Diary - December

Mt Shari (1545m - Mt No 97)

Saturday 1st December
Day 293 - 7km

Tom - The temperatures over night dropped to -12°C. All the water in my bottle had frozen and my jacket that had been damp with sweat was like cardboard.

The trail followed the course of a small stream that had to be crossed a number of times. Fortunately it was frozen over in most places although I did fall in once when a flimsy snow bridge collapsed under my weight.

The view on the way up Shari-dakeAfter an hour the trail split in two. One route followed a high ridge to the peak and the other (shorter route) followed the stream. I decided to take the ridge to avoid getting any wetter. This involved wading through thigh deep powder up a steep forested slope. Once on the ridge the snow was easier to walk on as the wind had formed a hard crust that held my weight almost 75% of the time. The view of the peak from the ridge was spectacular although it still looked a long way away.

The view from the top of Shari-dakeI had planned to reach the peak at 11am and be down by 5 or 6pm. It was 11am already and I still had a to do a traverse across a bushy slope covered in deep powder and a steep climb to the peak. At midday Dad called to ask how I was doing and was surprised that I was still slogging up the final climb.

Proofshot at the top of Shari-dakeI reached the top at 1.30pm. The view was spectacular, but I couldn't sit around. I snapped a few proof shots and then glissaded down the initial steep decent. The bushwhack traverse took just as long as it had on the climb but the rest of the descent was a lot quicker. It is very hard to climb a slope covered in deep powder but when you come down you can take huge strides and slide down some sections.

I was back at the toilet at 6pm. It was already dark and I called Dad to tell him I would stay the night and be down first thing tomorrow morning. It had taken me 11 hours to do a 5 hour climb.

Saturday 1st - Friday 7th December

Paul - From Sapporo I hitched eventually all the way to Tokyo (via a couple of the people we had stayed with on the way north; Ingrid and Tim). Japan must be one of the best places in the world to hitch hike. First off you are very safe and secondly the Japanese are so hospitable and generous that once you are in their car they take you on as their responsibility and take excellent care of you. I was given some form of drink by nearly every lift; three people bought lunch for me, one guy emailed to check that I had arrived safely and another drove round a service station car park until he found someone willing to take me further south! It was also nice to realise that it is not only British people that speak slowly and increase their volume when you say that you do not understand!

Sunday 2nd December
Day 294 - 12.5km

Abashiri Baptist

Tom - I set off at 5am after another very cold night. The road was easier to walk down as I could place my feet in the tracks I had made on the way up. The sky was free of cloud and the moon lit my way better than any head torch could. At one point an owl joined me as it flew from tree to tree watching me with interest.

Tom and his father Bill with the Tomabechi familyI reached the rendezvous point at 7.30am and waited a couple of minutes for Dad and Mr Sasaki to show up. We planned to go to a church in Abashiri (a port on the north east coast of Hokkaido, famous for the yearly ice flows which cover the sea in the winter). Mr Sasaki is a well-known character and a number of people in the church knew him. The service was great and afterwards we were treated to oden (a Japanese hotpot) by the Tomabechi family.

After the meal we said our goodbyes and rushed off to get some shopping and tumble-drying done. The previous day Dad had seen people fishing in the sea, his plan was to fish whilst I climbed the next mountain. One of the church members had kindly offered to lend Dad and Mr Sasaki some of his tackle so we popped into his house on the way to Rausu-dake (the next peak). Not only were we given the tackle but also he invited us to stay for dinner (very tasty sushi prepared by his wife). After the meal we set off towards Utoro (the town closest to Rausu), where we found a bed and breakfast to stay in. After a bath I read a chapter of Harry Potter and fell asleep.

Monday 3rd December
Day 295 - 11.5km

Bear country

Tom - After one of the best breakfasts of the walk we set off in the car towards Rausu-dake. The road was gated about 7km before the trailhead so the first part of the day was spent plodding along an icy road.

As the trail starts at about 200m above sea level there was only about 15cm of snow on the path for the initial steep forested section so the going was easy. After this the path came out onto a shrubby plateau that was covered in deeper snow. At first the trail was fairly easy to follow, as it was a popular track for local wildlife - even a bear had recently used it! However after about 1km the tracks disappeared and finding the trail became difficult. I put the snowshoes on to stop me sinking into the snow and to stop them snagging on the headhigh bushes and trees. I spent the next two hours fighting my way through thick bushes, untangling my ice axe from branches, and taking compass bearings. I began to feel like Prince Charming fighting his way through the thorns to wake Sleeping Beauty. Eventually I came across a pink tag marking the correct route and progress became a lot quicker.

