Diary - October

Adatara-zan (1700m -Mt No. 80)
Monday 1st October
Kato-san and Kikuchu-san with Paul on top of Adatara-zanDay 232 - 23km

Paul - Rain, wind, cloud, and good-byes to Ben as he returned to Tokyo to fix his ankles. Today would have been poor if it had not been for the guys who joined us for it. Kato-san and Kikuchu-san, two of Hattori-san's climbing buddies, guided us up the peak and put our fitness in perspective. If I can move as well as them when I am 'only 69' or 'just 76' I will be a happy man!

Adatara is undoubtedly a beautiful peak when you can see it, with volcanic ridges rising up from numerous sides and a moonscape-like crater with a single jet of gas grumbling up from its center. We did get to see brief glimpses, but in general we were yet again moving in a white, wet, chilly world.

Hattori-san, who had decided to skip the rain and take Ben to the train, met us again at the end of our loop. It was hard saying goodbye to him, shouldering our bags and walking back into our nomadic lives.

We had been treated and fed like kings over the weekend, with kindness we will never be able to repay. This walk always seems most crazy as we leave a stay in civilization. Last night we ate a feast and slept on futons. Tonight we ate spaghetti, mayo and tinned fish and slept in a barn.

Tuesday 2nd October
Day 233 - 34km

5 Minutes Too Far

Paul - Rain, sun, cold, heat and moody clouds danced round us all morning in a rapidly changing cycle.

Tom spent the morning undoing and re-zipping the numerous zips and poppers on his new Paramo waterproof jacket in an attempt to combat the changeable weather with various venting systems. I think the jacket is great but would still prefer to take it off when the sun is out.

Shortly after lunch we had moved away from the lakeside we had followed all morning, and started climbing back into the hills that had been consistently topped by clouds all morning. On our map there is a clear trail marked along side the ski lifts but obviously no one walks when they can sit in a chair. Dummies like us therefore have to spend a good long while hunting for the trail then content themselves with plodding up the access road to the top of the lifts. From there the trail clears up. The wind battered the tops of the trees around us as we climbed into the mist up a dripping trail but we were nicely sheltered.

A 3hr climb took half that and by 4:00pm we were out of the damp clouds and into a massive emergency hut. We had planned to walk the 5 minutes from there to the summit after darkness to grab a nighttime proof shot. Dry clothes, warm sleeping bags and hot food drained any motivation for such plans. Tom was settling down by 6:15pm.

Mt Nishiazuna (2035m -Mt No. 81)
Wednesday 3rd October
Day 234 - 50km

Paul happy with peaking NishiazunaTom - The wind and rain rattled the hut all night. In the morning we bagged the peak (a rather flat effort covered in trees with no view), and headed down the other side of the mountain.

By 9 we were on the road heading towards Mt Ide. After looking at the maps we decided to put in a huge day and get into a position from which we could climb and descend in one day. A long walk was made longer by a lapse in concentration on my part, which meant we missed a turn off and had to do another 4km.

We walked well past sunset but the sky was totally cloudless and a full moon lit the road so we didn't have to get out our headlamps. We bedded down in the laundry room of an out-of-season caravan park.

Mt Ide (2105m - Mt No. 82)
Thursday 4th October
Day 235 - 42.5km

Tom and Paul on Mt IdeTom - As the laundry room had electricity we got up at 4.30 and set off just after sunrise. We set off in a thick mist but as the day wore on the sky cleared. We reached the trailhead at 10am and were soon dripping with sweat, as the initial climb was really steep. Once on the ridge however it flattened out and we were treated to some awesome views and great autumn colours.

Awesome views and great autumn coloursOn the way to the peak we got a call from Ben. The day before his ankle had been so swollen he had hardly been able move but that day it was feeling a lot better. By the sound of things he had been really busy over the last few days writing up diary updates etc.

On the summit we met two other climbers. After chatting we found out that this was their 80th hyakumeizan peak… only 2 less than us! We got photos taken together but had to rush down as it had turned cold and we wanted to be off the mountain before dark. Despite our haste we still had to descend the steepest section in the dark. We pitched the tent by a river and fell straight into a well deserved sleep.

Friday 5th October
Day 236 - 40.5km

Life Plods On

Paul - A lot of days we just walk and not all that much happens.

The mountain valley that was so beautiful to walk up two days ago was spoiled today by rain.

