CHAPTER 33: I Love Rishiri

September 23-24, 2018

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

On the morning of September 23, 2018, in the wake of a violent storm, I boarded a ferry from Wakkanai (Japan’s northernmost major port) to Rishiri Island, a three-hour trip that I hoped would end better for me than it had for the crew of Gilligan’s Island.

The sun came up over the water as the ship steamed north; I watched the sunlight break through the lingering clouds and glitter on the surface of the sea.

Rishiri Island is essentially a volcano with a narrow strip of land around it where approximately 5,000 people live and work. The island has two main industries: tourism and fishing.

1,720 m. Mt. Rishiri, wreathed in clouds, as the ferry approached

Rishiri is sometimes known as “Rishiri-Fuji,” because the mountain bears a striking resemblance to the taller and more famous stratovolcano far to the south, on Honshu. Unfortunately, clouds prevented me from seeing Mt. Rishiri as we approached, but I hoped the weather would clear enough so I could climb the next day, as planned.

The ferry I rode to Rishiri

After dropping my suitcase at the ryokan where I had reservations for two nights, I set off to do some recon and to climb little Mt. Pon, which sticks off the side of Mt. Rishiri, to ensure I got +1 to my mountain count even if Rishiri refused to let me reach the summit.

Forested Trail on Mt. Rishiri

The first half of the climb up Mt. Pon follows the trail up Mt. Rishiri, which I planned to take again the next day. It was a beautiful hike, with woodpeckers tapping on the trees. The picture above looks much less pretty than the forest really was; unfortunately, the overcast weather didn’t lend itself to photography.

On the summit of Mt. Pon – Mountain # 30

Unfortunately, the weather did not clear; the following morning, I woke up to thunder and heavy rain, and had to call off the climb. A few hours later, the storm passed over the outer edges of the island, and I was able to go for a walk along the coast. The views looking back toward Mt. Rishiri reaffirmed my decision not to climb.

Storm clouds over Mt. Rishiri

It was clear along the shore, but Mt. Rishiri was still in an angry mood.

The view in the opposite direction

The coast itself was beautiful, though. I climbed to an observation point with a view of the sea, and hiked about 90 minutes down the coast.

Climbing to the observation point.

The wind was blowing hard, and it was easy to imagine how dangerous it was on the upper slopes of the mountain that afternoon. I was sorry not to add Mt. Rishiri to my summit count, but glad I’d made the call to play it safe.

Departing Rishiri

After another night at the ryokan, I boarded the ferry for the return trip to Wakkanai. Even though I didn’t reach the summit, I did learn some important lessons–and taste some fabulous seafood–on the trip (more about that in Chapter 33 of CLIMB!), and I look forward to going back to complete the climb in the next few years.

From Wakkanai, I flew back to Tokyo, where I quickly unpacked and repacked for yet another trip: a return to Koyasan, to write an article and hopefully add another mountain to the 100 Summits tally.

I hope you’re enjoying this “behind the scenes” photo-companion to CLIMB! Please click through and join me for Chapter 34: Return to Mount Kōya!

* 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).