Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hakuba - a man's gots to know his limitations!

Well, sorry for the delay but I have spent a good portion of the last week behind the wheel of my Suzuki pushing up hills and waiting at traffic lights.
The drive from Tsuruoka took me along the west coast of Japan down to Nagano-ken. I was heading for a place called Hakuba, very popular in the Winter for skiing and snow sports, and a refreshingly cool place in Summer.
The drive wasn't too bad, but an all-day affair. I found myself on a very slow route at one point, and decided I'd swap over to the expressway for a time. They are not cheap, but the expressways will get you where you want to go probably three to four times faster than the normal roads. So I sped down the expressway and cut a couple of hours out of the day. By the time I was on a normal road again it was the last 40km to Hakuba, on a road winding through mountains and tunnels. Behind a long row of trucks, I rarely did more than 30km an hour. Such are the roads in Japan.
I arrived at around 7pm at my hostel. It was clean, with a good kitchen, I had a cheap single room with proper beds and ensuite. I didn't realise how much I was missing a real, comfortable bed!
Ski jumps, Hakuba
Hakuba is in Nagano-ken, which played host to the 1998 Winter Olympics. Whilst the Summer games were going on in London, I stepped back 14 years to see some of the old places used for the Olympics in Nagano-ken, such as these ski jumps. Mad sport really, every bone could quite easily be broken. And they don't get nearly as much stopping space as I expected!
 The second day at Hakuba was time for more hiking, and I chose the popular Karamatsu-dake (mountain). First I took this 'gondola lift' pictured above. It rattled and speak and jolted for 15 minutes and left me a little shaky, I must admit! After that two sets of ski lifts were easy going, mainly because my feet could touch the foliage!
The boarded track
 After that it was about a 45 minute walk (although they advised 65-80) to the first point of interest, Happo-ike, a big pond. The clouds rolled in and out all the time I was up there. The track was mostly boardwalked to the pond, and naturally basically straight up.
 It was a nice view, but I was hoping for better things, like the full ascent to Katamatsu! I was feeling much better than the previous walks, so I didn't even stop, I pushed on! Up and up and up. Within 15 minutes it was getting really hard for me. I was at over 2000 metres but altitude shouldn't have affected me, so I put it down to the incredible decline in my fitness. I was feeling in and could barely move. It was all pretty much uphill, steeper than before, no board walks. I passed people and thought maybe I could make it to the intermediate peak, Maru-yama. I got to my limit though, stopped just about a section of snow. The temperature would have been around 16 degrees, but the snow hadn't completely melted.
A peak through the clouds, from the pond.
A man's got to know his limitations and I started back down. It had taken 45 minutes from the pond to that point, less than half of that to return to the pond where the clouds broke briefly and allowed me to see a few surrounding peaks. Beautiful area. I would naturally discover that I was possibly very close to that peak and if I'd persisted another ten or so minutes, maybe less, I would have made it. Such is life.
Hakuba was a very pleasant, cool, green place to visit. A great choice in the middle of August. But two days was not enough. The following day would see me drive all the way to Yokohama.
But that will be another blog post....

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