Mt. Nasu: June 13-14, 2018
The images in this photo supplement follow the events in Chapter 10 of CLIMB: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. The captions offer “extra features”: information that didn’t make it into the book.
During my year in the mountains, I often stayed in hotels one station away from the place I planned to climb. Sometimes, this was due to a lack of lodging near the base of a given mountain, but more often I made the choice to take advantage of the better hotel prices slightly farther from a popular destination. (When you travel for a year, this makes a difference.)
The rounded mountain at the top of the photo is the shoulder of Chausu–a live volcano, and one of the peaks in the Nasu Volcanic Complex. I took this picture to document not only the trailhead, but the delightful warning sign (a common sight on Japanese mountains)–helpfully posted at the base of the slope for anyone who somehow failed to notice the slipping hazard.
I took this photo from the top of the slope in the previous photo, looking down. The visitor center and upper ropeway station is the white-roofed building on the left, about two-thirds of the way to the top of the frame.
The Nasu volcanic complex began erupting over 600,000 years ago; today, Mt. Chausu is the only major active peak in the Nasu range. The last major eruption occurred in 1963, and the peak remains on the Japanese government’s “watch list” for active volcanoes.
For purposes of the nihon hyakumeizan (100 famous mountains of Japan), only the highest peak in the Nasu complex–Mt. Sanbonyari–“counts,” so although hikers must cross over the summit of Mt. Chausu to reach Mt. Sanbonyari, both peaks together counted as only one for purposes of my original 100 Summits goal.
After passing the summit, the trail to Mt. Sanbonyari curls around the side of Mt. Chausu, slowly revealing the deep green, forested mountains beyond.
The building in the saddle, left of center, is the Nasudake Hut–an emergency hut and lodge where hikers can spend the night when passing through on longer hikes. This was the moment when I first wondered whether it would be possible to hike not only 100, but 1,000 mountains.
These mountains look serene, but I hurried past as soon as I snapped the photograph, eager to escape the brutal winds that funneled through this valley between the peaks. The gusts were almost enough to knock me over.
The steeper sections of Japanese mountain trails often have chains installed to mark the trail and serve as balance aids. In some cases, the chains are anchored directly into the rock; in others, as here, they’re fed through poles. I eventually grew used to them, but Mt. Nasu was my first experience hiking on a trail with chains, and I found them terrifying.
In retrospect, I wish I’d been less frightened on this trail. What you see in the photo above is the second set of chains on the Nasu hike. What you don’t see is the nearly-vertical, 20+ meter drop off on the left side of the trail. At this point, the trail is only about a meter wide, and I was too scared to look down long enough to get a photo of the drop.
After the chains, the trail led up a steep, rocky slope to a ridge with this spectacular view of Mt. Chausu. The trailhead and ropeway are on the far side of Chausu; this is the approximate halfway point of the climb to the summit of Mt. Sanbonyari.
The raised wooden walkway through the wetland is barely visible in the valley below; quite a few Japanese hiking trails run through protected grasslands and wetland areas, wooden boardwalks help keep hikers on the trail and protect the delicate alpine plants (and animals and insects).
Orphaned hiking gear is a fairly common sight in the Japanese mountains; when hikers drop or forget an item, the next person along the trail often moves the gear to a visible location, safe from harm, where the owner can find and reclaim it–including expensive items like these Ray Bans.
The second half of the Nasu climb was so radically different from the barren slopes of Chausu that it was hard to believe this was still “one” peak.
Despite the expansive view from the mountaintop, the brush crowded the upper part of the trail so closely that I didn’t even realize I had almost reached the top until I emerged on the summit plateau. And yes, I was wearing two hats: the upper/outer one to block the sun and the inner one to block the wind (at this point, I still had no hair, and that wind was cold).
I had never experienced anything like the mountains of Japan. I could have stared at this vista forever . . . but I had a gondola to catch.
The place where I fell is the section of trail in the upper left side of the photo, beyond the ridge, to the left of Mt. Chausu.
Fumaroles are volcanic vents–a place where steam and gases escape or are forced from the ground. This one sounded like a locomotive, and looked far larger and closer than this picture suggests. (The fumarole is the white column of steam escaping from the mountain just to the left of the clouds, on the right side of the frame.) I snapped this single photo and hurried past, aware that fumaroles sometimes spit out pebbles as well as steam.
Although I began my climb on a clear, sunny morning, by the time I ascended Sanbonyari and returned, a heavy afternoon mist closed in over Mt. Chausu and the surrounding peaks. I spent the last hour of my descent in heavy mist, looking forward to the volcanic hot spring bath that awaited at my next hotel–an hour to the north, at the base of another live volcano.
I hope you’re enjoying this “behind the scenes” photo-companion to CLIMB! Please click through and join me for Chapter 11: The Mountain Wants to Be Climbed
* This page is part of the photo companion to CLIMB: Leaving Safe & Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. You can find the story behind these pictures (in hardback and ebook formats, and either in person or online) at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (both in the U.S. and internationally).