I sat with my back against the summit cairn gazing into the mist as the wind and misty rain attacked my Gore-Tex rain shell; stuffing cheese, bread, and sausage into my mouth with the passion that climbing 5,000 vertical feet in a single afternoon can bring about. Over the howl of wind I heard another hiker approach behind me.
"The weather is quite unfortunately, ehh?" he called out.
"Have patience. It'll clear!" I shouted happily, ripping off a piece of baguette with my teeth and coughing it down with a slurp of water.
I had set up camp and hiked the remaining 200 meters up to the summit in good spirits, hopeful that the clouds were about to break. As I climbed up, the thin, bright cloud layer thickened, the rain began, and the wind picked up, dousing any hopes of brewing up some hot ramen noodles at the summit. Resiliant, I continued on with the faint hope the weather would clear within the hour or so left of daylight. "Sometimes luck is with you, sometimes not. Either way, you have to at least tag the summit!" I thought as I marched upward into the cloud.
I looked up and as I did a patch of the sky just above suddenly turned bright blue. "Woo hoo!" I shouted, but before the words left my mouth it went back to bright white as suddenly as it had changed to blue. I flew to my feed and spun around - but bright white all around. I smiled - it's coming, I thought. This is gonna be great. But misty rain and clouds continued to swirl; I sat down again and returned to feeding.
Mite! Mite! (Look! Look!)" the other hiker shouted from behind me. I turned around and as I did a wide, sweeping mountain panorama opened revealing several mountain peaks glowing in the orange light of setting sun. Snowfields glistened; bright green mountain grasses waved like flags in the strong gusts. Trails of white fog swirled crazily as if on fast-forward mode. A rainbow of Purple, blue, violet, pink, white, and yellow flowers danced, celebrating the returning sun. Then, before I could yank my camera from its case, a huge looming cloud on a collision course smacked into the summit and the bright whiteness returned.
"Sh_t!" I said.
"Sonu abu a bi-chu!" the other hiker said in broken English, and we both smiled.
Now I remained on my feet, camera in hand, ready for the next clearing, dinner temporarily forgotten. Each time the clouds cleared they revealed another section of the spectacular landscape hidden all around us only briefly before covering up again. To the North, a brief clearing revealed a golden ridge swimming on a sea of lower-level clouds streching all the way to the horizon. "Beyond that mountain is the Japan Sea," the other hiker said. To the South, in a brief open window in the clouds the other two of the "Shirouma San-zan" (Mt. Shirouma Three Summits) appeared suddenly, huge torrents of mist draining down the ridges. I peered over the top of the cliffside in front of me. In the col between our mountain and the one directly to the South a river of clouds moving at perhaps 50 miles and hour flowed 5000 feet straight down to the trailhead. "Awesome!" I exclaimed. Then as I watched the area directly below me materialized. I took a quick step back instinctively, suddenly aware a fall off the cliff I was standing on would give me plenty of time to contemplate my own death as I tumbled 2000 feet straight down to the rocky gully directly below.
Quickly qualifying as one of the most spectacular moving landscapes I've ever experienced, the clouds continued their games, hiding and revealing over and over for ten minutes. I snapped pictures, ran out of film, put in more film, took more pictures. Then as quickly as the dance started it was over - the last lone cloud slammed into me, went through me, and behind it was only pure blue over a sea of clouds far below. Feeling as if being present at a play just after the final gripping scene, all the actors lined up for their applause and a final bow, I slowly spun around to see the full panorama for the first time.
To the North, the glowing ridge over a sea of clouds extending out to the horizon.
To the West, tips of high summits poking above the clouds, like boats in a busy hargor.
To the South, the ridge marking tomorrow's hike and extending out to the horizon, previously-hidden people dotted everywhere, no doubt experiencing the same scene as I.
To the East, 5000 meters below, the town I started out from in the morning.
Sometimes luck is with you, and sometimes not. It's the lucky times you should reflect back on, patiently waiting for the clouds to pass by.
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