Diary - September

Saturday 1st September
Day 202 - 40 km

Tokyo's gone man...solid gone

A beautiful wooden templeBen - I woke up feeling ill, my sore throat of the night before had developed into a minging infection and my head is banging.

As we set off we are passed by hordes of children on their way to school...on a Saturday? Apparently school always starts on the 1st of September after summer hols, regardless of the day...I would revolt!

We did some shopping in the 7-11 bin and the supermarket for our day off tomorrow, and then I found a knackered bike. I was feeling pretty grotty with my throat and head but perk up once I get my new found toy on the road! It is rusty and too small, but great fun all the same. Paul had a wee go but Tom couldn't be persuaded.

Evening came and brought with it a pure stunning sunset, photographs won't do it justice and so I sat down to write a poem in the hope that words will record what I see in a better way. I felt too ill to carry on walking past 7pm and camp alone with the promise to come and find the boys tomorrow.

Sunday 2nd September
Day 203

Day off below Mt. Tskuba

Ben - I stayed in bed until 8:30 am then headed out to find the lads. With help from some locals (and very poor Japanese on my part) and a call from Paul I find the camp by a wide and heavily silted river, sporting a great view of our next mountain. I must be honest and tell you that my day pretty much ended there at 11am! My infection had exhausted me and I slept all day. Paul and Tom both wrote journals and read a bit. Tom also had a crack at fishing the river, but that ended abruptly as he sank thigh deep in mud and struggled to reclaim his AWOL sandal.

Mt. Tskuba (877m - Mt No.65)
Monday 3rd September
Tom carries the flag on Mt TskubaDay 204 - 27 km

Tom - Ben didn't feel much better in the morning so we took it fairly easy up the mountain. On the ascent we passed some Shinto priests banging drums in time with the infernal screeching of the cicadas. This is the smallest of the Hyakumeizan and posed no problems.

The afternoon was passed walking north, the stretch of road was dull and we did some filming to try and capture the monotony we have to cope with at times. We stopped early and spent the afternoon skimming pebbles and swimming.

Tuesday 4th September
Day 205 - 42 km

Good haul at Save On!

Tom - We woke to the sound of rain on the flysheet. After walking 10 km's we took a quick toilet break at a 24 hour convenience store called 'Save On'. I checked the bins and found a full bag of pack lunch, onigiri (rice balls), pastries and mochi. Needless to say we took it, stocked our packs with free food and reduced the amount of garbage going into Japanese land fill sites... Just call us 'Eco Warriors'!

Once again our day was spent trudging boring roads, Paul and I popped in to buy Ben a birthday present and call AAR to tell them we would be in Gunma Prefecture for the next week, ( AAR will be contacting local press for us). We were all wasted by the end of the day, and a flat patch in an orchard made a great campsite.

Wednesday 5th September
Day 206 - 40 km

Ben Birthday Boy

Paul - Tom and I sang Ben awake at 5:30 am with a harmonious rendition of Happy Birthday. Chuffed with his bottle of whisky, Ben stated that the only way the morning could have started better was if we had let him sleep in - never thought of that.

The three team membersBy midday we'd finally left the Kanto plain behind, cleared up yet another haul of discarded food (well it would have been rude not to, it being Ben's B-day and all) and finally been visible enough for the poor reporter from a local Gunma paper to find us on the road as we walked. A strange interview was conducted standing by the fella's car, but he was interested and took an extravagant amount of photographs as we walked.

Evening found us back in the hills camped across the septic tank for some roads side bogs. There were phones handy to contact parents and once you had got used to the cabbage smell this was a decent, flat camp! 'Bin retrieved pre packed meals' (actually quite tasty) for dinner, we know how to give someone a b-day to remember.

Akagi - Yama (1828m - Mt No.66)
Thursday 6th September
Day 207 - 16 km

Atop AkagiPaul - The 'cold - sore - throat - banging head' bug that had been plaguing Ben for the past week enveloped him again today, but such trifles only slow Ben down, they never stop him. Consequently we had broken through a misty layer of cloud and were sat on the summit (or stood tanning ones buttocks if your name is Ben) of mountain 66 in the sun.

