Japan 2015! Day 2

Up at 6:30; I rolled over and remembered where I am: in Kyoto, with D, on a holiday! Wonderful awakening.

Breakfast was an egg, tomato sauce and devon cold English muffin from the Family Mart, eaten while we strolled. Then we caught the 204 bus up to Ginkaku-ji (230 yen, I think, each). The buses are odd – you pay when you disembark, instead of on boarding, and you need to convert note to make the exact change to pay in, too. It goes straight into a little slot, and the driver won’t change it for you. There is a notes converter on the apparatus, which spits out coins for you.

We walked up a beautiful little street lined with white-walled, black-tile-roofed houses and souvenir shops, before Ginkaku-ji opened, and so commenced by hiking up the track leading to the summit of Daimonji-yama (lit. Mount Daimonji, and surprisingly there are a few of them around Kyoto, which threw us a bit at first), where there had been a burning Obon effigy last night.

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Steep! We made a 400m elevation gain in two hours. The summit area turned into a series of false peaks, so we are uncertain if we made the summer proper – got to a picnic area overlooking Kyoto (if it hadn’t been fogged out, unlike our cool, misty view from the Obon platform further down) just as it started to rain. Spotted some purple, metallic beetles on the body of a dead toad – no photos, because it made my stomach flip, but I’m curious as to what they were. Some form of carrion eaters?

The spiderwebs were psychedelic – constructed not on a single plane like most that you see (envision the stereotypical web, stretching between branches or two corners of a room), but three-dimensional in form. Enough bugs.

Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, was meant to be plated in silver to compare to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, but the fellow who built Ginkaku-ji ran out of cash after having the pavilion and grounds constructed. The sand gardens here are impressive, though sand is a misnomer – they’re made of fine white gravel, piled a foot thick, before the familiar wavy patterns commence. The large cone symbolises Mt. Fuji.

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After strolling out through the moss gardens, we enjoyed a shaved ice (covered in shredded grapefruit, citrus jelly and lemon syrup for me), and a mochi ice-cream (for D), and eyeballed the souvenirs. Back up the hill to the gate of Ginkaku-ji, and then right, following the top road alone narrow, one-lane neighbourhood roads to Honen-in.

Honen-in was lovely and quiet, with cemetery and gardens, less trafficked by tourists than Ginkaku-ji. In the dark photo, the left-hand path leads to a cemetery, the right-hand steps to the city. I liked the (fairly obvious) symbolism, and the odd shape it made.

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Downhill from Honen-in, and we joined the Philosopher’s Walk, a path which follows a long, meandering canal. It is planted about with cherry trees and maple, making Spring and Autumn the times of year when it throngs with people. In Summer, it is verdant and breezy. D shot some wonderful butterflies and sleek, black dragonflies with his zoom lens. We detoured from the Philosopher’s walk for many temples, including one with a pair of ridiculously grinning guardian lions.

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When we reached the end, we walked back to the ryokan and showered before walking out and finding a 1,000 yen set lunch – French fusion at Cafe Pied de Chat. Cold chicken and fresh leek on noodles (slightly salty, but very tasty), cold potato cream soup (which was sweet and unbelievably delicious), ginger egg roll and (for D) cold vegetables in tomato sauce, and (for me) cold caviar noodles, which were regrettable – I managed one spoonful, through no fault of the dish. I just hated the flavour. It rained as we ate, then cleared.

After that we went to Blue Parrot II, an antique store, and the Kyoto Handicrafts Centre, which had lovely, delicated damascened sword guards, pendants and jewellery.

In the later part of the afternoon we walked to the Kyoto Municipal Museum…which is closed on Mondays. So instead, we paid the 600 yen per person fee to enter the Heian Shrine gardens. At first, we weren’t entirely impressed: it was jungleish, wild and overgrown, more like a botanical gardens growing rampant than a shrine garden. Then finally, we came to the lake.

A wide expanse of mirror-still water, hemmed by Japanese maples and dotted with small, vegetated islands. To the right, across the lake, a traditional Japanese building, the walls panelled in natural timber, the roof tiles the beautiful, ubiquitous bamboo style. And directly opposite us, at the further expanse, a covered bridge crossing the lake. It seemed too large a body of water to fit in the size of the gardens, the huge body of water bisected by a long, covered walkway.

We lingered there, taking photos… and then lingered even longer as the rain began pouring. A very serenity- and relaxation-inducing forced sit-in.

