Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To the Top of Torigata

On Sunday night I went to sleep at approximately 10:30PM and then struggled to fall asleep. It might have been due to the chocolate ice cream I consumed earlier in the evening. My ensuing problem of not falling asleep troubled me more and more as the minutes passed. How would I ever wake up at 2:30AM and make it out of the house for the sunrise? Moreover, how would I drive 300km through a twisting variety of roads and forgotten locations on such little sleep? The answer is called an alarm clock.

After stepping out into the crisp morning air and looking at the sky to ascertain the weather, it was hard to see any stars. This meant it could be a waste of time to drive all the way for the sunrise. But I checked the weather one more time and it said it would be entirely sunny all day. I walked about for a few moments weighing my options. Sunrise or bed? Sunrise or bed? There is still an element of risk that the sunrise might not be as spectacular as you envision. All the great photographs of bleeding sun scapes and burning clouds defile our desires and make us disappointed with the final emergence of the sun. Oh quit over analyzing the day and just go! An hour or two lost to the road pales in comparison to the suggested outcome of a beautiful sunrise.

I wasn’t only going to see the sunrise though. It just so happened to be along the way of my other destinations and fit in quite well with the schedule. My real objective was to make it to Nametoko Valley in order to slide down a waterfall which could be called a waterslide. It’s an 80 meter wall of rock that water slides down as opposed to falling over a ledge to the bottom. Waterslide can easily be a misnomer because when I hear the word I instantly think of a half tube of fiber glass with water gushing down it or a slide in someone’s back yard with a water hose attached. This waterfall was the whole reason for the trip in the first place.

Gathering up my camera gear, change of clothes, and an apple, I hit the road shortly before 3AM with slightly foggy eyes and a mind full of wonderful hopes for the day. I mentioned that I ate ice cream several hours previous to this point but I didn’t tell you that was about all I ate. So come 3:30AM that apple was rather tasty on the way over to the sunrise spot. The roads at this early in the morning are pleasant to drive on. Then again they aren’t very busy in the day time either with it being the countryside. Monica had taken me to this spot a month previous or so. The only problem is that it was dark and I didn’t know the area very well. Despite my best efforts to prepare myself with detailed map knowledge (and remember it) a few wrong turns were made. I thought I was so lucky because I saw a sign with the name of the location I was trying to get to. The only problem is that I didn’t pay careful enough attention to any other part of the sign. I vaguely remember saying it had something to do with mining and I figured it was just along the way to the top. The first time I went with Monica we had gone by some mining outfit and figured, “Hey this must be right! I’m doing great.” I turned my car onto the narrow road which the sign indicated and started climbing up to the top.

It’s very strange how things can feel so familiar even though you never have actually been to the spot you are at. I kept reminding myself I had been here before. It felt so familiar with the tiny houses along the narrow road, rows of densely packed cedar trees, and a road with enough turns to make a spring jealous. Even though I had left about 3AM it was getting around the time I should be stationed for the sunrise. Things seemed to be going great and my wrong turn earlier onto a different road that shouldn’t have taken me where I wanted did not reverberate in my mind. Suddenly I came upon a mining area with an assortment of shadowy buildings and the road came to an abrupt halt at a large rail road crossing like gate. “What!? This can’t be right. There was a gate last time but it wasn’t closed,” I said out loud to the dark morning air as I stepped out of the car. I got out to do a little investigation and walked a bit around trying to see where I was. Some darkly lit roads, sheds, and some random cars were scattered about. It all seemed somewhat right. Perhaps my mind was playing tricks and I just needed to open the gate or something. But surely if I was going to a park area on the mountain top it wouldn’t be closed off. Right? I mean, RIGHT?

My stress began to grow as I was now confronted with a closed gate, blocking my path to the sunrise spot, and I had come a pretty long way up the mountain wasting precious time. I decided to investigate the gate house and see if there was someway to raise the gate. On the side of the building I found an electrical box that said 手開ける and 自動開く(Manual and Automatic Operation) with a dial you could turn to the appropriate setting. There was also a button to activate the gate. I looked at the controls for a moment wondering the consequences of pressing the button. Would it actually open the gate or would an alarm go off because I hadn’t properly used the controls, alerting nearby people of my presence. That didn’t seem so terrible as I could play off any wrong doing by being confused, lost and a foreigner. Maybe people just had to open the gate this early in the morning to get through on certain days. But the more I stood there in the blinding headlights of my Honda Fit the crazier of an idea it seemed. So I went ahead and switched it to manual mode and pressed the button upon which a loud wailing alarm wen… Well that’s the story you wish I had to tell isn’t it? I got you, didn’t I? Sadly for you I just had to scurry back down the mountain and retrace my route in time to find the real way.

As I was barreling back down the mountain road and onto a main route I barely spotted a sign out of the corner of my eye. I slammed to stop in the middle of the road and backed up. What do you know? It was for 鳥形山公園 (Torigata Mountain Park) whereas the previous sign had said 鳥形鉱山業 (Torigata Mining Industry). I thought the first sign I saw that morning was a bit strange that it didn’t say park on it. Now I learned my lesson. Trust my Japanese reading instincts. Well I take that back because I did that and failed. So after seeing this sign I peel onto the road and jam up the mountain once again. I then realized I had found the route I intended to drive down from the top after the sunrise. I eventually got up higher on the mountain and came to some familiar locations. The mining area I thought I remembered was much different. There was no gate blocking the road and many less buildings. So much for my pristine memory. We can all be fooled by our memories. Scary isn’t it? I blazed through the remaining sections of road and came to the Torigata park at last just as the sky was starting to gain some color. I setup my gear and began to shoot the sunrise. With a bit of cloud cover in the distance and in the lower valleys, the color was wonderful.


Any lack of sleep or tiredness was beyond being discussed. The sunrise filled me with new inspiration for the day. I was going to need it as that waterfall was a good 100 kilometers away and I had only 2 ½ hours of sleep at max. It was only 5:50AM and the rest of the day lie in wait.


( Click here to view the rest http://www.flickriver/photos/buenokid )

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