Alighting from the cable car, we find ourselves on the saddle of Tsukuba-san.
The blue "birthday cake" in the picture below is actually a souvenir shop with a rotating restaurant on the second floor, accessed via a spiral staircase in the center of the building. The roof is an observation deck which offers excellent views. Not far away sits a row of yet more souvenir shops (sigh). This is how one "appreciates" nature in Japan.
From there, we started our hike toward Nyotai-san the higher of Tsukuba-san's two peaks. It was time for lunch so we started looking for a suitable spot and soon found a picnic table, just off the path. After lunch, it was onward and upward, and upward, and upward. The path was not smooth, but rather more like a streambed full of rocks in some places and rock steps in others. It was then that I started to notice something that surprised me about this mountain.
I made a couple of hints in the previous post regarding the nature of Tsukuba-san; its volcano shape, the "granite toad", and finding out "just what the mountian was made of". I took a year and a half of geology in college, and for one year spent two afternoons a week doing field work. I've gotten a bit rusty when it comes to identifying rocks and minerals (having spent the intervening years on a volcanic island), but it was obvious that the mountain we were hiking on was not a volcano. The rocks are all igneous - the upper part of the mountain is hornblende gabbro with granite at the base and also coming out at the peak. I mis-spoke about the rock toad, I think it is hornblende gabbro rather than granite.
As we hiked, I had been teasing K to be on the lookout for the deadly poison-spitting toads of Tsukuba-san (which don't exist except in my imagination). She wasn't having any of it, when suddenly we came upon something far more fearsome. A stone-spitting rock toad! We had left Momo at home, so would have to fend for ourselves.
The mouth of the toad is about three meters up. People try to toss a pebble into its mouth. If the pebble stays in the mouth the person gets good luck or has a wish granted. Most pebbles either miss the mouth entirely, causing it to ricochet, fail to stay in the mouth, or if they do, end up knocking someone else's pebble out (presumably that poor person's luck changes for the worse or they lose their wish - poof!). All of this stone throwing means that the toad is constantly spitting out pebbles as fast as people try to throw them in. It reminded me of the game of beanbag and a line in a W.C. Fields movie where he says: "Beanbag? Ah, very good; it becomes very exciting at times. I saw the championship played in Paris. Many people were killed."
K almost managed to get a stone to stay in the mouth, but I have little patience for such things. We had survived the attack of the stone-spitting rock toad in any case and so moved on. Ever upward. Never give up, never surrender, and all that.
My right knee can give me trouble at times, like when climbing endless steps (one of the reasons I choose bicycling over jogging). I had brought an elastic support for it, but it was safely at the bottom of my pack where it could do no good. Finally, after passing another outdoor eatery, we reached a lookout at the base of the last stretch of steps to the summit. While I enjoyed the view, K danced on up the steps like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Shirley Temple in the "The Little Colonel". Well, maybe not quite like that. I felt like sitting down on a boulder, but pressed onward and upward.
We passed one more souvenir shop - this one operated by the shrine,and the small shrine next to the peak where K stopped to make an offering and a prayer, and finally reached the top of Tsukuba-san. The out-crop of rock at the peak is granite and I scrambled up to the very top like I was still in college. The view was impressive.
As I climbed up the last few meters, I hadn't thought about how to get down. Suddenly, getting down seemed a bit problematical, but of course wasn't so bad (read: I miraculously escaped injury).
We retraced our steps past the shrine
and down to a turn off which led down to the ropeway station. Two things bothered me about this. Firstly, I realized that as this was a round trip, the further we hiked down hill toward the station, the further we would have to hike back uphill on the return journey. Secondly, the word "ropeway" which is commonly used in Japan bothers me from an engineering standpoint. Do they really rely on mere ropes? It is not a term that engenders confidence. "Arial Tram" is the same thing, but the very name sounds like something of substance that one can trust with one's life. I mean, which would your rather entrust your life to, a "ropeway" or a "steel cableway"? Of course they use STEEL cable (they make a point of saying that system was built in Switzerland), so why do they persist in calling it a "ropeway"?
While standing in line, we note that the map on the station wall shows the elevations of the ropeway station, peak, and cable car station relatively accurately with the peak being a whole lot higher than the cable car station. At the other end, where we purchased our ticket, the map showed the peak and ropeway station as pretty much on a level with the cable car station which makes it look like an easy stroll - not the major stair climb exercise it really is. Hmmm....
We boarded the ropeway car with ump-ditty-ump other people and tried to look non-challant while grabbing the overhead straps. As the car went over the first tower and swung gently on the tiny thread - um, steel cable - everyone (except me) gasped in unison. Silly, when one considers how many times a day this machine opperates, day after day, year after year, after year. Like people who vocalize some kind of relief (or god forbid, even applaud) when an airliner lands. As a pilot, I always find that particularly annoying. Jeeze, Louise, you'd think they were riding with Lindbergh and landing in Paris in 1927 rather than being on one of the safest forms of transportation in the world in the 21st century. But I digress.
Sorry. This is supposed to be a dramatic part, as our very lives are dangling by a tiny thread over the abyss! Ah! If only I had gotten that pebble to stay in the toad's mouth, we'd be assured of safe passage!
The ride was smooth and view was nice, except that the car is a bit crowded and we were in the center, limiting the visual experience. We spotted a beautiful red momiji tree and made a point to position ourselves by the window on the way back up to get a picture of it. We remained in the car for the return journey. Not easy to get a decent picuture through the tinted glass, so forgive the "softness".
Back at the upper ropeway station, I slip into the gent's to put on my knee support. Of course there is a combination restaurant/souvenir shop there, and we get a window seat and try some iced tofu. K is unimpressed. I like it. K points out that it costs as much as Haagen Dazs at the local 7-11 store. I point out that it is being served in a tourist trap at the top of a mountain. (Many of our exchanges go like that.)
Finally, we begin our journey back up the mountain - my aching knee - to a point near the peak before heading downhill (at last!) to the cable car terminal. Humor relieves my self-pity regarding my knee when we pass a young woman attempting to negotiate the trail wearing leather boots with stiletto high heels.
To be continued...
tune in again for part III wherein we plunge down the mountainside narrowly missing an oncoming cablecar and K finds a reason to climb up the mountain again!