headed on up. I was sinking past my waist in the snow despite wearing snow shoes and after 2 hours we had only travelled 1 km. I decided it was time to get real and make decisions based on safety rather than on desires to be on top of mountains.

Tom - Ben and I got a fairly late night as we wanted to use the onsen and watch a bit of the movie channel. In the morning Ben took another bath while I watched the BBC news on cable. We tried to find Tr. Toda before we left, but he was nowhere to be seen.

It was a short walk to the trail head where we were surprised to see that the snow had been well trod into a path. It was like this for about 2km. After that it thinned to a couple of sets of footprints in the snow. We followed these for a while only to find they belonged to a couple of elderly photographers out to shoot the winter mountains. We could have kept going in that direction, which Ben was keen to do. But in the end we decided to go for my more cautious approach which involved backtracking 10 minutes and taking the mountains from another direction.

Snowy peaksThis route may have been safer, but it was by no means easy. We soon found ourselves forcing our way through deep snow and thick bushes. We had one pair of snowshoes between us (kindly lent to us by Mary Feeney) and I suggesteed Ben try them. Snowshoes are definately not designed for uphill and Ben found them hard to use. He took a fall wearing them and his ankle went out. Although it was obvious he was in pain, he told me that he wanted to keep going and at least bag the first peak on the ridge. After an hour however, the going had gotten no easier and we were making very slow progress up a slope covered in waist deep powder. He decided to call it a day. We sorted out kit on the slope. I took the tent, the cooker and the snowshoes. Before we parted we had a quick time of prayer and then I pressed on up the slope.

A chilly night's restAfter half an hour of wading through powder I came across a firmer wind blown snow that would hold my weight and progress became much faster. On the down side, visibility was decreasing the higher I climbed and I had trouble finding the hut to the south of Tokachidake. I had originally planned to climb over Tokachidake and stay in the hut to the north, but the climb had exhausted me and I decided to call it a day at 12:30. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at maps, brushing snow off my clothing, cooking and melting snow, writing and trying to stay warm. It was -7 °Celcius inside the hut! Paul called at around 5 pm and I told him about Ben. I was in bed and asleep by 5:30 pm, a record for this trip I think.

Mt. Tokadake 2077m - Mt No. 94
Wednesday 21st November
Day 283 - 15.5km

Marker fence buried in snowTom - By 4:30 am I was wide awake and desperate I needed to answer the call of nature. I went outside and was met by the most awesome night sky I have ever seen. Millions of stars were shining. There wasn't a cloud to be seen and a half moon silhouetted the surrounding mountnains. I started up Tokachidake just after 6am and watched the sky gradually change colour as the sun rose over the horizon and turned The rucksack at the peak of Tokadake the snow covered mountains a brilliant pink. I took a lot of pictures with the compact camera (black and white film) but all the time I was wishing I had the heavier SLR with colour slide film.

On the summit I took a picture with my rucksack as a proof shot, and then set off down the north side of the peak. Again the snow was firm and walking on it was easy with crampons. In some places it has been blown into wierd slopes that looked like monsters and on the ground it had formed delicate feather formations.

Snow dunesI reached the hut to the north of the peak at 10:30 am and decided to press on as the weather was good. I soon had to put the snowshoes on however, as I came across a broad patch of bushes covered in a thin layer of crusty snow. Even with snowshoes on I fell through to my waist every 5 steps. I liken it to walking on a baked Alaska- crusty on top, soft and sticky underneath.

After the busy part I found my way into a long undulating ridge and the snow became easier to walk on. By 2 pm I was on a high exposed peak and once again the visibility was poor. I came off the wrong side of the ridge, realised my mistake and promptly headed in the opposite, A snowy mountainous viewbut also wrong, direction. After an hour and a half of walking in circles I finally found the right route which lead me down into a broad flat saddle covered in trees and bushes. By this time the sun was setting so I found a suitable campsite in the shelter of some trees, stamped the snow down till it was almost a metre lower than the surrounding snow, and pitched camp. Although it was freezing cold, and the wind flapped the tent all night, I was exhausted and managed a good night's sleep.

Thursday 22nd November
Day 284 - 7km

Plagued by Powder

Tom - I woke to find the mountains were covered in clouds and that visibility was poor. I needed to check my compass bearings every 20 metres or so, and to make matters worse, the terrain was covered in those crafty little bushes which wait to drag me down and get tangled in the snowshoes. Every 5 paces or so, I would fall flat on my face and begin the labourous process of getting back on my feet. As the day wore on it took me longer and longer to get back up, until I needed at least a minute to summon the energy to move after a fall. I must have looked like a dying man...

