八甲田 - Hakkouda

Like I said, this last weekend was an overnight backcountry trip up in Aomori-ken, the northernmost prefecture on 本州 (honshyu), the main island of Japan. I'm going to relate the story of the weekend to you a little differently than I normally would. I was beat to posting about the week by Kazumi-san, and I've decided to tell the story just the way she did.

That is, I'm just going to translate her post so we can see the adventure from another person's view. My write-ups have gotten less and less wordy as I've gotten accustomed to awesome, but Kazumi still seems to have a lot to say.

Make no mistake, this'll be a very liberal translation, so plenty of Matt tones will shine through. I'll also be putting notes inside of [] brackets and throwing in pictures I took along the way. With that in mind, everything outside of the brackets/captions is told in first person, but that person isn't me. I would never let my board slide down a mountain in a whiteout!

Without further ado...


Hakkouda - Day 1

By Kazumi, Translated by Moi

With the success of the last trip out that way [the gang hit Hakkouda when I was playing in Kyoto], we headed off to Hakkouda a second time with high spirits.

Members: [Kazumi, of course!], K-field(K田), Hickey [best transliteration ever], Hata-baldy(ハタ坊), Kanji, Matt, Gobel [A French gentlemen who's been living in Japan for some ten years, professor at Tohoku Uni]

At Kuroishi (黒石) [a town about an hour from the resort] the sky was blue and expectations rose!

But! From the bottom of the ropeway the top of the mountain was a bit hazy. They had a screen down there with information on the conditions at the top of the ropeway: windspeeds of eight meters per second, visibility limited to 30 or 40 meters. Since we were using the top of the ropeway as our starting point and only going higher from there, I was worried about how things were going to turn out, especially as we got to significantly higher elevations and particularly on the unprotected mountain ridges. Well...

It. Was. Windy. The visibility was also completely horrible, and things weren't going to get better.

We finally groped our way along from the ropeway all the way to Mt. Akakura (赤倉), and visibility dropped to zero. The entire world had turned completely white; it was so bad you couldn't even see the slant of the snow at your feet. [I remember a narrow ridge where I was using my ski poles like a blind man, feeling to the sides and ahead to avoid the steep drops on either side of my slender, all but invisible snow bridge. No, I did not take any pictures of the true whiteout. Think about it.]

It took us a bit to realize it, but we had arrived at the slope. We skinned down a little bit in a futile effort to get out of the whiteout, but eventually just stopped and started to switch modes. I took my snowboard off my pack and stuck it in the snow, took off my snowshoes, and in the middle of putting them on the pack a sudden gust of wind came up. My board was pulled up by the wind and went sliding down the mountain. Before I could even gasp it had disappeared into the dense haze of the whiteout... [I can't not copy her emoticon here: がく~(落胆した顔)]

Akakura's was a consistently steep, open slope seemingly free from anything to catch my board. With the weather's complete lack of visibility there was a good chance I'd never see my board again. Starting with my GoPro last week, this time it's my board?! Feeling like I was about to break down, I trudged down the slope, my boots punching holes along the way.
I went down...
and down...

And there it was! I have no idea how or why, but it had just stopped right in the middle of the slope. I had seriously already given in to the fact that I wouldn't find it, so I was super freaking happy.

From there, I was able to put on my board and we all slid down the mountain in all its whiteout majesty, tiny bit by tiny bit, [sending one rider out ahead to gingerly discover the terrain, stopping when he started to lose visibility of the group]. Still, the snow felt great, even with the tiny lines we were doing. It was just enough to make me itchy for more.

According to my memory of last time, there was a dangerous passage somewhere off to the right, but once we avoided it we'd get to a safe place without trees or shukabura! [Okay, translation fail. This is a word the Japanese stole from Norwegian (seriously? Norwegian?) "skovla". I had to look it up in a Japanese-Japanese dictionary. The definition: 「冬期に高山の山稜で雪面に見られる風紋。強風と低温によりクラストした雪面に様々な波状の紋様ができる。」 Got it?]

[Fine, fine, in English. "Wind-wrought surface snow that appears on high alpine mountain ridges in the winter. The crust is formed by strong wind and low temperatures into various wave-like patterns." Of course, I figured a faster way to find out what the word meant would be to google images it. A google image search is worth a thousand words (or at least two paragraphs of explanation). It's something anyone who's spent time on mountains will recognize, but I don't think English has a single word for it. Someone let me know if I'm wrong! There's a good chance we also stole a word from some Northern European language.]

