The worried look upon the countenances of these people made me think for a moment. If local people like these were concerned, maybe I should be too. However, I still felt that they were overly cautious, like the book and other hikers I had encountered.
They could see that I was intent on making the trek in one day so they didn't argue with me too much. They did warn me that the last cable car down was at five o'clock that night, after that I would be stuck at the top. I confidently absorbed the information, thanked them again for their help and generosity, and then started along the path to the tallest mountain in the Tokyo region.
The beginning part of the trail was very well worn and the grade was less acute than the trail I had just climbed. I was surrounded by a beautiful mosaic of green yet it was dryer and the trees were not as dense as they had been on the first phase of my journey. As I strolled briskly up the trail I came upon a sign to the left. Of course it was written completely in Japanese but I was able to guess at its meaning by the picture of a ferocious looking little bear on it. The bears in this part of Japan are much smaller than the bears where I come from but that doesn't mean that they could or should be taken lightly. A wild animal must be respected no matter what the size or species. In their world it is truly survival of the fittest, and if they see you as a threat to their survival in any way, you can get hurt or even killed.
Although I couldn't read the sign, I assumed that the same rules applied to Japanese bears as the bears in my neck of the woods. Make sure you are noisy enough so that you don't risk surprising them, if you encounter one, back away slowly, and whatever you do - don't run! If they did attack for whatever reason, drop into a fetal position and cover your vitals organs and your head. The other slightly risky option is to run downhill. Bears have been known to run as fast as horses but they are very clumsy when they go downhill.
I walked past the sign, keeping the picture of the ferocious little creature tucked away in the back of my mind. As I made my way up the meandering trail through the warm, fragrant woods, I passed by numerous markers. I pulled out my photocopied map of the trail, which had the names of the various peaks written in Japanese Kanji. I compared the names on the map to the ones posted on the signs to ensure I was following the correct paths, as there were places where other paths could be chosen.
It was about noon now and I started to hike fast, I wanted to make good time just in case the warnings I had received earlier were even remotely accurate. I passed by a little cabin, which I assumed was probably used for emergencies. The Japanese are always so well prepared I remember thinking. A trail similar to this where I come from wouldn't be so conveniently marked for distance and direction, and very rarely would there be a shelter along the way. An unattended shelter like the one on this trail would most likely be vandalized within months of completion in the North American wilderness. It's unfortunate and made me reflect again at the differences between the two cultures.
All along the trail there were also plenty of benches for hikers to sit on and rest. I didn't use them though -- I was on a mission. If I didn't return before the last cable car at five o'clock not only would I be in a difficult spot, but I would also be very embarrassed. I had been so sure that I could make this trip in one day but now, having been faced with less optimistic estimates by the locals, a little cloud of doubt was hanging over my head. I started to break a good sweat as my legs churned swiftly along the trail. Every so often I would pass a couple of hikers who seemed to be walking leisurely along enjoy the sights. I envied them.
To get to the highest peak on this journey you had to first summit the two peaks that lay before Mount Kumotori. This makes the hike at times very easy and very difficult. The difficult part being the constant climbing to get to the peak and the easy part was coming down the other side through to the slight valley until you had to start climbing up the other mountain.
This part of the journey was also beautiful. I again took out my camera at several points along the way to take pictures. I was awe-struck by a beautiful ridge where the trees parted just enough at the tops to let crisp, shards of sunlight break through to the damp ground below. Again I was caught off guard by the beauty of this place. I marched on, not yet tired but forcing my heart to beat to the rhythm of a much higher tempo. The sweet smell of pine enveloped me as the sweat started to roll down my face, and the invigorating feeling of clean, fresh, mountain air entering my lungs brought on a familiar euphoria.
It was at that moment that I saw the movement of something unmistakably
wild out of the corner of my eye. My heart stopped, and I suddenly felt
the sharp jolt of adrenaline grip my body. I looked to my left at the
brushy embankment leading up to the side of the mountain and my eyes
fell upon two large powerful looking animals.
(to be continued)