The next bit of the climb took me up an icy gully that led up to the col 300m below the peak. The sun was setting and the peaks were bathed in a pink glow. On the way up the gully I passed a large snowdrift ideal for making a snow hole. I seriously considered stopping before the col and staying in a snowhole but eventually decided that the wind wasn't too strong and that my one-man tent, (which is not designed for winter mountain camping), could cope.

I found a fairly snow free patch and put the tent up by hammering the pegs into the frozen ground, and tying the guy ropes to some rocks. After dinner I settled down in need of sleep. Half an hour later the wind began to pick up. One by one the pegs popped out, the rocks moved so the guys were slack and the tent began to sag. The fabric was flapping against my face. I had to do something but if I got out of the tent it would have got blown away. I pulled my rucksack (along with a bucketful of snow) inside to weigh down one end and curled up at the other to weight it down. This helped a little although the flapping made sleep impossible. At about midnight I heard the sound of the cooking pans (which I had foolishly left in the porch) flying away into the night.

Mt Rausu (1660m - Mt No 98)
Tuesday 4th December
Day 296 - 14km

The proofshot for Rauso-dakeTom - After the second worst night of the trip (see 24th June for the worst!), I packed up careful not to loose any more kit to the wind and headed up to the peak leaving my pack on the col. Visibility was poor and the wind was blowing spindrift into my eyes which caused them to water, which then froze my eyelashes together. The climb involved wading up a powder slope and scrambling up a steep rocky/icy peak. On the top I took the proof shots and dislodged a couple of cherry pip sized lumps of ice from my eyelashes.

Back at the col I checked the campsite to pick up any tent pegs that had flown during the night. As usual the descent was a lot quicker than the climb. The section that had taken me 2 hours the day before took me 15 minutes (being on the right track helped!). I

Mr Sasaki and all the fish

reached the workman's hut where I had arranged to meet Dad and Mr Sasaki at 12. They weren't there yet so the foreman, Mr Tanaka, took me in, made me a cup of coffee and told me what it was like to work on possibly the most remote road works in Japan. Once the guys were there he took a photo of the 3 of us, with my ice axe aloft.

Once in the car our next destination was Asahikawa, where my sister Flora was born and where Mr Sasaki's mother lives. Packing the car was made a little trickier than usual, as Dad and Mr Sasaki had managed to catch 4 buckets of fish whilst I had been on the mountain! It was a long drive and we had to stop for a bite to eat and to stretch our legs. Mrs Sasaki had prepared a meal for us called Gingis Khan (lamb cooked on a hot plate). The plan was to climb Asahi-dake the next day so I got yet another early night.

Wednesday 5th December
Day 297

Problems with powder

Tom - On the way to Asahi-dake we stopped in at super market to get a new pan, some ski goggles (Dad's Christmas present to me) and some food supplies. The road up to the trailhead was icy and the car ended up in a snow bank on one occasion. The guys dropped me off just after 1pm. At first I thought my luck was in as a snow cat (a big machine used to flatten snow) appeared to have cleared the trail. After 500 metres however I found that it was only the initial section that had been flattened. The remainder of the trail was covered in 1.5m of fresh powder. I started up the trail but found myself sinking up to my waist (even with snowshoes on). If I continued to wade through this powder to the hut (a 2 hour walk in the summer), I would probably get lost in the trees. I decided to try hiking up under a ropeway that lead to the hut, as this would save me from getting lost on the first section. However the snow under the ropeway was even deeper (up to my chest!!!) and I knew I had to call it quits.

I called Dad and asked him if Mr Sasaki could turn around and come and pick me up. It was a depressing call to make. Asahidake is not a difficult peak to climb in the summer. I've already climbed it twice before once in the summer and once in the spring (when I skied down it). However the conditions in which I have tried to climb it on this trip have placed it beyond my reach. If I were to climb it I would need a slight thaw to consolidate the snow, and ideal weather conditions. How long would I have to wait for that?

We drove back to Asahikawa, popping in on a old friend of ours, before heading back to Mrs Sasaki's house, where we ate some of the fish that had been caught (very tasty). The next day was to be a driving day to Mt. Rishiri so I could afford to stay up and chat a little with Mrs Sasaki, who is a very talented juggler!

Thursday 6th December
Day 298

A long drive North

Tom - We set off early to make sure we would catch the 2pm ferry from Wakanai (the most northern port of Hokkaido) to Rishiri. I finished Harry Potter and started on a book about the exploits of the early alpine climbers. It is amazing the things people used to do with equipment we would call dangerous these days.

