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Backpacker Magazine – November 2013

Best Discovery: Hai Country, Japan

Can you really find true wilderness in the most civilized country on Earth?

by: Ted Alvarez

Sulphur vents steam below 7,516-foot Mt. Asahidake.
Sulphur vents steam below 7,516-foot Mt. Asahidake.
Dwarf Azaleas bloom in the first few weeks of July.
Dwarf Azaleas bloom in the first few weeks of July.
Guest shoes line the entrance to Hakuun Hut.
Guest shoes line the entrance to Hakuun Hut.
A sign warns you're entering bear country near Kogen Onsen.
A sign warns you're entering bear country near Kogen Onsen.

“When Daisetsuzan bites, she bites very hard.” 

The guide’s words from yesterday—about the park in which I’m now hiking solo—rattle in my ears as I watch a fogbank barrel up a forested valley 3,000 feet below. It leaps over a banded cliff, races across tundra, and blows in my face, mixing with the haze rising off the 35-degree remnant snowfield I’m picking my way across. Vast mats of flowers in magenta, indigo, and pale yellow blink off like Christmas lights into the murk. 

Then I hear thunder kettledrum in the clouds above and behind me.

I scamper across the remainder of the ice and duck under a 2-foot-tall hedge of Siberian dwarf pine to pull out my topos, labeled with ornate and indecipherable Japanese kanji characters. I rotate the map several times before I get my bearings. The near-vertical, jumbled ridge I’m supposed to scramble down next, in my attempt to traverse the park, presents in person as a flat, gray wall. On the map, the now-departed guide left an English tip in cute, bubbly handwriting: “Rock-Garden!!! Caution when visibility is unwell.” The wind steals my string of expletives. I came looking for wild. I’ve definitely found it—but Daisetsuzan is biting now, and it hurts.




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