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We made it back to the shrine gates in time for an even bigger downpour to commence. After temple staff started closing the shrine gates, we slipped out the tiger-side (West) entrance, and watched the the umbrella-toting tourists waddle out into the rain like a flock of ducklings, one after the other across the downpour-beaten gravel.

Eventually we gave up on waiting for the rain to cease, put on raincoats, dry-bagged our cameras and splashed back to the ryokan, wetting our shoes in the process.

Another shower, then dinner – the first place we tried was unwelcoming; we got told it was smoking only, which was a polite hint to get lost, and left. Ended up eating at a little restaurant close to the ryokan, and were given sheets of yatsuhashi wrapped around beanpaste for dessert – truly lovely, the combination and cinnamon and red bean. Apparently these are a Kyoto speciality sweet.

Went to the women’s onsen after dinner, wearing one of the ryokan yukatas. I had the place to myself-  the key to getting into the steaming bath, it seems, is to sit under the hot shower for a while first, so that your skin warms up. The walls were cream and timber, little wooden stools and pails beneath individual flexible showerheads against the wall – you bathe sitting down, so they were suspended at waist height to a standing woman. The floors were dark, oddly-shaped black flagstones fitted together to create a seamlessly interlinked floor, which was angled slightly so that the water from cleaning preparatory to the bath drained away into a drain in one corner.

Our room in the ryokan:

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Japan 2015! Day 1

I know it’s been a while here on this blog *blows at cobwebs* and a good few weeks since I got back from traveling. Nevertheless, here is day 1 of my trip. There will be no climbing, but later there will be mountains.

Day 1: Landed at Haneda airport at 5:00am, and caught a train to Shinagawa, where D and I were to meet when he landed.

After trying to memorise the phrase “Can I buy a one-way train ticket to Shinagawa, please,” as my phone recharged at a public charging point, I discovered that they have ticket machines for the train. Derp.

Went strolling through the backstreets, admired a frog-shaped bubbler in a park, and found a cool Buddhist temple. Commenced melting at 8:30am. So. Hot!

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From Shinagawa, we caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto JR, and another short train ride brought us to our hotel for the first few nights, a traditional ryokan. We went for a stroll around the neighbourhood, taking in the local sights: the Heian Shrine, a massive tori gate, and followed a meandering canal into the quieter parts of Gion. There we found a beautiful Shinto shrine with stylised bronze foxes, the messengers of Inari, and an Arabianesque horse.

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After a dinner in the park of Family Mart sushi and cans of (amusingly awful) effervescent alcohol, we watched the Obon fires burning on the hills around Kyoto – the closest to us being Daimonjiyama, which rises about Ginkaku-ji and the Philosophers’ Walk, our destination for the morrow. Obon is one of the 3 main festivals, where citizens write the names of departed relatives or friends on blocks of wood, which are then carted up the mountains and arranged in the form of large characters, and burnt. The fires are to guide the spirits of the departed in their journey to the afterlife.

One final shower, some ripe figs, and we settled down for the night on our thick futons rolled out upon the pale green tatami mat floor. It smelt divinely of fresh hay.

Observations of the day: encouraging people to sit around in public by having seats around the place is not such a thing. And neither is providing bins for rubbish. Both were thin on the ground!

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Ogawayama Japan

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Japan!: Part 1 of Some, Alpine Villages and Mountains 22/09/12 – 05/10/12

I’m back! Apologies for not keeping up with the dialogue whilst traveling, but we barely had enough time to scratch our heads, let alone sit down and write blog entries (and certainly not enough time to learn how to drive my new camera… thank Gecko for the “creative auto” setting). Since we’ve gotten back, things have been a little hectic, so, apologies once more.

So in lieu of the normal rock-climbing, I shall divulge to you our adventures in Japan, which involved rock-climbing, some bouldering, some walking up mountains, a whole lot of culture and sushi, and dragging a burning pillar of straw around a village, what I like to call ‘Flambe a la Japonnaise’.

Our main climbing destination in Japan was Ogawayama, which as the crow flies from Hakuba, does not appear to be too far away. In actual fact, it took us about an hour and a half to catch a train from Hakuba to Matsumoto, and another 2 1/2 or so hours in the hire car to drive to Ogawayama itself.

It is a gem of a climbing area, and the http://www.ogawayama.com online guide is invaluable. It’s possibly one of the only guides for a Japanese area which has an English translation, and the directions for reaching the crag were spot-on. Thanks very much to the climber who has dedicated a huge amount of time and effort in developing both the area and the website!!

