First proper hike of the year, a relatively easy climb up Mt. Mitsutouge in Yamanashi prefecture, not too far from Fumotoppara where I’ve stayed several times before.  The generous check-out time of 2pm also makes a one night camp feel much longer, especially if you jam as much as you can into the first day, which is what we decided to do this time.

Before camping we’ve decided to hike a nearby mountain which should take us around 6 hours total so with a 2-3 hour drive out to the location, a hours drive to camp, it’s a nicely filled day.  We’ve decided to meet at a parking spot about 1200m above sea level and hike to the 1780m summit from there.  Hiking and camping with friends this time, I get some coordinates to put into the navigation system and we head out first thing in the morning to get as early as start as we can.

This meeting point as it happens, took us off-road for the first time since buying a new car specifically for these kinds of adventures and it was pretty hairy.  The navigation system was telling me I had to turn left where there was a sign clearing telling you you couldn’t go this way; it’s not a road.  Following that for a while, the words of warning on the sign started to bear some truth.   Becoming an uneven trail like road with a near vertical 50m drop-off on one side, pot holes, tree branches, lose gravel and only wide enough for one car this was the sort of place that would have peeled the front, side and rear skirting off of my previous car like the skin off of a ripe banana.  The sort of place I had been itching to go.

Our friends who had already progressed up this trail a bit further than us had come to a dead end and had to reverse back down.  I was looking for a place to make a U-turn when I found a nice open area that would allow us to park and other cars to pass so it seemed a perfect place to park up and hike from.  A serene little hill top where the road was more like a road, so silent you could hear the humming of the power lines above your head.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Parking up near trailhead with Mt. Fuji in the distance

Since only a 4wd car or something with very high ground clearance can make it to this spot, you’re sure to find a place to park here.  The only other car we encountered was at the bottom of a steep hill!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Only car with encountered along the trail

In the summer last year we decided to switch to a 4WD car.  With the camping equipment and folding kayak, our previous hatchback car was completely full even with the rear seats down.  Plus the fact that we were sometimes told we couldn’t park in a certain area of a campsite because our car simply wouldn’t get back out again, the time had come to make the change.

Where I grew up in Somerset, the south west of England there are thousands of farmers and farmers mean Landrovers and there is only one Landrover, the Landrover Defender.  The truck the Queen of England drives.  And the only consumer vehicle in the world where airbags don’t come as standard.  The ventilation systems consists of two flaps under the front windshield that let cold air in.  The vibration of the car is so intense that when you look in the wing mirrors while stopped at a junction, you have to shake your head as fast as the vibration to focus on what the mirror is reflecting!  It’s a monster, but it’s a monster that can go anywhere.

2A5A62D200000578-0-image-a-78_1436401355954
The Queen of England in a Landrover Defender!

I could bore you to tears with the history of the Landrover but I’ll leave it for you to discover should you wish to.  Needless to say, I absolutely love these cars.  It had been a childhood dream to own one and over the years I had tried to save enough money to buy one but with moving around the country and then moving out of the country, the chance never presented itself.

After 67 years of production, 2015 was to see the last Defender roll off the production line in England.  This was the last chance to pick one up new but the costs were phenomenal, something like £46,000, twice the price of one back home and knowing there would be parts to get later on down the line, and Landrovers don’t have any system in place to prevent the mileage meter being swapped out and reset.  A used Defender with 80,000km’s on the clock might have actually done 180,000km, there’s just no way to know.  That and the price new or used left me with the only two other real off-road choices available, a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota Landcrusier 70.  A long story short, I went with the Jeep.  The Landcrusier runs on high octane gasoline with very bad mileage – it too didn’t make sense.  Had it been diesel I would have given it a proper look.

