Tag - climbing

Wales: Scaling Snowdon

We’d done Fuji together, and that’s 3000m! Snowdon was more than doable, a mere amble at 1000m – right Rob?

Never before, in any of adult life, have a better understood how fucking awesome Easter is.

It’s like Christmas for adults; devoid of any expectation and compulsory visits; the promise of good weather and friends – and two 4-day weeks!

The Adventure Begins

Setting off from Richmond, rather than home, saved an hour on our 4.5hr trip, and with four in the car, we were saving a killing on travel over the train – other than muggings here driving 3 non-drivers…

Arriving in Wales, we were soon(ish) hitched up in our AirBnB, waiting for the other two to arrived.

Turns out we hadn’t booked a house, but just the bedrooms! Still, with a fry up breakfast thrown in, and just a lil begging to be allowed the use the kitchen to make dinners, I think we had done pretty nicely for ourselves.

The big climb lay the day ahead of us.

Mounting the Mountain

We had been sent out packing list a couple weeks in advance – a gift.

It included all the essentials, down to spare laces – the curse – we needed huge sacks to carry everything!

They guys had decided which route to take to the summit – gift! Naturally we wouldn’t be taking the path, waaaaay to easy. Nope, we would be first scaling Crib Goch, en route to Snowdon’s summit – curse.

With it being Easter weekend, the area was packed with cars, filling the car parks and lining the sides of any roads they could. But the gang knew a car park a kilometre or two from the trailhead – gift.

Of course, we wouldn’t walk the road to the trailhead, waaaaay to easy. Nope we would climb over the car park wall, down the hill, across and river and back up the ravine to trailhead – curse.

I was already out of breath, sweaty and had redressed 3 times – from wearing all my gear, plus hat and gloves, down to my underlayer and cursing wearing my leggings under my shorts – at least I hadn’t put on the fleeced waterproof trousers!

We gathered our thoughts at the trailhead station, left behind a lil brown part of ourselves and we were off!

As soon as the girls got back from the toilet.

Scaling Snowdon

The busy trail consisted of large, flattish rocks that made up the footpath, the barrage of people forcing us to keep pace as we climbed higher and higher along the side of the valley. From the trailhead head station the road snaked out along the valley floor, the steep ‘v’s of hills jostling with each other to be better seen and in the distance, the massive lake we had driven past an hour before hinted at its own existence with a flickering golden luminance in the corner of the scene – how was it so small now?

Photo by Rob Fudge May

After maybe an hour or so, we reached the point that marked your hikers from your climbers; the division of the Pyg path – the relatively simple, consistently inclined path that snaked its way up the mountain – and the Crib Goch route, a fun trail up a 923m ‘knife-edge’ ridge, considered a scramble in summer and a climb in winter, on which numerous people have died from exposure – we of course took that one!

Which definitely paid off!

What could have only ended in death had I been alone, the experience of the other guys –  their ability to spot routes, remember directions based on landmarks and motivation to keep moving forwards – made it almost easy!

Well, that and the fact that going back down the rocks I had already seen was a lot less alluring that pushing forward, upwards into the unknown, even if Snowdon itself was a horseshoe of a mountain path away and hidden in the distance under a veil of mist and cloud.

Photo by Rob Fudge May

We had gotten super lucky with weather! At the lower elevation only a couple of layers were needed, sleeves rolled up after the physical exertion of climbing with both feet and hands up near vertical rock faces.

The lay of the rock made for plentiful hand and footholds, especially in the dry weather, and often formed natural (thought frequently very tall) steps. I dread to imagine the scramble in the snow or wet, or even going down (like one couple and their dog, in trainers!) but the only real challenge for most of it was scouting out the best path, especially nearer the top, and whilst scrambling along the ridge.

Climbing the ridge was the most exhilarating and nerve-wrecking part. Whilst scrambling, you had holds above for your arms, sure footing for your feet, and should one part slip, you still had multiple points of contact.

Upon reaching the ridge, you became a gangly mountain goat.

Photo by Rob Fudge May

The angle along the ridge was so acute, literally just an upside down ‘V’, with kniggly, angle surfaces to step along. When the ridge was flat-ish, you had nom more than a 30cm width on which to balance, as the wind pelts you as it rushes over the mountain and you’re left standing your full height about the top of the mountain, which only steep, rocky slope either side of you.

