Day 8: Rishiri Island 52km off the coast of Hokkaido
My eyes jerked awake to the sound of the alarm next to my head. The clock read 3:40 and I had about 45 minutes until sunrise. It took me a few minutes to orientate myself and shake loose the memories from a night full of strange dreams. I still hadn’t gotten used to sleeping in a tent and my mind/body was letting me know.
It was a 2 ½ km hike from the camp ground where my tent was pitched to the top of a, well, I don’t know what to call it because it was more than a hill but much less than a mountain. At first the wind around me tugged gently at my clothes but by the time I had arrived at the summit it had reached gale force strength and I had trouble walking a straight line.
Off to one side Mt. Rishiri stood snow covered and proud, daring anyone to climb. The half moon rising over the mountains right shoulder added to the majesty of the moment. Not another soul was within sight and I was alone with the world.
At the top, despite of the wind pushing me every which way I managed to snap off a couple pictures but was denied the use of my tripod. The wind came from every direction and the stability I had given up to cut weight made itself known.
It was still an excellent sunrise over the ocean and the remaining early morning light made taking pictures down at the wharf of this small island town fun. However, my remaining energy soon gave out and I returned to my tent to finish up my nights sleep.
The next time I woke it was 8 and the wind was practically lifting my tent out from underneath me. Gusts came every few seconds and refused to let up. My soft, warm sleeping bag begged me to stay longer but sleeping late is time wasted. After all, I am on an adventure.
I figured it was time to set up my plans for the day so I headed to the tourist information center at the ferry terminal. They handed me a map that showed the few hiking trails in the area and began to make some recommendations. ‘This place is pretty interesting’ the woman said pointing to a spot on the map which represented a spring. As she was talking I noticed that two paths went to the same point and ran roughly parallel to each other. ‘What the difference between these two roads?’ I asked tracing the two different paths with my finger.
‘Well, this one’ she said point to outer path with 2.5km written beside it, ‘is the paved road for cars and people. ‘And the other one, ‘she continued pointing at the one with 1.4km written beside it, ‘is the mountain path for trekking.’ ‘Really? That sounds like fun.’ The woman I was talking to glanced at her companion who was sitting beside her. ‘Yes, but we don’t know what condition the path is in right now and there might be snow. No one has been up there yet…’ ‘But it’s usable,’ I interjected. Another look, ‘yes, but…’
I smiled, ‘don’t worry. I have the right gear for a hike through the woods.’ They smiled back, ‘okay…’ Now here is the lesson of this story. Listen to the locals especially when what they say is corroborated by another in a small sightseeing town on an island. When they seem to have a doubt you should probably reconsider what you are about to do, really, you should.
So I set off and soon found this mountain trekking path they were talking about. It started quite innocently as an inviting trail into a bit of brush, well marked and clear of debris. The distance was 1.4km to the spring and I figured maybe 45 minutes at the outside if I run into some tough trail. Wow was I wrong.
That inviting clearly marked path quickly turned into a snow covered forest with only an occasional, and I do mean occasional sign or pink flag attached to a tree to mark the way. Luckily someone else had trekked this path a few days before and when I began to wonder if I was going the right way I could always reassure myself by locating their tracks.
Step by step I trudged through this forest in search of the spring. Thirty minutes, forty, and hour passed and I couldn’t tell how far I had gone. Fallen trees blocked my path, deep snow remained hidden until stepped in up to the hip, streams ran secretly under a thin coating of snow. Even the wind made an occasional appearance through the thick sets of trees.
At one point I saw a car parked across a clearing on the road that ran parallel to my course. ‘At least I’m headed the right way,’ I thought. Another 100 meters, 200 meters, then suddenly all signs of the path ended and all that lay before me seemed to be virgin forest with animal tracks. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought, ‘I could continue on though this forest braving deep snow, hidden streams and other unknown things for an indeterminate distance or make a small trek back and cut across a bit of tough ground to once again be on solid ground.’ My experience at Lake Shikotsu ran through my head at this point. I turned around and headed back the way I came.
Making my way back out of the forest (on the paved road this time) the wind once again came upon me, luckily at my back. Clouds had come in quickly as I hiked through the forest destroying any hope of getting good sunset pictures of Mt. Rishiri. Instead of hoping for a one in a million chance of the clouds breaking at the perfect time I decided to spend a leisurely evening soaking at the local hot spring next to my camp ground.
“What a day this was,’ I laughed to myself zipping up my mummy sack. Tomorrow was going to be another up at 3:40 day for the sunrise and I needed my rest. The wind was still tying to steal my tent as I began to drift off to sleep.