May 27, 2018: Daibosatsu
Note: While the images follow the events in Chapter 5 of Climb, the longer captions are “extra features”: information that didn’t make it into the book.
This is the scene of Blue’s 5 a.m. “accident” that delayed the start of my second hike, and taught me a critical lesson about attentiveness to my gear.
Japan has amazing bakeries–from high-end French patisseries to “choose-it-yourself” wonderlands filled with dozens of varieties of sweet and savory breads (some available year-round, and others seasonal). Although I often forgot to pack a good lunch during my early climbs, I quickly learned to pop into a bakery the night before and pick up something tasty for the trail.
The pink arrow at the lower left is where I exited the bus. The pink arrow at the upper right is where (I assume) the rest of the hikers began their climbs. The summit of Daibosatsu is the red triangle to the right of center (third from the left, at the top of the map.) I had no idea what I was doing.
The lower part of the trail up Daibosatsu. Like many Japanese mountains, the real climb doesn’t begin right away, luring novice climbers (like me, at the time) into a false sense of security. It was a lovely forest, though.
Daibosatsu was home to some of the largest insects I had ever seen…at the time. (Japan had many more, larger, and more aggressive insects to reveal.) I couldn’t get a photo of the Enormous Winged Biting Things I talk about in the chapter, so please accept these giant ants as a consolation prize.
Wild azaleas bloom across Japan in April and May. Their vibrant colors offer a lovely counterpoint to the deep green leaves on the mountain trails. Unfortunately, Daibosatsu was also where I realized I’m allergic to azaleas.
At this point, I had fallen way behind the estimated hiking times on my map and online hiking guide. It was hot, and humid, I’d forgotten to bring the bug spray, and I still didn’t own a sun hat. The “welcoming mountain hut and teahouse” mentioned in my trail guide was closed. Given all of those factors, it was time to make a difficult decision.
The upper slopes of Daibosatsu. The forest smells of pine and vanilla. Birds sing in the trees, and refreshing breezes rustle through the branches.
By the time I reached the bottom of this slope, I hadn’t seen another human being in at least three hours. I was completely unprepared to hear laughter and conversation filtering down from what turned out to be the summit.
This is one of the rare summit photos I didn’t take myself. More often than not, I reached the summit of a mountain to find myself entirely alone. On Daibosatsu, I found several groups of hikers enjoying picnic lunches and taking photographs–all things you can do if you don’t forget your bug spray.
For the record, this is what “less rocky” looks like.
Storms can move in quickly in the mountains, as I learned that day on Daibosatsu. This is the moment when the light began to fade and I realized those dark clouds weren’t going to hold off until I reached the bus.
While descending to the bus, I passed a mountain hut selling food and souvenirs. I had no time to stop and eat (my odds of making the last bus back to the train station were already miniscule) but I did make a two-minute stop for a summit pin. (Priorities…) It says “Daibosatsu” (2,056.9 meters).
This statue of Jizō sits near the Daibosatsu trailhead (I took this photo from the bus, while leaving the mountain). Jizō is a bodhisattva (in Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a person who has attained the ability to enter nirvana, but delays doing so in order to help those still on the path to enlightenment, or in need) believed to act as a guardian or patron of children, travelers, the lost, and the weak. He is often shown carrying a staff (which he uses to force open the gates of hell) and a wish-fulfilling jewel (sometimes also said to represent wisdom, or a light in dark places), and is often portrayed in the form of an itinerant monk or traveler – as here.
* 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).