Started from the bottom now we’re here: Climbing Tateyama

One of the top items on my Japan bucket list is to climb the “Three Holy Mountains”, a typically tourist-y goal that requires the ascension of Mount Fuji, Mount Haku and Mount Tate. The opportunity to experience these breathtaking mountains cannot be passed up, even by novice climbers like myself.

Today I faced the first instalment of my mountain trilogy with Mount Tate, more commonly referred to as “Tateyama“. Vocab lesson of the day: “Yama” means “mountain” in Japanese, hence the combination or Tate + Yama. The Kanji character for Yama is mountain is 山, one of the first I memorized because of its very literal appearance.

From Toyama city it’s about a two hour drive to the base of the mountain. You are able to drive quite high up the mountain to the main lodge, which includes several restaurants and gift shops. The drive winds up in a somewhat precarious route, slowly unveiling the sprawling surrounding mountains. The fog became so thick further the route that it felt as if we were in an enchanted forest and I expected (ok hoped) to see Harry’s Patronus or a Unicorn to gallop towards us.

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Looking around, I felt a little out of place amidst the seas of school children in matching hiking outfits and Japanese climbers in brightly coloured water proof pants, jackets a and hiking poles. The climb demanded focus as the path of irregular rocks has the potential for danger. Nevertheless the journey is perfectly manageable for most people, even novice hikers like myself and the view (even on a very foggy day like ours) is more than worth every uncertain step.

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The Canadian in me seriously underestimated the “freezing” weather we had been advised to prepare for, and I felt content in my jeans, hoodie and rain jacket. Karma soon put me in my place as the weather shifted to high winds and heavy rain. Stepping precariously across paths of slippery stone and icy snow my Asics running shoes and heart patterned ankle socks felt comically naive. At around the half way mark the path ahead was barely visible through the fog and we heard the rumbling of thunder in the distance. With heavy hearts we turned around and descended the mountain.

And so, my first experience of Japan’s Holy Mountains ended with some disappointment having not reached the summit. And yet, my desire to realize this goal has not wavered, and I will return for a second climb of Tateyama.
Shivering, and soaked through our clothes we warmed up in the lodge’s restaurant… There’s nothing a little hot Udon can’t fix.

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