I left Kyōto early on a bright and sunny day, for what I expected to be a 10- or 11-hour journey to Kawaguchiko (河口湖), a small town at the base of Mt. Fuji. Everything was running ahead of schedule (I’d managed to get to the station a little earlier than planned and take advantage of a quicker service), and exactly when my confidence in an early arrival was at its peak we ran into a huge snowstorm just outside of Ōgaki. The train slowed to a crawl, punctuated by fifteen- to twenty-minute waits at each rural station (with the doors open), though services in the other direction seemed completely unaffected. Even the Shinkansen services were delayed, meaning that the storm must have been severe even by Japanese standards (on a related topic, Shinkansen services yesterday were delayed due to a “track invasion”, which I think may be a euphemism for a suicide). We emerged into glorious sunshine at Nagoya, and ran straight into the next flurry a few kilometres later. I eventually rolled up fourteen hours after I’d boarded the first train, rarely so glad to see a resting place.
I awoke late the following morning to almost painfully bright and sunny weather – perfect for getting blinded by the snow on the gigantic volcano a mere 25 km away. When it’s not hidden by the other mountains in the region, it completely dominates the skyline and constantly draws your attention with its looming presence. To get myself acquainted with the region, I puffed up Mt. Tenjō (天上山) near the excellent K’s House hostel and got my first clear (and highly impressive) view. I followed this up with a quick walk around the nearest part of the lake, and then headed for the mountains.
I had initially planned to walk down to one or two of the other local lakes, but quickly came to realise that the distances were much farther than they appeared to be on the trekking map. Having walked as far as Lake Saiko (西湖), I decided that I’d get my view of Mt. Fuji at sunset from the lofty peaks of Mt. Ashiwada (足和田山) and proceeded to follow a very poorly-marked trail up to Sankodai (三湖台 – with good views over Aokigahara/青木ヶ原, Japan’s top suicide spot) and Kouyoudai ( 紅葉台) before almost running back to the main peak of Gokodai (五湖台) to catch the last light. Just as I was packing up my equipment, the sound of bear bells alerted me to the presence of another (over-cautious) hiker – the first person I’d seen on the trails all day.