After our hikes around the lakes, we had lunch, and then geared up for our big hike up Karakuni dake, a no longer active volcano. It took us a couple of hours to get up there, and it was pretty rough hiking. The landscape was quite barren, and very very rocky. And just as we were beginning our ascent, about 1,000 junior high school students were in varying stages of their descent. (I'm not exaggerating here, folks!) All students in Japan are taught that when mountain climbing, etiquette dictates that you should greet every climber you meet on your way. For us, this meant hundreds of "konnichiwa"s, some genki "harroh!"s (that would be hello), and some cheeky, "how are you? i'm fine thank you and you?"s (at least they answered their own question, freeing us to plod right past them.
This is the caldera at the top... impressive, don't you think?
The triumphant hikers! We enjoyed the top for a bit, but when the clouds started surrounding us, it got misty and cold, and we decided it was time to go down, down, down...
The last three pictures give you an idea of how steep it was on the way down. In some ways, going down was worse than going up. Compound that with my back problems, and you get "crungry" - the new word Jeff uses for me when I become the embodiment of grumpiness, hunger, and crankiness all at once, wrapped up in a rapidly deteriotating, not-so-cute package. I was ready for my hot bath!!
At times, stairs were provided, but they were rather steep.
And sometimes the path had been completely washed away, by rain and rockslides.
After we finally got down, we went for our usual hot spring bath. Let me tell you, if you ever have a chance to use a natural "wet" sauna that is heated by hot spring steam, please do! They are heavenly. I don't like dry saunas, but the wet, steamy ones are amazing!
And yes, we did meet up with the Aoyamas, the couple that had invited us over for dinner. What a fantastic experience! They took us to their home in the countryside. There were big trees, big farms, and even big barns! Jeff kept saying it reminded him of Fenwick. We had a wonderful homemade Japanese meal...salad, sashimi, rice, yakitori, and Jeff's favorite, tonkatsu. And at nine at night, we fell into our futons and promptly fell sound asleep.