Monday, May 29, 2017

One evening at the Karesawa bivouac (2)

Continued: a translation of pioneer alpinist's Ōshima Ryōkichi's meditation on life and death in the mountains

Oshima (centre) and Maki Yuko (right)
on the summit of Yarigatake, March 1922
There were four of us, and we’d just come down through the coire of Karesawa from the north peak of Hodaka. It was now getting dark. Somehow, we’d threaded our way through the rocky debris that obstruct the floor of Karesawa. It was a perfectly clear, calm summer evening, with the sunset clouds still glowing above the jagged ridgeline of Byōbu-iwa, right in front of us.

Down below, not a sound disturbed the silence that had descended over the rock cave that evening. In that all-pervading evening calm, the mountains enfolded us. Now, on Karesawa’s floor, we were just returning to that dusky abode, the rock cave where we’d so often enjoyed a good conversation and rest. Just then, to our right, the sunset’s embers were still glowing on the very spire of Hodaka and the deep purple shadows were stealing upwards toward the top of Sennin-iwa.

Meanwhile, the dark shadow of night was already creeping over the distant valley. It was exactly then that we reached the rock cave and lit our fire of creeping pine boughs. By the time we’d finished our modest supper, night had embraced us. It was a quite splendid night, sprinkled with stars. The silence enfolded everything, as if wrapping the heights in its embrace.

Abandoning the fire, we tumbled out of the cave and sat ourselves down on a rock in the midst of that chill summer evening in the mountains. In the black night sky above us, stars glittered like fish scales in every colour and brightness. We sat there silently, the four of us on that rock, sucking on our pipes, each wrapped in his own thoughts.

Our mood was attuned to everything around us that night. We weren’t in awe of the mountains, as we would have been on a night of thunderous rain and gales; instead, they conveyed to us this tranquility, this peace, this somehow significant silence. “While the mountain may sometimes impress its mood on the spectator, as often the spectator only sees that which harmonises with his own,” writes Mummery in his account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn's Zmutt Ridge, and certainly our mood that evening was of the latter type.

Behind and beside us, rock walls and towers loomed as jet-black shapes in the gloaming, but they neither intimidated nor overawed us. Rather the mountains that more than half-encircled us felt as if they were sheltering the rock-cave in their midst, as if gently rocking us mountain babies to sleep in a cradle. Perhaps my phrasing is too fanciful, but that’s how beneficent the mountains felt to us. Yet this great silence did not tempt us to sing or jest, for the mountains’ mood and our own were in perfect harmony.

References

This is a translation of Karesawa no iwagoya no aru yoru no koto (涸沢の岩小屋のある夜のこと), by Ōshima Ryōkichi, in Yama kikō to zuisō (山 紀行と随想) edited and introduced by Ohmori Hisao.

Ōshima Ryōkichi (1899-1928) crammed a whole lifetime’s worth of mountaineering and writing into a brief decade. In just the year after his compulsory military service, he managed to spend fully 110 days in the mountains. He explored the ranges of Tōhoku and Hokkaidō as well as the Northern Alps. And he learned French, German, English and Italian in order to read alpine literature in its original languages. Two particular influences were A F Mummery and the French-Swiss alpinist Emil Javelle. According to Ohmori Hisao, the opening section of this essay owes something to Javelle’s evocations of the alpine pastoral mood.

The photo is from this blog.

Friday, May 26, 2017

One evening at the Karesawa bivouac (1)

Translation: a meditation on life and death in the mountains by pioneer alpinist Ōshima Ryōkichi

We were fond of that bivvy rock in Karesawa. It’s hard to think of any other high place that was so welcoming. “Rock cave” (iwa-koya) was the right name for it, formed as it was by the hollow under a big flat rock on top, and surrounded by piles of rock fragments in front. There was no trace of anybody’s handiwork, so that it looked natural, in keeping with its name, which was all the more pleasant. Around it, Japan’s highest, most magnificent rocky peaks rise to more than 2,500 metres.

View from the Karesawa bivvy cave
There are few lodging places to be found so high, so free, and so congenial. Or so splendidly remote from human existence. Lying on a bed of withered creeping pine boughs, you can look out from under its rocky eaves towards the summit of Mae-Hodaka and the spreading snowfields on the ridges (Grat) and corries (Kar) of Byōbu-iwa. The roof is so low that you have to crouch or lie down the whole time. As far as the scenery goes, since the cave lay on the corrie’s floor, all you could see was the peaks of the surrounding crags, the corrie’s walls, and the scoop of Karesawa, and you couldn’t even see the Azusa River valley.

