Born in Slovenia, a rugged country boasting with sportsman’s culture, Cveto Nakashima Podlogar is well versed in trekking and alpine climbing. He now pours his energy into his alpine school and guide service in Japan while continuing to explore the mountains of his two homelands.
“When did I start climbing the hills?” Cveto Nakashima Podlogar asks rhetorically. “My parents worked with the forestry service, so I’ve been in the mountains all my life. Maybe I started alpine and back-country skiing when I was 3.”
With the closest neighbor 12 kilometers away, Cveto spent his boyhood years hiking, skiing and fishing alongside his parents and older brother. At the age of 11, he and a friend stood at the apex of Slovenia’s highest peak, Mt. Triglav (2,864 meters), and Cveto found himself smitten by the charms of the mountain upon which he stood.
Five years later, during a three-day hike up a face he had chosen, he became stranded on the wall and was forced to call in for a rescue.
In response to the incident, his father merely suggested, “If you’re that passionate about mountains, join a mountaineering club.” It was at that point where Cveto’s life took a turn toward the path he now travels.
THE WORLD STAGE
From the age of 17, Cveto spent 10 years as a member of Slovenia’s national cross-country team, winning seven national contests and leaving his mark on the world stage. “I lived a fairly Spartan lifestyle back then, waking at 5 a.m. and running 10 kilometers,” he recalls. “Then eating just one slice of bread to maintain my diet. However, I was also known to skip the summer ski camps in favor of a good road trip…it was truly a time when I did what I really wanted to do.”
At the end of this decade-long career, he removed himself from the scene and took up work as an electrician throughout Russia and Iran, all the while saving his hard-earned money for his next adventure.
After a stint through North and South America, he boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway and made his way to Asia, passing through Tibet and Hong Kong before finally arriving in Japan in 1988.
Currently Cveto and his wife, Chiharu, run C&C Japan, a mountain guide service and Slovenian travel operator. During his time in Japan, he has also managed to receive his advanced accreditation from the Japan Mountaineering Association—a first for a foreigner. He now sits on the association’s committee. As part of the business the Cveto Alpine School was opened in 2001, giving him the opportunity to spend 250 days in the hills.
In response to the question, “Why open a school in Japan?” he relates, “Japanese tend to climb when the skies are clear and cancel plans when the weather turns sour. However, nature is a fickle beast where mountain roads can turn to rain-filled runoffs, and traverses can be a field of rocks.
“When lost, a bivouac can become a necessity. Therefore, in order to train climbers and hikers in the safest methods, it’s important for our school to equip students with a wide variety of knowledge and techniques.”
The school is not designed to train professional alpinists. Rather, its goal is to train safe and highly adaptable hikers. For example, I met Cveto on the Monday after the weekend was washed out by a typhoon. I naturally assumed any tours he scheduled would have been cancelled, which is typically the case in Japan; however, he quickly retorted that his group was in Kusatsu as planned. “We traded the tents for a bungalow, cooked our meals over an open fire and searched for some hot springs.”
No matter the conditions on the mountain, Cveto wants to safely and enjoyably make it through the climb. He scouts all the treks prior to taking groups and, since the opening of the school, has yet to cancel a hike.
BRINGING JAPAN TO THE WORLD
Cveto has traversed the peaks of European Alps, the Himalayas, North America and South America, and is proud to declare, “The Japanese mountains are gorgeous; particularly the stand-alone mountains such as Daisen in Tottori and Rishiri in Hokkaido. Nothing is better than strapping on a pair of skis at the peak and looking out at sea as you make your way down.”
During the late winter months, Cveto recommends the “Japan Haute Route” stretching from Tateyama to Kamikochi. Similar to its European namesake, this trek requires both stamina and time. He speaks passionately about its favorable comparison to its counterpart in Europe.
“Currently, Japanese make up 99 percent of our customers, but in the future we hope to introduce the beauty of the Japanese mountains and ski scene to visiting foreigners,” states Cveto. “That’s Chiharu’s and my dream.”
“He thinks of nothing but the mountains,” replies Chiharu at his side. “So, sometimes I have to drag him out to a movie or concert to keep the right and left sides of his brain in balance,” she says with a smile.