To the Summit of Mt. Akagi!

Yesterday (May 20, 2018) I climbed my first hyakumeizan peak – Mt. Akagi, in Gunma Prefecture.

While many of the details will have to wait for the book (100 SUMMITS is under contract with Prometheus Books, for release in 2020) I’ll be sharing photo essays about my climbs, and some fun details about the mountains, here on the blog in the months to come.

Mt. Akagi is the symbol of Gunma Prefecture, and beloved by several of Japan’s famous writer (including Ryunosuke Akutagawa). It’s also a stratovolcano – a volcano built up over time by layers of ash and hardened lava – and the combination made it a great choice to begin my Hundred Summits climbs.

The trailhead sits on the right side of the road about ten minutes’ walk from the visitor center, and though it’s clearly marked, the trail beyond isn’t easy to see, which made me question whether I’d actually found it.

It’s easier to see looking back from a few hundred feet above the road:

After a few minutes’ worth of rocky switchbacks, the trail reaches a series of iron staircases – which, though daunting at first appearance, actually make a difficult section of trail much easier to ascend.

That is, assuming you don’t run into anyone heading down while you’re heading up. (I did, and although we managed to pass successfully, it’s not something I’d want to do regularly.)

“Mount Akagi” actually consists of several peaks arrayed around a trio of crater lakes called Onuma, Konuma, and Kakumanbuchi. The largest, Onuma, is visible during most of the summit climb.

The area is also famous for wild azaleas, which had just begun to bloom. (Side note: I’m allergic to azaleas, even though I find them beautiful. My handkerchief got more than enough use to justify its minor added weight.)

I climbed a circular route that took me first to the top of 1,685-meter Mount Komagadake, which offers amazing views of Gunma Prefecture.

From there, I traversed along the saddle ridge that connects Komagadake-san with Akagi’s highest peak, 1,828-meter Mt. Kurubi (Kurubisan). At first, the saddle seemed easy to walk, and the high point didn’t seem that far away.

When I finished crossing the saddle, however, the path grew extremely steep:

Trees lined the slope so closely that I couldn’t see the distance to the summit. I’d set 1pm as my turnaround time, because I wanted to ensure I could catch the last bus to Maibashi (and from there, my train to Tokyo), and as I struggled up the stair-lined slope toward the summit I wondered whether I might be forced to turn back without reaching my very first peak.

Not an auspicious way to start.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I reached the Shinto shrine near the summit at 12:30pm and snapped a couple of photos.

From there, I continued toward the true high point, where I took the summit photo at the top of the post.

I stopped for lunch on the summit – at least, for the portion of lunch that I hadn’t eaten earlier on the trail. A lot of hikers rest and eat on the summit plateau – many of them far more prepared and better-provisioned than I. The women next to me had a camp stove and kettle, which they used to prepare fresh tea and ramen. They also had sandwiches, fruit, and cookies.

My tandoori chicken sandwich and smoked cheese Calbee potato sticks, though delicious, felt like a poor showing by comparison.

After lunch, I started down the mountain via the “shorter” route – which, while not a mistake, exactly, reminded me that route selection makes a difference in the mountains.

To find out why, and how I suffered the consequences of that choice, click here.

One thought on “To the Summit of Mt. Akagi!

  • May 26, 2018 at 8:00 am

    Hallo, Hallo Ms Spann,

    The weather here has been rather fowl of late – I’ve known our rainshowers would overtake my sensibilities for drier weather this Summer but Spring has been such an odd wench of unpredictable weather patterns this year, it was hard to shift through the adverse conditions! I much preferred the extension of our ‘Winter’ wherein the temperatures were comfortably colder, the air felt refreshingly crisp and the humidity was absent! Despite the weather issues, I’ve been wondering what you’ve been up to recently – as I knew you were going to start your climbs!

    One thing whilst hiking which is hard to sort out is what to carry with you and what you truly want with you once you’ve reaching certain places on your journey. I know I oft made mistakes about what I thought I wanted to be with me vs what I wished I had taken instead. I felt your pain about the food – as I find sorting out which food to carry with us is the hardest choice to be making! Did you ever notice what you think you want to eat ahead of time isn’t want you crave once you arrive?! Oy.

    Yes, I agree on the selection of routes, too! The most arduous issues we face as hikers is sorting out the routes we take but also, the conditions of those routes are not always known until we’re actually on the trails! I have had a few wrinkles myself in the past where the trail felt more like trial of will than a journey I was fully appreciating for undertaking! The photos you’ve captured of the setting are alluring in of their own – such beauty!! I respect your allergies – I share your misery as the pollen levels are tenfold here since the rains have gathered the pollen into clusters of insanity!

    I don’t mind awaiting the fuller scope of your journey w/in #100Summits! I knew you might be only sharing clips and extracts of your journey ahead of the publication! The joy truly is observing your joy whilst you settle into your adventure!

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