The route took me over a series of gently sloping hills, none of which I could see, and I seemed to be making painfully slow progress. Patience, however, is a virtue, and at the end of the day the shrubs disappeared, the weather improved and I found myself a flat snow-free campsite.

After cooking dinner, I went outside to answer nature's call and was again treated to a fantastic night sky ... perhaps I should pop out for a late night pee more often!

Mt. Tomuraushi 2141km - Mt No 95
Friday 23rd November
Day 285 - 15km

A rugged peakTom - Due to the snow conditions, the climb to Mt. Tomutarushi was easy. Even so, I kept the snowshoes on to avoid falling foul to the odd rogue bush. On the way up I called Mary and told her to tell the guys that I was fine and that I planned to meet them on Monday morning. I was on the summit by 10 am and once again Snow covered bushes and boulderstook a proof shot of my rucksack. The views were spectacular. To the south I could see Tokachidake and the numerous peaks I had climbed, and to the north, Asahidake, the highest of the three.

The clear view to the southFrom the peak it was a steep decline into a falt plateau. I could see for miles in every direction and thought this must be a little like walking in the arctic. At one point I found myself on a particularly flat icy patch, only to find I was standing in the middle of an alpine lake!

Lonesome tracksWith no one around, I decided to belt out a few songs from Gilbert and Sullivan's, HMS Pinnafore. I thought I sounded pretty good, but I came across something that suggested otherwise. I found some very fresh bear tracks heading away from the direction I was walking from. They then dropped down a very steep valley side. The bear must have been desperate to get away!

Tom beds down for the nightAt 2 pm, I reached the hut I had planned to stay in, only to find the door wide open and the floor covered in a couple of inches of snow. Fortunately, the loft was fairly snow-free and I swept an area clear to sleep on. I got another early night, although I had to wake up a couple of times to chase away a mouse which was checking out my garbage bag.

Paul - I reached Aibetsu Town some 82km above the centre of Hokkaido, and the end of my motivation/willingness/ability to make forward progress on foot. There was still 40km to go to Sounkyo Onsen (the end of Tom’s route over the Daisetsuzan Mountain range) and approximately 700km till the end of the route but from Aibetsu the route drops way south before heading north again so there I made my stand and stuck out my thumb.

I apologise to all those who got involved with this little walk of ours because I had said I would do it, and now feel let down because I have voluntarily decided to stop. Life would be much more straightforward if I had broken my leg (Ben offered to help at one point) or something similar, but I haven’t. My reasons are all in the head really. I decided on Poroshiri (15/11) that I would skip the next 7 mountains, not while sat on the summit in sub-zero temperatures being pounded by over 100 mile per hr winds, but on the wind sheltered lower slopes.

There are two areas in our life on this walk, road walking and hill walking. I have loathed the road walking for as long as I can remember and as we raced, bumbled, charged, and stumbled up mountain after mountain I developed a healthy loathing for the hill walking as well. I am not looking for sympathy. It is my own fault I am here and I know that it is how we climb mountains on this walk that I hate rather than hill walking itself. Loathing and loathing I can hack, and have done for half this trip.

What made me decide to stop climbing the mountains was the fear that has inhabited my mind for the last wee while. The mountains themselves are not technically difficult, it is hill walking and it is not this I fear. My fear is rooted in an unwillingness to accept the risks that are inherent in the hills however technical they are, and yes, these risks are multiplied as winter sets in. It is also rooted in the fact that I feel less sure of my ability in the hills than I did when I started. Wading up Poroshiri’s snowy flanks I felt inadequate/unsuitable to be there. Again I think it is how we climb mountains on this walk that has caused these feelings. We are constantly under pressure to cover ground as quick as possible so that this walk finishes before winter truly sets in. We throw ourselves at hills, climb silly routes to cut distances and there is always the feeling of now or never.

So the lads headed into the Daisetsuzan range (Mts 94 - 96 and many more peaks) without me. I was (and still am as I write this) ground control, carrying kit the guys didn’t need and bringing food to the far side of the route. From there I had intended to mirror the original route, just not going quite to the mountains, missing about 300km’s and allowing a slightly slower pace of life. The theory was this would remove the loathing and the fear and would make the other loathing somewhat more palatable, but still to finish with the lads.

Ben’s ankles gave in in the waist deep powder they experienced on the way up No.94. Tom took the one pair of snowshoes we’d been lent and carried on on his own. Ben will explain his own decision to stop, but I realise now that as I watched him head back to Tokyo on Thursday 22nd I watched my motivation to carry on leave as well. Much motivation is gained through getting encouragement from someone and also through their accepting your encouragement.

