Harinoki Snow Gorge: Mentor of the Mountains
After passing through the forest, I encounter a bright valley blooming profusely with summer flowers. A long, narrow snow ravine extends far upward like a white corridor. Cloudy earlier, the sky has now turned blue, and the white vapor drifts away, casting blue shadows on the snow. Attaching light crampons to my hiking boots, I plump for a spot where the snow is thick and step into the snowy valley. In the middle of the snow ravine, I catch sight of the small black shadows of climbers up ahead.
Like many mountaineers of his ilk Hiroshi Yoshida hired laborers and guides to lug his belongings for his month-long or two-month journeys deep into the mountains. What was most important to Hiroshi Yoshida, who holed up in the mountains to paint, was the “brand new sensation” he felt when he encountered a landscape he liked. Such fleeting excitement is elusive, and he wanted to conserve his creative energy so he could start painting the moment he chanced upon a place that inspired him. He carried no luggage, walked at about 60-70% speed, and never tried to get ahead of others. Instead, once he picked up his brush, he painted with great vigor until he was done, despite fatigue that was far greater than that from hiking.
The slope of the snow ravine increased partway through. The snow surface had softened under the sun’s rays, and my light crampons provide the traction for steadily gaining altitude. Looking back, I glimpse the approaching ridge of Mt. Yayagatake, which I had previously been staring up at. The valley eventually narrows, and the path leaves the snow surface, avoiding the top of a snow ravine riddled with cracks. I refresh my body with melted snow, before ascending the final spur to Hari no Ki Pass.
Among the many people he encountered during his travels in the mountains, Hiroshi particularly mentions three mountain “mentors”. Kamonji Kamijo, a grizzled guide for mountaineers who spent his later years in a hut by Myojin Pond in Kamikochi; Tohyama Shinemon, who lived in Hirano Hut in Kurobe; and Kisaku Kobayashi, who accompanied Hiroshi every time he took on the Japanese Alps.
The second image on the left of “Climbing a Snow Valley at Harinoki” depicts Kisaku Kobayashi, whom Hiroshi admired and had absolute trust in, as “a good-natured and extremely lovable man.” Hiroshi said of Kisaku, who was born in Azumino and was originally a hunter: “He had a strange, animal-like keen sense of the mountains,” and added, “Whenever he said ‘no,’ there was always a reason for it that we had not caught wind of. What I can’t help but admire is his attitude when something happens. He never panics in the slightest. He is always calm, brave, and careful,” he wrote. Hiroshi has left behind several episodes related to Kisaku Kobayashi, one of which follows below.
I was now approaching Kamikochi, the end of my traverse of the Alps. As I neared the summit of Mt.Maehodaka, the son of the Shimizu-ya owner in Kamikochi was pitching his tent. He offered the team some tea, saying, If youve come this far, the rest is easy. In the mountains, Hiroshi was never stingy and shared the same food as himself with his lackeys, except for his secret whiskey. But if you go to Kamikochi, whiskey was available in abundance, so he offered whiskey to the porters as well. Hiroshi just mixed the whiskey into the tea and drank it, but Kisaku, who was more than partial to a drop, mixed the tea into the whiskey and imbibed of it profusely. This turned out to be a bad idea.
After leaving the tent and walking for a while, they were enveloped by dense fog. The usual Kisaku would not have taken a wrong turn when surrounded by thick fog. However, his intuition was dulled by the alcohol. Hiroshi asked, “Isn’t this the wrong way?” Kisaku replied, “Yes, it certainly is.” Kisaku suggested descending the cliff below to get to the bottom of the original path. This was the recommendation of Kisaku, who had a knack for navigating all sorts of places in the Japanese Alps with no clear path. Hiroshi agreed, and Kisaku, donning his metal snowshoes, tethered a rope around Hiroshi and the others and headed down the snow-covered cliff, holding onto Hiroshi’s collar as he was about to fall. However, they could not identify the path. The one they had taken last year had changed. Retracing the previous path brought them to a rhododendron forest with dense twisted branches that required a serious amount of time and effort to hack through. They were left with no choice but to start looking for another path, but by that time the sun had completely set. Upon spotting the lights of the Kappa Bridge in the distance after wandering around aimlessly in the darkness, Kisaku suddenly exclaimed, “There it is!”. Hiroshi couldn’t quite work out what had suddenly appeared, but it did mean that they were finally on the right road.
They arrived at Kamikochi at 12:00 at night. “It was a place where we amateurs could not possibly have known that we could reach the road. Even though there was a road there, we would never have worked it out; but true to form Kisaku Kobayashi found it, and I admired him greatly for it”. Hiroshi ‘s brushwork overflows with such affection and trust for Kisaku, and his love for the time they spent together in the mountains.
Kisaku knew the mountains like the back of his hands, but along with his son was crushed to death in an avalanche while hunting wild goat. That was in 1923, three years before Hiroshi Yoshida published his “Twelve Views of the Japanese Alps”.
I pitch my tent at the Hari-no-ki Hut and headed toward the summit of Mt.Harinokidake. The blue sky that had flitted in and out of view was now covered by ominous gray clouds, and the fog became denser as I ascended. Perhaps it was because evening was approaching, but the fog seemed to have a violet tinge. By the time I reached the top, it had started to drizzle, robbing me of a decent view. Just as I stood up to return to my tent, the wind picked up slightly, pushing the fog to the north. Through a momentary lull in the vapor, the milky-green waters of Lake Kurobe appeared far below the valley, and behind the swirling clouds, the blue-gray shadows of the mountains with their abundant remaining snow appeared faintly. The scenery, which was all too soon obscured by the fog, seemed to be a parting gift from the mountain that day.
The Hari-no-ki snow gorge is one of the three largest snow gorges in the North Alps, along with Hakuba and Tsurugisawa. Every year on the first Sunday in June, the Shintaro Festival is held at the Hari-no-ki Snow Canyon in memory of Shintaro Momose, builder of the Osawa Hut and the Hari-no-ki Hut. As such, it is a festival that heralds the arrival of the climbing season. The snow ridge lasts for about three hours, with the slope getting steeper at the top. If it is the beginning of the season or you are not used to hiking in snowy mountains, it is recommended to use light crampons with about six claws. Note that the approach to and exit from the snow ravine varies depending on how much snow has melted. The Hari-no-ki Pass, where Hari-no-ki Hut is located, has been known for a long time as an intermediate road connecting Etchu and Shinshu. The traverse from Mt. Renge to Mt. Eboshi is suitable for able-bodied climbers as there are many skinny ridges and collapsed parts, with severe ups and downs.
Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1982. Graduated Tsuru University, Graduate School. Following a stint in advertising, he currently works as a freelance writer and illustrator.