When we arrived, it was drizzling gently (this was to continue intermittently throughout the day); D’s folks managed to obtain an English-language map of the area, which also showed the main crags. At around 15-yen, it’s well worth 20 cents Australian. We saw a boulderer strolling into the carpark, mat on his back, and throughout the day heard screams from climbers ringing across the valley.

The scenic walk up is well worth doing, and as usual in forested areas in Japan, be sure to make a lot of noise – the bears there aren’t a joke, but apparently they’ll avoid you if they hear you coming. Frankly I thought the sound of bear bells was a little too similar for a dinner bell for comfort… “Coming right up! Stringy climbers! Get’cher snacks!”

Tracks to individual climbing spots can be a little difficult to spot – we slithered down a pine-needle and soft earth path, which rather resembled a wallaby track, and I half-expected it to evaporate amongst the pines at any moment. We found our way to the base of a crag, which, happily enough, appeared to boast a well-featured climb up the granite slab and out of sight over a mantle.

We kitted up, and D took first attempt…


“…How’s it going, D?”
“Awful!”
The granite slab was, I will not deny, full of features. They just happened to be negative, slappy, off-angle crimpy horrors. D decided to reinforce his way up and around the arete with some trad gear, and managed to get a second clip before, hearing exhaustion and frustration in his voice, I called for him to come down and take a rest.
My turn.
I like granite, a lot. I may have mentioned this before. So, strolling on up the easy base section, I quickly reached the part where D had been sieging the climb. It was nastier than I’d expected. I puttered about retrieving the trad gear, and managed to bridge between the main line and a mossy, suspiciously mobile outcrop of granite, and get up above the second clip.
Some delicate footwork later, the third clip was placed, and I continued the struggle to attain the next, before giving up. It was an unpleasant mantle movement, with little in the way of toes and some promising folds in the granite for hands which quite quickly turned shallow and unhelpful. If I’d balled-up, I definitely could have pulled off the move. Brave pants were not in evidence that day.

D’s parents came and watched us for a little while, then wandered off. We weren’t providing much in the way of spectator sports! Eventually we gave up on the lead climb idea, and hiked further up the hill and out along the ridge, to a point where we could rap down to the end of the climb, and set up a top-rope.
D made me promise not to take photos as I rapped to join him (spoilsport), and it’s a good thing he did, otherwise I might have tried wrapping the rope around my thigh to pin myself in place while I tried to take a photo of some horrendously frayed and faded tat, an aptly named Yosemite Triangle of Death (apparently).

In the end we each finished the climb, then had to make our way down to the car, and our waiting comrades. I’m super keen to get back there, and could happily spend a week or so camped out in the bowl of the hills, climbing and bouldering in Ogawayama’s beautiful scenery.

 

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Bushwalking, Climbing & Mountain-biking, Blue Mountains 8-9/09/12

The weekend before last’s record was unfortunately not written down for blog form, and by the time Friday rolled around, I decided that Silence Is Golden, and it was far too late to introduce those adventures. 

It was a couple of days which involved food poisoning, pinched nerves in spines, kicks in the face, climbing at Shipley, Father’s Day, cycling down into the Megalong Valley and some seriously freaky waitstaff. All in all, pretty good fun, but we’ll leave it at that.

 

Things have been a little busy lately; D and I are gearing up for a trip to Japan (many adventures! Climbing! Scary monkeys with pink faces! Hot springs!), and thus have been somewhat distracted from sitting down and talking about our recent days free from the grind.

 

On Saturday we fulfilled a promise to a friend of mine to go out for a bushwalk, which ended up being the walk from the Three Sisters down the Golden Staircase, across the valley and up the Furber Steps. 

It was very pleasant, delayed only slightly by difficulties involved in voting for the local council elections, so we all ended up meeting in Katoomba at around 11:30am. A quick stop to pick up lunch and a snack from the bakery halfway down the main street (why won’t you make more custard tarts? Why?? It’s like you’ve shown me heaven once, then snatched it away), then off to the other side of town, where the Three Sturdy Sisters squat on their perches overlooking the valley. 

 

T2 and one of the Eminems were out climbing in the mountains, and for once it was not an activity that I envied them, as the wind was gusting up to 50km/hr at times. That said, we did ogle the Three Sisters for a good ten minutes, wishing it was still permitted to climb there. Having heard that it is chossy and undesirable as a climb does nothing to detract from the fact that it would be a great place to be seen climbing, and a friend with a decent camera could definitely have fun shooting from the lookout platform nearby.