I continued walking for a day and a morning, then on a lovely bike track, under a cloudless sky, I realised enough was enough.

I do not, and will not, regret not completing the route. I regret the lack of thought and prayer that went into my decision to start this ‘adventure', but I do not regret leaving some mountains unclimbed. I am not proud, and I feel responsible for the fact that now, because of my decision and Ben’s ankles, Tom is facing the winter hills on his own. Has he been left in the lurch? In one sense he has, I said I would climb with him and have now have said I won’t. I know that 2 or more working as a unit, a cohesive team, is always safer in the hills than going solo. However, in the main, the only times I have worked as a cohesive team with Tom is when, for whatever reason, we find ourselves on the hill, in the dark, with only one torch. To all our shame, in general, the rest of the time we have been 2 or 3 guys on the hill at the same time, following the same route and taking breaks together, but in reality being 2 or 3 soloists. Being on the ground we can know exactly when Tom should be off the hill, which is more of a safety net than the 3 of us has usually had. Tom is strong, fast and totally capable of being on his own. After being with him these past 9.5 months I am inclined to feel that he has now been set free, not left in the lurch.

My plan now is to hitch to the northern tip of Hokkaido to at least see the length of Japan. Following that, because I will have time, I’m hoping to hitch as far down towards Tokyo as possible to save some money and to meet up again with some of the folks who have helped us on the Tokyo to Hokkaido leg of the journey. Thank you for reading my waffle these past months and please continue to follow and support Tom.

Saturday 24th November
Day 286 - 11km

To Snowshoe or not to Snowshoe?

The snowshoes kindly leant by Mary FeeneyTom - The question of the day was whether to wear the snowshoes or not. I started with them on to cross a stretch of snow-crusted bushes and then took them off to climb the steep slope to the peak. The descent was on firm snow and ice with sections of exposed rock, so I left them off. This soon gave way to snow-crusted bushes again, so I put them back on. It was like this for the rest of the day. I must have taken them off and put them on a dozen times.

The road ahead

I had planned to make today a short one, so I could stay in a hut and rest in the afternoon. My body felt really weak, and I found it really hard to keep going. Over the past 4-5 days my nose had been producing copious amounts of vile green snot and today it was unstoppable. Unfortunately, I had brought only one pack of tissues which were reserved for a much higher purpose than nose blowing. I was therefore forced to expel the contents of my nose every 100 metres or so onto the snow.

I reached the hut at 11 am and collapsed. I spent the rest of the aftertnoon drinking cocoa, as I was pretty dehydrated, and writing diary updates. I got a call from Paul at around 4 pm and told him that I was fine and that I could be down the next day. He told me the weather was set to take a turn for the worse. Once again, the hut's resident mice tried their hardest to stop me from sleeping. One even scrambled across my face. When I sat upright it fell into my sleeping bag. I now have a new "worst mouse experience..."

Sunday 25th November
Day 287 - 15km

Mountain Madness

Tom - I woke early with the intention of setting off quickly. The wind was really strong and visibility was poor. I started walking with my head torch but after half and hour found myself in a white out. The sky was white, the ground was white and I couldn't tell if I was walking uphill, downhill or sideways. I decided to follow my tracks back to the hut (the trail of green snot also helped) and wait for the weather to improve. Back at the hut I felt that my dream of climbing the Hyakumeizan as a continuous trek was slipping through my fingers. If I couldn't climb Asahidake, and be off the mountain by tomorrow, there was no chance of finishing in time to catch the flight on December 19th. I prayed hard. What was God trying to teach me? Patience? Humility?

I checked the weather every 10 minutes and at 7:30 am the clouds lifted for a couple of seconds. I caught a glimpse of the first stretch and burned it into my memory. I set off again relying heavily on my compass for direction. Every so often the clouds would lift and I would see the route ahead. I also found some of the wooden posts marking the route every 20-30 metres, altough a lot of them were buried in snow.

By 9 am I was at a T-junction. One trail led towards Asahidake, the final peak on the ridge, and the other towards the descent route, to a town called Souenkyo, where I was to meet Paul. The wind was incredible, and the route to the mountain was straight into the wind. I was leaning into the wind as I walked towards the peak. I could hardly see as the spindrift, wind blown ice particles, were flying into my eyes. The glacier goggles were no good as they soon became plastered in a layer of snow and misted up. I tried to pull my balaclava over my eyes, which worked for a while, until I found I was once again in a complete whiteout. I had to turn around. I had no choice. I let out a huge scream, and started hitting a nearby rock with my ice pick. Why? How can I come this far and fail? If only we had covered more distance earlier in the walk! We should have been climbing this in October! I wish we had not spent so much time in Tokyo! A million thoughts and 'if only's' spun around in my brain.