Few people come this way; it’s a quiet place, and that’s exactly what we like about it. After bringing up rice, miso, a few sweet things and a bit to drink, so as to set up camp and settle in here for four or five days, I feel quite refreshed, as if for the first time I’ve come to a place where I can really smell the mountains.

When the weather’s fine, and as soon as we’ve had breakfast, we set off with ropes over our shoulders to tackle any of the surrounding rock walls we fancy, or topping out on one of those nameless “Nebengipfel” (subsidiary summit), we grant ourselves a bit of a “Gipfelrast”, or it might be interesting to clamber up a “Gratzacke” (jagged ridge) and build a “Steinmann” (summit cairn) there.

And when we’ve had enough, we’d come down to the cave and do a lizard on the big rock that forms its roof. When I say “do a lizard”, that’s what one of us said two or three years ago when he came up here, and so that’s the term we use. It means lying down and sunning oneself atop the flat rock, belly flat to the sun-warmed stone, just like a lizard, closing one’s eyes and pleasantly dozing off without a thought in one’s head.

If the weather’s bad, we’re more like mountain rats, though. We don’t think of coming out of our hole until the clouds lift. In fact, we can’t get out; we can hardly move, for fear of accidentally hitting our heads, so low is the roof of our cave. So then I lay my head towards the back of the cave and just lie there. As we’re high up here, when the weather’s bad, it’s very cold. Rain drips from the rocky eaves and seeps through the rock. Wind blows in from nooks and crannies.

Even so, there is nowhere as pleasant to be as this cave; it’s a tolerable place in both fine and rainy weather. We say what we want to say, eat what we want to eat, and climb to our heart’s content. From time to time, we toy with the idea of having a hut worthy of the name, but only in winter or spring. But we don’t need one in summer, if we can find a natural one like this more or less anywhere. Even in summer, though, our rock can be buried in snow if you come up here too early in the season.

Anyway, one of the pleasures of visiting Kamikōchi in the summer is to come up here with my companions, talk things through, and climb our hearts out. I write here, though, about one particular summer evening with my friends at the rock cave. My hope is in some way to record our companionship at that particular time.

(Continued)

References

This is a translation of Karesawa no iwagoya no aru yoru no koto (涸沢の岩小屋のある夜のこと), by Ōshima Ryōkichi, in Yama kikō to zuisō (山 紀行と随想) edited and introduced by Ohmori Hisao.

Ōshima Ryōkichi (1899-1928) was one of the student mountaineers mentored by Maki Yūkō when he returned from his first ascent of the Eiger’s Mittelegi Ridge in 1921. Ōshima took part in Maki’s ski ascent of Yarigatake the following winter, also a first. In this heady but dangerous epoch, the young climbers were rapt with enthusiasm for developments in European alpinism – hence the German terms embedded here and there in Ōshima’s essay above. At the same time, their ambitions too often ran ahead of their experience in the high mountains. The first victim was Itakura Katsunobu, son of a Meiji-era prime minister, who died in a snowstorm on Tateyama in January 1923. The essay translated here is a meditation on the death of Itakura, known as “One Day” to his friends, and what it meant for Japan’s pioneer alpinists.

The photo, showing the view from the rock cave bivvy in Karesawa is from this blog. According to the same blog, the rock cave no longer exists.

Friday, May 19, 2017

How not to have a blast

Japan’s authorities issue volcano safety guidelines for hikers

One-third of Japan’s popular One Hundred Mountains are active volcanoes. This can lead to tragedy. In September 2014, a sudden eruption on a volcano in central Honshū killed 63 people. Some of the victims were never found. To raise awareness of these hazards, Japan’s Home Ministry and its Meteorological Agency have recently issued a leaflet for hikers.

How volcanoes can damage your health

What follows is an outline summary of the Japanese text (PDF). The front sheet of “Be prepared for hiking on volcanoes” (火山への登山のそなえ) marks the location of Japan’s 110 active volcanoes – “active” means showing signs of life, or having erupted within the last 10,000 years. The 33 active volcanoes selected by Fukada Kyūya for his One Hundred Mountains are distinguished in red.


Red captions mark the active Nihon Hyakumeizan

Next are points to keep in mind when climbing a volcano:

  • Eruptions can occur without warning, so stay alert to what is happening in and around the crater.
  • If you see any unusual venting of steam or gases, take refuge or descend immediately and warn the local authorities, police or Meteorological Agency (which is responsible for monitoring volcanic activity in Japan).
  • As volcanic gases are heavier than air, they tend to collect in hollows and valleys. Stay out of such locations.
  • Keep your mobile phone on and check for official hazard alerts. Be aware of whether your phone has a connection to the network. Information about mobile phone coverage is published on the websites of some phone companies, or marked on certain hiking maps. Try to establish whether and where you will have mobile phone connectivity before you leave home.
  • During an eruption, there is a major risk of death or injury from flying stones and lava bombs near the crater. Get away from the crater and take shelter in a hut or behind a rock. If you have them, put on a helmet and goggles, and breathe through a face-mask or towel.

