It was late October, and the snow was early that year. The road was still open but the car park was virtually deserted when Jeff and I turned up early in the morning. Luckily the snow was not deep enough to obliterate all trace of the trail so we followed it over the gently undulating terrain towards Fuppushi-dake. Once in the forest we climbed steeply up through tree branches brushed with fresh wet snow, refamiliarising our senses with the monochrome world of winter which we would go on to inhabit for the next five months.
The cloud was low and threatening, looming black on the horizon as we traversed the summit ridge. Away to the south, though, the Pacific Ocean gleamed a strange golden-orange against the gloom, the half light picking out distant industrial facilities along the shoreline. It was a moody and magical contrast. We returned down the trail, descending the slippery chimney carefully on the chain, and then picked our way along the crater rim to Tarumae-zan. It was cold now so we didn’t stay long before dropping back down the tourist track to the car, our bones anticipating the warmth of a steaming onsen and some equally steaming ramen.