On the way up we saw a couple of trucks that had come off the road due to icy conditions. A thick layer of ice covers most of the roads in Hokkaido between December and March. I wondered what would have happened if I had been walking along the side of the road. We reached the ferry terminal on time. The weather wasn't too bad although the top of Rishiri was covered in cloud. I was pleased to see that there was very little snow at sea level (5cm). We found a bed and breakfast to stay at and plonked ourselves down in front of the telly to watch the weather forecast. Fubuki (snowstorms) for the next 2 days followed by snow for the rest of the week. I watched the numbed. The owner, who is also a keen mountaineer, came up to have a chat and he didn't sound too optimistic. We decided to wait till the morning before we decided what to do but I had a nasty feeling I already knew.

Friday 7th December
Day 299

Throwing in the towel

Tom - I woke at 6.30am and pulled back the curtains. It was cloudy and a few flakes were drifting lazily down to the ground, hardly what I would call a snowstorm. In a few minutes however the wind picked up and snow was falling in thick flurries. I had only just managed to climb and ski down Rishiri in March 1999 in much better conditions. I knew that the upper slopes of the mountain would be hammered by wind. I had a number of options. 1) Sit and wait on Rishiri (camping) and wait for a break in the weather. 2) Go back to Asahi-dake and wait for a break in the weather. 3) Start doing some of the walking on the icy roads between the peaks and climb the peaks when the weather improved. 4) Throw in the towel and call it quits.

I decided against staying on Rishiri so we caught the first ferry of the day at 9am (later ferries would probably have been cancelled due to high winds). On the ferry I sat and considered my options. To complete the mountains I would have to do a considerable amount of waiting. The walking, which I considered the easy bit, had become as dangerous if not more so than the climbing due to ice on the roads. I knew that if I was walking by the side of the road cars and trucks would have to swerve to avoid me, and could therefore loose control and slide off the road or even worse into oncoming traffic.

I was a hard decision to make. My pride told me I could do it and I wanted to experience that feeling of completion. At the same time common sense was telling me that I would be putting others and myself in danger if I continued. I asked myself why do I want to keep going? It wasn't to help others but rather it was to satisfy my desire to be the first to complete something that had inspired me for the last 3 years. I decided to swallow my pride and call it quits. I had two things to console me. I knew that stopping now would make little difference to the amount of money and awareness that would be raised for landmine clearance and I would also be able to make it home for Christmas.

Well that's all folks! I'd like to thank you for checking the website, for encouraging us with your emails, for your prayers, for spreading the word and for helping us achieve our goal of clearing landmines. We've still got a lot to do! When I get back we need to collect all the money pledged to the charity, we want to do some talks to tell people about the trip and the landmine problem, we want to put a video together (helped by Ben's talented brother Andy), and maybe even write a book (if we can find a publisher who is crazy enough!)

When people ask me what was the best part of the trip it's really hard to point to one thing, but I can say this. Climbing mountains is fun, but without the people we met along the way our trip would have been really boring and we would have finished a lot hungrier and dirtier! I'd like to say a special thanks to all the people who put us up: Ruth and Gareth, Pete, Penny, Dean and Miho, Trena, Noboru, Mat, Lynne, Shana, Tim V, Rachel, Tim C, Andy, Andre, Cat, Angie and Nina, Rick and Ryan, Duncan and Mat, Mt Sato and Fujiko, Thom, Paul and Janet, Mary, Mr Hatori and family, Tim H, Ellen and Naomi, Hutch, Ingrid, Phil, Shane, Robin and David, Mr and Mrs Okada, the good Samaritan and Mrs Sato.

There are also a lot of people we met along the way who are not mentioned above (as we didn't stay with you) but who are mentioned in the diary updates. We'll never forget any of you. Keep in touch.

Tom presents the AAR flag back to Ayaka Arai from AARSaturday 8th - Tuesday 18th December

Paul - My last week in Japan was spent in Tokyo where I was able to meet up with a whole load of people, both connected to the walk and friends from the days when my folks were missionaries. I was also able to finish the final two Harry Potter books and get mentally prepared for returning to Britain i.e. very excited!

Wednesday 19th - Thursday 20th December

Paul - As we walked through the arrivals door at Heathrow airport we were greeted with a massive cheer and all the bags on my trolley fell off in the middle of everywhere. There were posters, balloons and a whole heap of smiling faces. In a daze I plonked myself down on a chair in the handily placed arrivals pub, jumped up to do something, came back into the pub and only then spotted Rick and Ryan sitting chuckling in the corner. They were over in London for business and had managed to make time to come and see us again. They were chuckling as I had sat right in front of them without noticing them!

