36.7413° N, 138.0845° E
Ok, ok, ok it’s been a while, I know, I’m sorry! To quickly catch up, let’s start with a little bit of background on the trip. Me and Jac spent almost our WHOLE trip trying to hike any mountain possible on our way around Japan, and who’d of thought the mountains stay covered in snow here until at least July! Our next destination was the Japanese Alps. The one place SO full of mountains, surely, we wouldn’t be denied a summit or 2, even if it was only May.
First stop was Hakuba. Cut a long story short there was still too much snow, so we thought, MEH, lets head to a Ninja house in Togakushi (recommended earlier that day by a kookey Dutch couple).
The Ninja house….Gutted. Biggest pile of shit we’ve ever come across and defiantly not worth the small fortune. Togakushi however, a hidden gem amongst its towering sisters. The small village is famous for its 3 sacred shrines and the jagged mountains that surround them. After a stroll to the lake, we gazed at our mountain possibilities for the following day. Unfortunately, after a visit to info centre, we were pretty bummed to find out the one mountain we did want to climb (Mt. Togakushi) still had snow on the traverse. The lady did advise us that Mt Iizuna was good to go and would still be a 4 hour round hike.
The next morning an English classic of Baked beans were washed down with a big cup of coffee and our accent up Mt Iizuna began. The hike was perfect! A steep incline to the summit (Our first Actual summit since skiing) and once we were up there, the cloud cleared to give us a view in to the valley. Already down by noon we wondered; maybe we should give Mt. Togakushi a go, or at least go check out the temple at the entrance of the hike.
We stopped for some lunch, drove over to the lake and started the walk up to the temple. By the time we got there it was 3pm. Was it too late to start the hike considering sunset was at 7? Fuck it, Wolfgang! Let’s see how far we get in 2 hours and once we reach 5pm we will turn around. Another condition, as soon as we reach snow we stop hiking. Both in agreement we filled out a mountain registry form and thus began the tale of Mt. Togakushi.
Faaaacking hell, I thought the last one was steep but this one was almost vertical. From word go things amped up 110% and we were scrambling up the mountain side using every tree and branch to give leverage. Then came that strange smell. A strong musk lingered for a good 20 minutes. Jac was convinced it was a bears scent, but personally that was something I was trying my hardest to push to the back of my mind. I stopped dead on. I could have sworn I just heard something growl, Jac looked me straight in the eyes. I jangled my bear bells, breathed deeply and began making a frequent A-whoo-a-whooo.
The trail was a mixture of muddy paths, entwined branches and rocks or boulders with chains to help pull you up on. We then reached a large indent in the rock face and were able to look up at the staggering peaks soaring above us. Wowzer were they stunning, but damn they looked fierce. Then things changed. Things really changed. The boulders got bigger and shit got real. Shit got so real the next hour almost seems like a daze. In fact, the boulders disappeared completely and we began hoisting ourselves up with the chains against pure rock face. Were we fucking mental or do the Japanese take this as a walk in the park? Next came a mud slide, we crossed one by one, very slowly and with extra caution….then on to the next hurdle.
The Chains were endless, gully after gully with the faces only getting higher and more dangerous. The trippler; a steep accent followed by a drop off wall traverse, and then another steep accent. Jac was ready to give up but I could of sworn the summit was just above us… After fighting his vertigo, he pulled himself up to the top.
IT'S NOT THE SUMMIT! Fuck!
This was ridiculous, surely we couldn’t be far off. We ploughed on, strongly encouraging each other and tackling each new chain only to be met with another. As we got closer to the top the walls began to disappear hundreds of meters below us, if one foot went wrong we both knew it could all be over. As we looked up, a long rock face shadowed us. Was this the final wall? I went first, half way up and vertigo was trying to make its appearance. My body hugged the mountain face as I pulled myself up after each foot boost. Finally reaching the top I scrambled over the edge and around the corner. Holy shit, I was there, I was at the top of Mt Togakushi. Jac followed directly after and both dripping with sweat, we hugged each other in a mixture of achievement and despair.
We stopped for 10 minutes to catch our breath but it was already 5 and the return journey of our accent was awaiting us. The full route of the range includes a 2 hour traverse to Mt Kuzuryusha and a 2 hour decent from there, however this is where we had been informed had snow plus we only had 2 hours of sunlight left.
The Decent was no easier, especially that first face we had to conquer. Once over the fear and down the first big chain, our brains switched back in to mountaineering mode and we began abseiling down each rock face. Making it past the mud slide we could have sworn the chains stopped but they kept going and going. Yes! Finally, the cliff indent. We were over half way, but getting down the steep and slippy path meant we weren’t in the clear yet. Oh Shit, there it was again, that deep growling noise. No, I am not being eaten by a fucking bear after climbing what felt like the world’s most dangerous mountain. ‘A-whoo-a-whooo!’ Get me off this fucking mountain. We clambered as fast as we could down the path until finally we hit the zig zag down before the shrine.
We did it. We actually fucking did it. Relief was the first thing that hit my body and then began the adrenaline as we walked on the path back to the lake. It was 7pm by the time we got to the lake. As we sat down and took in every crazy thing we had just done, a filtered glow lit up the mountain we had just summited as the sun disappeared behind it. I beamed, I couldn’t, and still cant believe we climbed Mt. Togakushi.
This experience was something I was really proud of at the time but would never do anything like this again without the correct equipment. I had read some stuff online about climbing Mt Togakushi, spoken to the lady at the info centre and called the mountain patrol for a climbing status, non of which mentioned climbing equipment. However, full responsibility taken, even as a Ski guide who works in the mountains everyday, nothing prepared me for what was in store on this hike. People die on this mountain every year and it should defiantly not be tackled without a harness or climbing equipment. I honestly feel pretty stupid and once down from my hike, all the fear that could have set in (but luckily didn’t), hit me like a tonne of bricks. It was so strong and I replayed over and over everything that could have gone wrong as we stared death bluntly in the face.