Monday was a holiday in Japan, so several of us (Mizuho, Takaaki, and Franz) took advantage of the day off to go climb Mt Meakan. This is the highest mountain in Akan National Park and an active stratovolcano in the Kurile arc, though it has not had significant activity for ~10 years! Our hike began with us clambering over roots of trees as we headed up the steep incline in the boreal forest. I was thankful that it was not a hot day, as we had dense fog blanketing everything and cooling the air down.
As we continued climbing up through the forest, there was a sudden shift to nearly a monoculture of stunted pines. These were at a much higher elevation, thus no more boreal forest. Normally, we could see a beautiful view looking down, but, well... there was a little fog. So we were treated to an eerily beautiful and peaceful view instead.
Soon even the trees were nonexistent as we entered into the moonscape above the tree line. Here there was little protection from the wind and fog, and the going was much rockier. Having never done the climb before, it was interesting to be completely in the dark as to how much further we had to go. However, mountains in Japan are divided into 10 sections, with a marker after each section. Therefore, I always knew what percentage of the mountain we had left to go before reaching the highest peak.
At the summit, we couldn't see very far. I thought I was hearing a highway with lots of cars (strange), but in fact it was the constant noise of steam escaping out of a small hole in the volcano. As we started climbing down the opposite side of the volcano, the fog began to lift and we could start to see the turquoise blue lake in the crater near the sulfuric steam clouds. At times, we covered our faces with towels as the foul-smelling steam would occasionally drift over us.
On the way down, we saw the same zones in reverse. This time in the boreal forest I kept my eyes open looking for the Koro-pok-guru, the little people in native Ainu folklore who live under the giant leaves of the butterbur plant. Spoiler alert: I didn't find any. I did find some really neat glowing luminous moss (Schistostega pennata?) while peering into a hole in a pile of rocks though, which I had never seen before. I was amazed that it was clearly glowing in the daylight, and how it was near the trail though it's probably a rare find. At the end of our hike, there were several onsens (hot springs baths) to choose from, so we could ease our tired muscles before heading back to the station.