There I was, heading up another Hokkaido trail, when two people we passed on their way down said, “They are waiting for you at the hut.” I looked at my hiking partner who looked back at me with the same surprised look. I said. “OK,” and we carried on.
We were heading to a hut I’d been to many times and, as far as we knew, we weren’t meeting anyone there. It was the end of the hiking season, things were quieting down and I wasn’t expecting many people – if any – to be there.
After another hour or so we finally got to the hut, a very large two-story wooden building with open floor space on both floors and a hot iron fireplace. When we walked in the door, wet and muddy from the rain and trail, we were met with about 40 pairs of Japanese eyes staring our way in total silence.
It must have been an interesting sight to see a big, rough-bearded Kiwi in shorts and covered in rain and mud come stumbling in with a small, cute British girl. We stood there for few seconds not sure what we had walked into, until I finally said as loud as I could, “Konnichiwa.”
Talk about an ice-breaker; they yelled back “konnichiwa,” and a couple of people got up to show us a good spot to lay out our things. Then they invited us to join them.
It turned out to be an end-of-year party for the volunteer group that looks after the hut and the surrounding trails. They were all up to celebrate the end of the summer hiking season and get the hut ready for winter. We hit the jackpot. They had hiked up beer, wine, sake – and a lot of it. It was a full-on party.
We brought up a couple beers and a bottle of wine ourselves, but the only reason we ended up opening our packs was to take out our sleeping bags. They offered us some great local Japanese food. One old guy just got back with freshly caught fish from a nearby river and was cooking it. Boy, did it taste good.
We were sitting there having a real good time when, just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, three guys stood up, dressed in South American outfits (two with guitars and one with a South American pan flute), and started playing music. People started singing and dancing. Turns out the three guys had lived and climbed all over South America in their younger days. What a great night.
The next morning we woke early and stepped over people deep in sleep to do a full day hike to a nearby peak. When we got back later that day, the hut was totally empty and we were the only ones there. It was an eerie feeling having it so packed with people and full of life one night and totally quiet the next. But after a couple of glasses of wine, we could still hear that South American music.