31-Oct-2004 -- As I counted down the days to my quest for this point, the forecast looked worse and worse. Day by day drenching rain, shower after shower pounded down. Before I realized what I was getting myself into, there I was on Japan's southern Kii Peninsula riding the Mie Express as it barreled through curtains of rain, splattering and veining across my window. The landscape of fertile green seaside fields and broad mountain slopes was now swollen with local flooding and drenched to murky shades of gray by the thick rain and lingering fog. And why would I attempt this, you ask?
Well, after all, this was the last land point left in Honshu, Japan's main island - I had to get it! While working 7 days a week as a tour guide I watched as many of Japan's last land points were found by eager confluencers like myself. After finally finishing my job, I had only 3 days remaining on my rail pass - it was now or never. The weather report said there would be only 40% rain the next day as opposed to the current 80 to 100%. Still, I could only expect a very wet day.
Even in good weather, this one was expected to be difficult. Fabrice Blocteur had a hell of a time with this one back in July, 2003 (see a href="confluence.php?visitid=6983">previous attempt). A very able confluence hunter as evidenced by his record of quests, Fabrice, after several tries, abandoned his attempt, the only time he had ever been forced to do so. Overwhelming 'vegetation and cliffs' kept him back.. I actually asked him to come with me but he couldn't schedule it in. On my own, I figured the worst I could do was see how close I could get.
At 8:30 PM I reached the point's closest sizable dwelling, the modest-size seaside town of Kumanoshi. It was explained to me later as 'Japan's warmest town', with the Kii peninsula being one of 'Japan's wettest regions'. Well, it WAS rainy, and really not too cold for Halloween. When I stepped off the train, I was well aware that finding a hotel anywhere in Japan on a weekend is nerve-racking at best because places are often completely booked. Fortunately I was tipped off about a cheap hotel by a local taxi driver.
The next morning started out cloudy but unbelievably void of rain. I was out at 7:30 AM looking for buses to carry me the approximately 30-50 kilometers through mountains inland. No luck! All I could find out about was one bus headed that way about 2:30 in the afternoon. So I took a local train one stop to the inland highway's best access point and started hitchhiking, my last remaining alternative. The first guy to pick me up had a small car and took me a small distance. But he was very kind and gave me a gift of oranges that were fine, but…unusually small. Then I had Mr. SUV, yuppie Japanese weekend-warrior. He was off to go hiking in a place called Ikehara. The confluence point was located near Shimokitayama mountain and one of Japan's nicest gorges, the Doro gorge, which I described as my destination despite the fact that I DID jabber all I could about my confluence quest in Japanese. A bit perplexed, he dropped me off exactly where my GPS led me: by the side of a bend on the chalky-green, slow-moving Kitayama river. I was now only 500 or 600 meters from the point! Sounds easy, huh?
Not exactly. As Fabrice wrote, the river, about 100 meters wide at this point, makes a sharp hairpin turn around a steep-sided mountain/ridge so that the ridge is like a 'peninsula' of land completely surrounded by water. The point is located slightly inland on the west side, toward the end (south portion) of the 'peninsula'. The ridge's steep sides go straight into the water with very few gentler slopes. The northwest part of the 'peninsula' is where the road comes closest to the point. So, like Fabrice, I started off from here. He reported that he had no luck approaching this way because he was "hampered by dense vegetation". I went this way, expecting the same, but I came across a little surprise which was to change everything.
A little trail led down to the river through bulging roots and thicket. In the river, amidst the shore's mucky accumulation of old soggy driftwood and leaves, something caught my eye. There was a sunken, side-listing old fishing dinghy. Could I use this to approach the point?
I turned it over, dumping out the water, sticks and dead leaf matter. At least it didn't seem like anyone cared much about the boat. It was tied to a root by a rope, but barely. I thought for sure it was damaged or had a hole in it. However, once cleaned out and turned upright, I cast off without problem into the broad green river using an old piece of driftwood as my oar. I'd have to say, this was the first time, and perhaps the only time I will ever use a self-piloted freshwater boat to get to a confluence!
On the open river, there was a lot of driftwood. I remember seeing a dam downstream on the map which would explain the accumulation of debris. A motorized fishing boat with baffled onlookers buzzed by. It took about 30 minutes of hard rowing to get closest to the point, now only a little over 100 m away, but I wanted to get as close as possible. The cliffy shore was so steep there were little waterfalls cascading out of the vegetation into the river like a zen garden.
I found a dark little inlet where a gully led into the cliffs of the hillside. It was now about 11AM. The rest of the approach is probably best described this way: tumbling, twisting, wrestling, falling and struggling in a tangled, drenched web of vines, leaves, sticker bushes and fern grottoes. I spent the next 3 and a half hours inside a dense canopy of Cyprus and leafy bushes, rarely seeing more than 5 feet in front of me. Some parts of the vegetation were dark as night. I clung on to vines to get me up cliffs and sometimes dove down hands first, grabbing vines with my ankles. I was usually bouncing in a suspension of roots and vines, not touching the ground. The vegetation was drenched with rain water and I soon became completely soaked. To add insult to injury the afternoon brought a series of showers.
As you could imagine it quickly became more work than play. Most difficult was navigating and narrowing in on the point with the very poor satellite reception due to the dense canopy. In my mind I had to make a map of all the various tree patches, steep cliff and bushy areas within 60 meters of the point, constantly retracing footsteps and flailing to break free from stalks and vines. This was no place for 'confluence dances'!
Not until about 2:30 did I finally clear the mere 100 meters and home in on the point, nestled in a thick fern grotto. I got the best picture I could of the GPS. I had almost completed everything…
Suddenly, the greatest nightmare of all materialized. Something awful happened to my camera. When I tried to take the quintessential photos of the confluence all I got was white fog. I waited ten minutes and tried again - still no go. Had I come all this way and gone through all of this to fail?! Could I drag myself through all this to come back tomorrow? I don't think I could. Perhaps the wetness had damaged my camera permanently. I decided to have my lunch - Hokkaido Camembert and Ritz crackers.
I turned on my camera again and hoped for the best. Unbelievably, it now worked, although it had some fogging problems later on. I learned my lesson: I'll have to bring a backup camera in the future, just as I now carry a backup GPS after a previous failure prevented me from getting to a confluence.
Hurriedly, I cart-wheeled down to my boat and made it in time to hitchhike, just before it got dark. I changed clothes so drivers wouldn't think they were picking up a wet dog. Apart from the Spring-fresh aroma of local shrubs I'm sure I brought into the car, the suburban mother who took me back thought nothing strange, and had no idea what I'd just gone through. But she decided to give me a gift: BIG oranges.