From 6 to 11 August, Aimee and I hiked from Tateyama in Toyama to Kamikochi near Takayama City. It was a 65km hike which included summitting three 3000m+ peaks. The peak you see in the distance was the highest peak we summitted - Yarigatake. "Yari" is Japanese for spear - the mountain is so named because it looks like a spear is being thrust into the sky.
The peak of Yarigatake is 3180m, but we only made it to the campsite/expensive mountain hut at 3060m. The clouds you see to the left of the peak in the picture were the finger tips of a typhoon. Eventually the white fingers closed into a black fist that hammered the peak and the surrounding area for more than 6 hours. The initial blow came about 20 minutes after we began our descent. But more on that in the day 4 post.
6 August 2010
We caught a train at 7:50am bound for Toyama. Toyama is a city on the west side of Honshu (the main island of Japan) on the Japan Sea. We didn't see much of the city until the 4th day when we were high enough to look back on it. After arriving in Toyama we immediately took a one hour local train to the base of Tateyama. From there we took a 10 minute cable car ride to a bus station and from the bus station a one hour ride to Murodo. Murodo is at ~2400m and is the base camp for about a dozen different North Japan Alps climbing and hiking routes. The place was packed with people.
It's hard to see in the picture but there are close to 100 tents crammed together down there. Some of them looked like they would sleep 20 people. These belonged to base campers - people who stayed at Murodo and did day trips up the various peaks surrounding Murodo. They had every luxury you'd expect to have at home - except for a television. A lot of the base campers were parents with children or high school groups who were probably just there to climb to the summit of Tateyama. Tateyama is popular because it is one of Japan's Three Holy Mountains (Mount Fuji and Mount Haku are the other two).
After setting up our meager (by comparison) tent we set off to explore the sulfur fields. Murodo is situated near an active volcano which releases sulfuric gas into the air. In order to make it very clear where you are and what you're climbing, the volcano is also called Tateyama.
The sulfur fields were cool. They stank. But they were cool nonetheless. There was all kinds of gas being released everywhere. More irritating than the rotten egg smell was the recording that kept playing in Japanese, Chinese and English warning us to stay on the path and not to venture into the sulfur fields. In any other country there would just be a simple sign telling people not to be fucking stupid (at least if I was in charge of making those kinds of signs that's what they'd say) since it's pretty obvious that you shouldn't run through a jet of steam that was heated by a volcano. But in Japan there's a recording that plays all day (7:00am to 7:00pm). However, there's only a sign (and only at the end of the trail, not the beginning!) to explain that should the air raid sirens situated throughout the area go off it's because the poisonous gas has reached a lethal level and you should promptly evacuate the area. But don't run.
It was also interesting how the steam was released. There were tiny puddles on the path that bubbled slightly and there were giant ponds that erupted 1.5 meters into the air. What we found most interesting was that some of the pools were quite hot while others were quite cool. This was because the fissures in the ground were only releasing steam, not water. If the gas was released into a pool of standing water it became quite hot; if it was released into moving water it stayed quite cool.
We returned to camp to have dinner and sleep early since we wanted to get ahead of the hoards of people the following morning. Turns out half the people in camp got up at 2:00am to get to the top of Tateyama to watch the sun rise so it didn't matter that we went to bed early. But more on that in the day 2 post.