Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Saturday Hike in Hakkoda Mountains

It's Thursday here and I'm finally getting my last post from the weekend done. I'm feeling a little off schedule. But next Monday I am going to get right back on track with a post about the Takko Beef and Garlic Festival. Hopefully we don't get rained out because the fog has started rolling in again. We had such a nice sunny reprieve.

We set out early Saturday morning. Ian and I were almost late for the vans. Which would have been sad because we would have been out 2000 yen - about 25 bucks. It was about an hour out to the mountains. We got to see black steers grazing a very rare site in Japan. There were a lot of trees so you really couldn't see much by way of scenery on the way up to the mountain. We stopped at an onsen that looked a bit like a Swiss chalet. There was a fountain there that you could fill your bottle up with fresh mountain water. The first half an hour was like climbing the side of a mountain, literally. You were like taking huge steps almost vertically. Everybody was going single file and I was trying my hardest to stay as close to the person in front of me as I could. You should have seen we weeze. Ian of course was up front with the much fitter dudes. I would just like to point out that I was one of three wives on this trip - and one of four women. I told the guide when we got to the top of that part that I might need to reconsider the rest and go home. But luckily after that first half an hour of craziness everything was much easier. Though I would say the whole hike was probably moderate to advanced. In other words, tough for the gals that don't do PT three times a week. But I made it despite the weezing!

It's kind of difficult to really describe the hike without having a map to show you but here is a brief synopsis. It was 4 hours long. We went up between two mountains, then up to the top of the smaller of the two. Along the top where there was a huge crater because it used to be a volcano. Then we went from the top of that mountain down a little bit and then back up to the top of another smaller mountain. This one only had half a crater because the other half (side of mountain really) slid down into the valley. We hiked along the top of that and then down into the marsh lands again to the gondola, which we took down to the onsen.  The next few paragraphs will be little tid bits about interesting things we learned on the hike.

When we got to the top of one of the mountains there was this huge pile of stones. The guide didn't really give a good reason for there to be a pile of stones in the center of a hiking trail except that maybe they were the same as cairns in Ireland or something. I came across a passage in my 30 year old guidebook about another mountain in the area that is considered the gates of hell (I'm not kidding - more to come of this one). In the book it says that after people die their spirits have to pile stones until they have a pile high enough that they can go to paradise. There are also demons that thwart them by knocking the piles down. So living people will help them by picking up stones and piling them. In this picture there is a little shrine on the pile but at the pile on top of the mountain with the crater there wasn't a shrine.

Another interesting bit of history about these mountains was the accidental death of some Japanese soldiers. In 1902 a group of 210 Japanese soldiers wanted to train to brave the Siberian winters and what better place to do it than the bitter winters of the Hakkoda mountains. It was almost freezing up there, in the middle of the day, in September. I don't even know what these guys were thinking. The soldiers got caught in a freak blizzard on the first day they were up there. By the second day 70 men had either died or disappeared into the blowing snow. On the third day only 30 men were still alive. The very heroic Corporal Goto decided that he was going to go out alone into the blizzard to try and find help. The next day rescuers found him frozen standing up near the village of Tashirotai. Standing up! That's determination. Only Corporal Goto and ten others made it through the ordeal but many limbs were lost. They call it the Hakkoda Death March.
Ian in front of the crater with his panda hat.

The gondola ride down the mountain could have been funner but I was very dehydrated, packed in there with like sardines (there was literally a woman pushing people into the already full gondola) and it was swinging gently. I was trying really hard to keep my lunch down. The onsen afterwards was lovely.

So if you are worried about being naked in front of women that you only met 4 hours ago the military is not for you. Non of us had ever been in an onsen and of course the guide and anyone that had been to one was male. That's the beauty of onsens, mandatory nakedness but segregation of the sexes. So we tried our best and I think we scared all the Japanese ladies away. They really didn't come back to the water till after we had left - sort of like scared birds - I don't really blame them. Obviously there are no pictures of any of this. We enter into like an antichamber were we take off all our muddy duds and put them in baskets. Then you open the glass doors and go into the actual onsens. It was a big room with shower fixtures all along the walls and the hot spring pools down at the end. What the Japanese ladies did was they first washed themselves with the shower heads while sitting on these blue plastic buckets that were stacked in the corner. We didn't understand this at first so we just showered standing up. Though they were short showers. There was pink stuff in a bottle and white stuff. We just lathered up with whatever. The shower it's self was worth it after the hike. Then after showering we got in the natural hot tub. And you just sit and chat and stew. There was also a tub of cold water if you want to shock yourself by going hot to cold. The wonderful thing is the water was just the right temperature, not too hot not too cold. When we were done we got out, showered, and got dressed in clean clothes to go to dinner.

I am going to admit it, I passed out in the van on our way to dinner. We had a really awesome dinner at the a hibachi grill place. We were sitting on tatami mats at low tables that have little grills int he centers of them. You order huge plates of meat - Japanese Beef! We got a variety plate with beef, chicken, pork, and some sort of chewy organ meat - I'm putting my money on tongue. All of it was marinated beautifully and was just wonderful. We didn't really bring enough money with us to get the full course meals that other people got but there was ice cream for desert, and interesting noodle and rice dishes for sides. It's surprising how used you get to having rice with every meal. I was a little sad that we didn't get a side of rice. Oh well. It was a fantastic meal and there were tons of wonderful conversation. I was really tired by the end of the meal and I think I even slept of the way back to Misawa. A full day of adventure indeed! Here's the Album Hiking the Hakkoda Mountains

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