For a while now I’ve been trying to find a hiking group to join. Japan is full of hiking trails. If there is a hill or a mountain you can bet that there is some sort of trail on it.
From past experience most all the trails that I have been on in Japan are steep. With the exception of Hiraodai- a karst plateau- just about every trail leading up a mountain goes seemingly straight up and straight down.
I joined a group hike today. A friend who lives at the foot of a mountain that is full of trails – invited me to join her group. We all met in the parking lot of the local convenience store at eight AM. It took a good hour or so to reach the base of a small mountain where we were supposed to meet the leader of the group and a few other members.
We waited. Thirty minutes. No leader.
After an hour contact with the leader was made. I never found out why they were late but it was decided that the four of us that were waiting would just start up the mountain.
The trail began a slow ascent, wide at first and then narrowing into a steep, rocky and root-filled path. We went slow and despite that it was 90 degrees, it was an enjoyable trek.
About half-way up the terrain changed a bit and the trail opened up into a small meadow teeming with butterflies! We dropped our packs and took a few minutes to enjoy the beauty, eat a snack, hydrate and chat a bit.
Through the meadow, across a stream and we were back on a steep incline. The trail had an awesome balance of trail variation and our slow pace made it a fun hike up.
We reached the summit in about two and a half hours. Great view at the top!
At the summit we met the leader and other group members and ate our bento lunches.
I was having a great time …..
The leader decided to take a short-cut on the way down.
The very beginning of the short-cut was pretty. We tromped along a grassy path flanked by tall pines. Just lovely until we turned a bend and I saw with trepidation that the trail from then on was basically a near vertical drop. One of the steeper descents I’ve had to make.
This one was booby-trapped. The extreme vertical slope was filled with damp mossy rocks that were covered with a layer of damp and decaying leaves. All of that was piled atop slick mud.
We’ve had a lot of rain recently.
I surveyed the trail and thought – I’m sure we will turn around and descend the same trail that we used coming up.
But we just kept going…. down.
Two minutes of descent told me this was a knee buster.
It was so steep and slippery that it was all I could do to keep myself from falling. At one point the lot of us had to grab the overhanging branches and inch our way down so that we wouldn’t slide down the mountain in one big mess.
I was not enjoying it at all. It was slick and dangerous.
My point was proven as my hiking boot connected with a slick rock. I tried to avoid falling but the severe vertical slope, my pack- which had shifted as my body began to twist in slow motion as my feet went airborne, and the fact that there was no place to ground my hiking stick proved to be too much.
At the instant that I heard the loud POP I hoped with all my might that it had been a stick, snapped by my crashing body.
But there was no stick.
The moment you realize that you just blew out your knee half-way down an excruciatingly steep mountain is a defining moment.
I was thankful that I had the foresight to pack pain meds because ” you never know”.
I don’t really remember the rest of the descent but I do remember taking constant deep breaths and repeating ” you can do this”.
Why the leader decided to have us descend that steep and dangerous trail is something I will never know because I won’t be hiking with them again. Had we gone down the way we came up we would have been just fine. It would have been an enjoyable day for all.
It’s bad. Really bad. The hospital is closed today and tomorrow. The emergency room is for real emergencies and it’s expensive so- I’ll have to wait.
I was so happy that I found left over pain killers from my oral surgery.
Lesson learned I guess.