The walk down the Golden Stairs is an old favourite. Once you get past the first section of break-neck steps, liberally guarded with rails and choked with tourists, the descent down into the valley is lovely, with rewarding views across to Sublime Point, and deeper into the mountains. Everywhere you look there are soaring, peach -coloured cliffs, a bastion protecting the green floor beneath you. It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision yourself descending into the Lost World, and the discovery of prehistoric Wollomi Pines in 1994 supports this fantasy.

Aside of the breathtaking views, the descent of 900 steps itself is a little breathtaking, and our thighs were starting to do a bit of helpless twitching by the time we were two-thirds of the way down. If I lived locally, it would be a fantastic track to do regularly (if you managed to avoid falling down it and breaking your neck). 

Most common birdsound, the cry of the Christopherus Bratticus. It sounds rather like, “Are we therreeee yetttttt?” Donut privileges were duly revoked as a result, but it didn’t help.

Most amazing bird sighting was a dark plumaged lyrebird, which scratched about unconcernedly on the track in front of us, until D tried to take a photo of it.

 

Lunch was unpacked at the bottom of the valley, donuts were shared, and jackets were zipped up. Even well below the cliffs, there was still a significant amount of wind about. 

Being in the unusual position of knowing where we were a little better than the rest of the group, I directed our steps around the base of the Three Sisters to the Furber Steps. A little further along that track, there is a railcart which can take you effortlessly to the top of the cliff, but that’s an expensive cheat, and we had donuts to walk off.

An easy walk back around the cliff to the lookout after we topped out, and we were done, joining T2, M&M and a friend for dinner at the pub.

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Sunday morning, the air was completely still. Not the faintest hint of a breeze ruffled the leaves, which made it the perfect time to rap down the top pitch of Sweet Dreams at Sublime Point for a quick morning climb, before heading off for some cycling.

 

Sweet Dreams has become something of an obsession since we were blown off it some months ago, electing to instead walk back up and out. That morning, it was as though the Blue Mountains decided it was going to behave perfectly. D led the climb up, and I followed, taking some time to snap shots of the looming, airy cliffs around me. It was truly delightful, and deliciously exposed. I can’t wait to get back there on another still day, walk to the bottom and do the whole climb properly.

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D getting off ropes at the bottom of the last pitch of Sweet Dreams.

Back at the car we headed into Katoomba for emergency shoelace replacements, and then drove down to the base of the mountains to Glenbrook, the end of The Oaks Firetrail. It can be ridden in either direction, but we elected for the easier, more-frequently-downhill route, and caught a train up to Woodbridge with our bikes.

 

28km, 2 1/5 hours of some steady uphills, gentle undulations and some long, slightly technical, sometimes steep downhill runs which made the palms of our hands bruise despite the front suspension, and our arms vibrate up to the elbow. It’s a trail I’m keen to do again, though I think leaving it till the late afternoon was definetely the best tactic, as it is liable to be a bit crowded otherwise.

 

A great weekend, all in all. 

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Mountain-biking, Central Coast & Berowra and Climbing, Berowra 25/08/12

I must confess, there was no climbing done by myself this weekend (though I did belay D up some climbs, and had an interesting moment of possible personal protective equipment failure; more on that later). Having bought new mountain bikes recently, D and I have a mission: find trails. Ride them.

Saturday morning, I drove North to have breakfast with my folks, and to go out riding with them. This is no mean feat; they don’t mountain bike, but they do go on fairly long touring trips, from Brisbane most of the way down to Sydney, or around South Australia (~12-1300km each). Their trip blogs are here:

http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=9006&v=JA

and

http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=10866&v=Iw

…So I think it’s reasonable to say that they are probably fitter than I am, and their endurance for uncomfortable bike seats must be atmospheres higher than mine (their padded pants probably help).

After a sumptuous breakfast, many hugs and admiration of my lovely new Jamus X3 mountain bike, we piled into the car and headed out to a reserve, ending up at Katandra, which showcases a lovely view of the ocean out over Terrigal.

We started off down the narrow tracks which lead to the main fire trails; in Australia these run through most reserves along the ridges and down through valleys, to allow fire-fighter access when bushfires occur, and are fantastic places to walk, cycle or ride a horse along, assuming you are prepared to meet all three such locomotives on your stroll.