To brighten our mood and combat the fact that there were going to be no shops, which we would be near at lunchtime, we bought and cooked some noodles at around 10:00am. The idea was that by eating early we would be able to survive through till a late lunch. Unfortunately the noodles seemed simply to disappear into a black hole. The sun came out though and we found a snack shop at around lunchtime, and the day improved dramatically!

It is hard turning down a lift that would save us one and a half days walking but it is nice to know that people still care.

Walking slowed down towards evening as we stopped every now and then to make various phone calls. We settled down that night under a bridge down town, with one newspaper and one TV interview arranged for two days hence, a place to stay in Sendai as we attempted to get ourselves registered as aliens for a second time, and the happy knowledge that Ben's ankles were making some improvements.

Saturday 6th October
Day 237 - 42km

Your Birthday?

Paul - I guess I turned 24 today.

Tom forgot, Ben had written it down as the 16th in his diary and I didn't bother to remind them, so no 5:30am rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for me.

The day was sunny however, we made a haul of food from a convenience store bin (after numerous attempts yesterday) and we had a Onsen in the evening to freshen up for tomorrow's interviews, so the day went well even so. The morning was all flat walking, my bag hurt my back, and by lunchtime I was so low on blood sugar I literally couldn't think of anything other than sitting down and eating food - it is quite sad how much our life revolves around food.

The afternoon was spent walking up hill, which actually eased my bags attempt to break my back. It was a glorious evening and with music bouncing in my ears it was almost a pleasure to be steaming up the multitude of switchbacks that took us into Zao Onsen Ski Resort.

Tom slowly and slyly washed all his clothes in the Onsen by pretending each item was his wash cloth at different points of his wash. Just as he finished a Japanese fellow strolled in and quite openly washed his boxer shorts as he sat next to us. Maybe it is acceptable behaviour?

It has to be said that sitting outside in a rock pool of hot water, gazing up at the stars, is a great way to end the day.

Zao-san (1841m - Mt No. 83)
Sunday 7th October
Day 238 - 29km

The cameraman entertains TomTom - Briff and I took it easy in the morning, checking maps, writing up our logs and drying sleeping bags as our first interview wasn't until 8.30.

After answering a few questions and posing for a photo shoot for a local paper we headed up the ski slopes to get to a 10.30 interview at the top of a ropeway, this time for local TV. On the way up we got a little lost and had to walk extra fast to get there in time. Between the ropeway and the peak we chatted to the camera man and felt a little self conscious as we posed for the camera. He filmed us walking, looking stoically into the horizon, chatting to fellow climbers and finally we had to act out an exhausted celebration at the summit. Tom posing at the top of Zao-sanWe then did a brief interview (in really bad Japanese…) before we met a guy from a second local newspaper for yet another interview. After answering the same questions for the third time that day we headed down the hill.

I ran down ahead of Paul to get the phone recharged and after a brief lunch break we were on the road again heading for Mt. O-Asahi dake. As we walked we received a string of calls from Thom, Beth (a friend of Paul's in Geneva who's been sending us chocolate, Cheers Beth!), one of the guys who interviewed us earlier in the day and Ben.

During the course of the conversation with Beth it became apparent that the day before had been Paul's birthday… guess who forgot. I'll make it up to him I promise. We camped in a scrubby lay-by.

Monday 8th October
Day 239 - 40km

Bedding down in a bus shelter

Tom - We woke at 5 and packed up in full view of some inquisitive dog walkers.

As we set off we met a guy out for an early morning power walk who stopped in his tracks and said "I saw you on TV last night, Gambate! (Keep it up!)". During the day we got plenty of waves from cars passing by, I only hope each wave reflects how much money and awareness is being raised for landmine clearance.

During the day I kept losing sight of Paul. Each time I would speed up to try and catch him up only to find he had ducked into some bushes to take a pee and was actually behind me! Even so, Paul is definitely faster than me on the roads.

After buying food for the next 2 days we headed up a road, which followed a beautiful boulder-strewn river. We found a tumble down bus shelter at the trailhead but after levelling the floor with planks it made a great place for a good night's sleep.

O-Asahi-dake (1870m - Mt No.84)
Tuesday 9th October
Day 240 - 22km

Tom ready to race off to the next mountainPaul - Muggy climb into clouds, a bitter wind blowing over a deserted ridge of a summit and a descent through tunnels of autumn colors. A day at the office. A day we heard of the death of Alan Robert-Shaw, the bombing of Afghanistan, and the doctor's order for Ben not to walk for the next ten days. Mixed emotions and drizzle to end the day.