Things not to leave home without
In addition to your normal hiking kit, map and compass, you should consider carrying a copy of the local volcanic hazard map, which will show you the range of previous eruptions, and also places to take shelter. A helmet, goggles and a towel will protect against ash and other fall-out, as will a rain-jacket. A headlight will help in bad visibility. And don’t forget a spare battery for your mobile phone and emergency rations/water for yourself.

The last sheet of the leaflet starts with a reminder of the 2014 Ontake disaster. Then (see top graphic) two cartoon volcanoes present the various types of eruptive threat – showers of heavy rocks that can fly up to four kilometres from the vent; smaller stones with a lethal range of 10 kilometres; volcanic ash that may, in the leaflet’s measured language, “affect your breathing”, pyroclastic flows that burn and bury; volcanic gases and mudflows. Each category is illustrated from an eruption in living memory.

The message is clear: these hazards are for real.

Related posts: volcanic excursions

Asama: Serious steam

Asama: The inner world

Asama: Fires of Tartarus

Bandai: Sole survivor

Mt Fuji: Journey to the centre of Mt Fuji

Gassan and Chōkai: The twentieth-century Tōhoku express

Kaimon: Slow train to Kaimon-dake

Ontake: The gateway

Sakurajima: The hot and cold Hyakumeizan challenge

Yake-dake: Burning mountain, bad snow

Yake-dake: Seasons of a stratovolcano

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The making of a Meiji mountaineer (5)

Concluded: a translation of Kogure Ritarō's A talk about mountaineering

In this way, the people of a congregation would go on long pilgrimages to their special mountain for a week or more, or even several weeks. Thus, most of the notable mountains had already been climbed, except for those in a small part of what’s now known as the Japan Alps. But if there had been any indomitable monks like those pioneer mountain mystics of old, who tirelessly opened up new mountains and proselytised their faith, I can scarcely imagine that they would have left any mountain untracked. So this is a piece of good luck for us.

Climbing a snow valley at Harinoki, woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi (1926)
The important thing to note is that most of these mountaineers were commoners. While the city-dwelling aristocracy and the literati were celebrating Mt Fuji simply as something to look at, the commoners were climbing mountains all over the place. Of course, the power of faith is part of the explanation, but one can’t help feeling that the vigour of this mass mountaineering movement and that commoners were organising group ascents from quite early times can be put down mainly to the fact that Japan’s mountains are easy to climb in the summer.

These mass ascents meant that there would be thousands or even tens of thousands of climbers, but except on their chosen route, the mountain wasn’t devastated. For example, when we had to relieve ourselves, we dug a hole, did our business on a sheet of paper, and tidied up afterwards; we were always extremely reluctant to desecrate the mountain. Standing on the top of Shirouma, I couldn’t help feeling sad at the way that beautiful sward was being trampled from end to end. As we keep climbing the mountains that our forebears opened for us, in new ways, and pass them on to the next generation, surely we should want to avoid passing them on in a shop-soiled state.

As my mountain-climbing evolved from such circumstances, it’s only natural that I can’t entirely escape my origins. So I wear Japanese garb over my straw sandals and leggings, don a rush mat against the rain, keep an oiled paper cape ready, hang my baggage from panniers, and wear a hat of cypress bark instead of a straw one. I’ve been told by Mr Fujiki that this makes me look like an itinerant swordsman of old, and indeed there could be some similarities, as this was the traditional garb for travelling. Of course, as a pilgrim, I didn’t carry a short sword or a fighting staff, but fortunately I was able to keep climbing mountains in this way up to the end of the Meiji years, without any accidents, and it was only when I first met the new city-dwelling type of climber, never having heard of such a thing, that I realised to my amazement just how many people like climbing mountains. And among those people are the founders and inaugural members of the Japanese Alpine Club.

Sunrise on Mt Fuji (Goraiko): woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi

The downside of traditional mountaineering dress is when a storm hits. As you can’t put up an umbrella, all you can do is wrap it tightly in the straw mat and tough things out. I once got caught in this way while climbing Kaikoma from the Todai valley, and I still remember how we struggled to avoid succumbing to the cold. In those days, we’d stay the night at the summit, so as to enjoy the view of sunrise at leisure on the next day, as we felt safe sleeping on an open summit, even if it was colder, rather than camping in a gloomy wood. As for food, I sometimes walked carrying enough large balls of baked rice for three days, but I doubt if such tribulations can be imagined by anybody who hasn’t experienced them.