For a large section of ridge-top, the track from Katandra to Rumbalara is wide, 4WD-friendly space, fairly easy to cycle on. Further along, past the trig station, the track narrowed, and became littered with rocks sprouting from the ground like broken, rounded teeth. This was where my new pocket rocket came into its own, and I can honestly admit to shouting things like, “Wooohooooooooo–!” as it pogo’d its way down the narrow track, the shocks absorbing foot-high impacts beautifully (of course I aimed for the rocks, what else was there to launch from?).

Further along we needed to push the bikes, and still further, it became necessary to carry them up the steep section of steps, before cycling out along another obstacle-littered section of track, to reach the tarmac at the top of Rumbalara Reserve, after which Dad took me off down some kind of rabbit-trail, where rocks on the track were not so much a problem as seeing the track at all. Too much city riding, methinks.

We turned around and cycled home, where I narrowly escaped being mummified through sheer photo-quantity that the parents wished to show me of their recent South Australia trip.

“You can show me as many photos as you like,” I finally caved, “But you have half an hour in which to do so.” Ten minutes later, D called me to meet at Berowra, and I made my escape, with some photo-obligation time still pending.

Yes, Berowra of last weeks’ climbing.

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Ladder of Gloom, Berowra. If we climbed in horror movies, this toothy maw would snap shut on us as we went up it…

However, D and I were not there to climb. Not yet. Instead, we found a trail ride which looped around with a view across to the Mt. Ku-ring-gai climbing area, and huffed our way up slopes made of ball-bearings, fist-sized lumps of vaguely spherical sandstone.

At the end of this ride, I was pretty knackered, and was happy to belay D up a few climbs (he still had plenty of energy) at the Berowra crag, skipping up the Ladder of Gloom, and up another climb just around the corner from it, which he made look easy and desirable.

While he was safetied in and organising up the of the route, I happened to notice that there was an odd ridge in the top of the locking biner that I belay off. What the…?

No sense in worrying D… I grabbed a non-locker from my harness, and clipped that through the belay device, just in case of system failure on the way down, and told him when he was safely back at ground level.

I’ve since had a PPE-knowledgeable friend check it out for me, and it was judged that the faint ridge was a result of the cold-forging extrusion process, as there was a corresponding one on the base of the biner also. However… I’ve retired it, seeing as it is probably over a decade old.

Following that moment of excitement, we headed inland towards St. Albans, a lovely little valley where we were going to do a 40km cycle loop the following day, staying the night at the old sandstone pub…

ImageD most of the way up Ladder of Gloom, one leg fully inside the teeth…

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Berowra Climbing, 18/08/12

We rocked up to Berowra at the extremely civilised time of 11am on Saturday. The wind was blowing fairly strongly, and cut through clothes in a rather knifelike fashion.

Berowra is an interesting place to climb. It’s extremely dependant on the weather; a small shower will have the walls acting as waterfalls (and I have seen the entire wall a mass of pouring water before), and because of this, a whole lot of grit gets washed down onto the holds anew each time.

This debris-dumping aside, it’s rather chossy sandstone, and some of the climbs probably need re-grading, as the introductory moves have worn away from almost-mantle to slopey slapper.

There are a few fun practice trad climbs there, but on the whole it has bolts. Normally I don’t mind the area, but today, I found that I hated it with a passion.

More specifically, I hated my climbing there with a passion. Clearly I’ve been spending too much time doing easy vertical walls and slabs both at the gym and out at places like Tarana (the Gecko God of Climbing’s Own Country), and not enough on overhanging walls, because I felt like I had forgotten how to move in an off-angle, sustained manner, especially on horrible sandy surfaces ridged with ironstone.

It was infuriating, and not just because I sucked by my own standards, but because I was looking at my climbing buddies, who are normally far more awesome than me regardless, and going, “Damnit, why aren’t I doing at least a tenth as well?”

Climbing induced frustrations aside, it was lovely to get out in the intermittent sunshine, belay D up a total dog of a 24 (21/08 editted: not a 21) (high mantle start, evil), and watch T2 and one of the M&M’s show me how climbing on crazy things is done, even to the lobbing off section. A fair crowd of enthusiastic peeps were on show, and were kind enough to lend some of their beta to the better endeavors.

After simmering down on the drive home, I had to admit my failure to perform is definitely because I have not been pushing myself in training where and how it counts. I’ve got a whole basketful of wonderful excuses for why this is so… however, who cares? I’m the only one suffering because of this laziness and lack of self-discipline, and the solution is simple: Pull Out Thy Finger, and Jump On Hard Walls. Also, Thou Must Go To the Gym and Work Out in Non-Climbing Ways, Oh Thou Slacker, Thou.

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