We stopped walking early at an impressive three-story emergency hut in an attempt to make time to write up these diary days. I think Tom actually got some days written, I almost caught up with my logbook.

The trouble with walking as far as we can each day is that it feels like we never stop - we wake, we eat, we walk, we eat, we walk, we eat, we sleep. It's an exotic life we live.

Wednesday 10th October
Day 241 - 18km

Please Can We Stay?

Paul and Tim threaten the camera with slotted spoonsPaul - 18km of walking in the rain, out from the hills to the main road and the junction up to mountain 85. From here we were aiming to hitch into Sendai to extend our tourist visa by three months.

Eventually a 19-year-old ski instructor pulled in and allowed us to climb damply into his obscenely posh car - where do they get the money? He dropped us at the highway slip road with a promise to come back and check to see if we had got a lift after his business in town (a hair cut).

It was still raining and no one was slightly interested in giving us a lift so we were still there when he came back - how cool is that, he actually came back. He dropped us at the station and we slowly dried in a lovely warm carriage as the rain continued outside. Thankfully the guy in immigration didn't look twice at the two dripping bodies in front of him as he stamped our passports with permission to hang around until January 25th (we hope to be finished before then).

After chilling out in McDonalds watching couples try and decide between the class of Starbuck's or the cheap hustle and bustle of Mac'ers, and thinking how we really needed to write up the dairy pages, we met Tim Harris and enjoyed an evening of chat, food and shelter from the rain.

Thursday 11th October
Day 242

Registered Aliens

Tom - Tim was up early to get to school on time, so we said our good-byes and then packed up our stuff. We waited around to see if the rain would stop but it was still coming down by the bucket load at 10am, so we left the house and got our nice dry clothes drenched again.

We registered at the town office without any problems. After this we took a train back to Kita Yamagata station and walked to a suitable hitching spot. After an hour of being stared at, laughed at, and ignored, a lady with 3 small kids pulled over and offered us a lift to the exact spot we had hitched from the day before. She told us in perfect English how she had been a bit of a traveller herself when she was younger. After giving us an enormous apple and a couple of bunches of grapes, she dropped us off and we set about pitching the tent and grabbing some dinner.

Mt. Gassan (1984m -Mt No. 85)
Friday 12th October
Day 243 - 37km

Tom - We had to walk just over 10km up a steep road in the drizzle to the trailhead. On the way up a number of cars stopped to offer us lifts and one guy gave us some money for the charity. We also met a couple of Canadian guys and, after chatting, it turned out that one of them knew a good pal of mine called Will Wycherly who lived in Hokkaido (Hello Will, if you're reading this!)

The trail passed through some gorgeous forest but the views were obscured by cloud. It felt a lot like the Pennines: mist, yellowing grass, rolling hills, etc. We reached the peak at mid-day in a freezing wind and were glad to find shelter. After a quick lunch and a proof photo we headed down the other side. The lower we went, the clearer it became and we caught some good views.

We worked the last 15 or so kms of the day whilst on the road. Paul read a book and I caught up with the newspapers (both kindly donated by Tim). At the end of the day we found a tumble down shack to sleep in. The roof leaked and the floor was pretty flimsy (I fell through twice), so Paul sought accommodation else where, under the eaves of a summer house nearby.

Saturday 13th October
Day 244 - 43km

Life Plods On 2

Paul - A lot of days we just walk and not all that much happens.

It rained in the morning, then the sun came out as we wondered across a very flat plain. Just as we walked into a Supermarket to buy lunch the heavens opened. By the time we'd finished lunch the sun was back out. I think it would be fair to say we are experiencing changeable weather at the moment.

A very drunken old man stopped me for a drink but Tom was already ahead of me so I had to politely extract myself from the situation and walk on. A man on his way to our trail head couldn't believe it when I turned down his offer of a lift so he gave me directions to a nearby JET's house and later stopped by Tom to give him a map of our next mountain. As we had a massive climb in front of us the next day we skipped the JET's house and camped under yet another bridge.

Sometimes the pace of adventures is quite slow.

Chokai-zan (2236m - Mt No. 86)
Sunday 14th October
Day 245 - 27km

Paul amongst all the slatePaul - I am a firm believer that negative thoughts can seriously damage physical performance. I have to wonder therefore why I seem so content sometimes to harbor/humour negative thoughts rampaging through my mind for entire mornings, days even.