Much talk and laughter later my family and Ben’s family piled into a borrowed minibus and drove back to Kenilworth and a take out curry that Ben and I had been dreaming about for some time (months I think!). The following morning we both got interviewed for local TV news after which I said goodbye to Ben and for the first time in ten and a half months wasn’t one of a three, but was one again.

Postscript

Ben - I have been home in the UK for some time, so this account of my final weeks in Japan is made with some distance from the event. I will cover briefly my exit from the trek and review what I filled my time with afterwards. Also, I shall mention the welcome we received in Heathrow airport.

So, back to the mountain and to a story that I didn’t finish. I must apologise to readers for this lack of continuity, email access was poor and so was my motivation to run over the events in my mind.

The parting of ways:

We rejoin at the parting of Tom and myself on the mountain. It was an almost clinical operation, little was said as we swapped kit and food about. I don’t really recall what I was thinking at the time but looking back now I was highly-strung and angry, mostly with myself. Lots of ‘if only’ thoughts, lots of silent expletives, and no real understanding of what to do for the best, or indeed how I will make sense of it to myself. I have never left a friend on the mountain alone, sure I have gone up and hiked alone, but splitting the team just seemed wrong in some way. I was in no fit state to say ‘I will come with you Tom’ and I know Tom well enough to understand his need to continue.

So I set off down the hill and soon I could see Tom no more as he was swallowed by cloud. It took me over four hours to move about three kilometres. The snow was mostly chest deep but I sank to my neck on occasions. In the deepest snow, I found that forward progress was most easily achieved by pushing my backpack out in front of me and so attempting to spread my weight out. My frustration did not lie dormant within, instead; I painted a colourful picture with words that I forgot I knew, as I ranted to the video camera.

Perhaps the best way I can review this specific event and in general terms the entire trek, is to say:

‘I would change little or nothing about it, for the experience has been immense and we have walked out of the other side of it, however I would never do it again. Although positive experiences far outweigh the negative, I can too easily see and feel the pressures of living as we did. My favourite pass time became more of a chore, at times I morphed in to the person that I least want to be and there was huge pressure placed upon the friendships of Ben, Tom and Paul.’

Once off the mountain I was able to see how bad my ankles were. Back in my supports, again walking was ok, but I still stood no chance in my mountaineering boots without them. I saw two options, walk to the bottom of each mountain and watch Tom climb it, or call it a day.

I caught up with Paul by hitch hiking and together we walked into Asahi Kawa. We had a good view of the Disetsu range and the weather was seemingly in full support of Tom’s traverse attempt. Many hours of deliberation saw me wave another goodbye to Paul and head south to Saitama and the home of Danielle.

I would not be seeing the boys for probably about three weeks, just before we flew home to the UK.

Benjamin Sensei

The three weeks that I had from stopping the trek until flying were in some ways a hidden blessing. Apart from the obvious need to rest my ankles, I was able to have time with Danielle. In truth, I ended up having more time with my lady than I had imagined. I was invited back to teach some English lessons at Kawagoe Girls High school where Danielle works. I took 10 lessons in all, and the response from the girls was something I will never forget.

All the classes I took were very similar, forty 14 year old girls who come to the lesson to hear a native speaker, they expect Danielle and get me. The result was generally high pitched giggling that continues at varying degrees throughout the 45 minute lesson.

Most of the students have a good level of English and so I was able to give a quite comprehensive talk on my reasons for being in Japan and why Landmine clearance is so important. I felt privileged to be involved with teaching approximately 400 students in all, and at times, I was very touched by the responses they made. There was a very genuine concern for the sad situation that so many people have to live with due to the presence landmines. Some students wrote emails to us after the lessons, voicing their concerns, one girl wrote:

Hi, Ben ! And Tom and Paul.
My name is Kumi.

I'm Kawagoe girl's high school student.
Do you know Kagoe girl's high school??
Danny(?) who is your girl friend is my school's teacher.
Today, you came in my school.
I met you and I heard your speech in last class.
Your speech was fun !

I wish landmine is not in the world.
I was very surprised to see picture book on the wall.
Because three die by landmines an hour.
I have been sad.
I try to think what we can do for the people.

My English is very poor.
So if I had a miss , sorry.

Bye-

PS* I think you and Danny is nice couple(^ - ^)
And she is very nice teacher!!!
We like her very much!!

Another group of girls collected together their pocket money and offered it towards mine clearance. I have found this experience, to be almost unique, I shared my concerns about the world we live in and some people thanked me for it and began thinking how they could help. It reminds me a bit of that film ‘Pay it forward’ in which people are on the receiving end of a good thing and so they do something for someone else.

