On Monday, I shared some photos and highlights from my 100 Summits climb of Mount Akagi (Akagi-yama) in Gunma Prefecture. Today, I’m sharing the trip back down.
Smart mountaineers all know that “the summit is only halfway there” – to climb a mountain successfully, you also need to descend from the summit safely. Since I left the summit at 12:50pm, and wanted to catch the 16:00 (4pm) bus to Maebashi, I decided to hike Akagi as a loop and descend via the shorter trail that leads directly down from the summit to the shore of Lake Ono.
When making this decision, I forgot to consider the fact that in mountaineering, “shorter” also means steeper.
Not the smartest decision I’ve ever made.
The first ten minutes of the descent involved scrambling down a boulder and rock-lined slope along a trail lined with bamboo grass. It was steep enough that I knew in the first five minutes I was committed. (Because I wasn’t climbing back up again – and honestly wasn’t even certain I could have if I wanted to.)
From there, the trail got steeper and more rocky. In many places, the rocks were loose and the red clay soil crumbled and slid underfoot.
At least the spectacular views of Lake Ono made my frequent rest breaks pleasant.
While the weather alternated between sunny and overcast, the temperature remained around 70 F – pleasant to hike in short sleeves.
Unfortunately, the trail was not so pleasant. As I descended, the path disappeared, replaced by a slope that looked more like a forested rockfall than a trail. Pink tape flags on the trees indicated the “trail” – and for the most part, they weren’t difficult to see – but in many places it looked as if whoever marked the trail simply tied tape to the trees at random, because there wasn’t any obvious path to follow.
Did I mention this trail was steep?
After almost 90 minutes of quad-pounding boulder scrambling (with intermittent butt-sliding over the steeper portions) I started worrying that I might not reach the road in time to hike back around to the visitor center and catch the bus. The lake still seemed quite far below — too far, given that I’d heard this trail took “about an hour” to descend. I knew I was moving slowly, but didn’t think I was going that much slower than normal.
(I’ll note here, for the sake of honesty, that at least three groups of Japanese senior citizens passed me on the descent – so maybe I really was that slow.)
Then, just as I started wondering whether I’d miss the bus and have to find a hotel for the night (assuming there was a hotel in the vicinity – I didn’t know) I heard an engine, looked down through the trees and saw . . . THE ROAD.
The heavens opened. The angels sang. God smiled . . . or perhaps I was just delirious from the climb. In any event, I made it off the mountain. I even had enough left in me to take a photograph of the trailhead sign beside the road:
(It actually says “Mt. Akagi” – but based on my experience, “abandon all hope for your knees, ye who enter here” is more appropriate.)
After snapping the photo, I started off for the visitor center as fast as my aching, noodly legs could take me (approximately the speed of a snail on crack).
Halfway to the visitor center, I reached the entrance to Akagi Shrine, a Shintō holy site that has stood on the shore of Lake Ono since the 9th century.
I love shrines, and I thought I probably had enough time for a rapid visit before the bus departed, so I risked it and paid the shrine a visit – and I’ll take you there with me in photos (and share the rest of the story) this coming Friday.