MP3 track of the day: End of line- Daft Punk
Weather: Beautiful. The sky was a gorgeous light-blue colour with white clouds thrown randomly across it. Being so high up the temperature was perfect too.
Once again I found myself awake at 6am and looking at the sky above. The weather report had issued warnings of thunder and lighting for today and yet, as I looked up towards the sky I saw no indications that this was the case, or indeed such weather was on it's way. All I saw were bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds. After a short internal debate I decided to go with what I could see outside, instead of the information presented to me on the BBC weather website. I found myself ready by 7:45am and off I went; The skies were still blue and if they changed well, I could always turn around.
Today I would be heading to Towado–Hachimantai National Park (though more specifically the Hachimantai part of the national park, as I'd already been to the Towado part). Located within the center of Northern Honshu (and a little further north than Miyako) I estimated that it would take around three hours to reach my destination. Before this month, the thought of driving for six hours in a day would have caused me great anxiety, however now I was used to it and with northern Honshu's impressive scenery I welcomed the drive.
Once more I took the '106' west; I past the turning to Tono and continued onto Morioka. I arrived within Morioka at almost 10am, and I decided to go for a 'second breakfast' (as I wasn't sure what the food options would be like within the national park). As it was a Mcdonald's pancake breakfast (yum) it didn't take long to eat and soon I was back on the road, thankful that my new car's air-conditioning worked.
After Morioka I headed north along the '4' before reaching Hachimantai city; all the way along signs for 'Towado-ko' were present and it shocked me to think that I was there two weeks ago (where had the time gone?). I found it a little cheeky that Hachimantai had called itself a 'city'; it didn't take long to drive through it and it consisted of very little. I did however stop at a can machine to pick up a couple of bottles of water for my impending hike. As I drew near and near the mountains of Towado-Hachimantai National Park I continually looked upwards; still the bright blue sky was present, still the clouds were white and still their were no signs of forthcoming rain (I think someone should shoot the BBC weather bloke for Japan).
I eventually found myself on 'route 23'; this road climbed 1,600 meters, almost to the top of Hachimantai mountain itself. The road snaked continuously and as I climbed the road presented views of the valley below. As I continued forever onwards and upwards, many lay-bys were present and most were large enough for a small number of cars to park and were therefore signed as 'photo locations'. Try as hard as I might I tried to avoid stopping, telling myself that my number one priority was to get to the top while the weather was still excellent (I could visit these 'photo locations' on my way back down). However, after passing about the tenth 'photo location' my resistance broke when one allowed me to view the entire valley, with Mount Iwate – the Iwate prefecture's tallest mountain – on my right. It was a stunning and peaceful view, made even better by the blue skies, the white clouds and, due to being quite high up, the cool temperature. I could have stayed at that 'photo location' all day, just looking into the valley below; however I managed to tare myself away by promising myself that greater sights lay ahead … and as it turned out I wasn't wrong.
I continued to make my way up the mountain road, stopping at more 'photo locations'; I did wonder if the road would ever stop climbing. Finally the road started to level out and, in the distance, I could see a building perched on the side of the mountain and a number of cars parked around it. I decided that this surely must be the top.
As I approached I saw a big open car park to my left; I ignored this and continued around a sharp 'left bend' until I came face-to-face with the building perched on the hillside. To it's right was a small road leading to a ticket booth and a huge car park. Straining my eyes I could see that it cost 410 yen (£3.50) to park, which I thought was a little high. I performed a 'u-turn' and drove back to the open car park, which was only 500 yards away.
I quickly changed into my boots, applied sun cream and deet. Even though the sky was still bright blue, I was forever worried that the BBC's weather mans prediction of rain might come true; I therefore wanted to get to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible.
As I walked up to the 'pay car park' I noticed that the building, which I'd seen perched on the hillside, seemed to be in need of repair. On closer inspection the windows were boarded up and the entrance had a rope around it forbidding anyone from entering. Behind this building was another, newer building which presented it's occupants with a view of the other side of the mountain and the valley below. As I stood there, comparing the views of the valleys on either side of the mountain, I couldn't help but think that it would have been better to renovate this older building as, I thought, it was in a much better spot.
I didn't go into the newer building. Instead I skipped past it and I went up onto a viewing platform; this allowed for, almost, a 360 degree view of the mountains ranges, and the valleys in which they'd created. To say the view was stunning wouldn't do it justice. I stayed there and photographed the scene to death until walking out of the car park, crossing the road and finding the 'starting point' to the Hachimantai hike.
