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Day Three: To Yakushidake Sansou

Day Three: To Yakushidake Sansou

The day started out beautifully. We were greeted by the unusual sight of blue skies when we woke up, and for once, the clouds were more white than grey. It was enough to spur us into action – shrugging on semi-wet clothes, picking up fresh bento, strapping on our gear, and heading out into the sunshine. (As an aside, this was the only hut that gave us onigiri instead of actual bento boxes, but the onigiri were massive, savoury and generally satisfying. There was even a small pack of green tea included.)

We still had the occasional drizzle throughout the morning, but never enough to soak through our outer shells. Bruno could keep his camera out, and we could stow our rain shells away. There was enough visibility to enjoy the scenery. It was such a welcome change.

Unexpected (but welcome) sunshine

Given that we’d split the Goshiki to Yakushikidake section into two days, stopping at Sugonokoshi in between, we thought we’d make up for some of the delay by aiming for Tarobei Goya rather than Yakushidake Sansou. It meant an extra couple of hours on the trail, but would make the next day’s hiking somewhat easier.

After an initial uphill section, we found ourselves on the ridge which would take us towards Yakushidake. Unlike the previous day with its endless ups and downs, we would be heading upwards for almost the entire day, gaining over 500m in elevation before a long descent of roughly the same magnitude. That meant we’d stay above the tree line and have panoramic views for hours at a time – which, frankly, is why we wanted to hike through mountains rather than forests in the first place.

Climbing Yakushidake

We made much better progress than on previous days, both directly and indirectly due to the weather – directly, because we didn’t have rain making the mountains more slippery or making us more clumsy; and indirectly, because the dry clothes and scenic landscape put us in excellent spirits. There were plenty less exhaustion breaks but plenty more photo breaks, and it was satisfying simply to look back along the ridge and see how far we had come. (If you look at the photo below and follow the ridge lines of the mountains from the front to the back, that more or less shows you our hike to date.)

Looking back on the previous day

By the late morning, however, the sky was starting to become overcast, and the showers began increasing in frequency. Even so, I was a happy camper – the trail was generally to the side of the actual ridge so we were not entirely exposed, and I could still see into the distance whenever the clouds lifted. We even had the luxury of sitting down for lunch at the summit of Yakushidake.

Enjoying the view during lunch

Then, as we reached the descent towards Yakushidake Sansou, the storm struck. The rain was mild at first, but the wind was absolutely ferocious – and because we were on an open slope with no shelter in sight, it became an ongoing struggle to move forward instead of sideways. Our beanies and other loose items got stowed away as quickly as we could manage, and our outer layers, which had stayed wondrously dry for most of the day, were suddenly soaked through. We could barely see ahead because of the wind hitting our eyes, and we definitely couldn’t hear anything besides its roar.

There was an awkward section where I got blown against a large boulder and couldn’t fight the wind hard enough to move away – Bruno discovered me there a couple of minutes later, and had to backtrack to pull me off. We continued on, and even while trying to lean (or simply fall) forward to let gravity help me downhill, I found myself pushed in the opposite directly and almost stepping backwards up the mountain. It was a surreal experience.

By the time we reached the hut some thirty minutes later, I had a raging headache – it’d been a pretty potent combination of cold (aka windchill), rain, and the very tangible force of wind pounding against my head. The warm shelter of the hut felt magical. It helped that Yakushidake Sansou was a very clean, modern hut, with a kansou shitsu where the heaters were roaring merrily away. You can bet that I took my time thawing myself out in that room before heading up to the sleeping quarters.

Yakushidake hut

The storm lasted for a while, but by dinnertime, the rains had cleared up again. We were treated to magnificent views from the dining room windows, and Bruno even ran outside for half an hour or so to take photos. (Any shots you see of the hut were taken at this time, as photography was impossible on our way to the hut.)

Sunset from the hut

There were also a few other hikers on the trail – our room was shared by five others, several of whom had come from the other direction. One lady was particularly memorable, as she’d made the solo trek from Sugoroku Goya that day, arriving after the rest of us had finished dinner, and was planning to reach Tsurugidake by the end of the next day. It meant she was covering two or three days’ worth of hiking for each one of ours. On the other hand, there was a Swedish man who arrived shortly after us, and who was finding the trail and the weather as challenging as I was. I admit I found that to be a bit of a relief.

We decided to do a 4am start the next morning so we’d reach Tarobei Goya by 6am or so, which is when we would have set out if we’d made it all the way there as intended. After ordering a second bento box (one of which would be our breakfast) and doing as much of the packing as we could, we called it a night – though I ended up crawling out of bed to rummage for ear plugs after a chorus of snoring started up in the room. It made me realise that we weren’t hiking in isolation quite as much as before, which was an oddly comforting thought that accompanied me into the dreamlands.

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