It's 9:50 PM Thursday night and the worst of my problems is the mold on my winter coat. It was too heavy anyway. I ended up leaving it at home. My trusty lama jacket would do just fine. Ten minutes later, a heavy backpack and my friend ringing the door bell forced me to make final decisions. Even with a heavy load I have to keep reminding myself it's practice for my inevitable pilgrimage. But with that being months away and my lack of consistent physical exercise it might just be how I make myself feel better.
The skies were clear and the wind was calm. The night couldn't have been much better. I hoped I wouldn't be confronted with fog and clouds by the time I reached the mountains. I should have known better. At the pass the wall of fog came blowing at us head on. The car lights punched the gut of the fog but it did little. Maybe the forecast had been totally wrong. I could only hope some more. Several other cars were parked near the trail head and those individuals probably had the same idea as mine. Ascend through the dark morning and reap the reward waiting at the horizon. The moon was bleeding through the thick fog and a bit dismayed I settled into the back of the car to doze while my friend somehow found comfort in the passenger seat.
It's 2:00 AM and the fog is still rolling by. I didn't want to leave the car. I wanted to keep sleeping. It would have been so easy to give up. The clouds didn't abate last time so what would be the point I thought. My friend said, "Let's go." There was no more discussion. Onto the faintly illuminated trail we went. The flashlights bounced off the dew soaked plants. The wind kept finding us as we crisscrossed back and forth along the ridge. I went from a fleece to short sleeves and then back again. I relived the 3 other times I had been on the trail. I couldn't believe it was a 4th. I had promised myself to never hike the trail again. It wasn't even peak for the fall color yet. Perhaps my motives are misplaced though. There is something special about every aspect. The mushy steps along the wet trail. The wind biting at my ears and arms. The heart pounding in my head. The damp smells and fresh air. What more is there than that moment?
It's 4:30 AM and the final leg of the trail lies in front of us. The steep finale of the trail. By then the heavens had cleared and my heart began to feel more excited but not from exertion. I didn't even feel fatigued like other times I had gone to the top. The air of that night made me feel different. When we arrived at the top I was greeted by like minded companions hanging out for the morning sun rise. I don't judge them. We are all the same. It was peaceful. Nobody was speaking. The only sounds were the wind blowing against the ridge and the faint mumbling of sutras at the mountain top temple. That man continued on for an hour unabated. Maybe it was just Kobodaishi who never really passed but remains.
They say you shouldn't eat meat before climbing the mountain. Bad luck will come to those who haven't purified themselves. I didn't succumb to such a fate. It might be wise, though, to take fair warning. Who knows when a lurking tengu might appear and decide he is through being kind.
I sat on some rocks looking at the wild sprawl of Shikoku. The rocky mountains stretch across the entire island. In prior visits the clouds and haze prevented me from seeing the ocean to the south. In the glow of the morning sun the Pacific eyed us back. This is where the sun ends and begins.
And Ishizuchi was waiting. Waiting like it has been for hundreds of years and more...