It all started when I told my Japanese coworkers that I liked hiking.
The next day, the math teacher showed me a a dusty old photo album with pictures of her as a 20-year-old, grinning from the top of a mountain.
As other teachers eavesdropped on our conversation, advice started to drift in.
The assistant principal – who still doesnt quite comprehend that I can’t understand him when he speaks Japanese – brought me a map and a book (all in Japanese) about local trails. I asked him which one was the best, and he rustled through the pages and showed me Hakusan.
Hakusan is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains”, along with Fuji and Tateyama. (I visited Tateyama a few weeks ago and climbed a neighboring peak called Dainichidaira.) It seems the stars had aligned in my favor, as we had a 5-day holiday coming up called Silver Week. Adventure time!
The weekend before Hakusan, I played in an ultimate frisbee tournament on Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.
My team, the Fukui Raptors, is a conglomeration of English teachers and our Japanese friends. We have players from Jamaica, Ireland, England, the USA, and Japan!
We camped next to the lake, played ultimate on the sand, and befriended Japanese frisbee players all weekend. I was high on life.
There was also a slackline set up there. I learned how to do it in college, and I was so excited to play on one again.
The day after the tournament, I slept in my apartment for one night, and then headed out again for part two of my vacation: climbing Hakusan!
I picked up another English teacher named Sandy in Maruoka, a little town with Japan’s oldest castle. We set Google Maps to Hakusan National Park, and drove on a Switzerland-esque valley road next to a crystal-clear river.
That night, we found a campground at the base of the mountain and fell asleep under the stars. Halfway through the night Sandy climbed in the slightly-warmer car, but my sleeping bag kept me fairly cozy. Next time I’m bringing extra socks, though. The next morning, my frozen toes triggered my internal alarm clock, and I got up just after 5, before sunrise. We caught the 5:40 bus to the trailhead.
Hakusan is a 2701 meter peak, but the bus takes you partway up. This enables even the slowest of hikers to get up and down in one day. The trail was fairly gentle but with some steep sections. I climbed alongside 10 year old kids and 80 year old senior citizens.
The vast majority of the other hikers were Japanese – I only saw two other foreigners. Amazingly, I was able to make friends with both of them! (Thank you universe!)
Erin is from Georgia, and has been living in Japan for 7 years. She was hiking with her Japanese boyfriend, and told me she lives near Naga, where you can go to see many majestic wild deer. I want to visit her!
Juan is from San Diego, California, and he works for a private tutoring company in Kanazawa, a city just 2 hours away from me. He was hiking with 3 Japanese friends, and they adopted me into their group. I reached the top with them, and photobombed their group picture:
Notice the snow and alpine lake!
The hike took me about 9 hours – I started at 6:00 AM, and got back to my car about 3:00PM. That includes time to take the shuttle both ways, though, which takes 20 minutes.
Back at work, I showed pictures of the mountain to my students. Even though it is only a few hours from here, only 2 students had ever been there – and I gave my presentation to at least 100 kids.
Many people don’t have the opportunity to do what I’m doing. Every day I feel blessed to be where I am. I love my job, and I am learning so much every day. Thank you universe. I’m so grateful for my car, my freedom, my health and my energy. I hope to continue to adventure even as it gets colder. Who wants to go skiing?