I woke up to the thud of the wheels touching down at the tarmac. I had fallen asleep again. The seats of Japan Airlines Boeing 777 were the reason for this, shameless plug, I know, but I honestly don’t remember getting that much sleep (60% of the flight) in a plane.
There was no time wasted as we went straight to our connecting flight in Haneda Airport to Asahikawa Airport in Northern Hokkaido. After landing, we took the bus straight to our destination, fighting the urge to nap, afraid that I might miss something, but the body won for 10 minutes and the next thing I know we arrived at the Bearmonte hotel.
As much as my whole being craved for a few minutes to be in a horizontal position, our leader/guide, Kobayashi-san told us that we would be climbing Mt. Asahidake in a few minutes and that we should get ready.
I was an avid climber during a chapter in my life (“was” being the operative word), these days, I put up a brave front so as not embarrass myself in front of my younger and more agile counterparts, but still, the thought of hiking through rough terrain and icy encounters still thrills me.
We ascended a majority of the height using the ropeway (cable car), some 1600m in height and takes about 10 minutes to reach the Sugatami station.
It was a bit disappointing that we missed the colors of autumn by just a few days. The birch trees were bare and so the colors were not as luscious as we were told it would be, but still, it was a beautiful sight regardless of what colors were absent.
Once we approached the station, there is a short, three minute briefing, Kobayashi-san tried to translate but the guy was speaking quickly and so all we got was “if you need to go to toilet, go now, there is no toilet on the mountain.”
I noticed that there were some boots you can rent when you reach the station, we were warned that there were a lot of melted snow so trail will be really wet and slushy.
Since we were cooped up for most of our journey, from the plane to the bus to the ropeway car, so you can imagine the “ohhs” and “ahhs” we all uttered in unison as soon we reached the untethered view of the peak of the mountain.
The peak was already capped in snow, telling us that autumn season was at the precipice and winter is coming. The air was cold, about 8°C, something that ‘shocked’ some of us low-landers and Kobayashi-san signaled for us to walk the path leading to some steps. It was a good thing I wore my gore-tex hiking boots, which were good for warding off the wetness of the deep puddles formed by melted snow (but if I (you) don’t the Bearmonte Hotel and the Sugatami station rents out boots.)
Hiking through the path was not tough, any beginner could go up there as was proven with the families with small children that were there as well. But IT was a bit challenging mainly because I brought my camera(s), tripod and gimbal stick in which I was using with one hand.
The incline was gradual, the wind-chill also steadily got colder, having uttered the words “I am used to the cold” was a bad idea, as I now have to put a strong front in front of everybody, or else I would eat my words in shame.
After a mere 10 minutes, we reached the lookout point, at 2281 m, and we started to act like tourist for a while and not travelers as we took an insane amount of pictures. Almost all of us were journalists, which meant there was an innate sense of ownership at the articles that we were tasked to write, in short, we wanted capture the moment as much as we could. Febrian from ceritafebrian.com took a timelapse video, while Sudjarat from detik.com started doing an impromptu narrative (something that he was obviously used to).
The biggest challenge at this point is to make sure the devices that we all were using does not discharge too quickly, since we never had a chance to fully charge them and the coldness of the area would drain them faster than normal.
The sky was as blue as it can get, the steam that vents out from the fissures were fascinating to see, however, we were too far out to smell the sulphur (and that’s not a bad thing). We decided to return after the 2nd look out point, generally because our batteries have been either completely drained or is about to be.
When I was going back down to the station, I took my time, as any hiker would know descending can be faster but it can also be more dangerous as pressure is exerted more on the knees. Going slowly worked to my advantage as I paid more attention to the things around me. There was a frozen lake to the right or a body of water that was formed in a valley or crater formed between two peaks. The dew on the plants were giving it such a gloss that reflected the sunlight. It was as if, it broke off into a thousand mirrors making them shimmer in its glory.
Truly, sights like these were not meant for the camera to capture in its digital form, but for the mind’s eye to record it in our memories forever.
We headed back to the hotel just in time for the serene sun setting behind the woods. Those of us with some battery power left, took in as much as we could. After such a tiring day, taking a few minutes to dip into the public bath or Onsen in the Bearmonte hotel was such a refreshing way to end the day, that, and the amazing dinner buffet. If I was to do it over again, I would have actually begun my hike in the morning with full batteries, energized and raring to go and attempt to reach the peak. Now that’s a hike.