Well, I’ve rambled on for long enough with my talk, but if you’ve learned something from it about the way mountain-climbing was in those days, then I will consider myself more than amply rewarded.

References

This is a beta translation of a chapter (登山談義) from Mountain Memories (山の憶い出), as republished by Heibonsha in 1999 and edited by Ohmori Hisao. Kogure Ritarō (1873-1944) grew up in a mountain village where people still made regular pilgrimages to Mt Fuji and Ontake. He made his way via the new Meiji educational system to Tokyo, where he joined the Japanese Alpine Club a few years after it was founded, and later became its president. For more about the celebrated mountain meeting at Kirigamine in August 1935, see the introduction to One Hundred Mountains of Japan.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Images and ink (36)


Image: "Pollinger breaks through", photo by Edward Whymper, from Whymper’s Scrambles with a Camera, edited by Peter Berg, former Hon. Archivist of the Alpine Club

Ink: Poem by I A Richards, the literary critic and alpinist, to his wife, Dorothy Pilley


Recall the Epicoun:
Night, welling up so soon,
Near sank us in soft snow.
At the stiff-frozen dawn,
When Time had ceased to flow,
- The glacier ledge our unmade bed -
I hear you through your yawn:
"Leaping crevasses in the dark,
That's how to live!" you said.
No room in that to hedge:
A razor's edge of a remark


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sakura diary (5)


19 April: Narita again: after circling back over the airport, the Airbus heads due north, tracking up the spine of Tohoku.


Looking through gaps in the cloud, passengers in the right-hand seat rows can play Meizan sudoku.



Over Hokkaido, the track turns slightly left, so that we coast into Siberia far to the north of Vladivostok. At first the big Siberian rivers roll brown with meltwater; after lunch, washed down with a glass of economy-class pinot noir, they’re frozen into silent braids.



We continue on this hyperborean heading, overflying nameless mountains, until Siberia’s northern coast heaves into view under the starboard wing, somewhere north-west of Norilsk.




The Barents Sea winks blue at this season; the water is open as far north as the eye can see. In just one place, though, ice-floes have crowded up on a lee shore.


Perhaps it's the pinot noir. Looking down on the brash ice, I so far forget myself as to think of ... white petals floating in an old castle moat. How mortifying: even at this distance, the cherry flowers have cast their spell. As they always will.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sakura diary (4)



17 April, Eiheiji: early on a Monday, the town is almost deserted. Under the temple’s colonnade of old cedar trees, it’s as tranquil as it was in my student days. Those concrete dormitory buildings are larger than I remember them, though.


Some of their occupants are already out and about. Above the temple, we pass a working party of novice monks who are weeding and cleaning the watercourse. Eiheiji’s founder would have approved; streams and rivers were important to him:-

Water extends into flames; it extends into thought, reasoning and discrimination; it extends into awareness and the Buddha nature. Descending to earth, it becomes rivers and streams. We should realize that, when water descends to earth, it becomes rivers and streams, and that the essence of rivers and streams becomes sages.


Aiming to trace this stream to its source, we follow in the footsteps of the sage who wrote those words. The way is soon interrupted by a sizeable concrete dam. At this point, we can either take a long way round by road – more than a kilometre, says the sign – or duck under a yellow-and-black rope and take a flight of steps straight up the side of the obstacle. The choice is easy.


Ignoring a warning sign about avalanches – snow? what snow? – we duck under the rope. A few minutes later, the error of our way is borne in on us. A TV-sized rock has smashed down onto a stair landing, all but demolishing the steel railings. Smaller stones lie all about in puddles of meltwater. “Let’s get out of here,” I say to the Sensei, needlessly; she’s already pounding the stairs as fast as she can.


Back in safety we take breath. Inevitably, the road that leads round the reservoir is planted with cherry trees. For a change, their blossoms are tinged a bright cerise. We find them rather louche. At the head of the lake, we rejoin the watercourse, which promises to take us into the heart of the mountain.


To this day, scholars can’t say for certain why Zen master Dōgen gave up a comfy billet in the capital city and moved to the wilds of Echizen. This was in 1243. It may be that he’d exhausted the patience of his peers at the Enryakuji – after all, he was busy subverting their doctrine – or simply that a follower had offered him a tract of land. Or perhaps he just wanted to be in the heart of the mountains:-

These mountains and waters of the present are the expression of the old buddhas. Each, abiding in its own dharma state, fulfils exhaustive virtues … Since the virtues of the mountain are high and broad, the spiritual power to ride the clouds is always mastered from the mountains, and the marvellous ability to follow the wind is inevitably liberated from the mountains.