I spent this morning being cross with everything; being convinced that Tom had dragged us up our route because he knew it was the least used route on the whole mountain (he didn't know that of course); being convinced that slick rocks were throwing themselves under my feet; being convinced that my bag was trying to cripple me. I got cross at the Hokkaido paper that gave Tom a 1hr interview on the phone although I am not at all sure why.

Tom, with a rather red nose, at the top of Chokai-zanI did manage to laugh when I stuck my foot into a pit of clay and made my shoe bright orange. I even managed to find humour in the fact that everyone we passed on the way up commented on our shorts and told us it was cold on the summit - what do they think we are carrying in our pack?

But by the time we got up the massive side of the mountain (we started climbing from sea level) on to the impressive crater rim ridge and into a vicious wind and swirling clouds, I was back to internally grumbling about everything and anything. I was of course cross that yet again we were surrounded by cloud on the summit. The summit peak is a mad mass of splintered rock that reminded me of the slate slag heaps in Northern Wales, I got very cross at my shoes for insisting to slip on the damp rock. I misread the vast amount of directional arrows and ended up in a cave - got cross. Tom handles these days well; he just walks ahead of me and keeps himself to himself.

The wind clears a beautiful view, and a troubled mindDropping out of the whipping wind, out of the cloud and off the ridge, we were confronted with a view that was awesome enough to make you just stop and look. The sunset taking place on the far side of the mountain encircled us in strips of light. The mountainside slopped down and away from us in the clear evening light. Clouds appeared to race over our heads and be dragged down in front of us by unseen currents to split up and fade away.

My slightly tormented mind calmed.

We made it to the emergency hut part way down the mountain just before it got pitch dark, which was just as well as Tom's head torch had basically run out.

Monday 15th October
Day 246 - 39km

High School Kids

The high school kids who had knowledge of where to find foodTom - The dawn sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful, which of course meant it was freezing outside!

It was a short descent down to the road. Paul did some filming as I read the newspaper. I then started on the book, which I was absorbed in for the rest of the day. At the first town we came to we were guided to the local supermarket by 2 friendly high school kids.

The rest of the day was spent on a road, which seemed to go on forever, the views of Chokai-zan from the road were awesome and as I walked I had a real feeling of happiness to be doing this walk, seeing these views, enjoying the freedom etc. I cooked dinner under a bridge by candlelight.

Tuesday 16th October
Day 247 - 45km

Usual Suspects

A distant peakTom - This was one of those walk, walk, walk days and I spent the whole morning reading the book.

We found an awesome supermarket to buy lunch with loads of free tasters. After lunch we headed up a road in the hills past some very rural villages. At about 5:30pm a policeman pulled over and chatted to us. He asked us a load of questions and said that he had been called out by the locals, who were concerned that we might have be terrorists. Needless to say I found this very funny but looking back it's sad to think people can be that suspicious.

We decided to find a spot to stop to avoid further hassles and camped under yet another bridge.

Wednesday 17th October
Day 248 - 49.5km

More Walking

Paul - Another big day of walking. There was sun, there was cloud, there was rain, and there was dryness again. There was a break outside of a convenience store. There was a lunch of tuna sandwiches and a can of coffee from a vending machine. There was an address in Hokkaido to get our winter kit sent to and a reminder that a vast variety of people actually do read our webpage. There was hour after hour of walking and there was another bridge to camp under at the end of the day.

Thursday 18th October
Day 249 - 44km

Oh yes, and Winter is on its way!

Paul - Over 40km again. Life races on even though we are only moving at walking pace. Tom found an abandoned kitten this morning, just left by the side of the road in a box. He walked it into the next settlement planning to take it to the police. As they were not in at the time he left it in a bus stop. We hope it didn't have rabies.

It took us longer than yesterday to get a shorter distance today. I don't really know why. I don't think we were walking any slower. Our music is all getting a little sickening. We have just listened to it all so often.

It was well after dark when we stopped at the back of a closed restaurant that overlooks a dam that has been created since the publication of our map. We slept in the restaurant's covered outside eating area happy to snuggle into our down sleeping bags and escape the frigid air of the clear, star-filled night.

Mt Hayachine (1917m - Mt No. 87)
Paul and Tom raise the flag on HayachineFriday 19th October
Day 250 - 35.5km

Tom - The morning was one of the coldest on the trip so far and getting up was difficult. It seemed to take hours for the sun to warm up the valley and it was still pretty cold when we reached the trailhead.