Needless to say, much of the summit was spent hunched over on all fours, like a Quasimodo-Golem love child, and there was even one segment where I watched a woman crawl across on her hands and knees!

This being the point of ‘vertigo meltdown’, we saw a fair number of slow movers, dropping down the slope a tad to overtake them and head on way to the summit of Snowdon.

Photo by Rob Fudge May

Though between Crib Goch and Snowdon, there is another, all peak, as the cloud wrapped in around us, this felt rather like a non-adventure, shielded from the view, the plummet around us a few mere metres and a wide path left us with no troubles, and we marched hand in hand, the 6 of us, down the other side of Garnedd Ugain, pass the top off the Pyg path and onto the summit post, celebrating with Summit Booze!

The Return Home

Largely uneventful, we followed the Pyg path back down, our knees taking the brunt of our downwards descent, with the fittest and most mounty-climby of the group running a head to bring the car round from the car park, to spare the legs of the rest of us.

Despite the late hour, we managed to doodle back along the valley road, and were indoctrinated into the cult of ‘Pete’s Eats’ with a mountain of cream, marshmallows and hot chocolate.

We had climbed Snowdon and survived.

Where to next? Why, Ben Nevis of course!

Tokyo: Conquering Mr. Fuji

For the final instalment of my adventurous Summer holidays, it was time to climb Fujisan! Famous from its appearance in  ukiyo-e block prints, its a iconic status can only be matched by anime and crazy Japanese electronics.

Thursday: Arigatou Mr Robotou

Always a joy to shorten the work week, I woke up at 0515 on a Thursday morning, and caught the first train out of Mie, enabling me to get the bus to Oita airport at 0655.

I love domestic flying! Within 5 minutes of arriving at the airport, I was through security and sat waiting. Landing in Tokyo, I was messaging Savvy arranging to meet up (she was flying home in 48 hours – forever!) and we agreed on meeting at Asakusa station, to then take Rob and Becky to Senso-ji temple nearby.

Struggling to get in contact with Rob and Becky, Savvy and I headed off and… bought Dominos pizza – yum yum YUM!

Eventually we met up, dropped R&B off for sushi and we ate the dominos.

Senso-ji was busy! And coming from Kyoto, R&B were pretty templed out! So we didn’t stay too long, and walked over to the Sky Tree – boy was it expensive! After trying to figure out how high we could get without paying (not very…) we walked across to another building and got a 21st floor view of Tokyo – it sufficed!

By now we could check in, did so, and headed out to the ROBOT RESTAURANT!!!

Zoom, zap, zap! Pow, boooong!

What a weird show! From scantily-clad, taiko drummers, snakes and dragons to robots and bikini clad robots! Even a fight between aliens and forest dwellers -so weird! Not to mention the Daft Punk inspired lounge band!

Next we joined Savvy for dinner, with some of her Tokyo friends, at a Nabe pot restaurant – it was tabehoudai, all we can eat!

Finally we got back to the hostel around 2230 – still to shower and pack for Fuji.

Friday: Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side; It’s the Climb

Another morning of waking 0515, Rob and I quickly set off to the station to rise to Shinjuku and the bus stop. Becky had decided not to join us for the full pilgrim walk, from Fuji station to the top, saving herself 4 hours of walking.

From the station, we made our way to the Kitaguchi Fuji Sengen shrine.

Surrounded by the straightest trees in the world, the grand, red tori gate is almost as thick as the trees themselves!

11238958_10153020587295667_6466634257430606616_o

The Tori gate at Kitaguchi Fuji Sengen shrine

The lower part of the walk was through general forest. Unfortunately for us, the whole area was covered in mist, and would continue to be misty right until the 5th station, and persist even as we went higher than that.

Weaving through the forest was fun, though undermined by knowing there was a smooth, easy to walk road only a few metres away, and we tried not to dwell too much on the numerous watch out for bears signs…

After a time we hit a cafe, and knew the longest stretch of walking was over, and that the time between landmarks was diminishing.

Getting towards the 1st station, things began to get much tougher. The incline began to increase very quickly, and into the path, were cut surface water run-off channels and dams, presumably to channel melting snow off of the walking paths. The route began to consist mainly of 12 inch or higher steps, which started to take their toll on my knees.

