Today's Notables

Training of the Mind on the Sacred Mt. Ontakesan (Part 2)

October 2003
Hisashi Furuichi

Lately, you hear about the popularity of hiking and mountain climbing, types of "trekking" that seniors do for exercise. In a recent newspaper article, I read a story that mentioned cases of tragedies when mountain trekking is done in too much haste and without preparation. I knew not to take mountain climbing lightly.
I left for Jinbocho the Sunday before the journey was to begin. With the boom in outdoor life, the Jinbocho I knew when I was younger has completely taken on a new face. I went into what seemed to be a quiet outdoor goods store and the clerk quickly approached me to ask if I wanted to try on hiking boots. There was even a steep rock climbing wall that moved. I told the young female clerk that I was going to hike the mountain and as she listened attentively, I began to fell like a sucker for I knew not what I was getting into. I took all her advice like gospel and bought the whole package. It came to a total price that you could buy a first-class driver (that's used in golf) but because I wanted maximum protection in case anything happened. It ended up being quite an investment. A pro climber teased me suggesting I try the Himalayas. I said nothing in return and just diligently packed my backpack with the various items the clerk suggested such as 4 bottles of water, thermos, rain gear, a vest, chocolate, candy etc.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain where the hike was to begin, the slope was very gradual from the parking lot area. Even then, after about 5 minutes of hiking I began to sweat having been cold 5 minutes before. Before I knew it, the mountain became very steep as though climbing stairs. Now I was sweating profusely and puffing hard. Then I thought, long sleeves was a bad idea and I really wish I had the hat. Then I remembered the towel in my backpack. But I had walking sticks in both hands and the group kept moving ahead. The sweat dripped in my eyes, and it took everything to keep walking. I thought this must be the first tough part, but we had just started hiking 15 minutes earlier. Out of breath, now came the next tough part. I asked when we were going to take a break and was told after 30 minutes of hiking. "I wanted to take off my shirt," I said but decide to wait until we got to the base camp. I was taking a towel out of my backpack and taking off my shirt, and before I knew it, the 3rd group behind us started catching up. I was thinking "how could they catch up so soon" and made the excuse that I had to remove my shirt. "Go with the 3rd group" I was told by the head climber in a voice that seemed like he was hardly out of breath. I kept walking behind the first group, but now both and second groups were getting farther and farther ahead. I knew there was no chance of catching up. Not only that, the trail up the mountain kept getting steeper all the time. The stairs that had been formed by previous hikers were growing less obvious. Instead we entered a level where there were big rocks. After about 30 minutes had past, I reached the place were the first two groups were taking a break. I had just gotten there when it was time to go on already. The first two groups finished their break and started on up the mountain. My backpack started getting heavier and I wanted to take it off but had no choice. It was probably only about 3 kg but if felt more like I was giving someone a piggy back. A lot of hikers where white and they looked like ghosts dangling from above but they were real. I struggled on for about two hours. We reached a sign that said there were 400m remaining and I thought to myself, "That's not too bad, I can do it." Boy, was I wrong. Every 100m is when the hikers stop for a break which meant that there was another hour to the 400 mark. In the end, I was the tail of the group of the group with the oldest member who was 67.

When we reached one peak, the guide had coffee for everyone and Miso soup with pork and vegetables was ready to eat. That peak was called Dragon Summit at about 3,000m but the real summit was much farther up. Mr. Onoe kept prodding me, "We've come this far, let's go up just 15 more minutes." But I was at the end of my rope. Just about then a 50 year old woman really seemed to be sick and listless. Many people went to her aid and told her to go lie down in the shelter. I wanted to say that I had high altitude sickness as well. "Oh, I can't move," I said but no one would believe me and just stigmatized me for not having no backbone. After about a 1 hour break, we began our decent. Going down was not as tiring but my knees fell stiff like they would almost not bend at all. Finally, my knees hurt to the point where I was turning left and right to try to ease the pain. This struggle continued for another hour and finally we reached the parking lot.

Because of the difficulty in the whole adventure, I wasn't really able to enjoy the scenery, nor could I understand the attraction of hiking in the mountains. In fact, at 3,000 meters up, it's not that different. The people who love mountain climbing can have it; I am a city boy and always will be. However, one thing that did strike me after having experienced the difficulty of climbing, and perhaps those people who do often, don't recognize it, is the tremendous power of the group. If I had been alone, I never would have made it to the top. We look around and see the other guy working just as hard. The feeling of not being able to quit was like a whip that kept me going. That is the power of the group.

A company is much the same. We can look around and see how much effort people put into their work, and suddenly, "I can't " is no longer part of our vocabulary. I have to say, "I must work harder." There are people who use the group for self-preservation but I hope you can use the group to bring out 120% or even 200% of your best. That's how I felt after being left behind the group on the mountain. This was truly my spiritual journey on the sacred mountain.

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