Mount Kurodake, in Daitsetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido Japan
One of the main reasons we came to Hokkaido, was to hike in the national forests that this region is well known for… They are untouched and beautiful.
The drive from Sapporo into the mountains, took us through the flower and farms of Furano and Biei.
It was a very picturesque drive, with slopping hilly farms, dotted with small farm houses, and long stretches of beautiful native forests.
We arrived at the beautiful Sounkyo Gorge area, which has some tall waterfalls falling from volcanic rock cliffs, beautiful rivers and lush green forests.
The village of Sounkyo looks like any sleepy alpine village around the world.
We checked into our Onsen, and spent the first night in a room above the parking lot.
It was considered a premium room, because the parking lot was also facing the view of the gorge, the beautiful river and the distant tall mountains.
But through the open window we could hear the buses of tour groups…pulling in for the night….
These tour groups usually arrive just in time for dinner, and the leave early in the morning, before we even get to breakfast.
With a smattering of Japanese, mixed with some English words to supplement what was sorely missing in our Japanese vocabulary, we explained to the front desk that our room was noisy and that we wanted to move into the opposite side, which was facing the garden and was much more quiet.
This was a bit complicated…..It was not that they were unwilling to help us, it was just that we paid for a large room with superb views, and moving us over to the garden area, meant a downgrade, because the rooms on the garden side were smaller, and the garden views were usually not as requested as the gorge views…
Plus they do not like to separate large tourist groups.
They accommodate them all in one raw of consecutive rooms.
Finally they found a large corner room for us, and it felt just divine, spacious and unbelievably quiet.
After moving to our new room, we put on our hiking boots and walked over to the Gondola in the village, and took it up the mountain.
Our plan was to go for a long day hike up the mountain.
We brought hiking boots especially for hiking in Hokkaido and in Northern Honshu, and despite the fact that they made our backpacks very heavy, we felt that they were the minimum gear required to enjoy long days of hiking into the mountains.
The Gondola of Sounkyo, is called a “Rope-Way,” and it took us up a beautiful mountain, filled with native trees and wildflowers, that change colors with the seasons.
At the top, we took a ski-lift chair, to the beginning of the long hiking trail up mount Kurodake.
The hike straight up the mountain, was said to be very challenging, but at the top, we were told we would be rewarded with an uninterrupted 360 degree panoramic views of many of the surrounding mountains.
Let me tell you….. It was NOT an easy day hike…
I was very glad we brought our best hiking boots.
At the entrance to the trail, we had to sign in.
We put down our names, age, country, telephone number and the time we started our hike.
This was done so they can send help, in case of an accident or if we slide down into the abyss, never to be seen again…
At the beginning of the hike, we noticed that almost everyone was equipped with some serious hiking gear.
It was a very technical hike which was to take us over boulders and rocks, muddy areas (from the melting snow,) and large patches of slippery snow, that did not yet melt from the long winters that this area gets.
The hikers looked wonderfully colorful with bright gators covering the lower area of their hiking pants and hiking boots.
They wore hiking gloves, (so you can grab hold of the vegetation in case you are sliding, and not get thorns or splinters in your skin),
Hiking vests with all sort of clips to hook loose equipment,
Special hiking hats that would not blow away in a sudden gust of wind,
Bear-bells to alert the many huge bears living in these forests of your arrival, so they will not be startled and respond aggressively,
Special SPF hiking shirts for sun protection with hidden ventilation seams to allow the perspiration to dry quickly,
Special backpacks with belt holders to keep their water bottles cool,
Hiking poles to keep them balanced,
Some had small shovels,
And we even saw a large group fully equipped with skis, boots and skiing equipment.
You name it… They had it.
Jules, who is a serious gear-lover, felt as if we were walking into the wilderness totally naked…And indeed we came very unprepared.
For this long and very challenging technical hike, we took only three small bottles of water between us, and only two small thin wafers that were sitting on the table in our room, next to the tea set.
We had not enough water and no snacks at all, for this most strenuous yet very enjoyable hike.
Almost immediately the narrow path turned into a steep climb up, and we encountered massive stone boulders of all sizes.
We made our way across the slippery patches of ice and mud, and we had to stop often to allow groups of professional hikers equipped with flags, to pass us by.
Since the path was so challenging, we had to allow them to choose the best way to find their footing, and not to lose balance.
People going up or down the mountains, stopped to allow a large group to pass, so they can all stay together.
Each time we encountered other hikers, we exchanged warm Japanese greetings, which consisted mostly of:
“It is indeed a hot day today,”
“Take care of yourself,”
“Be careful and watch your step,”
“Thank you for waiting,”
“It is only a little more to the top…”
The landscape and views were unparalleled.
