Sunday, May 26, 2019

For Love of the Game

--Susan, every other Sunday

I'm writing this from a hotel in Nikkō, one of Japan's most sacred and historic mountain regions. In fact, the area is so special and so important that Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the samurai general who, as shogun, unified Japan is buried here. (He has other mausolea in other places, but his actual burial site is here, at Toshogu Shrine, where he is also enshrined as a deity and protector of Japan.)

I came to Nikkō for a writing retreat, to finish a manuscript that's currently on a brutally short deadline. However, Nikkō has many beautiful mountains, including sacred Mt. Nantai (2,486m), which has been sacred to the Shintō faith for over 13 centuries.

A trail runs from Futarasan Shrine, on the shore of Lake Chuzenji in upper Nikkō to the summit of Mt. Nantai (which is also home to another, smaller Futarasan shrine).

Futarasan Jinja (Shrine) on the shore of lake Chuzenji

The 9-kilometer round-trip hike has a vertical gain of 1,212 meters--and a matching altitude loss of 1,212 meters on the descent. (For those of you counting along at home, that's a 2,424 meter day.)

Mt. Nantai from Lake Chuzenji

Also known as "Nikkō-Fuji," Mt. Nantai is one of the Nihon Hyakumeizan, or Hundred Famous Mountains of Japan.

My Hundred Summits Project finished in April, but my 100 climbs only included about a third of the hyakumeizan (all the mountains on my list were famous--some far more so than the ones on the hyakumeizan list), so I still have a few mountains to climb if I want to climb the entire set of hyakumeizan too.

I was here. The mountain was here. It only made sense to climb.

The day began at Futarasan Jinja, where I broke my personal 100 Summits rule and bought a summit pin before the climb (because the shrine would likely be closed by the time I finished). I had a moment's misgiving--but did it anyway.

The trailhead at Futarasan Jinja

The temperature was already over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and climbing, by the time I left the trailhead.

The first portion of the climb followed a deceptively pleasant, gradually sloping trail through a beautiful forest filled with singing birds.

A lovely walk in the woods.

Two hours later--with the temperature sitting at 83 degrees--the forest disappeared and the trail became a series of unrelenting rockfalls that continued for about 500 meters.

Not so lovely anymore.

Several times, I considered calling it quits. Between the lack of shade, the leg-hammering rocks, and the realization that I'd brought my smaller backpack, which holds only two liters of water (Big Blue holds over 3), this no longer seemed like quite as good an idea as it had when I left the trailhead two hours before.
The emergency hut at station 7 - the rocks are the trail.

Unfortunately, I had bought the summit pin. If I quit, I would not earn it.

Also, turning around would mean a 2.5 hour descent--five hours of climbing total--on a mountain I would have to climb again if I wanted to complete the hyakumeizan.

None of that sounded like a good idea.

The views did make it worth it.

So I continued on.

The trail did have another lengthy stretch of forested slope, which helped me cool off after over an hour climbing boulders in the sun.

Still rocky, but now with trees!

When I emerged above the treeline, I could see Lake Chuzenji far below, if slightly fuzzy due to haze. The snow-capped peaks of Chichibu Tama Kai National Park were also visible--and, best of all, I could finally see the summit.

Brutal way to end . . . but at least it was ending.

After another twenty minutes of climbing up deep volcanic scree, I reached the summit--five hours and a 1.5 liters of water after leaving Futarasan Shrine.

On the summit of Mt. Nantai

A sacred sword on the highest point
The deity of Mt. Nantai

The descent took another three hours, though fortunately the haze obscured the sun enough, and the afternoon was far enough advanced, that the temperature had begun to cool. Even so, I was very happy to reach the bottom of the mountain.

Another view from near the summit

As for the climb itself, I have no regrets. It was difficult, and painful, but I had a fantastic day. For the past year, I've been climbing mountains for an important purpose. But now, I climb for an even more important reason: for love of the game.


  1. Dearest, I knew that, having bought the summit pin, you would not let yourself quit. But I also think that that rosy hue on your face in the summit photo is stage two heat stroke. Glad you made it through. But take Big Blue until fall cool things off. PLEASE.

    1. Promise made - and you're right, I was suffering some heatstroke. I got through ok though, and yes, I am finished in the big mountains until autumn. Not even I am foolish enough to climb in summer heat when I don't have to.

  2. My knees were hurting just reading that. Congratulations on the climb. Even more for not turning back.

  3. I so admire what you do. My knee is my excuse for not sharing your climbing fascination, my foolishness in the Mexican sun my reason for recently sharing your heatstroke. Take care!