With our 07:30 planned departure "somehow" delayed (who reset that alarm!) to 09:15 we managed to head west on the Tomei Expressway out of Tokyo with nary a traffic jam in sight. That's pretty normal for a Sunday drive; the outbound jams are usually on Saturday morning and inbound traffic builds up on Sunday evening here around the Big Mikan.
Destination: hiking up Mount Hinokiboramaru - which is part of the Mt. Tanzawa range of mountains - in Kanagawa Prefecture. Only about 90 kilometers from Tokyo - it's amazing how close Tokyo is to some really nice mountains. This particular mountain is about 1,610 meters high (5,300 ft.).
To get there by car take the Tomei Expressway to the Oi-Matsuda interchange and stay to the right after the toll gate and another immediate right at the fork. This puts you on highway 246. Follow 246 past Matsuda and turn onto highway 76 to go to Lake Tanzawa.
Keep driving past the lake - the road will become quite narrow in spots so watch for oncoming traffic. You'll eventually come to the Tanzawa Shizen Kyoushitsu (Tanawa Nature Center). If you're there on a nice weather weekend you'll know it by all the cars parked along the road, most with parking tickets (fines) on their rear windows. There was a Kanagawa police car at the nature center and the policeman inside the center must have made his monthly quota for tickets on Sunday! In other words do NOT park on the road. If the nature center's parking lot is full they have a small lot on the right side for 1,000 yen for all day, but drive past that & see if you can find a spot in the campground parking on the right just past the nature center. 525 yen for all day.
Okay - all parked & ready to hike? Boots tied tight? (No tennies for THIS hike!) Head up the road about 400 meters till you see the sign on the right pointing to the trail for Hinokiboramaru. It'll say 4.8 km. Be sure to understand that the 4.8 km is pretty much uphill all the way. We only found one place where we went down for a bit with a little level ground after that, but the rest was constant climbing. Lots of rocks, lots of tree roots to climb over, and many areas that are a bit washed out. There are some wood pole bridges over some gorges that look a bit shaky with the logs rotting out unnder the cross bars, but they must be okay as there were a lot of people - dozens - hiking over them that day. Normally when we hike we get some respite with some downhill and flat spots to let the old body recover, but this hike calls for some conditioning before you go. Be prepared!
Supposedly it takes 3 hours to get to the top. I wouldn't know. 3 hours later we were still about 1.5 km from the top and due to our late start we met many people coming down - that slowed us down a bit too as we had to wait on them sometimes. At our 3 hour point those coming down told us we were at least another 90 minutes from the top, maybe 2 hours, and there was a section where we were going to have to use a rope to pull ourselves up the slope. I've done that before - not so difficult - but I figured 3 hours up to that point was enough so we headed back down to a small rest area to eat a late lunch & rest a bit before starting back down.
The trip down was a lot more eventful. With a lot of people still coming down the trail was busy & as we came to one section with a washed out drop off where I decided to jump down to speed my descent and not hold up people behind me. MISTAKE!! The forward momentum of the jump meant I couldn't stop & the big tree I thought would make a good stopper must have moved, or the moss on it make it too slick to grab, so there I went off the side of the trail, head over heels, rolling & tumbling down the mountain side. I figured that the next time my wife saw me would be in a heap of crushed bones at the bottom of the mountain. But somehow I managed to get stopped by some small saplings, on my back like a turtle, with my head facing down the mountain. Every tried to get up from a ski fall when your head is downslope? Well, it's much like that - almost impossible. I managed to hook my leg around a small tree & lever myself around to where I could sit up & then get up. Meanwhile, I felt something a bit warm on my face & lo & behold - scalp wound! Those head wounds sure know how to bleed! Turns out it was about a 3 inch gash that took 6 staples to close when I got to the hospital later that evening.
Fortunately, the hiker behind me was ski patrol trained and he had an emergency kit with him. He cleaned out the wound, put some antiseptic on it, and another hiker gave us a triangular bandage to hold the gauze pads in place. Think rapper style "do-rag" and you'll get an idea of how I looked. That and my hat supplied enough pressure to staunch the bleeding. I owe thanks to Mr. Shimoda, the "medic hiker" for his assistance, but he only gave us his last name - no contact info - and the other gentleman who gave up the tri-bandage left without leaving his name too. Code of the hikers - help each other when needed.
I was actually lucky in that nothing was broken & I could walk the rest of the way down the mountain. We were in a spot where no helicopter could have gotten to me & it would have been a long wait for a stretcher to get me out. I guess they could have hauled my back up the hill to the rest area, where a helicopter may have been able to lower a rescue basket, but I'm sure glad I didn't have to find out!
It took us another 90 minutes to get down the mountain & fortunately whatever cut my head open didn't do any other damage (other than a scraped knee & shin) - no concussion, no dizziness, etc. From there it was another 2 1/2 hours to the hospital for my appointment with the staple gun at the Atsugi Navy Base emergency clinic (thanks to the military medics there - they did a very neat stapling job).
Now, back in Tokyo, and surprisingly pain free after all that - other than the very sore leg muscles from all the hiking (note to self - MORE GYM TIME!).
Good lessons learned though:
1. Always carry a well stocked emergency kit - those two bandaids in my backpack weren't much use for this.
2. Don't try to rush down the mountain - if you think you're holding people up - move aside & let them pass.
3. Take more water - that hike was very dehydrating.
4. Know the hike - don't exceed your readiness (our first hike of the season - tougher one than we should have done for the first one)
5. Wear your hat. It was shady & warm so I had my hat off. It may have protected my head a bit; at least not as deep / long of a cut. Or maybe I need a helmet!?
6. Get some alpine poles. About 75% of the people we saw coming down (and many of them older than us) had them & they would have been really useful, especially when we had to walk over the rocks to cross the river two times.
Of course this won't stop me from hiking, but you can bet your hiking boots I'll be more cautious & I'll be working on getting the legs in better shape for the climb (and the descent, which is actually harder on the leg muscles).