The sun was getting closer to being over head, but still the mist persisted, and it gave the forest a strange defused lighting, like a photo studio. In clearer parts, you could see the mist roll and wash over us – really cool! Like a Narnia, or it reminded me of childhood days at my aunt’s house.

11893823_10153020587400667_5054181585509912837_o

The mist moved so fast, and was so thick

The old 4th and 5th stations were pretty dilapidated, collapsing on themselves and creating some wonderfully atmospheric feeling, like nature reclaiming space back from man.

Finally we hit a road, and knew we were near the 5th station – it wasn’t even 1200 yet!

Alas, the station was still a kilometre up the road from where we were! Off we trudged to find Becky.

After 20 minutes of no luck, we headed in for a bit of food before hitting the main ascent to our hut for the ‘night’.

11951729_10153020587620667_7905150589276134031_o

Our first view of Mt. Fuji at the 5th Station

The previous path had been pretty empty, we’d overtaken maybe 3 groups of 10-15, and a few couples, but on this path, there were so many people! So many groups in bright coloured jackets and trousers, round foreigners huffing up the hill with their poles and rucksacks, then Rob and I in tee shirts and shorts!

The first part was dull. The clouds were tight to the mountain, so we had no idea of how high up we were, or how high the mountain was. The mist rolled along the paths, and we simply zig-zagged up the hill, the earth of the mountain held back by huge metal barriers and cages – as if we were in a post-apocalyptic war, storming the alien stronghold.

We passed Becky pretty early on, leaving her with her new-found American friends.

Perhaps an hour in, and we began to hit the 7th station huts. By now the price of drinks and food was increasing substantially! 400 yen for a water, instead of 100 or less!

Rob and I found that by far the quickest way to climb Fuji is not to follow the person in front of you, but using the full width of the path to get round tour groups. My god! The groups are slow, pausing every few stretches and just climbing slowly. No wonder it says it takes so long to climb fuji! They’re especially slow as it begins more of a climb than a walk.

By 3 o’clock we’d reached our station for the ‘night’ – it had barely taken 2 hours! But now what to do?

11893863_10153020587705667_8048547158574141950_o

Our accommodation for the ‘night’

We took off our stinky clothes, and changed a little, and took a nap to wait for Becky!

About an hour later she had arrived! Yay! We’d been worried she’s just walk past!

With the gang reunited, we waited for our dinner! As we waited, the clouds cleared and we could see the view above and below us! We were so high up! Thank goodness! We’d walked so hard without seeing the fruits of our labours!

Dinner was a light affair of mackerel and curry rice, with a lil cake, and they gave us our breakfast – boil in the bag rice!

Nearing 7pm we decided to call it a night!

Saturday: Sunrise on Fujisan

Waking at 0000 to a cacophony of alarms, we clearly weren’t the only ones to have read about leaving at midnight for the sunrise!

After having dressed, and eaten breakfast, we left at about 0030. We were at the bottom of the 10 or so 8th station huts, so we had a lot of people to overtake and beat to the summit!

It was a race to the top! Headlights illuminating the way, we had many tour groups to get past, taking risks climbing on the outer edges of the path and sneaking our way up the hill, whilst trying not to get too sweaty!

As we finally got above the tour groups, the lights ahead began to diminish, and the occasional head touch began to merge in with the stars above us, whilst below there was a snake of blue-hued lights illuminating the entire path up here, and disappearing into the clouds.

Out beyond the mountain, the nearby towns twinkled through the cloud, and help provide some hint of how far Rob and I had walked that day!

At the 9th station, little more than a hut, was a man asleep in sleeping bag – had he been there all night?

Through a tori gate, and then bam! A stone pillar, that read (in Kanji) Fuji Summit – very proud of my Japanese there!

So it was 0215 – 3 hours until sunrise!! Luckily there are seats at the top, so Rob and I took position at the front, surrounded by less than a dozen people. Time for jumpers, jackets, trousers and waterproof trousers – it was gonna be a cold night!

Forty-five minutes later Becky turns up, joins us under our blanket and whips out… her tablet and we watch the Amazing Spider-man! Which turns out to be a great distraction as you freeze your ass off!

After a long wait, the first rays of light broke out from the clouds, and we began the sunrise.