Having thought that, I couldn't restrain myself and, having no idea what the angle of the slope was or even the features it had, I threw myself down the slope. The powder, in a word, was... epic! Finally making our way off the mountain ridge the whiteout abated and we were actually able to properly ski down. It was absolutely terrific.

Except for one thing... the hike out was pretty much fail. [I stayed back with Kanji and Kazumi, who couldn't walk out as fast as people with skis since they were stuck in snow shoes. By the time we made it out the moon was lighting the way.] It was tiring as hell, but we made it.

We stayed at the same lodge as last time, 八甲田山荘 [Hakkouda Mountain Villa]. The buffet this time around was italian, and with all the different colors of food I unintentionally ended up taking (and then eating) too much food.  [I'm not making this up, she seriously blames the pretty colors for her over-eating. Awesome. My excuse was, I'm American!]

[I have to just mention briefly the night at the lodge. All seven of us stayed in the same large tatami room on futons, but before we went to sleep the room turned into a giant massage fest after Kanji asked me to work his shoulder a bit. It wasn't long before everyone was mashing someone's legs or shoulders or stretching out hands or what have you. Pretty funny, but also, totally awesome. At the same time, this makes me think about how all of the physical affection I've been receiving lately has been from men.  Hmm...]

Hakkouda - Day 2

The next day the weather on the approach was the same as the first, but the weather got better once we hit the top of the slope[, and had completely cleared up by the time we were about halfway down]. This time around though, the snow was unexpectedly heavy, even though it had snowed the night before and all the snow that fell during the approach was nice and soft and light.

Author change! Matt from here on

So, Kazumi-san just stops there, which is shocking to me. As far as a good mountaineering adventure, the first day was great, but for boarding, the second was the money day. My only guess is she wore herself out writing so much about the first day (and it may have been exhausting just to remember the near-loss of her snowboard). So, Kazumi-sanへ, お疲れ様でした! これから、僕にお任せください!I'll be taking it from here.

So, if you're wandering how we were getting around in the wilderness with no visibility, two of our members had fancy GPS devices, everyone had compasses, everyone but me had maps. Mostly, GPS and compass are what got us through the weekend.

So, day two huh? Like Kazumi-san was saying, the approach was mainly the same weather, but towards the end we could see fairly well, and actually by the top of the slope we were seeing the sky break through in places.

The start of the ride down was pretty different. The snow was sticky and heavy and left me wishing I had waxed my board the night before. On top of that, the snow had been accumulating in miniature hills, so that every ten feet or so there would be another ridge, even though the general inclination of the slope was downwards. This meant lots of jumps, but ended up more awkward than anything else.

After our first three lengths we ended up waiting quite a while on Gobel to fix a problem with his bindings. Speaking of, he had a Voile dove-tail from ten years ago coming in at 195cm, with bindings made for ski boots. Original G! Once he finished freezing his hand off playing with screws on a mountainside the run got a lot better.

When we came to a consistently moderate run through a forest we were finally able to really let ourselves go. K-field had been leading every run and usually stopped just before the run got really enjoyable, but now that we were in a completely safe place with no worries of losing anyone I was surprised to see him just go and go and go. From there, well, hooooooboy was it awesome! It brought me back to Seven Utes in Colorado, but the trees were a little more generous.

I ended up relying on the spacing a bit too much though, and was putting down a toe-edge a little too weakly and smacked my pack on a tree downslope. It was a solid wallup and evoked a good whelp from me, but I kept going fine enough. Once I met up with K-field at the bottom I noticed that it had done something strange to my pack, as it had gotten really uncomfortable on my back. As it turns out, I had brought part of the tree down with me, sandwiched between shell and pack. It was a damn sturdy little bugger too. Fearing for my pack, I asked K-field to check out my right side. His response?

"I see purple."

That took me a second, and then got a bit of an "oh-noes" out of me when I realized what that must mean. I wear a purple puff under my shell when coming down mountains.

Tragedy. Hopefully I'll be able to patch this baby up with some iron-on goretex repair. Until then, I'll be glad I brought two shells to Japan.

Drawings in the snow

We skied out to the highway (and this time I mean it, no hiking), rappelled down the snowbanks the snowplows had built up, and spent time waiting for K-field to show up with the car by drawing in the snow.

Before we got headed home we stopped at a place that specifialized in tsukemen yakisoba, which, pretty much, blew my mind. Say what?! Fried noodles that you dip into a soup before you eat them. Never heard of it before, but whoa.

Finally, driving home, I successfully coded up an essential part in the next step of my research. Maybe I should talk about that again at some point in the future...

Matt Enlow

Matt has a camera, a home on wheels, and this website
Down by the river