Sunday, May 28, 2006

The American Who Went Up A Mountain and Came Down With A Brother-In-Law

...or, "My Weekend".

On Saturday morning (7:45 AM), I met up with my friend Shinya and cruised over to Tomakomai, making a quick stop for gas and for food.


Because I knew that the weather was going to be bad on Sunday and I wanted to get out and DO SOMETHING instead of just sitting in my house all weekend.

So what did we do?

We headed over to Mt. Tarumae, an active volcano right on the west end of Tomakomai.

I hadn't climbed a mountain since I made the trip up Mt. Kaimon in Kagoshima back in late October or early November of 2002. Three and a half years out of commission had me a little worried about my physical condition, but I'd always enjoyed climbing mountains, and with the large number of them around me up here in Hokkaido, I figured it might be a good time to get back into the mountain-climbing rhythm.

We turned off the main highway and followed the road out to the parking lot at the seventh stage of Mt. Tarumae. The only problem was that the road to the parking lot was closed off at the fifth stage point. Cars were just parked alongside the road. So I found an open area and parked my car there. Then it was out, into mountain climbing gear (which means I put on my hiking boots and tied a bandana on my head), and off up the path. Since there are wild bears all over the place in Hokkaido, I also brought my mountain climbing staff: a stick I picked up when I climbed Mt. Daisen back in August of 2000, right after I got here. It has a bell on it, a memento of that climb. It's always a good idea to let bears know that you're there.

So we headed up the road (2.5 km) to the seventh stage parking lot area. There was no real reason for the road to be closed off. There wasn't any snow or other kind of obstruction. They just don't open it up until mid-June. So we had a bit more of a climb ahead of us than I expected.

We got to the parking lot after a while (no idea of how long it took) and wrote our names down in the climbing log. It's there so that people know you're on the mountain, and know that you've come back down. We took a short break, and then started the REAL climb.

On the way up, we looked back behind us and saw Lake Shikotsu. It was a very cool view. Lake Shikotsu is said to be one of the clearest lakes in all of Japan. From where we stood, it looked blue.

The most annoying thing about climbing mountains in Japan is the stairs. That's right, stairs. The hiking paths are fixed up a bit so that they don't wash away. What they do to fix up the paths is make stairs, usually by nailing some small logs into the ground at various intervals. Unnatural intervals. Climbing stairs is bad enough, but when each stair is a different height than the one before it, your legs tend to wear out pretty quickly.

But on we plodded anyway.

Then we hit the snow.

Yep, end of May, but there's still snow on that mountain. Not a lot, but it was right on the path. So now we're dealing with uneven stairs and slick snow. Fortunately, the snowy part ended fairly quickly. And the stairs ended fairly quickly after that.

But both the stairs and snow had taken quite a bit out of me. Trudge, trudge, trudge, rest, trudge, trudge trudge, rest, trudge, trudge...It was pretty obvious I'd hit a wall.

We came around a big bend in the trail and suddenly the wall was gone. I was in the zone. It was all coming back. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!! We made good time up the rest of the path to the outer rim of the mountain.

Mt. Tarumae is not only an active volcano; it's also a caldera. Whenever it went up last time, the whole top blew right off, leaving an outer rim and a crater inside. Since Mt. Tarumae has been a little on the active side lately, climbers are prohibited from hiking inside the crater. Heat, poisonous gases, that sort of thing. But the outer rim is okay, as long as you keep in mind that you need to get off the mountain as soon as you feel that you're in danger (there are signs that say that).

Here's how dangerous Mt. Tarumae is: if that lava dome goes, it will decimate Hokkaido's economy. First, it will take out the air travel routes. Mt. Tarumae is located close enough to New Chitose Airport, the major airport in Hokkaido, that an eruption will close it down. No other airport in Hokkaido will be able to handle the air traffic. Next, it will take out the sea travel routes. It's on the west end of Tomakomai, the major port in southern Hokkaido, and that port will get shut down with an eruption. Third, it will shut down the rail and road routes in southern Hokkaido. So if Mt. Tarumae goes, Hokkaido is, to put it politely, &%#$@&.

When we reached the outer rim, we had two options: go left, or go right. Going right would take us to East Peak, going left would take us around the rim to West Peak. These are the two highest points on the rim. I really wanted to climb up the lava dome in the middle of the crater, but what with the fact that I could possibly die by doing that, I decided not to.

First thing I did was to have Shinya snap this photo.

Pretty big lava dome there in the middle, eh?

We headed left towards West Peak. There was a shrine along the trail that I wanted to check out. When we got there, I was a little surprised, because there was a big rock wall shielding the entrance and a big concrete roof over the shrine. It looked more like a bunker than a shrine.

Shinya and I found a flat area and sat down for lunch. Rice balls. I'm a big fan of onigiri (rice balls). They're light, they make for a quick meal, and they taste darn good at the top of a mountain. We just sat there, eating our lunch, listening to the breeze, and looking out on the ocean. Magnificent.

On our way over to the shrine, we saw why people are prohibited from climbing down into the crater (not that there's anyone there to stop you). Two gas vents surrounded by very bright yellow colored rock. Sulfur. And lots of it. Yipes.

Nasty looking vents there. I was hoping that Mt. Yotei would show up a little more clearly in this photo, because it was a beautiful sight to see off in the distance. It's very faint, but if you look just off to the left of the lava dome, you might be able to see it.

So after we finished off our lunch, we decided to head back to East Peak, instead of making the full climb around the rim of the crater. The trail to West Peak looked a little too steep for my taste, or for my legs. And it's a good thing we made that decision.

We made the climb back to East Peak fairly quickly. At the top, we were hit by a ridiculously strong wind. We had seen no sign that the wind was going to be that strong up there. You could lean into the wind and not fall over. It was just ridiculous to even think of spending more time up there, so we turned around and headed back down the mountain.

After I got this shot, of course.

With my climb of Mt. Tarumae, I have now climbed at least on mountain on each of the four main Japanese islands. Mt. Kaimon in Kyushu, Mt. Ishizuchi in Shikoku, Mt. Daisen, Mt. Haguro and Mt. Tateyama in Honshu, and Mt. Tarumae in Hokkaido. Bu-YAH!

After we climbed back down, and made the ridiculously long walk back to the car, we drove over to the hot springs on the east end of Lake Shikotsu. The water was hot, and really nice on my sore legs. There are three separate hot springs around the lake, so I think I'll be heading out that way again.

As far as the "...And Came Down With A Brother-In-Law" part of the title goes, my sister got married on May 27th. One day's difference if you want to nitpick (dang International Date Line), but I like to think that I climbed Mt. Tarumae partially in honor of my sister's wedding.

My sister and her husband, Mark, got married in Boise at my Uncle Steve and Aunt Barbara's house. The ceremony was nice, although from what I hear, it rained a lot. See, I didn't go. Some good brother I turned out to be.

Here's Andrea and Mark with our Grandma Nelson.

Here are the two proud families.

Funny thing about rain and weddings: it's supposed to be good luck if it rains on your wedding day. If that's true, then Andrea and Mark have good luck coming out of their ears! Take that, Alanis Morissette!

Congratulations, Andrea and Mark. Much happiness to you both.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dust. Wish you could have been there! Love ya!

Sunday, June 04, 2006 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you choose the next best thing if you couldn't be here physically, but you were in spirit. We celebrated for you!

Monday, June 05, 2006 3:31:00 AM  
Blogger Sizzlean said...

Hopefully your Orienteering Merit Badge came in hany climbing up K9

Friday, June 09, 2006 11:53:00 PM  

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