So, we struggled up a seemingly endless mountain, skirted around the top, and headed south
along the ridge top. The views, as we discovered later, were stupendous. After awhile, we entered a more volcanic area, fulls of sulfurous smells and black, loose lava/rock. That's right - the kind where you slide back down half a step for every step up. It was great.
At one point, we were halfway up a slope of never-ending, sliding lava/rock. We decided to take a break and eat some food, so we found a large boulder just off the trail, where we could shelter from the driving wind and rain. As we gulped down sports drink and wolfed some trail mix, we heard the jingle of a hiker's bear bell. Everyone wears bear bells in Japan - even hiking in the suburban foothills of Tokyo. Out of the mist came a day hiker, who we startled when we greeted him from the fog. He kept on chugging up and past us. A few minutes later, he came back down the path and handed us two little jello-like snacks, an "omiyage" (souvenir) he said. Then he turned around disappeared up into the fog. We love Japan.
After a few more hours of basically blind hiking, following the yellow paint marker splotches on rocks and footprints, we made it to the top of Tokachi-dake (mountain). "Yep, that's nice. Can't see a thing. Let's go," was our response.
Now, a faded yellow rope strung between thin, iron stakes led us down to the Kami-horo hut. It was quite welcome to see it looming out of the fog. We settled in with some other damp hikers and brewed up an even more welcome cup of coffee.
Joan struck up a quick friendship with our neighbor, Aiko, who was hiking solo. She shared some
of her food with us and peppered us with questions. Quite a character, she was. Every time she saw some of our high-tech camping gear, she loudly told the other hikers about it and told them to come look at it. Later, at about one in the morning, when she came back inside from a bathroom break, she loudly (and I mean LOUDLY) announced to the room that the stars were out and that we should all get up and go look. No one did.
The next day was foggy in the morning, and we just moped around. By lunch time, the sun finally
broke through and revealed that we were in one of the most beautiful places in the world! And it gave us a chance to hang up and dry our and the musty blankets in the hut. We spent pretty much the whole day just hanging out and taking little walks in different directions, exploring the immediate area.
We ate our dinner outside, for once, walking the distant mountain tops in the sea of clouds below.
To be continued...