Akagi rises steeply from a high and beautiful mountain lake, the summit is 1000 vertical metres higher than Mount Tskuba (mt. 65) but the actual off road climb is shorter - the madness of Japan's high mountain roads. It was beautiful on the summit looking out over a sea of cloud but our food was back down on the road so we hurried down. Ben was not really in a good way at the bottom of the hill so we decided to call it a day and camped right on the shore of the Lake.

I had left a bright blue stuff sac (containing the flysheet for the two man tent) at the edge of the road to guide Tom (who had taken a bath in some far flung corner of the lake) to the camp. Thinking no more about it I left Ben in peace to sleep and sat writing my log book in the temple grounds enjoying the peace that seems to surround Japanese temples.

Returning to camp as the mist rolled in across the lake and the temperature plummited, I found Tom present who had got to camp without seeing the stuff sac. We leave our back packs every where, we've had our one thousand pound video camera returned to us in the centre of Tokyo when we tried to leave it some where, but for some reason our flysheet got moved. Two hours of searching proved fruitless, and so we went to bed hoping that someone had turned it into the tourist office, and I had a lot of 'if only's' running through my head.

Friday 7th September
Day 208 - 35 km

Fly sheet wa doko deka?

Ben - Tom left camp as the shops began opening and spoke to everyone he could find to try and locate the missing and vital piece of our tent. Last night it had begun to rain, I was fine in the one man tent but Tom and Paul lay in a leaking tent until Paul retreated to the floor of the public toilets leaving Tom to tough out the rain. Me and Paul scanned maps and our list of local teachers to try and recruit help, there was just one person in the close vicinity who could help, one Mary Feeney. Tom's search turned up one big fat nothing so we pinned hopes on Mary and Danielle who would have to send my spare tent to us.

Coincidence, fate or act of God - late in the afternoon, as we were walking, a car pulled over...I had a bizarre feeling and after a wee while summoned the courage to say "Hello Mary!" The freaked out look that the driver of the car gave me confirmed my suspicion that this was indeed the very same Mary Feeney we were hoping to enrole as problem solver of the week.

We were invited into the nearby garage to continue our seemingly chance meeting with added hospitality by the owner who had read about us in the paper. We were served green teas and given free reign of the phone to sort out what to do. I called Danielle and arranged for her to personally deliver the tent to Mary's house that night, and join us for the next mountain day. So we walked on to buy food before heading to Mary's village. At the supermarket we received celebrity treatment from the owner who had read about us, she gave us so much fantastic stuff to eat and drink and told all her customers who we were. We ate before walking into Katashina late at night and talked with our host and with Dan until the wee small hours.

Mary - I was driving in the pouring rain when I spotted three foreign men with very large packs plodding up the mountain road to my village. I was both shocked and excited to see them. I never see foreigners in my rural village, let alone hikers! I turned my car around to offer them a dry escape from the rain. Thus entered Paul, Ben and Tom into my life.

After a short 5 minutes we found ourselves in a petrol station sipping green tea and planning tomorrow's hike. Of course they could not accept a free ride to their next destination, but I could offer them warm showers, dry futons, and company on a hike. I was so excited to have the company of three English speaking hikers. My life in Japan has consisted of a lot of solohiking.

Shirane San 2578 m No.67
Saturday 8th September
Day 209 - 12.5 km

Ben - I had almost forgot that it was possible to feel relaxed on a mountain.

Tom, Ben, Danielle, Mary and Paul on the peak of ShiraneOf course spending time with my lady and getting to know Mary is ace but the day became more of an excursion as we talked all the way up and stopped to chat to Japanese climbers and munch snacks in scenic spots. My focus on the hill turned from one of speed and distance to one of enjoyment of the present company, this is certainly one of the factors that I miss in our general Japanese climbing experience. We rounded off the day with a trip to the Onsen (public hot spring bath) in Mary's village, a meal, and some late birthday present opening as Danielle had brought some surprises with her...hurray!

Mary - Today we all climbed Mt. Shirane. It was a wonderful hike as we took our time and enjoyed the company. We talked about everything and anything. Once at the top Tom, Paul and I took an alternate route down and stopped at a lovely lake. This was a nice treat, as it was too cloudy to get a view from the summit of the mountain.

