🏡 Gomadaira Mountain Shelter, Ishikawa → 🚓 Hakusan Shirakawa-gō White Road → Ogimachi, Shirakawa-gō, Gifu

Map of the Hakusan region with author’s route from the Gomadaira shelter to Ogimachi highlighted. 🗺 Open map1 in GaiaGPS (A,B,C) →

Pink flowers in the undergrowth.

Grass flattened by last year’s snow in a mountain forest.

A strange, completely white plant poking out of a carpet of brown leaves.

A harvestman spider climbs up a tree.

A heap of last year’s snow, covered by leaves, at the edge of a forest.

The author’s muddy trousers hanging from a clothesline in a mountain hut. 📍 Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

A Japanese lunch set of grilled trout, rice, miso soup, and various side dishes.

A ground-level view of stools and washtubs inside an old bathhouse. 📍 Chūgu Hot Spring, Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa

It took another four hours of hard walking to reach the valley from the hut, and the savage Japanese wilderness turned into pampering Japanese civilization in a blink. I ate my picturesque lunch, washed the blood and the mud from my legs in the picturesque onsen, then I sat outside for a long time, watched a troop of monkeys roll out of the forest, and thought about the mountains of the mind.

The dashboard of a Toyota utility vehicle belonging to the Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road highway patrol.

The Toyota utility vehicle, yellow and equipped with light bars, parked on a road with heaps of snow in the background. 📍 Hakusan Shirakawa-gō White Road, Hakusan National Park, Ishikawa→Gifu

There are bears,” the highway patrolman said when I asked him why I couldn’t walk on the road. I may have walked off Hakusan but I walked into a dead end: the only road leading out of the valley was the White Road, which allowed no pedestrians. I was reduced to asking the highway patrol to drive me across. I sat in the back, ashamed and numb, our Toyota the only traffic, and left Ishikawa Prefecture for the second time as we crossed the freezing pass into Gifu. The White Road was perhaps the most beautiful mountain road I had ever seen, but its beauty was perfect and empty, and it left a gap of 25 kilometers in my footsteps across Honshu.

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.

  1. This was the fifth of seven days when I didn’t walk every step of the way. The Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road, where I ended up after my traverse of Hakusan, is a toll road that doesn’t allow pedestrian traffic. Lacking food and proper equipment, there was no way I could traverse the mountain again to look for another route into Gifu Prefecture, where I was headed. After the road was closed for the night, I was driven across it by the highway patrol, then picked up my journey on the Gifu side of the pass.↩︎