We stopped for a bit to eat and then headed up a river that led to a steep boulder field through which the path picked its way to the top. Once again there was loads of great rock climbing (some other time). We reached the top in almost a third of the expected time (what we call "Japan Time"). The views from the top were good but unfortunately most of the leaves had fallen off the trees so the colours weren't as vibrant.

Paul and Tom with the ladies they met at the summitWe chatted to a couple of ladies, told them about the charity and headed down a different way, followed by a man with a noisy (and very annoying) bear bell. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking back to the place we had camped at the night before, where we had left our packs.

We found a service station area with a warm room to sleep in. The only problem was the lights came on with a sensor. To get around this we decided to pitch a tent inside, so we could roll in our sleep and not turn the lights on. I think one person came in during the night. I can't imagine what they thought of the tent.

Saturday 20th October
Day 251 - 37.5km

Morioka Madness

Hutch, Paul and one of Hutch's beautiful friendsTom - After breakfast we set off in the cold morning for another day of road walking. First we had to climb a long pass where Paul saw a very laid back Tanuki (a Japanese racoon). The skies were clear and the day warmed up.

Throughout the day we tried calling a guy called Hutch who had arranged a place for us to stay in Morioka. (Hutch has been in touch with us since before we left the UK). He eventually got through to us and we met up with him and two of his friends (the beautiful Ellen and Naomi). Hutch treated us like kings, taking us out for a meal, a couple of games of pool and a video at Ellen's.

It was great to wash, clean our clothes and chat till 2am (4am in Paul's case - call me a lightweight!)

Hutch - I finally got to meet these guys in the flesh! After following their progress from the beginning of the trip (and forwarding their newsletter out to all members of the JET program's Outdoor group). I finally met up with them in Iwate-ken, fed them, rekitted them with some food...and had a great couple of days just hanging out with
them (just Paul and Tom at this point) in Morioka.

Sunday 21th October
Day 252 - 0km

Paul - A lovely, lazy, well fed morning. Tom managed to get some dairy days written. I somehow managed not to. Morning drifted into afternoon - tends to happen when breakfast isn't eaten until 11:30am.

By the time we got ourselves organized to leave the house there was just enough time for Hutch to drop Tom and I at the station for our interview with an Iwate ken newspaper. It was a weird interview, not many questions asked but a lot of time taken. I think we got our point across, but I left with a slight suspicion that we may have left her more confused than when we started.

Finally, after almost 2 months we got a very brief look at our email account. I got a few of my messages read, but nothing written. We have not forgotten the people from our lives away from this walk. We just never get on to the Internet these days.

A lovely dinner, a huge icecream and another movie nicely rounded off an enjoyable break from walking.

Iwate-san (2038m - Mt No.88)
Monday 22nd October
Day 253 - 35km

Traversing the sleeping volcano!!

A warning signPaul - Iwate-san has a open and a closed season. In open season there is an open and a closed side, the western side totally closed due to a recent (last couple of years) increase in volcanic activity. Iwate closed about 2 weeks ago for the winter. One of the Iwate papers would not interview us because we were planning on climbing today. The thing is there seems no reason for closing the mountain over winter other than the fact that it is winter.

Ah well, we climbed up a closed mountain, saw no one, then descended down the closed side of the mountain. Maybe a little silly. Over grown paths, steaming ground, warm ground in one part even. I didn't feel all that comfortable. Tom wasn't really bothered at all.

Another cloudy proof shotThe climb itself was easy enough, fairly steep all the way, volcanic and gravelly towards the top. Two huts on a plateau in between the old crater rim and the present cone (which is dormant). We took a quick break in one of the huts to eat some food, left the bag there and plodded up the gravel slope to the summit. Yet again we'd climbed into cloud before the top, so just took a quick proof shot in the cloud and cold wind then hurried back down to the relative warmth below the cloud.

The descent took a while because it was a long way and there was plenty of bamboo grass to push and trip through. I hadn't taken in how long the day on the mountain was going to be, so had left my head torch in Hutch's car. Consequently we yet again had to work our way out of the bush and down the mountain in the dark with one torch - I doubt we will ever learn.

Slightly later than estimated, we were both worried that we would have another Andy Utsig like fiasco but thankfully, 2 mins after making it out to a road, as we were trying to decide what to do, Hutch drove up with his ever present grin in place. He took us down to a beautiful mountain Onsen with two outdoor pools one of which was across the river in a cave.