The Jeep Wrangler runs regular gasoline which is at the time of writing 97 yen to the litre and considering the current oil price trends, probably not going to go north of that until such a time as electric and hybrid cars become the norm.  The weak dollar at the time also meant that a Jeep in Japan was actually cheaper than the dollar price in the US, so for an imported car it really started to become the focus of my research.  Also the most customisable truck out of the three,  a third-party parts catalog is thicker than a phone book, there’s almost nothing you can’t bolt onto these things.  It’s basically a transformer – the front roof panels can be removed to convert it into a semi-convertible.  The rear roof section can also be removed to turn it then into a full convertible and even the doors can be removed, all with one simple tool.  Most cars are like tattoos; if you get bored with them, you need to erase it or live with it.  The Jeep is a lot like lego – only limited to your imagination.  The fuel economy, the customisability and its balance of off-road ability to on-road comfort made perfect sense.

jeep-wrangler-jku-roof-rack-4-door-full-cargo-rack-front-runner-slimline-ii-extreme-KRJW014T-14
A Jeep Wrangler with roof removed and cargo rack

The plan is that when we get too old to be messing around with pitching tents to put one on the roof of the Jeep and drive around the country on extended expeditions.  The tent pops up automatically when you pull the ladder out and swing it down into position like this:

DSC02279-1
Jeep Wrangler with a roof tent

For the beginning of March, it was pretty hot and gradient was steeper than I imagined.  I was soon down to a t-shirt when really at this time of year it should be 8℃ at sea level and much lower at the summit.  Another sign of global warming, not helped by big gas guzzling trucks like Jeeps either, sorry.

Around 1500M patches of snow and time to breakout the snow spikes, but still too hot to want to add any layers.  One of the guys I’m hiking with has two boys, a 4 year old and 6 month old baby, both of which he’s carrying up the mountain with his own gear and no snow spikes, needless to say, he was getting a workout!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Half way mark
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Some snow at around the 1500M mark
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
View of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi

Mountain Goats

There is a road that you can take to the mountain cottage and it seems the preferred method of transport for whomever runs the cottage up the narrow road are these little guys, must have been about a dozen of them.  Turns out Jeep licensed the Wrangler design to Mitsubishi in the 80’s.  They’ve obviously been customised to handle the trail up the mountain in the snow.  They were all pretty beat up – at first I thought they were junk but looking closely and at the tracks, you can see they are still in service.  And they look a lot better than what my previous car would have succumbed to had it been driving up that mountain road for the last 20 years.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Mitsubishi Jeeps at mountain cottage
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Mitsubishi Jeeps at mountain cottage
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Mitsubishi Jeeps at mountain cottage

Although Mt. Fuji was beautifully visible on the start of the hike, the weather had changed and by the time we made it to the summit we couldn’t see much farther than the cottage we had just come from.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Panoramic from Mitsutouge Summit
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
View of mountain cottage area from Summit of Mitsutouge

Though my dog had heroically conquered Mt. Mitsutouge, she had had enough.  Her little legs had walked 100x what we had and with the snow at the summit, I’m sure she got a bit cold.  Still as it was all downhill from now, I was sure she would be able to continue.  Not so.  She just stopped moving.  No matter how hard I tried, it was obviously she had reached her capacity and like my friends 4 year old boy, refused to go any further.

I took out what I had in my backpack and hooked it onto the outside so she could fit inside.  This bag is a North Face Tellus Photo 40 camera backpack.  The centre has a hard area that’ll fit one DSLR with lens on one side and a large lens on the other side.  This hard area halfway up the backpack also means my dog can sit comfortably in the pack!  I just hope it doesn’t become a habit as carrying camera equipment is heavy enough, I don’t need another 5kg’s, especially going up!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
My dog training me
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Still some snow at the 1500M mark

At basecamp, quickly set-up for the night before sundown and happened to catch glimpses of Mt. Fuji form time to time between the clouds.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Fumotoppara
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Fumotoppara with glimpses of Mt. Fuji
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Basecamp at Fumotoppara
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Mitsutouge Hike data (the green path)

 

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Mt. Mitsutouge hike elevation over distance