Sunday 9th September
Day 210

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

Tom - Mary was up at the crack of dawn to take a group of 30 English teachers up a local mountain. It was raining and none of us envied her task, or indeed thought to help! We spent the day relaxing in her apartment, caught up with diary writing, listened to music and watched T.V. We expected Mary back at 3 pm but the hike took longer than expected and she rolled in at 7:30, next on her list was a drive to the station to get Dan to her train in time for teaching tomorrow. The girl is unstoppable!

Mary - Today I left three men, who have already hiked some 70 mountains in Japan, in a deep slumber in my apartment as I head off to lead 30 people on a hike up Mt Hotaka. The irony of this situation is uncanny. I returned home after dark, both wet and tired, to three very refreshed, and clean guests. I suppose letting them take a day off was good for them, me, and my apartment (which had begun to take on the scent of rotten socks).

Mt. Sugai (2144 m - Mt No.68)
Monday 10th September
Day 211 - 50 km

Rockfalls, landslides and raging torrents

Tom - During the night the second serious typhoon of the walk hit. We awoke to the sound of wind rattling the windows and the rain hammering the roof. On Friday we had been warned that the road to Mt. Sugai was closed and dangerous. We have heard many wellmeaning Japanese warn us of many various perils only to find mountains/roads safe. We therefore decided to tackle the road and mountain despite the weather.

We had a long walk in on a very basic road. We were nearly hit by a rockfall and Ben nearly fell into a steep gorge as the ground beneath him gave way - he was checking out a way across a section of road that had been almost entirely taken out by a landslide.

We reached the trail head after a 22 km walk. The rain was still coming down by the bucket load and the map indicated we would have to ford a fairly large river to get to the peak. We formed a triangle with our arms around each others' shoulders and edged our way across. The water was up to mid thigh, had any of us slipped we would have been swept over a series of 20 foot weirs and sustained serious injuries or worse...

A rather blase Paul and Tom challenge the elements to peak  Mt. Sugai Once on the other side Paul commented, "the river should have risen by the time we get back down...". The rest of the climb involved a series of smaller river crossings and an easy climb up a 30 metre waterfall. We reached the peak at 1:15, took a quick proof shot, ate some soggy sandwiches and headed back down asap.

Back at the main river crossing we found the water level had risen and after two attempts sought alternative methods of getting back to the road. We decided to climb over a steep sided spur that would hopefully put us near the road. Going up was no problem but coming down was slippery and Paul had started a small mud slide. Then a short bush whack lead to the road where Ben and I did a spontaneous celebratory dance.

This mountain would be a doddle in good conditions but had been positively life threatening today.

The walk out was a lot quicker than the way in. We found a fixed rope over the landslide section of road. It was dark when we got back to the village. Back at Mary's house we were met by a group of concerned teachers. They had read about us in the paper and had been checking our webpage with Mary. After signing some autographs (no joke!) We showered and began cooking, and Mary returned introducing a friend of hers called Summer (or was it Honey?!) Who had been praying for us over the past few months. The 5 of us chatted into the wee hours. It was 5am before we finally settled down to a well deserved sleep.

Mary - Early this morning I said farewell to the guys as they headed to climb Mt. Sukai. This was a very long day of worrying. The most powerful typhoon to hit Gunma in the last decade was gushing rain upon us all day. Everyone at my school was worried about the guys. At first I tried to ignore their comments, as Japanese people tend to excessively worry about safety, but when 7:30pm rolled around and my volleyball practice was being interrupted by rain coming through the gym roof, I began to wonder if they would make it back safely. But of course, at 10pm, I returned home, this time to three clean, smiling, and very tired hikers.

Ben, Mary and Paul relaxingTuesday 11th September
Day 212 - 31km

Rain, Rain go away

Paul - The most exciting thing that happened today was that all of us including Mary - got a lie in. 50 km and 13 hours in the rain had left us a little weary, and as the typhoon was still depositing enough rain to close Mary's school for the day, none of us was enthused to bounce out of bed and start walking.

The rain stopped just long enough for Mary to walk us to the edge of Katashina's sprawling boundaries. As she departed us at a run (for our benefit she had walked the first half of her usual run) the rain started falling again, and with it so did my spirits.

Spectacular sceneryIt was still raining at 4pm when we stopped for lunch, after climbing up what should have been a beautiful mountain road but was a virtual river in places. Cold and wet we huddled in some public toilets and warmed ourselves with hot soup and noodles.

