2017 Winter Hiking III: The Race to Kobushi

The Peak of the Fist

Kobushi. When I first set out to render this name in English, I was baffled about how to go about getting it into any form that sounded elegant at all. All along the ridge I passed such places with interesting and lyrical names like “Cloud-catcher” (雲取, kumotori) and “Goose Hill” (雁坂, karisaka). But Kobushi Peak was different. Whereas these and most other place names consisted of two characters that together lent easy interpretation, Kobushi consisted of three separate characters that seemed to bare no logical relation to each other: ko (甲), meaning “armor” or “carapace”; bu (武), meaning “warrior”; and shi (信), meaning “faith,” “belief,” or “fidelity.” I struggled to make sense of these and eventually settled on “Armored Warrior’s Fidelity,” which is how I rendered it in my posts from earlier this summer. And yet, I was somehow unsatisfied with it.

It didn’t take reading more than a few entries in Fukuda’s “Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains” (日本百名山), however, to notice the man’s deep interest in toponymy, so I turned to his essay on Kobushi for reference. What I found was that the mountain got it’s name from it’s location on the border of three ancient Japanese states, Ko-shû (甲州), Bu-shû (武州), and Shin-shû (信州), and so the name is actually an acronym — literally “The Peak of Ko, Shu, and Shin.” Adding to the draw of this name, though, is the fact that this acronym actually spells out another word in Japanese, kobushi or “fist” (拳), a connection I hadn’t made before focusing as I was on the meaning of the characters rather than the sounds. I find this dual meaning fascinating because you get a completely different mental image from the name depending on whether you hear it or read it. When you see the characters etched into the wooden signs on the mountain, you immediately perceive the connection to those three ancient states. When you hear the name Kobushi-ga-Take, the meaning is quite different: “the Peak of the Fist.”


The Race to Kobushi

Feet like ice in boots that froze overnight, hands like ice from stripping off the heavy winter gloves for increased dexterity when breaking camp, we stood ready to set out on the second day of our trip. Although we planned to get up early and catch some sunrise photos, apparently our exhaustion from yesterday’s climb coupled with our early start kept me from waking up until around 7:00, in spite of the howling wind that was still blowing each time I stirred from my sleep enough to notice. Tianyu wasn’t so lucky, though: when I asked him how he slept he said that between the cold and the howling wind, he didn’t sleep so well. He did remark that I seemed to have slept just fine, which I thought was probably a subtle way of saying that I snored a lot.

Morning at camp

I checked the clock: it was just after 8:00. We had less than four hours to get to the summit before Tianyu had to hurry back down to the bus, and that would still be cutting it dangerously close.

“Damn, we have to hurry! Let’s move!”

A last shot from camp

Our campsite was in a deep saddle between Karisaka Ridge (雁坂嶺, “Goose Hill Ridge”) and Mount Hafu (破風山, “Mt. Tearing Wind”), a steep 200 meters or so below either summit point, and it wasn’t long before we were half-crawling our way up the far side. Remarking on the steepness, Tianyu noted that it’s good that we didn’t decide to try night-hiking our way to Sasadaira Shelter (笹平避難小屋) on the far side of Hafu, where we had originally planned to stay for the night.

Mt. Fuji from the side of a boulder

Reaching the top of Hafu, we found it to not really have a true peak, but was really a long stretch of fairly constant elevation between the saddle we left and the one we were heading towards, although a slight rise at either end of it got their own designations as East Hafu Mountain (東破風山) and West Hafu Mountain (西破風山), each right around 2,300 meters of elevation. From up there we started to get some sweeping views, including, far off in the distance, the snow-capped mountains of Nagano (長野, “Longfield”). The views may have been welcome, but we were just as happy, if not more so, to be keeping to a relatively constant elevation.

Mt. Fuji, Nishizawa Gorge, and another ridge connected to Kobushi
Mt. Fuji and the foggy Yamanashi City
The trail ahead, Nagano in the distance
Back towards the Kanto and Tokyo

Just beyond West Hafu the trail, as expected, took a sharp turn downward several hundred meters to the next saddle, where Sasadaira Shelter (笹平避難所) lay. The trees on this side of the mountain were small and shrub-like, leaving the path ahead open. Below we could just barely make out the shelter, and in the distance we could see Tokusa Mountain (木賊山, “Horsetail Mountain,” named for the plant, not an actual horse’s tail) and, just beyond it, Kobushi-ga-Take.

The descent to the shelter and Kobushi beyond.
A wider shot of the above

If walking along the ridge that was Mt. Hafu was nice, and making the descent was nicer: even though it was quite steep, the going wasn’t so difficult, so we were able to make good time. We reached the bottom of the saddle before we knew it, and straightaway we dropped our packs.

The hut was small, but in relatively good condition with a sign outside indicating fresh water was a 20 minute walk down off the ridge. Peeking inside, we saw a dirt floored area with a small woodstove and a raised sleeping platform towards the back. There weren’t the piles of high quality firewood like we had found in the shelter that saved us from the typhoon back in the summer, but there was a small collection of deadwood that someone had left behind. It probably wouldn’t have been enough for the whole night, so I at least wasn’t too disappointed that we didn’t make it this far the previous day.

I sat down at a picnic table outside, pulled out the maps, and began to assess our progress. Time was a problem. At this point it was already past 10:30, leaving us less than an hour and a half to get to the top of Kobushi before Tianyu had to go back. I was starting to worry that he might have to give up within a stone’s throw of it. This was no particular problem for me, but I could imagine how much it would suck to get that close but not make it.

What worried me more at that moment though was the question of water. I had only set out with 4 liters and 2 was the absolute minimum I was comfortable with for a single day. After yesterday’s hike and dinner and breakfast ramen, I was getting into my second two liter bottle, and what’s more, Tianyu was almost completely out having brought only a single two-liter bottle with him, so it was looking like I was going to have to share. Given that I had another two days of hiking ahead of me and due to the cold temperatures I wasn’t completely sure I’d be able to find water that wasn’t frozen over, I felt a distinct need to hike down the hill and fill up both my bottles.

The problem, of course, was time. The sign said the water source was 20 minutes down the mountain, and coming back up would certainly take longer than that, meaning filling up would lose us the better part of an hour, guaranteeing that Tianyu wouldn’t make it to the top and possibly guaranteeing he wouldn’t make the bus either. I got out the map to check and see if there were any other water sources marked on the map.

Bad luck. The next one was Ôdarumi Pass (大弛峠), where I had originally planned to stay tonight, but I was pretty sure given our delays I couldn’t get there until sometime the next day. This left me with two options: get the water and ask Tianyu to accept that he wouldn’t even get to the top of the mountain that he came here to climb, or try to stretch my last liter or so until I could get to Ôdarumi. I laid this out for Tianyu, telling him that if we went on, I wouldn’t be able to give him any more water — he’d have to go thirsty until he could get back down later this afternoon.

He agreed. It was with a certain amount of trepidation, then, that we set out once more, racing the clock now not just for Tianyu’s bus, but also for my water supply. I hoped this wouldn’t be more than a minor discomfort, noting that in the worst case scenario I could probably melt some snow with my alcohol stove if I got desperate. Melt some dirty, pine-needle ridden snow. I didn’t relish the thought.

Fuji from in front of the shelter

This post is part of an ongoing series my 2017 winter hiking trip in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. Be sure to check out the other posts in the series as they become available.

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