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Hiking In Japan: A Near Death Experience

japan-graham-becThe hiking in Japan is amazing. When I lived in Nagano, I used to go hiking in Japan a lot with my friends, Graham and Doug.  One time, we almost died. Seriously.

It was a regular spring weekend in May. The cherry blossoms were out, and we had no idea we would soon be trapped in Japanese Alps in a flimsy two man summer tent. Nothing makes you appreciate life like having an experience where you think you may lose it.

I have always been one to take chances… and am always open to trying new things. Always. I tend to look at life as one big adventure strung together with mini adventures. Where some people are cautious when presented with something new, I tend to embrace opportunities and will normally jump in with two feet, smiling, and open to various outcomes.

Anyway, I lived in the Japanese Alps for 5 years before I was married. You may be surprised to know that Japan has some of the best skiing in the world, and the hiking there is incredible. In fact, Japan is 80% mountains. The mountains surrounding our little village, Omachi, were about 2900m high so we always had access to hiking in Japan and getting into nature for a couple of days. My friend Graham, myself, and my(now) ex hsuband Douglas, often spent weekends hiking up to a peak, enjoying a night at the top of the world, and sliding down the next day to relax with a can of Sapporo in a Japanese hot spring.

On one particular spring weekend, we decided to go up for night. Nothing unusual. It was something we were very familiar with and felt comfortable doing. So on that Saturday moring, we climbed for 7 hours, pitched our tent, enjoyed a hearty pasta dinner followed by coffee and kahlua, and a guitar jam late into the starry night. The next day was gorgeous. We hiked the ridge in t-shirts and enjoyed the hot sun on our faces.

Because it was such a perfect day, we were not in any rush to get down. We crossed the ridge and eventually started our descent about 1:00 in the afternoon. As we started down, the sky quickly clouded over and it started to snow. It snowed hard and fast. It didn’t take us long to realize the trail we had chosen was much too steep, and with the snow growing deeper, we turned around and headed back up to the ridge to find another way down. Our intention was to go down a trail we had just passed that was next to a hut.

But when we reached the top, we were hit in the face (literally) by a full on blizzard. Luckily, we had put our winter clothes back on when the snow had started. We couldn’t see where we were going clung together, arm in arm, and looked for small objects in our range of vision so that would not walk off the edge of the mountain. We came across a large rock about 6 feet tall, and were able to set up our tent up behind it. At this point, two of us were on the verge of hypothermia, so we climbed into the tent that Sunday afternoon, and got into our sleeping bags. We didn’t emerge until Tuesday.

By Sunday night, we had to melt snow to drink and were rationing our remaining pasta. The boys peed in bottles and I just had to either hold it or stick my butt out into the raging storm. At one point, our little stove broke, but we managed to fix it and cook our last noodles.

Late Monday night, we were all physically and emotionally drained. The storm was pounding our little tent, we were cold and damp, and our supplies were pretty much gone. But then a calm came over us and we all fell into a strange kind of deep sleep. We all dreamed of family and I remember feeling more at peace than I had ever felt in my life, despite the violent winds outside.

On Tuesday morning, we woke to quiet. It was the best feeling in the world. It felt like heaven. All three of us leaped from the tent to discover were had only been 100 metres from a safety hut the whole time. And that we were also only 3 metres from the edge of a steep cliff. We saw a single set of foot prints leaving the hut and realized someone else had been stuck up there with us.

I have never come down a mountain so fast.

We used our backpacks as sleds and when we couldn’t slide, we ran. All the way to the bottom and straight to the nearest hot spring.

It was hard to describe in broken Japanese and sign language and pictures why I was three days late for work, and I don’t think they believed me anyway. In any case, life soon went back to normal for everyone. But the experience has stayed with me and given me a deeper appreciate for life and the power of mother nature.

To this day, I appreciate and am grateful for every moment. Even the difficult times of which I have had my fair share. I appreciate the good and the bad, and to take lessons from both.

In the big scheme of things, I try to be careful but but not to be scared. Life is short. Give it your all. Have fun. And always be open to trying new things.

To Enjoying Life Now and in the Future,


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