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Hiking Yamagata

Mount Chokai 鳥海山

Mount Chokai is considered the tallest mountain in the Tohoku region (2,236 m). It lies on the border of Yamagata and Akita prefecture. However, the summit is in Yamagata. Therefore, Mount Chokai belongs to Yamagata. To hike Mount Chokai, it takes about 4 hours to climb up and 3 hours to get down. I was told that it wasn’t difficult, just long. That was a big fat lie. Anyway, to prepare for this hike, my friends and I made the effort to buy new backpacks, hiking shoes, and snacks.

On the morning of the hike, I woke up at 6 am to gather my supplies and to catch the morning train to Yuza with another JET. I was running late and ran quickly to the train station because I didn’t want to miss it.  I arrived at the station just in time. Unfortunately, the train had left early before its scheduled time. The next train was coming in an hour. We had no choice but to ask our friends to pick us up. Crisis averted. Thank god. The drive up to Mount Chokai wasn’t too bad. We were concerned if a small k-car full of people could get us up to Chokai.

At the beginning of the hike, we had a total of eight people. We started off together ten minutes into the hike. We took a small break at the first rest stop because it had an amazing view of Yuza. We went on a perfect day because the sky was so clear. Since I got distracted with the view, half of the group was gone. They had left to continue the hike. I stayed with the second half of the group. We started off slow, but I kept going because I wanted to catch up with the guys. At that time, I looked back at my friends and noticed that they were way behind me. So, I took off and never looked back. I was determined to find the guys who were way ahead of me.

When I was on my own, it was quiet and peaceful. And the views were amazing! Eventually, I finally caught up with the guys. There were only five of us left. It was a struggle to keep up with them. You should know that I rarely work out or hike before I came to Japan. Sometime later, our group split and, no surprise, I was behind again. Luckily, I had a friend to guide me along the way. At some point, we walked to a fork in the trail. The path on the right had wooden planks that lead up along the mountain. The path on the left was hidden behind the bushes and it looked suspicious. After my guide talked to a few people, we ended up taking the left turn.

I was skeptical to believe that this was the correct path. I was thinking “OMG. We’re going to get lost. Worst! We’re going to die!” But we kept walking. The trail got steep and I had to rock climb my way around a permafrost area. It slowed me down because I was too cautious. I told my friend to leave me and go ahead without me. So, I was alone again. When I was on myI own, I tried my best not to make any stops. But I cannot describe in words how difficult the hike was for me. I had hiked for over 3 hours and I was losing my energy quickly because I only had water and a few snacks. I can sense that the old Japanese men (I called them grandpas) took pity on me because I was struggling to walk. I ended up crawling my way to the summit.

At the summit!

As I got near the summit, I saw my friends waving at me. They were at another rest stop. When I finally reach them, I noticed that we were missing another person. So, there were 4 people left. At the rest stop, I thought that my painful hiking experience was finally over. I was dead wrong. It turns out that I had to rock climb up and down and up again to reach the summit. At this point, I was not a happy camper. Once I reached the summit, I didn’t want to move. I was exhausted and ended up taking pictures for other people who were there with me. Once that was done, we went back to the previous resting stop and found the missing people. It turns out that they took the wrong turn. For the other people in the group, they decided to turn back.

Later, we all headed back down and regrouped at the parking lot. When I caught with the group, I saw the grandpas! They recognized me and began speaking Japanese to me. However, I didn’t have enough Japanese to respond back. Now, I’m more motivated to study Japanese to make new friends. Yay! At the end of the day, we drove back to Sakata and had some delicious barbecue to end the long day.

At the end.

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