Aside from teaching I was also trying to visit as many of the people who have supported us in the Tokyo area as possible. So many people have made this trek not just achievable but also a stunning experience, which has opened my eyes and heart to the possibility for human beings to be capable of such good things. Thank you to everyone; who took us into there homes, who met us on the street, who donated money, who offered us food, who followed our progress on the internet, who wrote to us, who prayed for us, who listened to us, your love has kept me and encouraged me and changed me, ((you are angels.)) thanks.

Arriving Home and signing off.

The last few minutes on the plane were strange, emotions everywhere. While we waited for our bags we each made a final video diary and pushed our packs towards home.

The noise as we entered the arrivals area was quite amazing considering the size of the gathering… banners were being waved and we frantically hugged mums and dads. My brother filmed our entrance to the UK and I look as spaced on that video as I felt at the time. One wonderful surprise remained and that was the surprise presence of friends. My mum had arranged with Rick and Ryan (the saviours of our time in Tokyo, see early August diary) for them to meet us at the air port, words failed but hugs made up for it.

Now we are home we have to find out what is next, we probably need to write a lot of letters and begin thanking the people that we can never properly repay. We will be giving talks about the trek and basically bringing our efforts to a close. Our website will remain open and I would love to hear from people.

Thank you again for your interest.

Paul - I think the thing I have found most difficult – or perhaps disconcerting is a better word – is how unchanged life back here is. It is not that I was expecting everyone around me to have made massive changes, more that it would be different because I am different. It would seem, however, that if I wanted it to my life here could pick up exactly where I left it last February. If I wanted it to, life could continue as if I had never been to Japan, never spent 10 months walking 4300 miles. It is a strange feeling.

I’m enjoying being at home though and enjoying all the food options for such reasonable prices. Days just disappear at the moment. It is almost a month since we got back but I don’t really know where it has gone. I’ve spent some of the time applying for an undergraduate course in Physiotherapy – the first sort of future plan that has stuck in my head for more than three minutes. I have spent plenty of time eating – it being Christmas and all – and time catching up with folks. And I have some part time work lined up for the middle of Feb.

Motivation for all things walk related is at a low. I am desperate to put the thing to bed for a while but realise there are at least a few talks I really have to do now. Tom and Ben as ever, it sometimes seems, are working more willingly than me. Tom has written to sponsors and waded through hundreds of slides. Ben and Andy (his younger brother) have spent hours working on a four-minute video to be used at the talks. I am not quite sure what I have done.

I found something on the computer that I had written for some magazine before I left in which I explained why I was going to do the trek. Three of the key points were as follows:

‘Not everyone could (or would) contemplate walking 4000 miles and climbing 100 mountains; the very fact that I can is for me a motivation to try it.

I have no real idea what it will be like. There is no certainty I will be able to do it. It is a stepping into the unknown, an exploration of my physical, mental, and emotional limits – an adventure.

I have never been to Japan before and what better way to really see and experience a country than walking its length and breadth.'

Nice sentiments, but I know now that none of these reasons is motivation enough to do what we did. (I can also now think of better ways to see Japan!) The three reasons above got me to Japan and got me started, but didn’t help me accomplish what I did. What got me through were the prayers of many folks around the world, and in part Tom’s determination and Ben’s enthusiasm for just being in the hills. Love, support and a desperate desire not to quit also kept me on my feet.

I said it during the walk, but never really got my heart right round the idea, that the key reason for our walk was to clear a path to a safer future for those effected by landmines. I have known in my head for a long time that we were walking for the following reason (taken from the same article as above):

‘“Death, when it comes and is done with, may be a bliss to anyone; but the doubt of life or death, when a man lies, as it were, like a trunk upon a saw-pit, and a grisly head looks up at him, and the groans of pain are cleaving him, this would be beyond all bearing, but for Nature’s sap – sweet hope.” (R.D. Blackmore)

Landmines are a plague. I am taking part in this trek in an attempt to offer some ‘sweet hope’ to those affected by landmines. Through this trek we hope to keep the landmine crisis in the public domain, and to raise enough money to clear a landmine field.’

Don’t be like me in keeping this knowledge locked safely away from your heart.

Landmines are evil, they are still being placed, and they are still destroying lives hourly; lives of men, women, and children alike. People are still painting them to look like toys. Anything we do is better than nothing.

Thank you for following our expedition, for supporting us along the way, and for doing something to fight against landmines. Many of you who helped us have thanked us for touching your lives. It has to be said that were it not for you I would have headed for home comforts and an absence of walking long before I did! My life, and my outlook on life, has been changed by those who helped and supported us as we travelled.

While the walk has finished the crisis is still there.

Please don’t forget.

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