I have always had this fascination for hiking. My earliest memories of hiking are the days when my family lived in Shiga Prefecture of Japan and we would go hiking in the nearby mountains like Mt.Hira. Back in those days, my father had befriended a Japanese man – Kido-san – who would organise frequent one-day hikes. We would be given a pair of knitted white gloves with yellow trim at the wrist to collect waste on the way. I was nine then. Along with my parents and two younger siblings, we would walk the rugged paths of the hills – following everyone on a trail. As we would get tired, I would try to control my breath (breathe through your nose, not your mouth; something I learned from my father), look downwards and keep my eyes focused on the path till we reached a certain height. The view from the top would inspire me to climb further. Together as a family, we have climbed Mt. Hira thrice. Memories of munching our onigiri, gulping down Pocari Sweat and helping ourselves to Pocky still remain close to my heart.
So, when our host mother for International students at Tohoku University asked if we wanted to hike along with her, it was impossible to say no. Along with seven other International students, she took us hiking at a nearby hill – Okunikawa. It was back in the August of 2016 when we went on this hiking trip. On a blistering summer day, we walked along the hiking trails, getting to know each other and practising our Nihongo. Yoko-san, our host mother, a wonderful person and an avid hiker, was happy to learn that we were fit and enthusiastic enough to go hiking. Since then, we have been to Mt. Adatara thrice, Mt. Azuma once and we will be climbing Mt. Gassan this next weekend.
Mt. Adatara (安達太良山 ) is a stratovolcano located in central Fukushima. Devoid of volcanic mountains back in my home country Nepal, it was a different experience for me to climb this Mountain. Since these mountains are in Fukushima, we took a bus from Sendai City to Fukushima City first. At the station, we meet Yoko-san and her friends and they took us to the trail-head in their car. I kept telling Yoko-san how lucky we are to have her as a friend because we get such a special treatment and she laughingly brushed it off saying I am friends with her only for such selfish reasons!
We usually start climbing by 10 am in the morning. Apparently, there are a few different hiking trails. However, since we simply followed our Japanese friends, we haven’t really paid much attention to it. The path is usually easy at first but gets rough and difficult to climb slowly. Fortunately, sometimes for really difficult trails, supports like ropes and wooden planks are kept to make hiking easier.
If you walk for some 2 hours or so, you will spot an old, shabby-looking hut called Kurogane. Apparently, this place is open all year round and has onsen facilities too.
We usually stop by here for a quick break before starting to climb to the summit. Last time, we had our lunch here because it was too windy outside. They have a heater and a few hiking essentials for sale, too. From the hut, the trail starts getting rather steep and will probably take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to reach the peak.
After some 3 hours of relentless climbing, sometimes crossing boulder after boulder, we usually reach the top of the Mountain with cool (sometimes very cold) wind blowing around us. The image of the mountain top for some reason always appears green in my mind. However, if you have never climbed a volcanic Mountain before, be prepared to be surprised, like I did!
The summit is actually rocky, barren and cold. But don’t be disheartened! Barren is beautiful too. The strong gust of wind, feeling of elation after finally finishing the climb, the view from atop, sweaty but happy faces of your fellow climbers will surely make you ecstatic. Unfortunately, sometimes it is foggy at the top and one might not always be able to enjoy the view! Despite that, the hike itself is always fun.
If you are into plants like me, you will notice many pretty flowers on the way! Personally, I think it is very interesting to learn their common name in Japanese.
Yoko-san must have climbed Mt. Adatara several times. It is her “family mountain” after all. The thought of climbing the same mountain several times might sound silly – initially, I wanted to climb many different mountains more than simply climbing the same mountain multiple times. But I came to realise that, depending on the season, the mountains change, too! Having climbed in both autumn and the early summer rainy season, I can now admire and appreciate the beauty of mountains much better.
I had a revelation – It is only after climbing one mountain, one finds that there are many more mountains to climb too.
Unless the weather condition makes it difficult, we tend to have our lunch at the peak. We usually take easy finger foods such as onigiri, pickled vegetables, obento packs etcetera. If you have a thermos, it would be wise to take some hot water and even enjoy some cup noodles there! Nothing beats hot noodles on a cold and windy mountain top!
The descent, to me, is more difficult than the ascent. It is challenging to control your legs when you are going down. A nice pair of hiking shoes and some nice conversation along the way always does wonders! We are usually escorted by our Japanese friends. Since they are experts at hiking, they follow short but steep and sometimes rough roads. Depending on the weather, the path downwards can be extremely muddy and slippery. Usually, by 5 in the evening, we reach the bottom – muddy, sweaty, tired but content.
It is our tradition to finish off the day by soaking our tired bodies in the nearby onsen (hot springs). By the time we are done and being driven back to Fukushima Station, we are tired and our legs are as wobbly as worms. When I first climbed Adatara, I fell asleep despite my excruciating efforts to keep my eyes open. Poor Tim had to continue the conversation with his very basic Japanese language skills with Yoko-san who drove us back to the station. These days, my manners get ahead of me and I engage in conversation with our ever kind and friendly host mom.
If you also want to immerse yourself in nature, get your hiking boots dirty, pump up some energy and feel the sun-kissed glory of the summit above, what are you waiting for? Go! Climb Adatara!
Tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure you take enough clothes to keep you warm. We usually take a raincoat, a down jacket, woolen gloves and hats, even for June.
- Don’t forget to take an onsen set if you are going to onsen later. Nobody wants to wear dirty and sweaty clothes after a nice bath!
- If the weather is foggy, keep an eye out for all of the paint marks on the rocks.
- Climbing in winter can be quite dangerous, so go with a group or take bells with you and mark your paths.
- Stay hydrated!
Sendai to Fukushima (by bus, a little less than 1.5 hours / by train, 25 mins by shinkansen or 70 mins by local train) → Take a local JR train (Tohoku Main Line 東北本線) from Fukushima Station and get off at Nihonmatsu (二本松) Station (takes around 20 mins, 400 yen).
(There are also buses direct to Nihonmatsu from Sendai City, they just don’t leave as frequently!)
From Nihonmatsu Station, take a bus to Adatara Kogen Ski Resort. Make sure to check the bus schedule! The other option is to take a cab from Nihonmatsu station directly to the trail-head.
Additional Information: Be sure to check out the beautiful Dake Onsen at the foot of Mt. Adatara! http://www.dakeonsen.or.jp/en/access.htm
Trekking Map of Adatara (Japanese): http://www.city.nihonmatsu.lg.jp/uploaded/attachment/28286.pdf