One Sunday back in February, a few of us decided to wake up at 3 in the morning, drive to our local mountain, and summit it in time to see the sunrise. This is what happened:
Mt. Tsukuba is a little over an hour’s drive from any of our apartments, so we set out around 3:30 in the morning, stopped at 7/11 for breakfast… and arrived a bit later than expected, unfortunately. Although 4:50 a.m. is still a pretty impressive hour of day to be awake and standing at the base of a mountain.
The lower half of Mount Tsukuba is pretty densely forested. When you are hiking up in hopes of seeing the sunrise (aka in pitch-black darkness), everything is so secret, and so quiet, and just a little lonely. You only hear the wind rippling through the trees, your own panting breath, and smatterings of birdsong that rise and fade in the darkness. You only see the small circle of light cast by your headlamp — all the rest is shadow, and the tree trunks look the slightest bit ghostly in the darkness. It depends on the person, but this could either be the setting for moments of inner peace….
or moments of foreboding where you start remembering all the horror movies you’ve ever watched…
Anyways, it was a fun opportunity to try out our fancy new headlamps, at least until the sky brightened. We ended up missing the sunrise by about an hour, but we still had magnificent views from the top.
We even made a friend at the very top of the mountain!
As we were huddled up against the wind, waiting for the cable car to open for the day so we could quickly descend (spoiler: the cable car on Tsukuba only opens at 9:20 a.m.) we were joined by a ginger cat who was also a little chilly. He snuggled right up to us and started purring away. We all bought hot teas from the vending machines at the top of the mountain (because Japan is awesome like that) and every so often, when the cat began to shiver, we pressed a hot tea bottle against his fur to warm him up again.
He stayed with us until the cable car whirred into operation, bringing shop ladies up to open the summit’s ice cream stores, and bringing us down the mountain for a long drive home.
It was an incredibly different experience to hike up Tsukuba without the jostle of other hikers. Mount Tsukuba is a very popular (very easy) mountain, so it is always crawling with people of all levels of fitness — even the occasional toddler. Especially near the top, it is easy to get stuck behind a bunch of other people. Caught in the swarm of hikers, you don’t feel very connected to nature.
In contrast, for most of our sunrise hike, we felt like we were the only ones on the mountain. It was so quiet, so unbelievably peaceful. It was just us, and the trees, and the rocks, and the clouds, and the crisp cold morning air.
And it felt wonderful to be alive.