Magnificent viewsMost thankfully the typhoon gave up its grip, and as we cleared the mountain pass we were presented with a majestic and moody view into a somewhat Scottish looking valley on the other side. We camped right on a path within a copice of trees, which afforded us some shelter from the winds hurrying over the nearby lake.

Nantai San (2484m - Mt No. 69)
Wednesday 12th September
Day 213 - 32.5 km

The team consult the Mt warrior on the way forwardPaul - Marvelling at how green the lake water we had used for our cooking was we wandered happily towards mountain number 69, with the sun on our back for the first time in a long time.

A 12 foot Samurai sword clamped 'King Arthur' style in to the rock and a fierce looking warrior with mad hairdo awaited us on Dantai's exposed volcanic summit. We sat in the sun but the swirling clouds below hid the valley from view. Dear Konno, our man in AAR who works tirelessly to interest the media in our little walk, made up for the lack of view when he informed us of a glossy magazine interview. Japan's Mountain and Tom meditates in his SnugpakValley (Yamma to Kekoku) outdoor mag with 200,000 readers wanted to join us on a mountain day!

I think I have only seen brighter stars on bitterly cold nights in Scotland. With the rain gone we decided to put our Snugpak sleeping bags comfort claims to the test and slept out, with a low temperature of about 3 degrees we all slept well and were all the more impressed with our Snugpak's. Camping to my mind is so much more fun when it's not raining.

Thursday 13th September
Day 214 - 40.5 km

Just passing through

Ben - It is certainly getting a lot cooler, I think we may need some of our winter clothing soon. We could see our breath this morning as we ate breakfast in our shorts (the only clothing I have really). My ankle was sore today and was I generally in a bad mood due to the constant dull pain as I walked...just weary I think. The road to Katashina is longer and steeper than I remember it to be, and we stop to buy supplies once in the village. No time to see Mary but we leave her a written invitation to join us on the hill tomorrow.

Later that evening we got a call to say we would indeed have another body joining us on Shibutsu San the next day, we are always glad of company and a chance to tell our old stories to a new person, we were even happier to have the chance to get to know Miss Feeney better.

Shibutsu San (2228m - Mt No.70)
Friday 14th September
Day 215 - 24 km

Ben - Yet again this morning I am struggling with my mood and my ankles, this is made worse by the cannibalistic wee beasties that are chewing on my flesh and drinking my blood. However my tent mate, Tom, is in a fine bouncy and inspiring mood that is really quite infectious. When Mary arrived with milk and fruit my conversion to a young and fun to be with person was complete.

As we climbed views came off and on and the path lead to an open and rocky ridge. Plans that Paul and I were making for a climbing trip back in the UK inspired me to solo a lovely route up a 18 metre rock face near the summit.

Quite a gathering of climbers on top of Shibutsu SanWhen I rejoined the guys they were chatting to a large group who had photographs with us and were full of encouragement. Although strange it is great to be meeting so many people who have heard about us and are inspired to think deeper about landmines and what they can do.

Once off the hill we headed for the trail of the next mountain and after that returned to Mary's house for showers and an early night.

Mary - Today I was able to take some time off work to meet up with the guys for a hike up Mt. Shibitsu. Once again, I was ecstatic to have some conversation as I hiked. Ben was his playful self and managed to cut himself up nicely on a few rocks. At the top I was able to see how they are able to share information about Adopt-A-Landmine and AAR Japan as Tom talked to a group of hikers from Osaka.

Hotaka-yama (2158m - Mt No.71)
Saturday 15th September
Day 216 - 33 km

Tom - As promised, Mary got us out of the house by 6:30 am. We piled into her car, which had taken on the rather pungent aroma of sweaty feet! Once at the trailhead we spent about an hour looking for the route, (we had left a detailed map of the area behind!). We reached the top at 1pm and gave out some fliers to some folks there.

The route down was steep but I had bags of energy so ran on ahead to get some film. Once at the bottom Mary and Paul hitched to the car and Ben and I walked on towards the next peak. A couple of hours later Mary and Paul re-joined us to give us our packs that we had left in the car. Our plan had been to camp but Mary's awesome generosity shone through. She offered to drive us back to hers and drop us off again on Sunday evening. We jumped at the offer and on the way back picked up a video (Billy Elliot) and some beers.

