Shiramine, Ishikawa → 🏔 Hakusan🏡 Gomadaira Mountain Shelter, Ishikawa

Map of the Hakusan region with author’s route across the mountain highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

Dawn colors in the sky above a mountain forest.

Flowering pink azaleas against fresh green leaves.

A vast Japanese birch tree against the blue sky.

Trees sticking out of last winter’s snow on a mountainside.

Climbers ascend a steep snowslope against a mountain scenery stretching to the horizon.

Looking down on a cluster of red-roofed mountain huts in a snowfield, behind them is a range of lower mountains. 📍 Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

The mountain’s mantle of snow grows ever more dappled as spring wears on, with most of the lingering patches gone by mid-June,” Fukada Kyūya wrote in One Hundred Mountains of Japan, but the mountain has apparently yet to read the book. The lingering patches developed into pristine snowfields by the time I climbed above 2,000 meters, and for once the Japanese hikers — who dress for the smallest hill as if making an attempt on the South Face of Annapurna — didn’t look comically over-equipped in their crampons. Sparkling with the mad energy that only altitude and coffee can give, I flew past them, towards the indigo sky.

A man admires the mountain scenery from the summit of Hakusan.

Panorama of the Hakusan summit region, looking northeast towards the Hida Mountains.

Looking out over a crater lake, mostly frozen over, across the lower ridges of Hakusan, towards the Hida Mountains.

One of the small crater lakes immediately below the Gozengamine summit of Hakusan, its sides completely covered in snow.

A steep snowfield leading down Hakusan, with Mount Ontake on the horizon.

Looking back on the summit peaks of Hakusan, mostly covered in snow. 📍 Gozengamine, Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

The shoots of a plant breaking through the ice.

A partly snow-covered ridge of Hakusan.

Dwarf pines, mosses, rocks, and a bare tree-trunk.

A cherry tree in bloom against the summit area of Hakusan and the blue sky. 📍 Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

The breadth of Central Honshu probably makes it impossible to walk the length of the country in step with the cherry blossoms, but I haven’t given up yet: two months after walking out of a Kagoshima blanketed in pink petals, I stepped into a clearing on the northeast ridge of Hakusan, more than 2,000 meters above sea level, and saw a grove of cherry trees in full bloom, thriving, somehow, in the great big white world of this harsh mountain.

Looking down on a trail leading across dwarf pines, with mountain scenery in the background.

A large, perfectly round hole in last winter’s snow.

A dwarf Japanese birch tree standing in a snowfield.

A gloomy pine forest by a snowfield under a cloudy sky. 📍 Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

The setting sun viewed through a thick forest. 📍 Gomadaira Mountain Shelter, Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

Some improvisation was necessary. I […] made the fingers of my right hand as rigid as possible. I would try to stab them into the snow, using them as an axe-head to give myself purchase,” Robert Macfarlane wrote in Mountains of the Mind. I remembered his words on the long, lonely, terrifying descent from Hakusan, as I made the fingers of my left hand as rigid as possible, and stabbed them into the snow, using the other to cut steps with my teacup, so I could traverse the mountain’s countless June snowfields. The snow held, the ad hoc axe worked, the trees and the bamboo grass came to my aid, and when, after a long day’s walk, I hacked and pulled myself from the icy undergrowth to a hut at 1,800 meters, the evening sun lit up the forest like a fireball.

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.