As all the information was in Japanese I couldn't read what the hike was about however, from the very detailed map to the left of the information, it wasn't hard to work out. On the top of Hachimantai was an area of marsh land with four small lakes, two trig-points and a lot of wildlife. The sky was still blue and so I decided to head off, taking the longest of all routes.
The walk started off along the edge of the mountain, giving superb views of the valley below. Along the edge of the mountain the path consisted of dry mud and rocks however, as soon as the path moved inland, it changed to two wooden beams, held high above the marsh land that consumed the area. If you couldn't, occasionally, see the water beneath your feet you could have been mistaken for thinking that you were surrounded by fields of grass. The marshlands were covered in this long grass, which only stopped when it hit a forest made up of conifers. This long grass was almost the same shade of light-green as the rice fields of Tono, and therefore it looked just as beautiful. I turned around to get a photo of the area I'd just walked through; surround by all this beauty I'd forgotten that I was walking on wooden planks and I almost lost my balance. I retained it – in not a very graceful way – and took the photo.
Moving more carefully I soon came to a T-junction within the path; after a friendly 'hello', to the people who were studying the map which was positioned at the junction, I too checked the map and, after a short while, decided to head right. This was taking me further away from the car and up hill. After a short walk the gain in height made the wooden beams unnecessary, and I continued walking along a dried mud path. Finally I ascended quickly to a small flat mound of earth with trees all around and a trig-point in the middle. I had made it, I thought to myself; I had made it to the top of Hachimantai. I took a couple of photos, as proof, before descending back the way I'd come; the view from the top was okay, but due to the trees it was not as good as other viewing points.
Once I'd got back to the T-junction, I took the only path I hadn't yet taken and I was surprised to find a sign, in English, stating that the 'summit of Mount Hachimantai was 3km' in the direction I was now walking. A little miffed I continued on only looking back once, wondering what mountain's summit was the one I'd just visited.
Before reaching the summit, Mount Hachimantai presented me with it's most striking view. I found myself on a wooden platform located at the end of a small lake. The banks of said lake were covered in trees with more trees presenting themselves from behind (due to the topography of the land). The waters matched the skies light-blue, the vegetation had every shade of green imaginable and you could hear a pin drop it was so peaceful; I sat down on one of the benches provided wondering if I had indeed entered heaven … I was high enough!
I finally reached the summit of Hachimantai; I know I got the right place this time, due to an English sign stating that 'this is the summit of Mount Hachimantai'. Just like the other summit the view wasn't as spectacular as others and so I left quickly; I now found myself walking along the final part of the hike which took me past march lands, lakes and forests (all of which weren't quite as good as what I'd seen earlier). I made it back to the tourist offices at around 2pm.
Feeling a little guilty for having had so much fun, but having not spent a penny (err … yen), I went into said tourist center to purchase an ice cream. I found a restaurant (meal prices weren't too bad) and a gift shop, none of which sold ice creams. I felt empty handed and walked back to my car. I changed my shoes and drove back the way I'd come. I stopped often at the 'photo locations' I had purposefully missed on my way up; still the weather was perfect. I did go on another hike part way down the mountain, however this one wasn't anywhere near as good as the one on top of Mount Hachimantai. I eventually winded my way all the way back down and parked up within a tourist office at the foot of the mountain. As I most certainly want to come back (maybe in the Autumn) I went into said tourist office and asked for a map in English; the member of staff went away for a short while before coming back with a small, A5 booklet. He was just about to hand it to me when he laughed and said, 'Sorry; this is in Chinese'. He went away again but sadly, he was unsuccessful in finding an English map. I picked up a Japanese map and headed to a local shop, adjoining the office, for an ice cream.
The time was 3:45pm. Some friends back in Miyako were having a fireworks party tonight; it was only quarter-to-four but, with a three hour drive, I left the national park promising to return soon. Having taken six hours of driving, was the effort worth the four hours I'd spent in the park … you bet ya! Though, maybe next time I might book a night in a hotel – within Hachimantai City – to allow me to explore a little more. As I drove home I realised that this was probably my last day trip for some time; I start back at work on Thursday and so my summer holiday was over. However what a summer … just how much have I managed to pack in!