We finally experienced a true day in the mountains Japanese style - ie finishing in a hot pool of water. Unfortunately the day was slightly marred by the discovery (after Hutch had driven off) that we had left a plastic bag full of kit in the car - including cooker and fuel. Unable to face more biscuits we went to bed without food.

Hutch - I decided to take the Monday off work (I'm an English teacher) and help out with some lugging of their kit. Did a day hike myself in the Hachimantai area and meet up with Tom and Paul as they stroll out of the darkness on the backside of Iwate-san. Luckily there was no volcanic eruption during their trek across the mt. We shared in a couple of beers in Matsukawa onsen rotenburo....buck naked run across a bridge to a cave on the other side of the river. Left them there to meet again the next weekend

Of course Tom forgot he left the stove in my car....so they ate cold food for the next few days apparently! - Tom leaves a lot of things behind! (:

Hachimantai-san (1613m - Mt No. 89)
Tuesday 23rd October
Day 254 - 40km

Paul rests at the top of Mt. HachimantaiTom - Despite the lack of dinner we had a good night's kip and after a cold breakfast (ie - no coffee!!) we headed out into the drizzle towards Mt Hachimantai. The road we were on was closed due to a landslide, so we didn't have to worry about cars.

The clouds couldn't decide whether to stay or go, so we spent the morning taking our jackets off and putting them back on. After lunch break we headed up a paved path to the peak. Dressed in our rain gear and carrying our huge packs we felt slightly over dressed as we passed people in comfortable shoes and cardigans. This peak has got to be the easiest we've done so far.

We took a trail down the other side and walked into a small village, pitched the tent in the shelter of a disused house, ate tuna sandwiches, and turned in for the night.

Wednesday 24th October
Day 255 - 42.5km

Phone calls, and Pouring Rain

Tom - Today was yet another road day and we trudged for 4 hours before we took our first break. During the day we phoned Ben to arrange where we'd meet, AAR to arrange newspaper interviews, and my Mum and Dad (I do call them sometimes!!)

During lunch break it started pouring down with rain, I put on all my rain gear and set off, Paul waited for 5 minutes and the rain had practically stopped (smart little git!). We stopped under yet another bridge and ate tuna sarnies (again!)

Thursday 25th October
Day 256 - 41.5km


Paul - Today was the first of a jumbled few that should allow us to have a couple of days in a house (arranged by Hutch), climb a mountain with Hutch and get to a party on Saturday. It was also the day that we finally met up with Ben again.

After a full morning's walking we stopped outside a supermarket in Owani for lunch. So here is a taste of a part of our life. Hutch, a bloke (a friend) we met last weekend rang Ingrid, a girl who had never heard of us, to ask if we could stay with her. And she said yes, more than yes, she even organized for an English speaking friend of hers (Noriko) to meet Ben as he was due in around 10:00am. (As it turned out he bought a ticket to the wrong place, waited ages for the train, fell asleep and got off at the wrong station, made his way back to the start, got his money back, got a train to the right place and couldn't find anyone to pay. He arrived about 2hrs after Tom and I, 10hrs late.)

And it goes on. Noriko, a girl that a girl we didn't know asked to help us out, got her Mum to wait until Tom and I walked past them on our way into the nearby city (she knew we were around as we phoned her to see if Ben had arrived). They took our bags into town with them saying they would drop them at Ingrid's or pick us up on their way back and give us a lift back to Owani. So we walked without bags into the city then got a lift back with them as they waited for us to arrive. We were then fed by them then piled round to Ingrid's and just chilled out until turning in, each to our own room. (Ingrid has a 4 bedroom house!)

Friday 26th October
Day 257 - 30km
First day walking for a while

Ben - Our aim today was to walk from Hirosaki (the nearby city Tom and Paul finished at yesterday) to Iwaki-san, not climb it and then walk back to and past Hirosaki. By doing so Hutch can join us on the mountain tomorrow.

The morning walk was really enjoyable for me, it was pain free (ankles) and we had a chance to catch up with each other. We passed a musical rock, a big rock memorial type effort playing a rather catchy tune…and that is all I have to say about that. We were soon back in town and noticed a lot of huge looking foreigners. They were sumo wrestlers attending the world championships in Hirosaki. Apparently the world largest athlete is at the competition, weighing in at 800 pounds!!