Mary - Although Tom is too kind to mention this in his diary entry, we walked a 6 kilometer loop before finding our trail because I left the map at my apartment. Silly me had thought it was in the car, and never bothered to double check. They were all very good natured about the whole thing and said they make these types of mistakes all the time. But still, I felt just awful for making them walk around like wandering ants.

Once we were finished on My Hotaka (my second time in one week), Paul and I thumbed a ride back to my car. Our first lift was provided by a cute Japanese couple who were returning home from their "driving date". He seemed keen to show off his nice car, and stealth driving skills. Our second lift was a family on vacation.

Unbeknownst to Paul, the two teenage girls were giggling and swooning about him the entire way. Being with Paul for the last week I have overheard numerous Japanese comments about how cool, handsome, and cute he is. I suppose these are statements that Tom has neglected to translate for him.

Sunday 16th September
Day 217

Dinner party under a bridge

Tom - Today provided me with the opportunity to go to church so I set off with Summer (one of Mary's friends) who is a regular attendant. The service lasted from 10:30 to 14:30, and consisted of: prayer, praise, a talk, lunch and Sunday school (where a 5 year old taught me how to a make a paper crane). It was great to have fellowship with the church, who generously donated money for our fund raising efforts, and with Summer. She is a truly beautiful person inside and out.

Mary and the guys met me at 14:30. They had spent the morning resting and writing diary updates. We had offered to cook a camp meal for Mary so we made a quick stop to get provisions. After chilling in the sun and playing in a kiddies playground we went to an onsen (hot spring). Feeling refreshed we headed back to the drop off point.

On the way back it started to rain so we found a relatively flat spot under a bridge and started to cook up a pasta dinner. It was great to share a bit of our usual impoverished existence with Mary so she could fully realise how much her generosity meant to us. After a time of prayer we said our goodbyes and watched Mary drive off into the rain.

Mary - Ahh, a day of rest. Lounging around and relaxing with Paul, Ben and Tom is almost as fun as hiking with them. We went to a park to eat lunch and play. Then to a spa for a dip in the hotsprings. Of course, as lazy days have a way of passing too quickly, it was suddenly dark. So we headed back to camp where Ben made us a lovely dinner.

It was a wonderful meal, but I spent most of the evening dreading the goodbye that was looming ahead of us. It seemed like I was saying farewell to lifelong friends, and not three men I had met in the drizzing rain a week before. I suppose this is just a small indication of how many lives Ben, Paul and Tom have touched both here in Japan, and throughout the world.

Tanigawa - dake (1963m - Mt No.72)
Monday 17th September
Day 218 - 20 km

A pair of legs speed up the rocky cliff-facePaul - So we will be in next month's issue of Yama to Kekoku. A strange interview, Atsuko and Toru spent all morning with us climbing up to half way, but didn't ask any structured questions. I'm not sure what they are going to put in the article! For any one who is in Japan and is interested to find out what they wrote the article is in the November issue out about the 15th October.

We left them after lunch to finish the striking ridge that we were on. The rocky ridge wound its way into a seemingly ever-present roof of cloud that sits on all of the summits, and that was the direction we were headed. Tom decided that to prove our strength we should blast away from Atsuko and Toru in a cloud of loose rock and dust. Unfortunately he overlooked telling Ben and I of his brainchild so instead of a strong unit of three rapidly ascending into the mist, Toru's final pictures will capture a lone figure sprinting ahead of a steadily moving duo. Sad but apt.

Tom is impressed by the viewThe mountain that swept up from the valley has a distinctly Scottish look to it once above the tree line. It also sports the biggest rock wall in Japan which is thought to have claimed more Climber's lives than any other. It should have been a thrilling walk along a rocky ridge, but once again after a cloudy proof shot we didn't see anything of the reputedly stunning views.

After the main ridge to the summit we wound our way along another ridge through thick bamboo grass until well after dark. Mist aside, it was a great day in the hills. To top it off we got free water from a paying mountain hut (usually they charge extortionate amounts) and found an emergency hut to sleep in. I was so glad to get out of the mist that was almost claustrophobic as the world narrowed to the hazy beam of my head torch.

Makihata - yama (1967m - Mt No. 73)
Tuesday 18th September
Day 219 - 39 km

Paul - The trail for today's peak began just off the back of the ridge we had spent most of yesterday on. At 10 am ish we were readying ourselves below the imposing steep sided, forested slopes that seemed topless due to the cloud. Sweaty steep climbing brought us through the trees to a grassy slope reminiscent of the Lake District. At times the cloud would break allowing glimpses of the scar-like paths that were above us.

