2006/11/27

Tsukuba Doobie Doo - Part II

...wherein we are attacked by a giant granite oil toad, conquer Nyotai-san and find ourselves dangling over an abyss by a slender thread!

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.

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Nantai-san - the lower peak - and the blue birthday cake (arrow).

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.

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The Terrifying Stone-spitting Rock Toad "Gama-ishi"


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.

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K waits for me (or pauses to gloat) on the last steps up to Nyotai-san.

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.

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View North from Nyotai-san

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Villages, towns and rice fields below.

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
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Shrine atop Nyotai-san

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"?

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Japan as Disneyland - shouldn't we be hearing the "Matterhorn Bobsled" ride music?


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".

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Autumnal tints below take our minds off of the slender thread that holds our very lives in limbo.


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!

9 comments:

Don Snabulus said...

this looks like a 'musy visit' on our next Ibaraki trek.

Anonymous said...

OMG. This is awesome. I felt like I went on that hike with you. I'll be back tomorrow to read Part III. Too, too cool.

Happysurfer said...

Very nice. Reminds me of our Genting Highlands which is approx 2000m above sea level. It takes about an hour from Kuala Lumpur.

There's also a cable car service right to the top. We can also drive up. There's a place of worship, a Chinese temple about mid-way. The main attraction here is the casino - the only one on land in Malaysia. For the kids and the young at heart, there is an indoor and outdoor theme-park.

Unfortunately, we don't have autumn leaves.

Thanks for the refreshing outing and for the beautiful pictures, Pandabonium.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Dang...I really need to get out there one of these days! Maybe that's something to do this winter vacation since I can't go Stateside.

I thought volcanoes were made of igneous rock, as in hardened lava! Mountains created by tectonic pressure are usually made of metamorphic rocks like granite...or so I thought. Those that were carved out by wind or water are sedimentary rock, i.e. coagulated dirt. At least that's what I thought.

Was that a slip on your part, or am I totally confused?

Reena said...

lovely..

Pandabonium said...

Snabbie - 'makes for a full day of interesting sights and activities.

Hill Country Gal - thanks. part three will be up soon.

Happy - see? another mountain higher than Tsukuba-san. I hope it doesn't get an inferiority complex. :)

Moody - my bad. Sorry about that. Lack of clarity on my part, mostly due to my inability to fully explain the history of the mountian.

First - you are quite right that igneous rock is volcanic in origin coming from cooling magma. But it is magma that is trapped below the surface and cools in pockets which forms things like gabbro (a rather broad term) and granite. I should have clarified that I was referring to the lack of extruded igneous rock - ash, lava, and basalt - as seen on Fuji-san or in the Hawaiian Islands or Oregon. The whole range of the Tsukuba mountains is a mix of the former plus metamorphic rock and is something like 60 million years old.

So while volcanic action or at least hot magma created those rocks at some point, Tsukuba-san is not a volcano like Fuji-san, but part of a range that may have been lifted or folded or otherwise thrust upward.

Lacking a much more detailed knowledge of the geologic history of the area I'm guessing at that part, but I did read somewhere that Tsukuba-san's geology has been a bit of a mystery even to geologists until quite recently.

Thanks for pointing that out.

nzm said...

Excellent adventure!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Uh, oh...geologists can't explain Tsukuba-san! There we have it, folks! Indisputable evidence that Creationist theory is correct!!!!!

(Hey, if they can use that kind of logic concerning the Grand Canyon, why can't I...?)

Pandabonium said...

God could not be reached for comment...