Grilled as you like it

Gas-san and Yudono-san January 22, 2010

lilies blooming near Gas-san’s 8th station

Happy new year! We’ve been away for winter break, but we’re back now, so I’ll pick up where I left off. Here are some more photos from our trip to Dewa Sanzan in Yamagata.

After breakfast at our shukubo on Haguro-san, we walked to the bus stop and rode the bus to Gas-san’s 8th station. Above the station there was a high wetland meadow, the Mida-ga-hara Marsh, with small ponds, green grasses, and blooming lilies and skunk cabbages. We walked around on the planked boardwalks for a bit until we found the real path to the summit.

Misty clouds collected along the path, obscuring the view ahead.

We saw plenty of yamabushi tour groups. We could hear them coming, too, by their tinkling bear-bells. Amazingly, some of these guys were hiking in thin-soled zori shoes instead of hiking boots.

the rippled surface of the melting snow

As we climbed higher, the clouds began to clear up, revealing some amazing views.

In some places, the stone path widened, and seemed almost like a road. Here, some small flowers peek out from their sheltered spot.

We found a large pile of rocks in a sunny spot, so we stopped for a late-morning snack.

The three peaks of Dewa Sanzan represent the three stages of Buddhist existence. Haguro-san is birth, Gas-san death, and Yudono-san rebirth. Just below the summit, we started to really get a sense of why Gas-san represents death. As we reached the boardwalk, the clouds became thicker and thicker, until we could barely see our companions in front and behind us. Signs warned us not to get off of the path. A fierce wind pushed across the ridge that we were walking along. At some points, you could look over the edge and see the clouds swirling in the chutes below. Even with our friends, it seemed lonely and forbidding.

Disappearing into the mist: here I go! You can just barely see Sarah ahead, but she’s really only about 20 feet away.

Finally we reached a big patch of snow. A rope was stretched along it, so we followed the rope. The clouds started to thin and we could see the view again. Here we were, at the summit. I can’t remember if we forgot to take pictures or if they just weren’t very good, but I don’t have any photos of the summit. There is a small shrine. You can go into the shrine and receive a ritual purification that ends with a sip of sake. The shrine is not very large, and the purification and tour were very quick.

After that, I paid a visit to the composting toilets at the summit. They’re driven by wind power, and are much cleaner and nicer smelling than any of the (non-composting) facilities on Mt. Fuji. Well worth the 100 yen use charge. Very cool.

As we were heading off of the summit, we noticed that everyone was taking a picture of some flowers that were growing near the path. I think these are black lilies.

We sort-of made friends with this yamabushi guy. He was pretending to kung-fu fight Alex with his walking stick. Later, he pointed out some interesting scenery to us and gave us some candies. He hikes fast though, so we lost him eventually.

Not too far below the summit, the path splits and most of the hikers coming down from the summit chose the trail leading back to the ropeway and Yudono-san Hotel. So that’s how they all got there (because they certainly didn’t come the way we came).

At the next split in the trail, we could hike up to the peak of Yudono-san or climb down to the jinja. Not having packed lunches, we were losing some steam at this point, so we decided to head down. It’s a good thing we did, because the rest of the descent was much more obstructed and took significantly longer than we thought it would.

kissing skunk cabbages

In a clearing about half-an hour to an hour from the bottom, we found a seating area. A Japanese couple from Tsuruoka was there, so we chatted for a bit with them. They said that the yamabushi had left some sashimi-takenoko. Gas-san is famous for its thin and tender bamboo shoots that can be peeled and eaten raw. Here you can see the Gas-san takenoko; one of them has been peeled and is ready to eat. As we headed off, the man said that we shouldn’t waste the takenoko, so I wrapped up a big handful to take home. At home I blanched them and had them with a dab of kewpie mayonnaise. Delicious!

Just after our break in the clearing came the tough part. The picture above looks like a small, dry-ish waterfall, right?

Nope, it’s the trail!

The last section of the trail was steep, muddy, and super-slick. The guidebook mentioned rusty metal ladders, but they were completely covered in mud. We couldn’t even see the ladders–all we had to hang on to were ropes, or sometimes just the trees and bamboo growing alongside the trail. Bamboo looks like flimsy grass, but it’s surprisingly tough stuff.

ghostly flowers spring up from the fallen leaves at Yudono-san

Finally, we’d made it. Lightning papers adorn the bridge to the Yudono-san shrine. No photos are allowed inside the inner shrine, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

The last leg took longer than we had expected, so we had to be quick at the shrine before hopping on the shuttle and then the bus back to Tsuruoka. By a stroke of bad luck, I wanted to get a Coke because I was really thirsty, but didn’t have time before we got onto the shuttle. At the Yudono parking area, where we transfered to the bus, all of the vending machines were sold out! I spent my parched ride back to town wishing I had gotten one before I got on the shuttle. Finally though, I got my omiyage (dadacha-mame), a Coke, and relaxed on the way back to Gunma while watching the sun set over the sea.

See more of our photos from Gas-san and Yudono-san on Alex’s photoblog.