Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Snark's Eye View From the Mountains of Japan

--Susan, every other Sunday

As by now I'm sure you're all aware, I'm spending the next few months in Japan, attempting to become the first American woman over 45 to climb the Nihon Hyakumeizan in a single year--as well as the first cancer survivor to climb them within a year after finishing cancer treatment (chemotherapy).

On the summit of Mount Bandai. (A mile high, but you'll have to take my word for it.)

But this journey has quickly become about far more than merely tagging peaks and adding notches to a climbing belt. (Spoiler alert: I always knew it would, and intended it to.) My climbing notes often wax philosophical -- sometimes, downright "woo-woo" -- and yet, I think it's impossible to undertake a project of this magnitude without a great deal of internal dialogue and growth.

I WILL BECOME A BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY. (Or perhaps a moth . . .)

Or, if you did, I think you'd cheapen the journey and deprive yourself of a critical aspect of the journey. As every writer knows, the protagonist's internal arc is actually more important than the physical one (s)he undertakes--and that's true in life as well as in fiction.

However, it's also true that wherever I am, my herd of snarks is never far behind--and since I'm not revealing the bigger side of the lessons learned until I know for myself what those lessons really are, you're going to have to live with reports from the snarky side.

Tell me there's something NOT snarky to say about a display like this . . .

Let's be honest . . . the snarks are more fun anyway.

So here's the snark-cap of my travels since last we met here at MIE:

I have summited five more hyakumeizan--Mounts Nasu, Bandai, Ibuki, Omine, and Odaigahara--bringing my total climbs to 11. (And I'll be climbing number twelve by the time you read this blog.)

Technically, I didn't actually climb Mount Omine, since apparently the world will end if women cross the Great Seal at the base of the mountain--but I took my photo at the highest marker I was allowed to reach, and since that marker lies at the base of the mountain, I'm proud to say I reached the summit in record time.

(Non) Summit Photo, Mount Omine

On Ibuki, I learned that climbing mountains in the rain is a horrible idea--and that hiking through abandoned ski resorts has all the makings of an excellent horror film.

I see no way this could possibly go wrong.

On Bandai-san, I discovered something that moves even slower than I do on the trail (though not by much).

The only other hiker I outpaced on the way to the summit.

I also acquired a new, and louder, bear bell (the third bell on my pack, in case you're counting), so I can jingle up a storm with all the Japanese hikers on the mountain trails.

Chausu-dake, the active volcanic cone on Mount Nasu, taught me that volcanic gases are so nice, you smell them twice: the first time when you hike up the mountain, and the second time about twelve hours later, when you use the bathroom at your hotel.

Yay! A live volcano! (And yes, I hiked all the way to the top)

Fun fact: it smells exactly the same coming out as it did going in. (Which, I'm well aware, is more information than you needed, but now you know--and knowing is half the battle.)

Omine taught me that if you don't let women on the mountain, they'll have time to hike a beautiful gorge,

The cataracts at Mitarai Gorge

ride a monorail, visit limestone caves,

Breathtaking limestone formations in Dorogawa

cross giant suspension bridges,

One of at least half a dozen I crossed while hiking Mitarai Gorge. They wobble quite reassuringly underfoot.

and clock a 29,000 step hiking day--all the while having far more fun than the men standing naked under waterfalls on the mountain.

Respectfully submitted in place of the missing photo of naked priests beneath a waterfall.

In other words: NEENER. (Despite the law degree--or perhaps because of it--maturity has never been my strong suit.)

And Odaigahara taught me to recognize poop.

Actual sign on the summit plateau, Mount Odaigahara.

Because Japan.

(It also showed me some breathtaking vistas, which probably is more in tune with what you'd like to see - so I'll drop a photograph of that instead of something more scatalogically-oriented.)

The view from Daijagura, an outcropping on Mount Odaigahara.

Today I traveled to Nagano Prefecture, in preparation for tomorrow's planned ascent of Kurumadake. I visited an ancient shrine, watched the sun set over a gorgeous lake, and drank dragon spit--as you do, when the opportunity presents itself.

Sacred dragon drool for the win. Delicious!

As you can tell, there's plenty to snark about on this adventure--as well as enough to marvel at, admire, and learn from that it's likely to take a lifetime to fully process. One thing is already clear, however--the choice to pursue my dreams today, instead of waiting for a "someday" that might never come was the right decision for me, and it's the right decision for you as well. Whatever it is you're burning to do, find a way to do it now.

The mighty (and sacred) Tenkawa River, Mitarai Gorge, Nara Prefecture

And don't forget to let the snarks out for some exercise along the way. Traveling is much more fun with their running commentary by your side.


  1. Awesome and inspiring! We all need journeys like this!

  2. I'm so enjoying virtually tagging along on your journey! You are truly an entertaining inspiration.

  3. Brilliant. The trip. The report above. YOU!

  4. You never cease to amaze me, Susan, not least of all because of your unwavering devotion to keeping up the "never mature" watchword of our profession---at least your and my part of the bar. :)

    By the way, on the bear bells situation. I'll pass along your recommendation to Barbara of adding a third such bell to her hiking paraphernalia, though some wag once asked her whether she ever considered the possibility that bears regard them as dinner bells?

    Hike on, my love. Godspeed.

  5. They don't allow women to climb a MOUNTAIN? Good God All Friday, there ARE parts of the world still living in the 19th Century.

    But I trust that the bathroom volcanic gas will appear in a future novel...?

  6. Everett, I assure you I will absolutely make as much good use of the volcanic gases as humanly possible. (Interpret that as you will...)

    Jeff - my dear brother in immaturity - I solemnly swear that now and always, I am most assuredly up to no good. :)

    And I share the concern that the bears may consider our bells more of a dinner call than a warning. This is why I try to hike in the vicinity of at least one person who appears to be slower than me whenever possible. (Remember: I don't have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun the hiker next to me.)

    Annamaria, Linda, and Harvee - thank you so much :) I love that I can share these adventures!