The team on the summit of MakihataUnimpressive and unmarked we walked straight past the Hykumeizan peak and on to a further peak, the summit sign of which pointed out the era of our ways. Konno phoned as we back tracked, informing us of another magazine that want to run a story on us, the ball keeps on rolling.

Back at our packs we washed our socks (that truly smelt of death) with an audience of an old guy on a scooter, then headed to the valley and civilisation. We had hoped to hit town in time to shop so as to avoid hanging around in the morning. We scurried around following various directions for various supermarkets, all of which were shut. Tired and kranky we managed to beat a young couple to a bench in the darkest corner of a park where we cooked and slept.

Wednesday 19th September
Day 220 - 23 km

Naked Bouldering

Ben - What an arbitrary time to open a supermarket...I could understand it if it was a Sunday...Anyway we arrive as it opens and buy up supplies for the next 5 days in the hills. It has been a while since we spent a decent amount of time in the mountains and I'm looking forward to it.

We had hoped to make the summit of Kuma-ga-take by tonight but the late start coupled with the discovery of the ultimate campsite changed our plans for the better. A two storey building complete with: toilets, French windows and a balcony awaited us. By all accounts a public building, jolly good show old bean. The story gets better, our holiday home looked over a river with a natural swimming pool and what is more there were some great big boulders!

I donned my climbing slippers, inspired by Tom's bare footed ascents and began climbing. I spied Paul skinny dipping and before i knew it the exhibitionist deep within me had removed all my clothes, leaving only my rock shoes and chalk bag! The sight can and I'm sure will be seen by many due to Paul's opportunistic filming, however the scene only really becomes complete with the knowledge that Paul himself was completely starkers!

Kuma - ga - take Bear Peak (2003m - Mt No.74)
Thursday 20th September
Day 221 - 25 km

Top knots on Kuma - ga - takeBen - Those of you who know me may also know my fixation with Bears, I love the roving and powerful character they conjure in my mind. This is one of the reasons for my excitement of this mountain called Bear peak. The 1,500 metre climb was straight up a steep spur, for the first time since getting ill about three weeks ago I felt full of energy. If it wasn't for sore ankles I think I could have run up this mountain.

A clouded vistaAs the spur joined the ridge I stopped to make a quick sketch. The aeroplane-type view that now spanned the distance between us and the nearest mountains was made by the meadow of cloud that had grown beneath us. The views soon disappeared, confined to memory and a bad sketch, as cloud rolled over the peak. Soon after, rain chased us off the mountain and we headed for the next. We had heard about a free onsen somewhere on this deserted road and relished in the discovery of it at the end of a great day.

Friday 21st September
Day 222 - 40.5 km

Ben catches up with some writingBy the Kringe it's cold!

Tom - The morning was spent plodding around a reservoir and its numerous bays and headlands. The route could easily have been halved if a few bridges and tunnels had been built, 'but hey, every kilometer is extra money for the charities'. We reached the trail head for Hira - ga - take at 14:00 and decided to dump as much unnecessary kit (fishing rod, sandals etc.) as possible and head quickly up for a high camp.

The climb would have been beautiful if clouds hadn't completely obscured the view. We reached a plateau at 18:00 and made camp. I was bitterly cold and found myself using a 'Paul Briffaism' By the Kringe it's cold! We put on all the dry clothing we had and crawled into our Snugpaks.

Hira - ga - take (2141m - Mt No. 75)
Saturday 22nd September
At the top of Hira - ga - takeDay 223 - 26 km

Tom - We woke to find the zips on the tent frozen shut and icicles hanging four inches inside from the condensation.

During the night we had heard strange noises coming from Paul in the one man tent. Further enquiry revealed that he had had to do an exercise routine to keep warm.

Paul takes a breakWe reached the peak at 7:30. During the descent the sun broke through the clouds and gave a lovely view of the ridge and surrounding peaks. By the time we reached the bottom I was sweating and it was hot enough to put our kit out to dry.

