27.07.2015 19:54

The Japanese people love ブランド (brands). In a society that rewards uniformity and conformity, and an educational system that encourages thinking in categories with sharply defined boundaries, brands are a very convenient framework to place oneself into a category, while depending on the brand image to convey whatever message is deemed important. It's not like independent shops and no-name brands don't exist, but the prevalence of chains and franchises is clearly noticeable, just as is the strong affiliation with mostly European luxury brands.

With that background, it is not surprising that even for the countless mountains, a brand has evolved. Admittely, the origins of the 百名山 (100 Famous Mountains) are rather humble. They stem from a book written by a mountaineer wanting to portray the 100 mountains he deemed most worthwhile, and didn't get much popularity out of climbing circles at first. Only after a previously established name, Crowsn Prince Naruhito, publicly endorsed the book, it became the de-facto reference for worthy mountains in Japan, and countless people made it their personal goal to climb all of them. The 100 listed mountains are marked in every regional map and local signage, and the list has since then been increased to 200 and 300 mountains.

As I found out after setting sights on it, 乾徳山 (Kentoku-san), in 山梨県 (Yamanashi-ken), didn't make it on the list of 100, but was included of the successor list of 200 famous mountains. That makes it slightly less crowded, but still gives the warm, fuzzy feeling of ticking something off a list.

Getting there is pretty straight-forward, there is a bus from 山梨市駅, and another one from 塩山駅. The latter one is preferred for a day-trip, as it arrives at the trail head around 9 in the morning, almost 45 minutes before the one from 山梨市駅. The bus stop is at 850m, so even on days with 37 degrees of heat in the valleys, it's kind of bearable. It also helps that the canopy is still mostly closed in the lower areas, and the pathes are rather easy:

This lower part can be a bit slippery, it seems to serve double duty as a drainage for rain, but other than that, it's winding up gently, and only moderately steep until about 1500m. At that point, for some reason, grazing deer can be seen, and since humans are passing by there all the time, they seem utterly unimpressed, even by a tall foreigner dressed in bright colors:

Shortly after, the trees open up for a grassy field, for the first incredibly nice view of the day:

In the 山と高原 maps, there is a symbol for a bathroom around that area. As it turns out, it's not completely made up, but calling it a bathroom is a bit of the stretch:

Note that even the sign omits the otherwise obligatory お-prefix, instead opting to call it a 手洗石, which basically means bathroom stone. That is a very adequate description - a stone with a brownish puddle, only to be used by the boldest and most desparate climbers. Following the path on the right, the slightly more interesting part of the climb begins, first with some gentle rocky stretches:

When reading about the climb, most people say it's challenging, and should be done only with significant rock climbing experience. What they are talking about is one short ascent, where 2 chains are installed for security:

The chains are on the left, and the rock is going up at something like 80 degrees. It's admittedly not for the faint-hearted, slipping there means falling down a couple of hundred meters on hard rock. But realistically, the contact areas for hand and feet are so big and gently placed that climbing up is easier than even the easiest routes in any bouldering gym. Convincing one's head of that is a different matter altogether, and of course, a minimum of upper body and arm strength is required, but it's really not as crazy as it sounds in most reports.

Having seized that obstacle, there are already a couple of flat rocky areas on the left, allowing for a quick rest with gorgeous views:

But of course, going the next 200m to the peak is what everybody comes there for, and after another steep wall, which can be completely avoided with a ladder, the peak is reached, opening for full 360 degree views:

There's a lot of mountain ranges to be ogled at, but of course, for most people the view to the south-west is the most popular one, and admittedly a great backdrop to sit down and contemplate life, just like this dude:

After taking in the views, and a bit of food, the descent can be taken the same way, or around the north side. I opted for the quicker return along the path I came from, and arrived back at the bus stop around 3 in the afternoon. The bus schedule is sadly a bit nasty, and the last bus toward the station is leaving at 5:30, making longer explorations along the ridge line a bit risky. There's always the fallback option of taking a taxi, but in order to avoid the hefty costs, checking the schedule in advance is highly advisable.