AAR had arranged two newspaper interviews for us in the city and so we waited to meet the reporters. Both meetings went well and Hutch also picked us up and we grabbed some food before heading back to Ingrid's.

Met the boys - all three this time - at Ingrid's in Owani (a fellow Aomori-ken ALT) the Friday night. She gave up her house to strangers....

Iwaki San (1,625m - Mt No 90)
Saturday 27th October
Day 258 - 24km
Halloween Party and summit

One of the Tori gatesBen - We were joined by The 'Hutch' for today's mountain and we enjoyed it all the more for his presence. We began by walking under a series of Tori gates (part of a Shinto shrine) and then continued through some stunning autumn colours in the woods on the lower slopes. The upper part of the climb was mostly in a gully that was between 4 and 8 metres wide. We all stayed close together on the mountain and exchanged stories with Hutch, who had done some sweet powder skiing on this side of the hill last winter.

I took a couple of heavy falls, cutting my elbow and shin, I was quite disheartened at the low level of difficulty my ankles can hack before I start to get unstable and wobble around.

The team at the top of Mt IwakiAlthough the peak was in cloud it was an interesting place to be. The shrine on top is important for the local farmers who make the hike to it once a year to offer some of their crop, and there are quite a few other buildings hidden amoung the large rocks.

Once down again Hutch dropped us at Hirosaki and we put in a quick 10 km before he took us to his favourite place in Japan other than Hakkoda, Aoni Onsen... what a place! We arrived after dark in the middle of the Tsugaru mountainous area of Aomori and wandered down to this small settlement of beautiful wooden buildings.

We bathed by the light of oil lamps in three different hot springs, one of which was a rotenburo - or outside onsen. We lay back and the pains of the day seeped out as we watched the clouds chase passed the moon and stars. Tom and I both had time to hop into the fertility bath, a small wooden tub that was cooler than the other baths and fed hot water in a rather different way...(use your imagination!). Hutch and Paul declined the tub and Hutch felt certain we would both end up parents very soon.

Hiro, Hutch and TomWe could not leave Aoni until we had met the man legend of the place, Hiro is his name and he summed up for me the excitment of this experience in Aoni. He is one of those people that shines. Everyone wants to meet that kind of person and he seems to have plenty of time for friends and strangers alike. We drank coffee and whisky with him and before we left he gave me a wonderful gift of a headband he had made, 'carnival crazy' he said as he danced about the room and handed it to me. He also gave us all a sweatshirt with Aoni onsen written in Kanji on it.

The day had been a long one by the time we reached Ingrid's but it was not over, we launched straight into a Halloween party with about 30 Jets, some Japanese folks and a couple of huge Malaysian Sumo Wrestlers. There was plenty of people to meet and I think it was 4:30 am before I stopped dancing...Who was that guy who pinched my sleeping bag?

Hutch - All three guys and about 3 dozen wild English teachers on Saturday night: Halloween costumes, debauchery and all.

We had managed to bag Iwaki-san on Saturday - from the base at Iwaki shrine to the summit and back in about 5 hours (touched my first snow of the year! - read here: ....happy powderhound). Felt it on Sunday in the legs and the stomach - that was the hangover!

Left the boys again on yet another Sunday, however tempted to trek across my most favoured mt range - the Hakkodas - which I believe they crossed on the Tuesday. Thankfully they managed to find my stash of food in the basement of one of the backcountry cabins.

Watching these guys really made we wonder what we are doing in our day jobs. I got the travel itch again. To continually move and see new things everyday must be truly amazing; and yet to move as much as they do, really tough....truly inspiring.....hiking so far for such an awesome cause. I just feel blessed that I had the oppourtunity to meet such a quitely confident team of unique individuals. Best of luck guys, right through to Wakkanai and the top of Japan. cheers ...Hutch (events@outdoorsig.com)

Sunday 28th October
Day 259

Diary Day

Tom - After a late night the last thing we wanted to do was get up early and start on the past month's updates for the webpage... but it had to be done.

The house was full of people sleeping on the floor, in the corridor, on the sofa etc but we managed to find a quiet corner and got to work. By 12 most of the people had left, leaving the house in a definate post-party state. We spent the rest of the afternoon typing, cleaning and eating party left-overs. Ingrid went to watch the Sumo world championships (Japan won). I had planned to meet her afterwards to go to church but by 5pm I could hardly summon the energy to stand up and decided to watch a movie with the guys instead. After Ingrid came back we chatted till late although I fell asleep on the sofa (lightweight).

