Last May we took a quick trip over to the Hakone area to go to this crazy onsen that has everything from a coffee bath, a wine bath, sake bath, and a pool you dip your feet into and let little fish nibble off your top layer of skin. We also were able to see another side of Fuji I had not seen before once we reached the Gotemba area. The city of Gotemba has got one hell of a view! I took these shots from their shrine, which was also nearby an awesome camp spot we found that was cheap and had a pretty amazing view of Fuji as well. I think I actually enjoyed the Gotemba area a bit more than Hakone, which is probably blasphemous to even say as so many people love Hakone, but that is the problem.. So many people in Hakone!
Of course, every time I go through my shots of Japan I miss it quite a bit, but it is easy to forget that during the spring time when I took these shots I had the worst allergies of my life! I could barely sleep at night for over a month during our last year there. I guess that is the price exacted by Mother Japan for so much amazing photography potential.
This iconic mountain looks like a mini Fuji. I had always seen Yōtei-san in the background of ski movies and in ski magazine pictures. I thought there were actual ski resorts on the mountain itself, but it is actually free from any of that. I cannot imagine how nice it must be at the top admiring the surrounding mountains before dropping in to the valley below!
Took a little New Years break ski trip up north to Mt. Erciyes, a big 3,916 metre stratovolcano that can be seen from Cappadocia. When we arrived at night, it was extremely bright out due to the full moon, which I hear was a blue moon. Me and one of my friends eschewed the New Years festivities at the deluxe hotel that we had booked and decided to enjoy the blisteringly cold night air with our cameras.
I pulled out my handy LED key chain light to graffiti the mountain with a New Years declaration about some girl I know named Amber who should have been there to partake in the lovely wind chill with her husband!
These long exposures were really fun to play around with my flash as well. Me and my friend would hold my SB-600 flash and fire off the test flash a couple of times at each other while strategically hiding the flash unit from view of the camera to create some neat effects. Too bad my retarded ass kept moving around between flashes so that I look like a fragmented apparition!
Combined, neither me or my friend had enough common sense to at least dress up warm enough to stay out in the cold for very long, a damn shame because the views were simply amazing. After about an hour and a half, our tennis shoes became the weakest link and we had to quick pack everything up and head back to a warm car to try and regain feeling in our feet. While packing up we noticed our gear was extremely frosted over.
Modern gear is pretty damn awesome though; it all kept working so well, we had no idea it was all coated with frost until I happened to shine my LED on it. I think we were too preoccupied running in place and hopping around in circles like Indians for warmth! We headed out again the following night since this night was so amazing, but the 2nd time was so windy that we could not steady our tripods enough to take any sharp shots with such long exposures. I guess I’ll just have to go back again!
I haven’t been posting much and I really had to fight with myself to find the motivation to even process this photo real quick. I have roughly 5,000 photos in Lightroom from this year alone that I need to either delete or process and upload and I think this daunting task wears me out just thinking about it! Of course, many shots are multiple exposures, but that means a lot more work to propperly HDR, DRI, or both, then merge with the best exposure. Here is another shot during our trip to the Japanese Alps taken with the last remaining light of the day, looking towards Tsubakuro-Dake. It was extremely cold by this time and I am highly impressed with the people who decided to sleep in those tents that night. I have never had a warm night camping on snow, and I have never even tried to do it on the edge of a windy ridge.
This weekend we did an overnight trip to the Japanese Alps to climb Tsubakuro-Dake. I was amazed, in fact, it makes me quite frustrated to see such an awesome area and have to go back to big-city Tokyo. I would love to be living at the foot of these mountains because they are absolutely spectacular!!! Here is a 3-picture-HDR-stitch panorama taken from the peak, which is 2,763 meters high (9,065 ft.) We hiked up in a thick mist, which is exactly how I imagined hiking through the mountains of Japan would be, and even hit snow midway up the trail. We really had no clue what the scenery looked like on the way to the hut because of the heavy mist and thick fog near the ridge line on the final push. We ended up staying at a really nice hut that served pretty damn good food. In the evening it cleared up for a little bit and saw the most unexpectedly amazing view, and realized the actual peak was a mere skip and a hop away. Anyways, here is a shot of the Enzanso hut at night with the full moon about to peer through the clouds. Needless to say, it doesn’t feel right to stay in such a nice building near the top of a mountain, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the food, the comfortable rest, and the warmth since it was really cold at night. My dumbass forgot to check my camera ISO again and took all of my shots @ 800, which is pushing the D80 beyond its’ limit. I didn’t realize this until I was packing to head down. Doh! I hear this is the easiest hike of all the peaks in the Japanese Alps. This hike wasn’t all that difficult, even in the snow. Below is a picture of the mid-mountain hut that gets supplies via a rickety old tram. I recommend the curry Ramen. I feel kind of bummed I will be leaving soon and will miss out on more trips to this area. If anyone is interested to see some amazing pictures and stories of some sketchy ascents of other peaks in the area; look no further than this blog right here. Just don’t blame me if you suddenly find that you have just lost track of the last couple of hours going through the posts.
