Back when I lived in Nagano and used to go hiking in Japan a lot,myself and two friends had a near death experience that changed our lives. Little did we know on that sunny day in May as we hiked up the 2900m TakimaGari that we would be trapped up there for next 3 days in a massive and sudden snow storm and come very close to death. Nothing makes you appreciate life like almost losing it.
I have always been one to take chances… and am always open to trying new things. Always. I tend to look at life as one big adventure strung together with mini adventures. Where some people are cautious when presented with something new, I tend to embrace opportunities and will normally jump in with two feet, smiling, and open to various outcomes.Anyway, I lived in the Japanese Alps for 5 years before I was married. You may be surprised to know that Japan has some of the best skiing in the world, and the hiking there is incredible. In fact, Japan is 80% mountains. The mountains surrounding our little village, Omachi, were about 2800m high so we always had access to hiking in Japan and getting into nature for a couple of days. Graham, myself and my ex often spent weekends hiking up to a peak, enjoying a night at the top of the world, and sliding down the next, most often to relax with a Sapporo in a natural hot spring.
On particular weekend in May, we decided to go up for night as usual. It was something we were very familiar with and felt comfortable doing. So on that Saturday, we climbed for 7 hours, pitched our tent, enjoyed a hearty pasta dinner followed by coffee and kahlua, and a guitar jam late into the starry night. The next day was gorgeous. We hiked the ridge in t-shirts and enjoyed the hot sun on our faces. Because it was such a perfect day, we were not in any rush to get down. We crossed the ridge and eventually started our descent about 1:00 in the afternoon. As we started down, the sky quickly clouded over and it started to snow.
It Snowed Hard and Fast.
It didn’t take us long to realize the trail we had chosen was much too steep, and with the snow growing deeper, we turned around and headed back up to the ridge to find another way down. Our intention was to go down a trail we had just passed that was next to a hut.But when we reached the top, we were hit by a blizzard. A full, blinding blizzard. Luckily, we had put our winter clothes back on when the snow had started. We couldn’t see where we were going so walked clinging together and looked for small objects in our range of vision so that would not walk off the edge of the mountain by mistake. By chance, we came across a large rock about 6 feet tall, and were able to set up tent up behind it. At this point two of us were on the verge of hypothermia so we climbed into the tent that Sunday afternoon, and got into our sleeping bags. We didn’t emerge until Tuesday.By Sunday night, we had to melt snow to drink and were rationing our remaining food. The boys peed in bottles and I just had to either hold it or stick my butt out into the raging storm. At one point, our little stove broke, but we managed to fix it and cook our last noodles.
Physicaly and Emotional Turmoil.
Late Monday night, after much physicaly and emotional turmoil, we all thought we were not going to make it through another night. The storm was pounding our little three season tent, we were cold and damp, and our supplies were pretty much gone. But then a calm came over us and we all fell into a deep sleep. We dreamed of family and I remember feeling more at peace than I had ever felt in my life, despite the violent winds and snow.
On Tuesday morning, we woke to a quiet, serene day. It was the best feeling in the world. It felt like heaven. All three of us leapedfrom the tent to discover were had only been 100 metres from a safety hut. And that we were also only about 3 metres from the edge of a steep cliff. We saw a single set of foot prints leaving the hut and realized someone else had been stuck up there with us.
I have never come down a mountain so fast.
We used our backpacks as sleds and when we couldn’t slide, we ran. All the way to the bottom and straight to the nearest hot spring.It was hard to describe in broken Japanese and combination of sign language and pictures why I was three days late for work, and I don’t think they believed me anyway. In any case, life soon went back to normal for everyone …except me. The experience stayed with me and gave me a deeper appreciate for life and the power of mother nature.To this day, I appreciate and am grateful for every moment. Even the difficult times of which I have had my fair share. I just try to appreciate the good and the bad, and to take a lesson for everything I do.In the big scheme of things, it’s important to remember to enjoy life fully and to be careful but but not to be scared. Life is short. Give it your all. Have fun. And always be open to trying new things.