The path was lined with wild cherry trees, which when in bloom, make a striking visual effect of flower glory and pink splendor.
There were fields of colorful wildflowers, and views of distant mountain peaks.
We briefly stopped in shaded areas for short moments to cool off, but otherwise we climbed straight up, because we had no food for a picnic and we had to conserve water, taking small swallows only when we felt we had to.
When we reached the top, people cheered us up!
They called “Congratulations! You’ve made it!!!!” In English, and in Japanese.
And they took our photos by the peak.
I saw some hiker wearing t-shirts that said:
“I Climbed mount:
And Kurodake Japan!”
The rocky flat mountaintop offered vast views of the surrounding mountains, which were still capped with snow.
I felt a sense of accomplishment and as the saying goes: “On top of the world….”
I breathed in the heavy sweet scent of wildflowers that the air was so fragrant with, and I felt drunk with happiness….
What a day!
What a climb!
What a journey!
What a life!
We could not linger on the top for too long, because we had to make our way down before it got darker, and before they closed the ski lift and the rope-way.
The way down was a bit more strenuous on my knees, and much more slippery at the muddy and icy patches, but we made it without a hitch.
An interesting thing is that when your mind is not occupied with fear of slipping or hurting yourself, and when you are fully in the moment and full of joy, your body seems to find the easiest way to go naturally and almost effortlessly.
It is only when I became aware of all the aches in my muscles, and aware of the difficulty of the path, that the hike got momentarily difficult.
I once read Shirley McClain’s book about her spiritual hike around the Camino in Spain.
She is a well known student and spiritual teacher, and she said that often the path got too difficult for her to walk, and that she noticed that when she shifted into a different level of consciousness, it felt as if the earth itself rose to help support her footing….
Well… I have to admit that I experienced a similar thing on this hike….
When I switched out of my physical awareness into being one with the mountain, one with the hike, and totally in joy, right when I needed it, it seemed that a bamboo branch, reached down for me to hold it….
At times, just when I needed it, a tree root curved like a handle, was right there for me to hold it….
I even pointed to Jules how some people in front of us where sliding in helplessness, when to the right, there was a root snaking almost like a railing bar, soft and easy to hold…yet they did not seem to be aware of it…
Even in life in general, help is ALWAYS there…
But we may not be aware of it, because we are living in a contrary mindset of a reality of striving and belief in hardship and struggle….
We made it just in time down the mountain to take the chairlift down.
If we arrived an hour later, we would have to hike down that part also.
That night my soar muscles welcomed the the hot springs with a relish…
As always, and as is the custom, I soaked naked in the sulfurous hot waters.
Nobody else was around at that time, and it felt so luxurious to me…
This Onsen hotel has three hot springs areas.
Tonight, I chose the bigger one, which reminded me of the Hammams I soaked in, while in morocco.
It had a stained glass wall, and the baths were lined with small ceramic tiles.
The steam from the nearly boiling spring waters, rose up into the air and swirled like a mystical smoke…
We changed into our summer kimonos which everyone wears around the hotel, and went for dinner.
Dinner tasted especially delicious…. Maybe because we were starving…
While we were at dinner, they made our futon beds on the tatami mats.
I crashed into mine, cherishing the clean sheets and the fluffy pillow and down blanket.
That evening I stayed awake only for a short time.
I reflected about how much I’ve enjoyed the hike we did today…
It was up there at the top of my list of fabulous hikes that we did in our lives…..
I remembered a hike we did into a red canyon in Hawaii, another hike through lush forests and on top of volcanic craters,…
A hike we took into a remote forest in Taiwan, and a long hike we did up a holy mountains full of aggressive monkeys in China….
A tropical forest hike we did in Australia carrying inflatable rafts on our backs, and later we kayaked down a roaring whitewater river…
I remembered a long hike we did into the wilderness of Vanuatu, where we climbed up waterfalls and floated in a turquoise cave with high waters and emerged into a land that seemed forgotten in prehistoric times…
A hike we did into the remote Tiger Leaping Gorge in China…
We had some truly exciting time hiking around the world…
I listened to the wind wrestled with the leaves of the trees outside my window…
Time seemed to stop and a feeling of eternity came over me….peace flooded my heart…
At those moments, everything seemed so perfect with the world…. The world outside and inside of me…….
But this blissful feeling only lasted for a short while…. Moments later I was happily asleep…. before I could count all the celestial spirits of the beautiful forest surrounding me…