We had climbed about 2/3 of the way up yesterday--a trek that took us about 4 hours before we hit Hakuun-So. The winding gravel path gave way to steep volcanic rock as we passed from station 6 to station 7 and soon the many travelers that were clogging the path began to fizzle out. Suddenly, there were no more groups of school children in their matching "buddy" uniforms and white hats. Climbing was quite a challenge and it only got harder as the hours went by and as the air got thinner. Worse, about 1/4mile away from our destination for the night, it started to rain. Alas, we were so foolish not to take ponchos and our sweatshirts got soaked! This would prove extra costly as we awoke at midnight, forced to choose between wet jeans or shorts for the final 2 station trek to the top of the Mountain. I chose shorts, Betsy was lucky enough to have worn her shorts and leggings the day before, so she had a nice warm pair of pants to wear.
The funniest part of the night was when they served us all dinner. Of course we couldn't eat their meaty dish that looked like Salisbury Steak, so they served us some interesting veggie Japanese food that included seaweed wraps that were nicely tied in bows and various fermented or fried vegetables. The irony of it was, for the meat dish, they gave everyone spoons, but for the veggie dish they gave us chopsticks. The Japanese couple across from us couldn't help but notice and the four of us had a good laugh.
Reaching the top felt pretty good, but we raced up so fast that we had to wait over an hour for the sun to rise and only wearing shorts in 45 degree weather was pretty miserable. We even cut out a hole in a garbage bag so that Betsy could wear it like a homeless person. And to no avail. The clouds rolled in at about 4am and we couldn't see anything except the blackness of the sky turn blueish.
So we gave up and started heading down the exit path. We were a bit disappointed, but really proud of making it to the top (especially after how hard the book made it seem). But then, as we were headed down, we saw the bright pinkish ball fill the sky with warmth. It was beautiful through the foggy clouds, contrasting with the dark red of the volcanic rock of the cliffs. And it only got better-- after we made it down a little ways, we were underneath the top layer of clouds, about 1.5miles in altitude, and we could see everything. We were like floating in an airplane, with a sea of clouds below us with only a few peaks protruding in the distance. Just beautiful. The remaining 2.5hr decent was absolutely awe-inspiring.
Now, it's time for a real night sleep, something that we can't say we have had since leaving the States. We are staying at the beautiful Ryokan Sawanoya in Ueno Park, complete with Japanese baths, futons and our very own crazy Panasonic toilet...Ah, Japan.