Tagged: Hiking

Training for Utsukushigahara: Hakusan National Park

With five weeks to go before I take part in my first trail running race – a 70K run across the Utsukushigahara Highlands – I headed north on the expressway to Hakusan National Park.

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Mt. Haku is one of Japan’s three “holy mountains”, along with Mt. Tate and of course, Mt. Fuji. To get there from Gifu, there’s a long range of mountains to conquer first. My mission was to climb up Mt. Choushigamine (1810m) and head over three more mountains before hiking up Mt. Bessan (2399m, pictured above).

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From the pictures of those mountains I had seen online, it looked very much like Utsukushigahara and I hoped I would be able to run a lot of the course. However, it quickly became apparent that this would be a considerable hike, not a run at all. There were a few stretches good for running on, and I readily took the opportunity to run… into a tree. I smacked my head against a branch and was knocked to the ground, nursing a deep cut along my hairline.

Mopping my wounds with a tissue, I stumbled up the first peak and then pulled myself together and got on with the day. And what a day! I was treated to some breathtaking views and deliciously cool temperatures which made a huge change from the stifling humidity of Kakamigahara. Also, because of the altitude, I didn’t see a single spider’s web or hear a single mosquito all day. I did see a frog the size of a football, I did get to chase a rabbit for a second or two, and I was able to run alongside dozens of harmless dragonflies.

Rocks lined the trail, much of it very steep so I was glad I took along one of my fancy new hiking poles. The most difficult sections, though, were covered in either long grass that made it difficult to see where you were stepping, or worse, the same grass trodden down so that it was slippery underfoot, especially on the downhills.

I averaged over 20 minutes per kilometer and only covered 23km in 8 hours of hiking. I shouldn’t get too down on myself, though. I climbed a total of 2,330m, most of that in the first 11K. Utsukushigahara is supposed to have a combined ascent of around 4,500m. Much bigger, but spread out over 70K.

Hardships aside, the hike was well worth it for the beautiful views from the top of Mt. Bessan:

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Like the pictures? Watch the video! :-)

21K Kakamigahara Alps Hike

The forecast was cloud with light rain, ideal for taking on the Kakamigahara Alps full hiking course.

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Last year I did it twice, but both times tried to run it. The first time, also in the rain, I bailed out with two mountains to go. I got lost, was freezing cold in t-shirt and shorts, and didn’t have the will to continue.

Two months later, on a hot day in June, I tried again, and again I got lost. In fact, I wasted so much time running on roads around mountains to get back on course that it became a mammoth 37km effort, and I was exhausted and dehydrated when I finished.

This time, I decided not to run, and started a little closer to my house. I also started at 5am, an hour earlier than last year, so made quick progress over the first two mountains – the two Gongens – and was on my way east across the alps long before breakfast.

I learned well from last year’s mistakes: I knew the course much better, I was dressed in rain wear, I had more than enough water for the whole trip, gloves to prevent blisters from holding my hiking stick and grabbing tree branches, and a better sense of where to conserve energy.

My biggest mistake this time around, not that I had a choice, was wearing shoes that weren’t waterproof. I got soaked in the rain and the water flowed into my shoes.

Nevertheless, I surprised myself at just how quickly I was moving across the mountain range. I was at Sarubamijou, the most eastern point, by 9:10am, about three hours ahead of last year! And whereas last June I collapsed on a bench and rested for half-an-hour, this year I devoured a Danish pastry and headed off again quickly.

The rain was light, but relentless, and cloud covered all the surrounding mountains leaving very little to look at. It was hardly surprisingly that over 21km and seven hours I didn’t see another person!

The long climb up Mt. Yagi was hard, especially as my waterlogged socks were causing blisters on my toes and heels. Still, with only Mt. Atago left to go, I pushed on.

Incredibly I was out of the mountains before midday and made my way to Ogase Ike car park in the hope my wife would come and pick me up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get hold of her and after changing my socks and putting some band aids on my feet, I plodded another wet 5K home on the roads.

In the end I covered 27.4km in 7 hours and 30 minutes, climbing around 1,500 meters in the process.

I felt a lot more confident today and feel I can extend the course by doubling back part-way, but not until I get some waterproof shoes! :-)

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