11952779_10153020587950667_5834107304310962499_o

A sea of clouds as the sun teases us on at the summit of Fujisan

It was a beauty! The double clouded sky framed the sun wonderfully, and watching the hills and lakes below arise from the darkness really emphasised the height we had scaled – about 3700m.

11895011_10153020588125667_8773191067888894938_o

Adventure Time… The sole reason I made this hat

11951529_10153020588220667_5462478475221680978_o

Conquering of the sky

The way down was far better than the climb up! The weather held nicely, giving a great view of the base of the mountain, but also a double layer of clouds above and below us.

The path was mostly loose shale, on a shallow incline zig-zagged path – no rocky faces to climb. It was almost laughable how regularly and clearly you could see the route down the mountain below us, but pretty easy on the knees.

We set off around 0545, and were at the 5th station by 0745 – super quick! Our bus wasn’t even leaving until 10am!

Time for breakfast – american pancakes – and postcards to right and send (with the official Fuji postoffice stamp!). We managed to get onto an earlier bus, 0930 back to Tokyo and were back in before midday – and Becky had been so worried she’d miss her 9pm flight – ha!

The group split up, and Rob and I headed to our capsule hotel for the next two nights, over in Shibuya. Split over 10 floors, there were a number of bedrooms, a lounge, locker room and onsen. This was a problem for us, and we spent a lot of time going up and down trying to sort out laundry, changing for onsen, finding the onsen was closed etc.

But after a couple of hours, we were off exploring Shibuya!

First stop was the Shibuya Crossing made famous by the film “Lost in Translation”. I read in Timeout magazine that it was the best attraction in Tokyo as voted for by visitors.

Jesus!

I mean, it’s a crossing, it’s busy, and you cross from many points at once, but it is just a crossing in quite a small area.

We then checked out the highly mentioned Shibuya 109 mall – I mean, it’s a small-based, tall mall, for women with waists the diametre of my thigh… Not so good for Rob and definitely not good for me!

The day was passing, we chose a restaurant to check out, and munched. It wasn’t enough so we hunted down a Dominos pizza, walked there via a small temple surrounded by towering blocks, and munched it on the side of the street.

Having been up since midnight, we took the night pretty easy and got some much needed shut eye.

Sunday: Anime in Akihabara

After a nice lie in, and after discovering that the capsule hotels have porn on the built in TVs, we headed out to Taco Bell!!!

It wasn’t as good as I remembered in Korea…

Off to Akihabara to indulge in otaku culture!

Akihabara is the home of anime and video game culture in Japan. The streets are lined with shops selling anything and everything related to any and every anime and manga, from figurines, to outfits to trading cards and memorabilia.

We mostly went there for the arcades, and after exploring for an hour or so, headed into one. After 2 or 3 floors of UFO/ the claw machines, we made it into the games section. There was a super cool pokemon stadium game, were you actually played your moves in real time, and reacted to the opposition! Super cool!

On the next floor we found what we were after, and jumped into a 2 person Transformers shoot’em game! We sucked, throwing in yen after yen after yen! Then next was an immersive fighter pilot game – it had a massive curved screen that filled your vision and made me a lil sea sick…

Finally we finished off with a game of air hockey – though a version with a weird multi-puc mode that allowed me to win! 🙂

Off to the AKB48 cafe for some drinks! AKB48 are a band, with rolling membership, but what really differentiates them is that they have a permanent performance centre. Every day of the week you can go in and watch a performance. This gives fans permanent access to the band, and to counter exhaustion, they have nearly 50 members from which they choose a few to perform each day. And the name? An abbreviation of Akihabara > AKB, thus spawning a splurge of sister groups based in other areas of Japan.

11888135_10153020588425667_2940520327613151854_o

AKB48 Cafe next to Akihabara station

It was a nice enough cafe, but the music video of all the members performing on the beach in bikinis was a highlight!

A whistle stop visit to the Anime centre (little more than a room, but a fascinating seeing loose line work turned into fully inked manga panels/anime cells) lead to us checking out the 3331 Art centre.

The 3331 art centre is set in an old junior high school, with the classrooms rented out to different business, artists and exhibitors. A cracking idea in principle, but a lil empty on a Sunday, or perhaps it hasn’t taken off yet – I’m not sure.

Next we headed to Shinjuku. Like Akihabara, it was strange exploring these places I’d been to the previous year, back when I was completely green, totally lost and had no idea of the geography of Tokyo.

