CHAPTER 12: At Least the Frog Was Happy

Mt. Ibuki: June 20, 2018

This photo supplement tracks the events in Chapter 12 of CLIMB: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. The captions offer “extra features” that didn’t make it into the book.

First Glimpse of Mt. Ibuki

The rain should have told me this was a bad idea. Unfortunately, my lack of mountain climbing experience (or even hiking experience) left me entirely unprepared for the events that followed.

Mt. Ibuki Trailhead Sign

This makes the climb up Mt. Ibuki look like a barrel of laughs. Which, in fairness, it might well be, when it isn’t raining. (I actually do intend to return and find out.) Unfortunately, the lift shown here is no longer in operation, and as for the rest . . . keep scrolling. You’ll see.

Mt. Ibuki Trailhead

At this point, it was raining fairly steadily, although not as hard as it was when I left the hotel. You can’t tell from this picture, but trickles of water are running down the steps–yet another sign I didn’t heed.

The frog

This little guy was sitting in the puddle at the top of the frame when I started taking his picture, but he moved to the rocks in an unsuccessful attempt to flee the hiking paparazzi. At this point, he decided I was ok.

“I half expected to see a horde of zombies…”

This derelict resort sits near the base of Mt. Ibuki’s former ski slopes. Rising winter temperatures in the area, and the resulting lack of deep snow, led to abandonment of the ski resort. The hiking trail runs directly through the slowly rotting structures . . . a creepy experience even when it isn’t raining.

Bonus Photo: The ski resort of Dorian Grey

I have no idea why the word “Dorian” is emblazoned on that building–but the writer in me had to wonder where there’s a ski resort somewhere that does not age, while this one slowly crumbles into ruin.

“The rain slowed to a drizzle”

The trail up Mt. Ibuki parallels the ski slopes for almost an hour’s worth of hiking, before entering a short band of forest. I saw no other hikers on the trail (and have good reason to believe I was the only human being on the trail that day) but I did see–and hear–other wildlife, including deer and crows.

“Above sixth station, the trail grew steep and narrow”

Looking downward from a shoulder on the trail, it’s easy to see the ski slopes, and to imagine what this trail once looked like in the winter.

Earth so wet the worms were drowning.

So much rain fell that giant earthworms pushed up out of the soil and wiggled along the trail, seeking respite. I didn’t mind seeing them on the trail, but didn’t enjoy the ones I grabbed accidentally while clambering up the steeper portions of the trail. (Sorry about that, worms.)

Crows dancing in the air

Every time the rain slowed, “mass murders” of crows flocked out of the trees to call and play in the air above the mountain. I often saw them playing this way in the mountains–and every time, it made me wish for a pair of wings, so I could join them and ride the currents too.

Mt. Ibuki: Station 5

Japanese mountain trails have ten “stations” between the trailhead and the summit, roughly equidistant from one another, that help climbers mark their progress up the trail. Station 5 marks roughly the halfway point.

“Above Station 6, the trail grew steep and narrow”

At this point, only 1.9km remained between me and the summit. As it turned out, they would be among the most difficult kilometers of my entire 100 Summits year.

“I wanted the rain to stop and the rocks to dry”

But for the rain, and my lack of experience (and confidence), and the slippery rocks, and my fear of missing the final bus at the top of the mountain (there’s a road down the opposite side, and it would have been too dangerous to descend the upper half of the trail in the rain) … this might have been a lovely climb. Regrettably, Mt. Ibuki ended up being the low point of my 100 Summits year. In retrospect, it was my fault entirely.

The final push to the summit . . . or so I thought.

Mt. Ibuki goes down in my personal history (and in CLIMB) as proof of the fact that not all stories have an entirely happy ending. Sometimes we work hard to reach a goal, only to have that goal denied for reasons strength and perseverance cannot overcome. Even then, the effort was worthwhile.

The site of the Battle of Sekigahara

A seminal battle, and a turning point in Japanese history, took place here on October 21, 1600, when the Eastern Army, under the command of Tokugawa Ieyasu, defeated the Western Army, laying a foundation that would lead to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s assumption of the shogunate a little over two years later. The taxi driver who “rescued” me from the summit of Mt. Ibuki drove me past the site of the famous battle en route to the train station.

I hope you’re enjoying this “behind the scenes” photo-companion to CLIMB! Please click through and join me for Chapter 13: Walking on the Road

* 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).