Continued: the mountain explorations of Professor Atkinson and his colleagues in the summer of 1879. Part II - escape from Yatsugatake and sawa-climbing on Hakusan.
Atkinson and Nakazawa were on the narrowest part of the ridge when it started raining. The worst piece of climbing was where the branches of the creeping pine hung over the abyss and nobody could be certain of stepping upon and not over the ridge: “This part, I confess, I got over on hands and feet in fear and trembling, sincerely glad that we did not intend returning the same way …”
The next night they stayed at Odaki, a staging place for pilgrims on their way to Ontake:
The time for the great incursion of pilgrims had not yet arrived, but even now there were a great many in the tea-houses. They form themselves into companies, and, under the guidance of a leader, who is generally elected on account of the number of times he has made the pilgrimage, start on their journey on a particular day, and are expected to arrive. at the various places on their way at fixed times. On that day the hotel keeper suspends, in a conspicuous place, one of the small flags seen hanging in front of the house, with the badge of the band expected, or already in the house.
Every day they moved deeper into the countryside. At Kaware, they noticed that the mulberry trees were cultivated in the old fashion, growing up into tall trees. The fields looked like orchards, an effect much more pleasing than the modern style espoused in Shinshu, where the trees were pollarded down. “Never had I been so much out of the world as I now was,” thought Dixon.
At long last, they were in sight of Hakusan. At 10.30 am on July 31, they started out from Miboro. Soon they were scrambling over steep rocks and wading to and fro across a mountain stream. Like many a future sawa climber, Atkinson was forced to rethink his footwear:
Up to the first fording I had been walking in boots with waraji (straw sandals) underneath, but on exchanging them for tabi and waraji, I found the latter so good for this kind of climbing, not only because of the ease with which one can wade though water, but also because the footing on smooth rocks is so much firmer, that I continued walking in them to the summit.
We were now climbing a perpendicular wall of rock, fitting our feet into the crevices and pulling ourselves up with the assistance of twigs; again, cautiously terracing a sheer precipice, a deep green pool gleaming far below the narrow and shaky tree-trunks which formed our road; again, clutching at withes to prevent ourselves from sliding with dangerous rapidity down a slippery declivity. There were scores of places where the utmost circumspection was necessary to avoid a fall either into the river or among sharp stones or into entanglements of brushwood. And now we have descended, or rather slidden, to the river's bed, and are leaping from boulder to boulder, — above, crags and tier upon tier of foliage, — in front, behind, and around, the flashing of the white rapids. A point is reached, where it is necessary to ford the stream. One or two of the guides are already stemming the current with the water considerably above their knees. It seems to take all their strength, loaded as they are, to resist the force of the stream. Presently, laying down their loads on the farther bank, some of them return to our assistance; and, grasping the sticks extended to us, we each stagger across the current.
The scenery of this glen was simply glorious. At one place where we had to ford the torrent three times in about ten minutes, the rocks rose almost sheer on each side, brightened with crimson azaleas and with the early autumn tints of creepers. This gorge led to an open semi-circular space with a beach of glistening white sand, above which in striking contrast towered pinnacled crags, surmounting multitudes of dark cryptomeria spires, — a sublime natural cathedral, where the 'voice of streams' ever rises in melodious echoes up to the throne of God.
At first, though, they saw no danger in the place...
To be continued
Text references: see previous post. All pictures except top and bottom ones are from Walter Weston, Mountaineering & Exploration in the Japanese Alps. Bottom image: Dixon's sketch of the woodcutter's hut on Hakusan, from YamaKei Me de miru Nihon no Tozanshi.