Full of enthusiasm, we went for a day hike back the way we had come in the rain and mist, to see what we had missed.
While the hike had been ominous and a little intimidating in the foul weather, it was a completely different experience when you could actually see. The landscape was very dramatic, with barren, windswept, volcanic plains and steep slopes of colors from the sulfur and other underground forces. We had really good time hiking for most of the day, enjoying the sunshine and views.
That afternoon, back at the hut, two men arrived, one in his 30's and the other probably in his
50's. They were settling into the hut, when there was a cell phone call and a great deal of commotion. Then the young man threw on his pack and with some terse words, was up the trail and gone. The older man seemed quite upset and shaky. We were a bit worried about him as he went inside to take a nap. Awhile later, he came out to join us to watch the sunset and enjoy the fine view.
Through is bad English and our bad Japanese, we learned that his friend's young son had gone missing down below, and that was why he had taken off in such a hurry. So, we basically ended up adopting him, as he really didn't know how to operate his stove and had no real experience with backpacking and staying at the hut. It was also great Japanese practice.
Then later, another hiker showed up with a weather report. It was supposed to rain cats and dogs the next morning and for the next two days. Joan and I looked at each other and decided that was our sign to end the trip. We did not want to be trapped in a hut by bad weather again. We asked the hiker what time the rain was supposed to start, and he said, "gozen shichiji" (7 am).
We were about three hours of hiking away from the onsen resort that was our target, so we had
dinner, packed up our gear as much as possible, and went to bed early. When the alarm went off at 3:30 am, we got up, had a quick cup of coffee, gulped down a Cliff bar, and hit the trail by four o'clock. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. By 4:30, it was bright as day but windy. As we headed down the trail, we kept looking over our shoulders at the clouds that rolled in. We also worried about the older gentleman, who had said he was going get a later start and take a longer route back. He had not been comfortable going our direction - new to all of us.
Luckily, on the way down, we met a park ranger briskly hiking up the trail. He asked us about
the gentleman at the hut and said that he had been sent up to escort him down. We were quite relieved.
Just as we arrived at the onsen resort around 7:30, the heavens opened up and poured down. The ranger must have gotten caught halfway up the trail, poor bastard... It would have turned into a muddy, slick gully with all that water coming down.
At the onsen, we paid our fee and gratefully peeled out of our six-day grimed clothes. The hot, mineral water was wonderful. It was especially nice to sit in the half-sheltered outdoor pool and feel the rain and wind while warm and relaxed.
We gave Toby a call and arranged to meet him at a train station near his house. A pleasant bus
ride got us to the station, where we had time to make a cup of coffee under a bridge. Then it was back to six days of civilization.
Side note: a week or so after our trip, that area of Hokkaido had a huge rain storm which flooded all the rivers. The raging waters washed away roads and bridges, basically stranding the resort and other places. They had to use helicopters to evacuate people and bring in supplies