We were late in the season, and the locked up Seigakuso hut looked ugly and unappealing in the early morning light. I thought back nostalgically to the first time I had climbed Shari-dake many years before, remembering how the warden of the previous ramshackle old hut had invited myself and a local hiker in for a cup of sake on our return and regaled us with anecdotes. But today it was a chilly morning with nobody else around, so we pulled on our boots and set off.
There had been some recent wet weather and the stream was full enough to make us choose our crossing points with care. There had also been a sharp drop in temperature and a little further on we began to encounter ice. Soon it was everywhere, coating everything – rocks, branches, leaves, even a few remaining berries and fruits – in clear water ice as though they were delicately encased in glass. The effect was magical and breathtakingly beautiful, and something I had never seen before on this scale. It made negotiating the rocks by the stream rather awkward, however, and some of the little rocky pitches became definitely interesting.
We persevered up the Old Route and eventually the trail left the by now tiny stream and set off up through the fragile glass encased shrubs on the hillside. Ice tinkled down behind us as we brushed past. On the shoulder a cool wind greeted us but we followed the ridgeline up past the little shrine and onto the small summit. It was a clear day and the 360 degree panorama was stunning, from Shiretoko to the Akans, the caldera lakes around Teshikaga, and seemingly right below our feet the Okhotsk Sea coast stretching west to Abashiri.
We returned down the glassy hillside, now dazzlingly reflecting the sun from a million icy branches, and turned off onto the New Route for the panoramic descent through haimatsu dwarf pine down a minor ridge. After a small summit we dropped steeply back down to the stream bed for more careful boulder hopping, now enjoying the striking autumn colours in contrast to the icy world above, finally emerging once more at the trailhead. We agreed that it was a great mountain in its own right in any event, but the rare meteorological conditions had created a special kind of magic for us that day.