We walked amongst the illuminated signs that screamed for our attention, that scrambled and clung to every vertical surface, and informed us that all 10 floors in every building had something to offer us (though what it was offering I had no idea!).

We went in hunt of ‘Drunk’s Alley’ and ‘Piss Alley’ and eventually found both, or so thought…

We definitely visted Piss Alley, I’m almost sure of it, its description as a small network of alleyways, next to the tracks departing from the northwest side of Shinjuku. Two short streets lines with tiny little restaurants.

The other area turned out to be the Golden Gai. A piece of traditional Tokyo that managed not to be burnt down by the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia), it is now a favourite haunt of people with artistic tendenacies, and with its ‘Patrons only’ mentality, is pretty niche. It’s a much larger area of alleys – perhaps 6 street – with bars located in the basement, first floor and second floor levels. It looked pretty cool, but perhaps not at 8pm on a Sunday night.

Ultimately we headed back to the capsule hotel, taking aboard some ramen at a nearby eatery. Capping off Rob’s Japan experience in a truely japanese way – by buying your ramen by ordering from a vending machine.

Yufuin: Climbing 由布岳

A brisk Saturday morning, and we headed out from Mie to Yufuin, a mere hour and a half away, to climb the iconic peaks of Yufu-dake (由布岳).

Mountain Marauders

With the unfortunate miscommunication of the google map pin, with it trying to drive us directly up the snow soaked mountain, we arrived an hour late to the car park to meet the rest of the JETs.

So there we were, 15 bright-eyed and bushytailed JETs, set to take on the snowy slopes of the mountains.

10965675_657767517682639_1083824313_n

Some of the team

What delightful terrain befell us, the mountains beautiful multiplied the dusting of snow at the lower levels, giving way to increasingly thicker and trickier clmbing, until we reached the summit. Somewhat hidden in cloud, it became a veritable snow storm at the top, turning a reasonable small 1580m mountain into a wild climb of death as we clutched desperately to chains that clung to final rock faces.

I’ll let the photos tell the story.

10994841_10152581810330667_82256529_n

Two roads diverged into a yellow wood – the path splitting between Higashi-mine and Nishi-mine.

10979309_10152581810310667_2029095588_n

The way up to Nishi-mine peak

10956745_10152581810215667_360804136_n

Boys on the top of Nishi-mine

10965516_10152581810295667_694134661_n

The view from Higashi-mine

10994827_10152581810210667_1633951961_n

Becca and I at the peak of Higashi-mine

10967013_10152581810235667_839243267_n

Four of us on the peak of Higashi-mine

Needless to say, the beers I drank atop of the mountain were some of the most earnt in all my time in Japan!

Coming Down and Chilly Cabins

Coming back down was inevitable worse. Adopting a low squatting ski tactic proved particularly enjoyable at points, if for no more reason that it hurt less to fall.

Upon reaching the bottom, the JETs piled into cars, and made our way to our cabin for the night.

Isolated by snow, we were forced to climb the remaining few metres to the cabin, as the cars begin to slip, slide and skid back down the hill.

10959695_715712598543798_6726765622310521488_n

Our home for the night – Photo by Mai Okuda

Freezing cold on the inside, unsurprisingly the cabin never got any hotter.

As if pretending we were in 1950s, bath sharing enabled a number of us to quickly warm up, as did the kototsu in the lounge and the small gas fire in the kitchen.

10934042_10153887919149625_9033220672788044800_n

Dining on Nabe – Photo by Mai Okuda

 

Needless to say, with that many JETs in a room, a certain level of merriment was achieved that helped fight off any lingering cold.

Yufuin Town

Following on from a delightful breakfast of eggy rice… stuff, we packed up and heading down into Yufuin town.

A pleasingly charming place, with real character, surprising given its position as a highly tourist town, that offered a number of food outlets, shops and things to see.

We took greatest pleasure in spotting a small onsen bath house, most peculiar compared to every other onsen I’ve been to.

By the front door was a small money box, into which you dropped in your ¥200. Entering boys turned left, girls to the right, you stripped off and entered a small room, with a single pool. Having the place to ourselves, it saved any awkward closeness with randomers!

Having only scraped the surface, I look forward to visiting again in the spring or summer, to see it in all its splendour (rather than obscured by hazy snow clouds!).