Sea & Summit: Yuza and Mount Chokai

The place I live is called Yamagata. In Japanese, this literally means "mountain-shaped". In a couple of years here, I have fallen under the spell of these most-unchanging facets of nature, and they have certainly changed me. 

Some mornings are better than others; waking up on the beach at Yuza, in view of the peak.

Some mornings are better than others; waking up on the beach at Yuza, in view of the peak.

I walked north-eastern Japan's highest volcano over about ten hours of a sunny Sunday in August 2016. As ever, Abbey was my navigator, companion, and tent-mate. It had been two weeks since we climbed Japan's highest peak, and we were certainly buoyed up by that.

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At a maximum 2,236m, Chokai doesn't even approach the dizzy heights of Mount Fuji, but it was a challenging affair. Its a big, sprawling mountain, and we took a looping route, descending a different ridge than we climbed up. While Abbey rested her legs at the top, I scrambled up the jagged jumble of rocks from the shrine to the true peak. Clambering inelegantly up and over boulders, I wore holes through the fingertips of my cheap gloves. Reflecting on this, I was surprised to realize how much the mountains have changed me. Years ago, had I made it up that mountain at all, I would have taken one glance and balked at the line of white arrows sprayed along the crag, disappearing up into clouds. Unfortunately, on this day, the clouds were around my ears, so the views were muted, but the buzz of achievement (and altitude) were not compromised.

Getting up and back again all in one run was a tough day out, but it was gratifying. Chokai broods magnificently over the Shonai plains, and on clear days can be seen from up and down the Sea of Japan coastline. Since I started exploring Yamagata, it has been on my radar, a homing beacon drawing me inexorably towards it. All in all, we went, we saw occasional views when the clouds thinned out, and I conquered some fears I had forgot I even had. 

Snow still unmelted in a sheltered gully, high on the mountain. 

Snow still unmelted in a sheltered gully, high on the mountain. 

Now that the volcano is wearing its dramatic winter wardrobe, the chance to climb it again must wait 'til next year. Meanwhile, Abbey dreams of the quality of powder up there, and returning for some backcountry snowboarding...