We spent the afternoon walking to Hiro - ga - take, which we reached at about 15:30. The temperature had dropped again and we still had a 4 - 5 hour climb ahead of us. On top of this Ben had twisted his ankle earlier in the day. With these factors we decided to camp in an enormous car park. After writing the log and eating we settled down to an early night in preparation for an early start in the morning.

Hiro - ga - take (2356m - Mt No. 76)
Aizu Koma ga take (2133m - Mt No. 77)

Sunday 23rd September
Day 224 - 26 km

Fellow climbers sign the flag at the top of Hiro-ga-takeBen - Our interrupted sleep was due not only to the icy cold weather but also to the masses of people noisily awaiting daybreak to climb the mountain. Up at 4:30 and climbing by 6:00, we looked positively ill equipped in comparison to the other people on the hill as we charged up, fleeces tied around waists, and a plastic carrier bag for our water bottles. We passed what seemed like hundreds of Japanese climbers most of whom were hauling huge packs - I do wonder what people take with them up the hills.

The views from the top at 8:15 were magnificent, not a cloud in sight. As we looked around we could see for the first time all of the mountains we had been climbing for the past two weeks. We could even see a distant and snow capped Mount Fuji.

The second peak of the day, Aizu KomaOur quick up and down of 'Hiro' took about four hours. We were spurred on the whole time by continual remarks of 'Gambate' (keep going) and 'Hiyai' (you're fast) from the other hikers we passed.

No sooner down and we were going up again. The next mountain 'Aizu Koma ga take' is on the other side of the valley and the last in this clump of twelve. We access the peak by a gently rising five kilometre ridge that is bathed in the last of the days sun. We look around and all we can see is beauty. Views are not the only reason I climb mountains but having been deprived of them for so long (by cloud) I'm reminded how inspiring they can be.

We descended quickly, reaching the village at the foot of the mountain as the sun sets. We sought the warmest place possible in anticipation of another night below freezing... ....the toilets it is then!

Monday 24th September
Day 225 - 27km

Breaky in the bogs!

Ben - We can camp anywhere, it is a skill you develop when you're knackered and don't care what people think of you. It must be strange though to walk into a public toilet and have an audience of three foreigners sit at your feet eating porridge whilst peeing... One might even consider it perverted. However we smile and engage in random chit chat and life carries on.

Winter is certainly on its way - at least it felt that way until the sun rose high enough to fill the valley. We have started a two day trek to mountain 78 but decided to make a half day off the walking to catch up on internet entries. We shop in a small village in southern Fukushima, and for the first time I manage to explain in Japanese what we are doing and why to the ladies in the shop.

Maybe it was my rugged yet handsome appearance (my hair continues to grow wildly out of control and I have a beard in the making) or perhaps we just looked desperate for some T.L.C. Whatever it was, the ladies presented us with gifts of hot coffee, Nashi (Japanese pears), apples and milk.

We walked on, Paul and Tom regaling climbing stories from the book they are sharing. The team atmosphere is buzzing, it is a rare thing but today I think what ever we might have to do, we would do it well as a team.

Tuesday 25th September
Day 226 - 32.5km

Empty Onsens

Tom - I woke really early to try and get a free wash at the rotemburo (outdoor bath) next to where we had camped. I climbed over the wall armed with a towel only to find the baths had been drained!

The rest of the morning was spent plodding along a road that we had to ourselves due to an accident in a tunnel. During the day we spoke to a number of people on the phone including Thom - who told us our new sponsor Paramo (see sponsor's page for details) had sent us some clothing, Mr. Konno from AAR to tell us about 2 local newspapers who wanted to write about the trek, Mr. Hattori, who had met us on Norikuradake and had offered us a place to stay in Fukushima, and Mary, our awesome host from Gunma.

Nasu-san (1917m - Mt No. 78)
Wednesday 26th September
Day 227 - 31km

The summit of Nasu-sanTom - We walked up the road to a point where we could dump packs and bag the peak. Ben's ankles that had been weak over the past week or two were giving him a lot of trouble. The trail up to the peak took us past a beautiful lake. After taking the proof shots on the summit Ben headed off down and Paul and I waited for half an hour to get a call from Mr. Konno about newspaper interviews. Back at the bags we decided to call it a day and pitch on a flat patch of grass. Unfortunately the ground was covered in spiky chestnut husks which put small holes in one of the tent's ground sheet.

