We are up by 5:30, out of the tent by 6, and still are some of the latest sleepers in tent city. Breakfast is warm muesli with extra raisins. Tea gets me where I need to be. We pack up and out and are rewarded with another beautiful day, climbing up and down peaks; I think we stood on top of five total mountains that day. At 1pm, we reach a junction where we have three choices: stop for the day (X), continue on to Honzan Hut by Iide Peak for another 1.5 hours (X), or drop our packs, move water and lunch into our strap-off top packs, and do a quick up-and-back of Dainishi-san, the highest peak in the Iide Mountain range at 2,105 m. The weather is beautiful, and despite Ellie’s blisters, morale is high, so it’s an easy decision. We decide for a long day, and are enjoying a lunch of sausage and cucumber at the peak by 3pm. By 4:30, we are back at our packs, fill up on water from one of the many mountain springs (of which we don’t have to filter!!) and are heading towards Iide.
- Torii on summit of Mt. Kitamata
- Lunch on Dainishi
At one point, the trail widens and flattens, and we find ourselves walking through almost a Kansas plains like scene, tall grasses swaying drowsily in the evening sun. At sunset, we are on top of Iide, where we find a small Jizo shrine and the wind picks up. We layer accordingly and start hiking towards the Honzan hut. Instead, we find a sweet little spot protected by a rock wall that shelters us enough from the crazy windstorm we have all of a sudden found ourselves in. Dinner that night, a highlight: tortellini, sun-dried tomatoes, and a pesto sauce. Hot water to warm our bellies inside and out. I fall asleep to the tent rocking in the wind, almost too toasty in my bag, by 7:45.
- On top of Mt. Iide at sunset (photo c/of Ellie)
Tuesday is an early day. Ellie’s watch goes off at 4:45am to catch the sunrise. It’s cloudy, and we lollygag around until we see the sky start to pinken. Even with the murky horizon, though, as far as sunrises go, this one wasn’t half-bad. We eat breakfast and watch the night turn into daylight. We start down to the car, not realizing the trek we have in front of us. By far, the hike down is beyond difficult. The sky starts to spit on us, the wind abates not, and even with gloves on, my fingers are stiff and cold. Rather than dropping in elevation suddenly, this trail takes us down and then up another mountain, down and then up again. Over and over. My knees ache, my entire body hurts, and my mind is so focused on where to place my feet, that the whole process is entirely exhausting. The trail turns so bad at points, we cling to roots so as not to slide off. At other times, the route is so technical that I pack up my poles and clamber up and down rocks and tree branches at 70-85 degree angles, handholds becoming as important as placement for my feet. We pass thickets of bamboo, old-growth beech trees, pink barked birch trees, and see a couple snakes slithering away from our approaching footsteps.
- You’d think to go downhill, you wouldn’t have to go back up this guy
After walking endlessly, not finding the junctions we expect to on our map, the river below finally comes into sight, and even the constant downhill is a welcome relief – knowing that much sooner we’ll be on flat ground. We reach the icy, gushing water at about 4:30pm, a full and exhausting day’s hike from starting peak. We fill up on delicious, chill river water, zapping it with the SteriPen to ward off against any nasty bugs. The trail along the river evens out, though it is thick with overgrowth. Finally, we arrive at the car a little before 6pm; it’s almost dark. After a much-needed and thorough bath at the onsen, soaking our weary bones, washing away 4 days worth of grime and sweat and dirt, we drive to the nearest town, fill up on greasy, delicious tonkatsu (though all we both wanted was a hamburger), drag ourselves to the car and manage to find an empty, quiet rest stop on the way to the highway. Dead and blissfully asleep by 10pm.
Drive home. Mentally and physically prepare for the return to “real” life. The happenings, images, and occurences of the past several days already receding into dreamy memories – a haven, a hiatus from the daily grind.