Sunday, January 7, 2018

One Hundred Summits - Plus One More

-- Susan, every other Sunday

In 1964, a Japanese author and mountaineer named Kyūya Fukada wrote and published a book titled Nihon Hyakumeizan, in which he selected, chronicled and described his hikes to the summits of 100 Japanese mountains which, in Fukada's estimation, embodied the essence of what it means to be a "notable mountain" in Japan. Fukada selected his mountains based on a number of criteria, including height (hills under 1500 meters need not apply), history (ancient and modern), grace and beauty. 

Mount Ena, in the Japan Alps - one of the hyakumeizan
Fukada believed that, as a group, these mountains captured the essence of Japanese mountaindom - and in the decades since the book was published (and became an instant classic in Japan) generations of climbers have followed in Fukada's footsteps, seeking to summit all hundred  hyakumeizan.

The mountains spread across Japan. The farthest north - Hokkaido's Mount Rishiri - sits on an island off the coast. It's climbing season begins when the snow melts . . . in early July. The southernmost, Mount Miyanoura,  also sits on a tiny island off the coast of Shikoku. In between lie 98 other equally lovely and often challenging peaks.

Although a third of the mountains are active volcanoes, with pillbox "huts" for sheltering in on days when the mountains decide to burp up rocks, none of the climbs requires technical mountaineering or rock wall climbing.

"Mountain climbing" in Japan

In fact, it's not uncommon to see octogenarians on any of the hyakumeizan slopes. Mountain hiking is a popular pastime in Japan, and the "hundred summits" are among the most popular weekend and vacation choices. Completing the climbs remains a fairly big deal in Japan, and it's not uncommon to see news stories when someone finishes the "hundred mountain challenge."

Most climbers undertake the hyakumeizan without a definitive time frame for completion. People  summit a peak or two each year, with an understanding that the climbs are experiences to be savored.

Most people do it that way, anyhow.

And this is where it gets personal.

Last year, I started making plans to dedicate a year of my life to climbing the hyakumeizan, documenting the process, and writing a book about the journey. If successful, I would--and will--likely become the first woman over 45 to complete the summits in a single year. I hoped to spend a year in the mountains facing, and overcoming, my personal fears, living the life I feel called to live, and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

In November, I signed a contract for that book, which is currently titled 100 SUMMITS.

The day after accepting the contract, I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of invasive breast cancer. Fortunately, we caught it incredibly early (Stage 1a). Two days later, I underwent a double mastectomy, and although the post-surgical pathology report declared me cancer free (all cancer removed, with no lymph or vascular involvement) I opted to undergo four months of chemotherapy before moving to Japan to begin the climbs.

Oncologists call this "the red devil." This dose is mine.

My oncologist described the journey as "One Hundred Summits, Plus One More" and I started up that first demanding summit on December 27, with my first infusion of chemotherapy.

A journey of a thousand miles begins . . . with a single IV.

I'm fortunate that we caught the cancer in time for me to pursue my dream, to climb the peaks, and to savor every step along the way--the good ones and the ones that prove more difficult. I look forward to the lessons they have to teach me, and to remembering--as I hope you do--that each day is a blessing to treasure, and that the summits that lie before us are experiences to savor, not merely peaks to "bag" and be on our way.

Mount Fuji (top left) rising above the clouds and lights of Tokyo.
Until next time . . . enjoy your journey, no matter how difficult today might be.


  1. Susan, you know I am coming to accompany you on some of those climbs. I CANNOT wait. You pick the ones you want me for. I'll be there!!!

  2. Sorry to hear of your health troubles, but happy for the (likely) "positive outcome" (as the doctors like to say).

    Wow, 100 mountains in 1 year. That's one mountain every 3.5 days, for a year. VERY impressive challenge to set for yourself, and I wish the very best for in all 101 of them!

  3. You are one tough climber of mountains of every sort, Susan. And we love you because of that. BRAVO!

  4. Bravo, Susan. It is inspiring to know someone who has the courage to follow such a dream.