A Luxurious (Camping) Night at the Top of Mt. Zao

So I have been thinking of doing more hikes in Tohoku since the beginning of 2017. But alas, many things happened that kept me occupied and on top of that the weather on August, the supposedly prime season for summer hiking, was unbearably bad with constant rain almost every day.

After on hold for many times, finally at the end of September the plan I had devised to climb Mt. Zao came to fruition. I wanted to see the famous Okama Crater I missed the chance to see it last year. Together with my usual hiking buddies, Theo and Steven, we rode the 8AM train from Sendai to Yamagata. Arriving at the station we missed the bus to Zao-onsen by just fraction of minutes so we took the next bus an hour later.

It was a bit cloudy when we reach Zao-onsen bus terminal. We had our delicious lunch there and packed more food from convenience store then we headed to Zao Ropeway Terminal to get to Jizou-sanchou Terminal, where the climbing base starts. Along the way we saw trees turning red and yellow — Zao is ready for autumn.

We took a ‘before climbing’ picture in front of Jizou statue, then walked towards the nicely built hiking path. As we pressed on the weather got worse. The wind blowing as if gale, and the rain fell down moments later. As we continued our climb to the direction of Kumano Peak, suddenly the mist came and covered everything in no time.

With bad visual we were forced to stop the exploration even though it was only 4PM. We decided to go into the mountain shelter much earlier than expected. We also missed the sunset as it was totally white with nothing to see. Even so, the mountain shelter itself was superb. Theo commented that that was probably the most lavish ‘free shelter’ that he had ever been to among his climbs. It has stove; it has blankets; it has emergency stuffs like helmet and spades. Basically it has everything a hiker could wish for. I really recommend you to try sleeping here if you want to try hiking in Zao. There are several shelters laid down everywhere, so you best pick a good spot.

Cover for our next hit album ‘Yama no Otoko’.

Nobody else was there except for us, for nobody with health mind would climb Mt. Zao in such terrible weather. But amazingly on the contrary, we had the best time ever. The shelter was basically our own private base camp. We took some selfie inside as you can see below. Afterwards we decided to get some rest waiting until the sky become clear.

I was soundly asleep when Steven woke me up enthusiastically. Apparently the moon had appeared and the mist had cleared a bit. We took our camera gears and proceeded to do some night shots until the moon set in and it became too chilly we could not bear the cold anymore. I had to admit I’m not too proficient with astrophotography as it is not my main forte. That plus the cold night made my hand tremble when setting up camera. Even though the strong wind knocked down my tripod (and bruised my lens in the process), the results weren’t too shabby, if I may say so.

An attempt to get star trail. I didn’t think I’d get the perfect circle.

Sunrise came around 5AM, and we excitedly ran to bask in the glorious view. The sunrise view was glorious and we could see what was around us for a bit, until unfortunately the wind came again and brought the clouds over, hiding the view. Fearing that the weather could go from bad to worse, we moved on towards Okama Crater, hoping for the best.

On the way the mist shrouded the path, so it was impossible to see any resemblance of the crater. Even the path was pretty hard to see. We waited for quite some time at the edge of the fence, looking down at the supposedly crater-view with exasperation. But the view never came and we thought just to quit when out of nowhere Theo shouted, ”Blue sky!” while pointing at the horizon. And there it was, as the clouds have slowly parted uncovering the crater from the unending whiteness, rose the majestic Okama Crater. Blood rushed from to my head as I was filled with excitement. Finally, yes finally, I was able to view this elusive crater.

The calendar-worthy shot of Okama Crater.

We were among the first people to see the crater that day. As the day gone by hikers and visitors alike started to flock the area, so we just went around for a while then said our goodbye to this magical place.


Mt. Zao hike, mission accomplished!


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