Here we are, 2,160 meters up on the tallest of five peaks of Mt. Huashan in the Shaanxi Province of China, South Peak. The layout of the upper mountain makes it easy to summit all five peaks within about an hours worth of time if you have some spring to your step. The mountain is basically surrounded entirely by sheer cliffs accessed by a couple of narrow, often sketchy trails that would excite any lawyer in the states within a 500-mile radius. Taoist temples are sprinkled about this massive, flower-shaped spire of rock, lined with iron links of chain to accentuate the thousands of steps carved into the skin of the mountain.
The main trail is actually lit in a lot of areas, full of handrails, and has steps carved or paved anywhere that it is steep. It is still breathtaking in many areas, but this is not the crazy part. For 元30 per person you can strap on an old chest harness and take a walk on wooden planks that cross a section of sheer cliff that is well over a 1,000 foot drop straight down. It is kind of short and delivers you to a little shrine that has been carved into the side of the mountain.
This is the entrance to the plank walk, and in person it seriously looks sketchy. In some countries, just because you are allowed to do it, that does not necessarily mean it is safe. That thought made this very interesting, but those springs along the cable you run your carabiners across looked like they would do a great job of padding your fall. I just hoped that the anchors would hold. I was actually fine walking down the ladder with my back to the wall and my face towards the cliff.
Once I reached the planks where you walk across the cliff, things started to change, my boys became light headed, and I started concentrating on the precipice directly under me and it was beginning to whig me out enough to have to consciously not look down for more than a few seconds at a time. The entire time we were doing this, we all had frozen hands from the strong winds and rain that was constantly falling. My wife and the lone Canadian badass from Canada we came across in our mountain top dorm room, Sam, were both completely devoid of any worries. I felt like a wuss, but it sure was fun, albeit a bit short with only about 50 meters of plank each way.
We felt extremely lucky to be able to do this. For Sam and both me and wifey, this plank walk is the reason we booked tickets for China. There is a gate that opens at 9am to let you into this area, and we were worried it would be closed due to the strong winds and rains. Not in China. I love that country! For those interested in the logistics, you can take a train or bus from the Xi’an train station to the base of the mountain. The buses (East side of train station) head up for the West Gate entrance of Huashan (120km) at regular intervals and will cost 元30 per person each way. It was about an hour and a half and you are dropped off at the very base of the mountain and it surely looks more intimidating than it is. Entrance fees are 元120 per person. The first 4km are easy going, then you start getting into spectacular scenery and some perilous sections of trail from there.
Lodging on mountain is plentiful with at least 6 Inns, and during the weekday they were all but vacant and ran us 元100 per person in a cold, and very stale 6-person dormitory. There are private rooms, but they cost a lot more. We stayed on the East Peak since that has the best view for a sunrise. Don’t miss the breezy chance to drop trou, literally off the side of a cliff as the wind caresses your ass cheeks. A bucket of ramen will set you back 元15 and water about 元10. In case you were wondering, 元100 is roughly $15 US dollars, so this is really dirt cheap in the grand scheme of things, but expensive by Chinese standards. There is a cable car that takes you near the top of North peak and we elected to take that down just for the hell of it. That was 元60 for a one-way trip, although, I wished we had hiked down the trail below the tram, it had amazing waterfalls that Maynard, my trusty and sometimes fogged over Nikon, missed out on.
Getting back to the bus stop at the base of the mountain will cost another 元10 for a quick bus, and another 元10 taxi ride to the West Gate to meet the 元30 bus that heads back for Xi’an. If you are ever in Xi’an, do not miss this climb! It can safely be done at night, in the rain, or even in the snow as long as you are dressed right and bring a head lamp while carefully holding the hand rails and methodically placing your steps on the really steep sections. Do not miss this!