I turned around 2 km from the peak and 100 vertical metres below it. I felt sick. As I walked, I thought I felt the wind drop and I turned to give it another crack only to find the wind as strong as ever. I did this twice.

When I finally got back to the T- junction it was 10:30 am. The walk to the hut, just before the descent, was tricky and I had to check the map every 100 metres. At the hut I planned to take a breather, but I found none of the doors open. In the back of my mind I was thinking of staying the night and having another crack at the peak tomorrow, even though I knew the weather forecast was predicting worse weather. Even so, I found it hard to tear myself away and head back down.

Just before the descent route is a peak called Kurodake. I met a dozen telemarkers who had climbed up from the ski run below the peak. My appearance from the plateau was met with astonishment. "Where have you come from?", "No! Not Tokachidake!", "That must have taken almost a week.", "Wait, I read about you in the newspaper." All I could manage was a "Thanks, but I have just failed ..."

The descent took me down the steep powder slopes of Kurodake and the ski slopes below. The final section was down a steep zig-zagged section of forest. The weather was foul. it was just above 0°Celcious and the snow was slushy and cold. It started to rain.

I had arranged to meet Paul at 4pm. We sat down to chat. He told me that Ben had to call it a day and head back to Tokyo due to his ankles. Then Paul told me that he planned to stop walking. I was too wasted to really take it all in. He then told me that it wasn't really necessary for us all to return to the UK on the 19th, as no big press event had been yet arranged. The trek was back on. I could extend my flight date and wait for the weather to improve on Asahidake.

I called Mum and Dad to tell them I was safe and that I would not be home for the first family Christmas in the last 14 years. (A very tough call for me.) Dad then told me that he is coming to Sapporo on the 29th of November and he will be around to help me till the 16th of December. That really cheered me up.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Paul and chatting to him about his plans. He had been waiting for me in Souenkyo since Friday, so he knew the place inside and out. He had discovered an 850Yen deal which included a meal and a hot bath! He told me about the sights of the area and where to sleep - in the toilets of course! After sorting out kit (changing the 2-man tent for the 1-man etc) we headed off to our respective toilet blocks.

Monday 26th November
Day 288

Lazing on a Snowy Afternoon

Bye, bye Paul

Tom - I had been told the weather would not improve till Wednesday, so I took the day easy. After cooking up a brew in the toilets, I said good-bye to Paul and watched him hitch a lift in a white Estate. I suddenly felt very alone.

I walked to the bus stop and looked over maps, wondering if I could finish before Christmas Day. I worked out that I should be done by the 23rd or 24th. Where should I spend Christmas?

I had planned to spend a couple of hours in the visitor's center, looking at their displays, but it was closed. So I decided to sit in the community centre (very warm and comfortable) amd write.

How do I feel?

I have mixed emotions. On the one hand I feel sad that the guys are not going to finish the walk, and I will be lonely without them. On the other hand, I am glad that the guys have not felt that they have to finish, and that they have been free to go their own way, although Ben's injury was not much of a choice. This walk and the goal of climbing all the peaks without transport was my baby. I am sure there were times when the guys thought my "walk every metre" philosophy was pedantic, and at times I would have to agree with them.

We all, however, had a shared goal: to raise as much money and awareness for landmine clearance as possible. I would like to thank all the people who pledged support to Paul and Ben. Your support has enabled us to raise enough money to do something amazing. Land will be made safe, houses will be built, and children will be able to play outside without the threat of landmines. When we look at that, the issue of whether Paul and Ben finished the walk becomes insignificant.

Please do not worry about me. I will be fine. By walking alone, I can set off when I want and stop when I want. This makes walking much easier. The cold and the snow will make the going tough, but now I have plenty of time to finish the walk safely and sensibly. Keep checking the webpage though ... this final month should be exciting!

Monday 26th - Friday 30th November

Paul - From Sounkyo Onsen (where I left Tom) I hitched up to the northern coastland to a JET called Nick. He had heard of the trek from Hutch and offered us all a place to stay on our way north. As well as giving me a place to crash for a week, Nick allowed me to watch as many of his videos as I could, helped me get a lift to the most northern point on mainland Japan and then arranged for me to get a lift as far south as Sapporo.

