Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hiking the North Alps (Fail leads to Win)

北アルプス

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Epic fail, followed by a minor win, then a rather comical fail, then a cool win (involving booze). Backpacking is awesome! I'll put the photos at the end, so you can skip ahead if you don't want to hear me rant.

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Epic Fail:

There is a bus company in Japan called Alpico Group. Fuck Alpico! That's right, fuck them and their stupid buses. They stole my money and left me hanging.

The plan was to hike from Kamikochi to Murodo, which is described in many hiking books as the ultimate long distance hike in Japan. From the resort town of Kamikochi, you ascend to the mountaintops and stay up there for the next 6 days. This plan relies on many factors, one of which is getting to Kamikochi. You actually have to take a bus, since the road in is banned of private vehicles.

So I called the Alpico office on a Friday and reserved a ticket for Saturday night. It was a night bus, leaving at 11, arriving at 6am, just in time to start hiking. They don't have an office, so you have to do a bank transfer to pay. I did that shit, sent them my 6000 yen, and followed their instructions of arriving at bus stop #23 that night. Then the shit hit. Stop #23 is only for some sort of airport express bus. But have no fear! They had given me the number of the driver, for just such an emergency. But no one was answering. What the hell! You gave me the damn driver's number for this reason. And you took my number. It's probably written on the passenger manifesto or something. This is god damned important. When I walked aimlessly around the area, there were literally hundreds of night buses hanging out for their riders. I asked every Alpico driver I could find, but no one could help me. I was running around the Shinjuku skyscraper district for an hour trying to figure shit out. Finally at 11:45 I hopped the train home to research plan B.

But that's not the end with Alpico's bullshit! Before departing for plan B, I sent a mail to a friend, asking if she could call them up and get my money refunded. They said they'd refund... get this... half. If I want the full 6000 yen, I would have to prove that I was in the bus area at 11pm. And... they admitted that the driver turned off his phone on accident! That's hella shady!

Minor Win:

Driving to Kamikochi is not an option. But, at the end of the planned hike was what looked to be a parking lot. Some internet searching proved it, and the plan was now to start at the end, and finish at the beginning. That's sort of a win, right? The downside is that I had timed my sleep so I would be very tired on the bus. Now I'm very tired on the bike. But I also had to stay up until 3am, since the ride would only take about 5 hours. So I stayed up at home, watching a movie about Unit 731, drinking coffee.

At 8am, pack on my back, rode the Kurobe-Tateyama Alpine Route to Murodo. Basically a smörgåsbord of transportation up and through the mountains. You take an electric bus through the center of the earth, then a cable car, Japans longest single span ropeway, and finally another electric tram through the mountain. It's pretty rad, and pretty expensive. $60 for my trip, and each leg was only about 10 minutes.

Beautiful part of Japan though. If only the weather had been nicer. Which leads me to...

Comical Fail:

I arrived in Murodo and hiked up a few hundred meters to the campground at the base of Mt. Tsurugi. My idea was to ascend this famous peak the next morning, then head south to Kamikochi. Good plan!

At about 3pm I pitched my tent. I was dead tired, and proceeded to nap. When I awoke in the evening, wide awake, I was treated to basically a typhoon. The tent was shaking all blair witch style. There was thunder and lightning. And the wind would come in massive gusts. So for the next 7 hours I sat in my cozy tent, hoping that the morning would be better. Was it better? See for yourself!


I gave up on the mountain for that day. A note on Tsurugi; there are metal ladders, narrow ridges, and spots where you walk on metal spikes above a 1000 meter drop. Don't try it in bad weather. People die every year. Headed back into Murodo to stay at one of the dormitory style lodges and a

Nice Win:

After the night of good times up near the peaks, I found myself warm and dry, drinking shochu up late with the staff of the lodge. Rad people. Most of them are フリーター, freeters, which can be translated loosely as people of working age who aren't really into the whole career thing. One of my new friends works at the lodge for 4 months, then snowboards in Hokkaido the rest of the year. He logged in 140 days on the slopes last year. Rad!

We also played the Japanese language version of Life, which differs from the U.S. version in that it has pachinko and horse racing.

The next morning my new friends hooked me up with some ice cream, and I headed out. The weather was still crappy, so I decided to hike it back to the bike, do some touring, and head home. Good choice, as the rain was chasing me the whole way home.

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Parked at Ogisawa. I hope no one steals my stuff! (expensive riding gear is under the cover)

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It's a spendy ride across the Alps.

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It's also a very popular destination.

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Kurobe dam is the first stop.

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At least they don't charge you to walk across it.

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A few hundred meters up a cable car.

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Nice view!

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The ropeway brings you to the highest point.

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"The land with full of surprise"

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Hello Kitty souvenirs of each vehicle you can ride.

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Murodo is on a massive onsen. Lot's of stinky toxic gas here. But do make sure you go in the bath here, it's super high in minerals and feels great.

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Let's hike!

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Don't be fooled. The wind was so intense that it blew away some of the clouds.

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And soon...

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... it was back to gray.

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Not a lot of scenery photos. Just pour some gray paint on the ground and you get the idea.

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My new camp stove.

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Good times. Not possible in a tent in a typhoon.

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My breakfast.

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Where are the mountains?

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Up there?

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The cloud line was at about 2500m.

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The bus-ropeway-cable car takes about an hour.

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The hike over the mountain takes a bit longer.

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Almost.

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I think this means I'm done. Minutes later, I saw a group of girls in high heels, with makeup and fashionably matching boyfriends. Aka, civilization.

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Sweet, no one stole anything. Japan is cool like that.

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And like that.

5 comments:

Kurt said...

That tent must be really good if it was able to hold for a whole night in those winds.

Brian said...

It's my new REI Quarter Dome tent. The ground was a puddle, the winds... you saw em, but I stayed very comfortable.

http://www.rei.com/product/761893

Kurt said...

ah cool .. Rei have some excellent products. Great photos by the way. The view from the highest point is amazing.

AdelaideBen said...

Loved the post. Nice story and great photos.... not to mention one helluva trip. Great work.

Aaron said...

Hey you made it! I was praying to the mountain Kami that you'd make it out ok. Ate some ramen in your honor too.