These words open Dōgen’s Mountains and water sutra (Sansui-kyō), one of the essays that make up his Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma, a summation of the theology that he developed after his study tour of Cha’an monasteries in China. Intriguingly, the Sansui-kyō was written just a few years before his move to Echizen.


Today, the marvellous ability to follow the wind is denied us. In fact, both we and the wind lack puff. An unseasonable warmth bears down – yesterday the mercury nudged 30°C in Tokyo – and, while we toil higher, the sunlight thins and fades. As so often in this north country, the weather has started to turn.

“To be in the mountains is ‘a flower opening within the world’," says Master Dōgen. “Those outside the mountains do not sense this, do not know it. Those without eyes to see the mountains, do not sense, do not know, do not see, do not hear the reason for this.”


The flowers opening beside the track give us reason to pause – perhaps more than strictly necessary. Aster-like ichirinsō, white as the sakura, alternate with patches of purple kikuzaki ichirinsō. The path never veers far from the stream, which runs in a direttissima line straight up the mountain. It follows that the going is steep.


In the old days, before people went hiking, the only way up a mountain would have been to follow a sawa or watercourse. So the abruptness of this path might suggest that it originated in early times, lending credence to the tradition that Dōgen came this way.

About where the stream dwindles to the merest trickle, we pass under the boughs of a mixed oak and beechwood. The path comes out into a wooded dell, where stone buddhas, each in a rough shelter of piled stones, distil green thoughts in a green shade.


This, explains the Sensei, is the site of Daibutsu-ji, the temple that gives the mountain its name. Dōgen founded it the year after he arrived in Echizen, using it as a place to continue the meditation he’d placed at the heart of his doctrine. After a year or two up here, he relented on his followers – who might, like us, have found the climb a hard morning’s work – and moved down the valley to Eiheiji.


With the ridgeline now in sight, we zig-zag up a slope that is a-quiver with iwa-uchiwa (“rock fans”, translates the Sensei, although probably she does not mean in the Rod Stewart sense). When we top out on the bare grassy summit, a party of fit pensioners is already sitting in a circle, finishing their lunch. My, they were fast. Or were we slow?


We find a fallen log to sit on and broach the Sensei’s industrial-strength onigiri.


While eating, we admire the ghostly profile of Hakusan to the east. Close by, white magnolia flowers flutter against a backdrop of bare trees. Lunch is short: the cold wind is bringing an ominous band of dark cloud towards us.


The other party start out along the ridge, instead of descending the way they came, tempting me to follow. After all, tradition says that Dōgen came from that direction when he discovered the site for the Daibutsuji temple. The Sensei has other ideas: “You can go, but I’m going straight down,” she says, with a nod at the glowering clouds.

As I know better than to challenge the experience of a local guide, the ridge traverse is kicked into touch. The wind drops as soon as we dip below the ridge, confirming Dōgen’s good judgment in siting his temple, but the skies continue to darken.


Still, there’s time to head a short distance up a side-valley to visit a waterfall. The Sensei recalls coming here one autumn, before the dam was built. In those days, you had to climb round the waterfall to reach the beech woods of the upper valley, flaring red and gold. Since then, steel ladders have been installed next to the waterfall. We wonder who put them there - was it a hiking club, for the convenience of sawa climbers, or were the dam authorities responsible?


Although we say that mountains belong to the country, says Dōgen, actually they belong to those that love them. When mountains love their master, the wise and the virtuous inevitably enter the mountains. And when sages and wise men live in the mountains, because the mountains belong to them, trees and rocks flourish and abound, and the birds and the beasts take on a supernatural excellence. This is because the sages and wise men have covered them with virtue. We should realise that the mountains actually take delight in wise men and sages. (Translation by Carl Bielefeldt)

Really, the waterfall would look better without those steel ladders. By the lake, the yamabuki glow yellow in the gathering gloom.


We feel the first drops of rain as we come in under the great trees of Eiheiji. The monks are still at work in the river, except for an overseer who is recording their efforts with a large camera. It’s good to see that Eiheiji shoots Nikon. The temple also seems to be exploring co-branding opportunities with a local firm of bulldozer-makers:




A full downpour starts just as we reach the Sensei’s van. That night, a tempest of wind and rain buffets the house. In the morning, the cherry trees will be stripped bare; the white petals gone even from the gutters, all washed away overnight.