I spent the time doing very little other than watching videos and enjoying the winter wonderland that appeared virtually overnight. It started snowing for real on the Monday evening and continued snowing until I boarded a ferry on Saturday 1 December 2001. The roads turned to sheet ice, a thick layer of snow covered everything but no one other than me seemed to think it anything special. I guess folks up there are used to seeing swans sitting on ice or slipping around as they try to take off and land. Guess they have all seen the sea breaking onto snow covered shores. The old ladies of the town seemed used to it all, spending all day shovelling their drives as the snow continued to fall.

Tuesday 27th November
Day 289

Another lazy day

Tom - I sat in Souenkyo killing time waiting for the weather to improve. I stretched my legs by taking a walk up the gorge to see some of the spectacular waterfalls that cascade down off the Daisetsu plateau. They had just started to freeze.

Back in the restaurant area I caught the weather forecast. There was to be heavy snow in the Asahidake region for the next 7 days. I decided I couldn't wait that long. I decided to call on an old friend called Will Wycherly, who started teaching in Japan with me in 1998. I lasted one year, he's on his fourth! I gave him a call and arranged to meet him in the city of Obihiro the next day.

Wednesday 28th November
Day 290

Tom and Mr TosakiA long lost buddy

Tom - After another cosy night in the disabled toilets, I packed up and stood by the side of the road in the freezing wind and snow in order to hitch a lift. After an hour of stamping my feet, a dried mushroom salesman called Mr Tosaki stopped. He was going to Obihiro via Kitami and Abashiri (a very long detour). I was in no hurry, so I hopped in. We talked the walk, travel, the weather and of course dried mushrooms.

Tom and his old colleagues from UrahoroThe route we were taking took me right past the town I used to teach in. I couldn't resist popping in and saying "Hi" to all my old colleagues and friends. Needless to say they were very surprised by my appearance out of the blue. I could only stop for 15 minutes but I promised I'd try to visit them before I left Japan. He dropped me off at Obihiro after a delicious meal and drove off to his next bit of business.

Once in Obihiro I called Will and we spent the rest of the evening catching up with each other and laughing about the good old days.

Thursday 29th November
Day 291

Dad joins the team

Tom and WillTom - Will went off to work. I watched a video and chilled out. At midday I got the call I was waiting for from Dad who had arrived in Sapporo in the morning and come over to Obihiro in a car with an old friend called Mr Sasaki.

Meeting Dad was a little strange. I week ago I would have laughed at the idea of Dad coming out to give me a hand but circumstances had changed and I greatly appreciated him and Mr Sasaki being there. Mr Sasaki had kindly offered to drive Dad and I between the mountains. My new plan was to get the mountains out of the way as soon as possible (to avoid worsening winter conditions) and then do the walking between them afterwards.

The next mountain on the list was Meakan-dake, a 3-hour drive from Obihiro. The car we had was not the most ideal (a 2 door low slung sports car belonging to Mr Sasaki's son) but with a bit of careful packing we all squeezed in and set off. At Akan we found a 'rider house' a privately run hostel for motor bikers. These places are really cheap and it cost us about £3 to stay. The guy who ran the hostel was of Ainu (native Japanese) descent and he told us how we could catch the Ainu display for free by hiding in the trees. We were treated to traditional Ainu songs, dance and stories. Dad was exhausted from jet lag and I needed to get an early night in preparation for the next day's hike. Mr Sasaki however was cornered by two young guys who insisted on talking to him about his Christian faith (something which they found very interesting) till 3am!

Mt Meakan 1499m - Mt No 96
Friday 30th November
Day 292 - 25km

Tom - In spite of his late night chat Mr Sasaki was up before Dad and I. We drove up to the trail head of Meakan-dake and I set off up the track at 8am. Dad and Mr Sasaki had found a nearby onsen and intended to have a bath and a rest whilst I was climbing. I told them I would be about 4 or 5 hours.

Tom at the top of Meakan-dakeAlthough it was snowing, the climb was really easy and there was only about 5cm of snow on the peak. The crater hissing away as I snapped the proof shot and ran back down the track. I was back at the onsen by 10am to find Mr Sasaki fast asleep. I took a quick bath and guiltily woke Mr Sasaki from his much-needed sleep!

I had hoped to start on Shari-dake on the following day but with Meakan out of the way before midday I decided I could start on it today. It was a 2 hour drive to the to the road which lead to the trailhead, and on the way I bought some supplies.

I set off up the road just as the sun was setting and it was soon dark. The snow was falling heavily and I had to walk in a foot and a half of snow. By 7.30pm I was at the trailhead. The map I had showed a hut at this point but I couldn't for the life of me see it (I later found out that it is prefabricated and is taken away for the winter). There was however a toilet block.

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