Monday 29th October
Day 260 - 30.5km

Hakkoda Hut

Tom - We had planned to get up at 5.30, cook breakfast, pack and be off by 7. Instead Ben and I slept through our alarms (Paul got up on time), grabbed a piece of toast, stuffed everything we owned in our packs and scrambled out of the house at 7.15. Ingrid had kindly offered to drive us to the point we had walked to on Saturday. We said our goodbyes in the pouring rain and watched her drive off, envious of her nice dry house.

The rest of the day was spent walking along the roads towards Mt Hakkoda. Fortunately the weather improved in the afternoon. I listened to a minidisc which an Irish friend of ours called Paul had made (cheers mate). By 2pm we were at the trail head donning our trousers as the temperature had dropped below 10 degrees. The trail took us across a swampy plateau which lead to a steeper climb to the peaks. The sun was setting as we reached a hut which Hutch (our Hakkoda advisor) had told us about.

By now it was freezing and the ground was covered in frost. I collapsed inside and watched Paul and Ben cook up a delicious pasta meal. I needed to sleep and I was out cold by 7.30.

Hakkoda (1636m - Mt No.91)
Tuesday 30th October
Day 261 - 32.5km

The team at the top of Mt HakkodaPaul - My nose ran like a tap all night, guess I picked up a cold over the weekend - real clever move. The views in the morning were vivid. The ground was frozen, the leaves were outlined in frost and the ropes marking out the path to the summit held a couple of inches of the stuff on the windward side. Iwaki-san stood out proudly through a layer of cloud as did an unimpressive hump of a peak that we guessed was Hachimantai. The wind was raw so we didn't hang round all that long even though there was so much beauty to marvel at.

A cloudy view through the peaksThe rest of the morning was spent forcing, slipping, ducking, our way down the very little travelled side of a very popular mountain. Once again (like on Iwate) travelling the little used route so as to save time and cut down on overall walking distance. Taking morning break in the sun at the base of the peak, we were highly amused by a truck that drove past us with a full size poster of a woman sat on the passenger seat. It is these little joys that keep life real!

Ben and Paul plod onThe rest of the day was spent working our way out of the hills and down onto the lowlands that would take us to the tip of Honshu and the ferry to Hokkaido. Hutch had given us the name and number of a JET for us to stay with that night but there was no way we would make it there unless he was willing to pick us up and then drop us off in the morning.

Wondering whether it was worth calling him at all we strolled through town looking for a Supermarket. Following directions that wouldn't have got us to a Supermarket (in that town anyway), we bumped into Phil on his way back to school to be a 'keeny' and get some lesson plans prepared early. Very happy to change his plans he offered to walk us to the Supermarket (taking us in the opposite direction we had been walking) and when he found out we didn't know where we were staying that night offered us a patch of his floor and to buy us a few beers!

Wednesday 31st October
Day 262 - 40km

Another day at the Office

A welcome respite on the computer games with PhilPaul - After a few beers and a couple of hours of crazy computer games with Phil, Cam and Markus (two other JETs who lived next door to Phil in a pink apartment block), we were woken up by a very sleepy Phil who had set his alarm earlier than it had been for a good wee while just to get us up on time.

Paul reads and walks on a long, long roadIt was a gorgeous morning but it was still hard to get back to Japan's roads. We were all tired, Ben's ankles were giving him a bit of grief and I felt ill. Little talking occured all day really, we were all happy to muddle along in our own little worlds. I spent most of the morning reading - it is surprisingly easy to walk in a straight line and stay on the pavement even when you are totally not looking where you are going.

Ben shows off a very large icicleBy the afternoon we had reached the coast. On the map it looked like we'd be walking right next to the sea. In reality we spent all afternoon less than 500m from the sea but only saw it once or twice. It spent most of its time hidden behind trees, rolling fields or houses. Pity.

We walked into the night - something that will happen every day from now on if we walk past 4:30pm. It is hard walking in the dark. Walk into the traffic and you are constantly blinded by oncoming headlights. Walk with the traffic and life is much more pleasant but the chances of being hit are higher. What is one to do? We camped that night right by the sea with the lights of Aomori and Mutsu twinkling at either end of our massive bay, the stars twinkling above us and the almost full moon making head torches pretty much unnecessary.

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