Thursday 27th September
Day 228 - 34km

Another Brush with the Law

Tom - We walked 10km to a station where we were supposed to be interviewed only to be told by the lady who worked there that it had been cancelled. We bought food for the day and set off towards a city called Aizuwakomatsu where two newspapers had arranged to meet us the following day.

The road walk was really boring and somehow we lost track of the order we were walking in, so Paul and I were unsure if Ben was in front or behind us…

We stopped and he eventually caught up having stumbled on his weak ankles and fallen into the road. By the evening we were all exhausted and in need of sleep. We settled for a sheltered parking area where we laid out our sleeping bags and cooked dinner.

We had been asleep for 30 minutes when a dog walker asked us what we were doing. We explained and he wished us all the best. 5 minutes later he was back and persuading us to stay at his house.

The kind family that took in the team when the police came, with their dogJust as we were packing up the police arrived with flashing lights and three officers jumped out demanding to know what we were doing and wanting to see our passports. Our dog walking friend explained that everything was all right as we were staying with him.

In the safety of his home we ate his wife's rice balls, chatted and watched the news while the dog cowered in the corner. The dog walker (we never learnt his name) told us of his travelling experience and how this made him want to help us.

Friday 28th September
Day 229 - 32km

Shinbun Interviews Galore

Ben - Our first interview of the day was at 9:00am in a town 8 km's away. The lovely couple that took us in last night sped us on our way with some more homemade onigiri.

I walked as fast as I possibly could so as not to be the reason for lateness… My ankles are ridiculous… I am struggling to know what to do and constant pain makes me constantly think what I should do.

The team interviewedWe get to the office of the Asahi Shimbun and have a great interview but a terrible photo. We walk on to Bandai and the next interview and the station. This interview was over quickly and we head on to the mountain. On the way we receive a call from Mr Hattori changing the plans for our meeting with him.

We have a team chat about what I should do, I am starting to struggle to keep the pace and getting miserable with the pain and not understanding the weakness in both ankles. I decide that rest is the only real option that I have, and that the boys will have to carry on in consideration of the fast approaching winter. I will leave the lads after we have climbed Bandai San and stayed with Mr Hattori.

Our friend Mr Hattori drove out to meet us with one of his pals and also brought with him some parcels from our new sponsors Paramo (see sponsor's page). After organising the weekend plans Tom slipped into his Paramo salopettes, mountain shirt and Jacket and danced like Billy Elliot (Paul - all legs and hidden grace!). Also amongst the post was a Mini Disk from my brother. I fell asleep to great music and Eddie Izzard quotes.

Bandai-san (1819m- Mt No.79)
Saturday 29th September
Day 230 - 25.5km

Ben - I needed to get up two times to wee…

First time I was naked and frozen by the time I got back to the tent. Second time I was fully clothed but fell over due to my ill functioning ankles.

Bandai - yeah!We climbed the mountain quickly and sat at the top in a frigid wind chatting to three lads who work at Sharp and were pleased to see that we had the best digital camera on the market (see sponsor's page). On the way down a guy stopped and pointed at Paul and I, "Norikura-dake?" he said.

We realised that this was one of the guys we had met at the same time as Mr. Hattori in the Northern Alps. He took us into the nearby hut where we drank beer and Meso (soup) and big fuss was made by all. They showed us today's local paper and there was that terrible photo.

Mr. Hattori and his wife's marvellous spreadWe returned to our bags and started the walk to our meeting place. Once at Mr. Hattori's house we were party to a huge banquet of sushi and KFC. We experienced a stunningly comfortable Japanese table. Usually we are faced with the problem of dealing with dead legs as we try to sit around the low dinner tables. Hattori's was placed over a sunken, heated floor. A pleasure to sit at!

Sunday 30th September
Day 231

Day off with Mitsugi Hattori

The procession Mr. Hattori with Ben and tom at the Chrysanthemum Doll show

Ben - We were up early eating a traditional breakfast of salmon rice and Meso in preparation for a day on the town. Mr. Hattori took us to the opening ceremony of the Chrysanthemum Doll show. We watched children marching bands, the coolest being a school playing the Indiana Jones theme tune. Hattori-san took us for a traditional Japanese lunch, an Onsen and to visit one of the houses that he had built. After this we of course deserved another feast, which is what Mrs Hattori had yet again prepared for us.

next diary page >


Monthly Pages -