07-Mar-2004 -- Of all the forces and difficult obstacles that stop you from reaching a confluence, much less a ‘snow’ confluence, somehow on this fine day I managed to overcome them, but just barely.
As the morning sun glared off the snowy meadows of the hilly farming region between Tokoro and Kitami there was a feeling of positivity and peacefulness that would characterize the whole day. But this feeling was short and sweet for only that day. The previous day, Mitch and I hadn’t managed to overcome the rugged wilderness of 44°N 145°E, and the next day my attempt to 44°N 143°E would also be stifled. It was the silver lining of the multi-day, 3-winter-confluence attempt, and it was my first successful ‘snow confluence’.
The region of the confluence was only 15 minutes by bus from the town Tokoro on the literally frozen-over Okhotsk Sea. Forty-five minutes southward down the road was Kitami, one of Hokkaido’s bigger cities. Mitch had headed home without a trace except for his snowshoes which he left with me. He said he “only wanted to do the more challenging confluences”. Nevertheless, this confluence would prove challenging for a 1-day winter confluence.
Part of the reason it was challenging had to do with what I found out after making my way down the country roads of the region. Although the place where the bus let me off was only 2.8 kilometers from the point, there was a lot of snow and small pointy mountains in the way. From my map I knew I had to take a myriad of small roads which seemed to total about a 4-kilometer trip. But I had expected this; it isn’t what was challenging.
I walked down the roads for a kilometer or two before coming across two unexpected obstacles. The first was an evil dog barking, growling and snapping at me near some kind of small factory next to the road. Fortunately his leash wasn’t long enough for him to reach me on the road but I didn’t know that until it pulled taught!
The second obstacle was that there were still about 3 kilometers to go yet I had come upon the last point of the road that had been plowed. There was what seemed to be an ocean of powder snow in front of me. This was the challenge. Although it would require a lot more time to tread through the deep snow, possibly making the trip impossible, I decided to put on Mitch’s snowshoes and face the challenge, not yet ready to give in to defeat.
I was impressed with my first ‘test drive’ of the snowshoes, but it was a lot of work, and with every step I sank about a foot into the snow.
The ‘ocean’ was likely a meadow or pasture for animals that were hopefully somewhere more hospitable for the winter. I eventually came upon a shed for hay and animal food. In the surrounding hills I saw lots of deer, shrieking and scurrying away surprised by my presence.
After having crossed the meadow I found the unplowed road, which followed a small stream called Poroneikawa. There was a farm house which looked lived-in but was completely cut off and closed for the winter. In some birch-like trees, a perky brown bird with strange colorings darted around looking at me as if in curiosity. I was an alien in an abandoned region that had been completely shut down for the winter.
As I turned a bend the wide meadow narrowed to a stream valley with steep-sided small mountains. I knew from the map that I would eventually have to climb up these mountains, a prospect I didn’t like, and which I knew could ultimately prevent me from reaching the confluence. I found a log to eat lunch after snowshoeing for about 2 1/2 hours. I had less than 2 hours left before I had to turn around. I marched on.
I passed a road turn-off for Shimonepu, probably a small hamlet which may have been unoccupied for the winter.
Finally I reached the stretch of the unplowed road that was closest to the point. The confluence was now only 400 meters away but the mountains looked intimidating and I had less than an hour before it was time to turn around.
I decided not to give up, but boy it was hard work making my way up a steep slope with deep snow. I was on my hands and knees for most of the ascent. Avalanche danger was a constant worry so I avoided areas that looked unstable. I reached a false summit which appeared to be a forest road. Another 200 meters left. Then I very carefully negotiated a very steep traverse which seemed to be prone to avalanches. Now for the last 100 meters it was time to summit another steep mountain. On my hands and knees again I climbed onto what seemed to be another forest road. Finally, here it was. Although I arrived late, exceeding my time allotment, I reached the confluence!
As I documented the point I could hear the call of crows and the squeaks of small winter birds. An eagle or condor of some sort circled over head, possibly thinking the ‘confluence dance’ was a sick, staggering animal soon to be dinner.
Total closure of the day had not yet been achieved. Returning was an adventure in itself. Getting back down the mountain was super-fast: tumbling, sliding and practically cartwheeling the whole way down. Walking back down the road in my footsteps was also a lot easier and faster – maybe 2 or 3 times faster. I more than made up for my time loss.
The temperature began dropping fast and was somewhere between –5 and –10 Celsius. I reached the snowy meadow as the sun was setting into the surrounding hills. The subtle undulations of the meadow were now only visible by glints and sparkles of snow. Two deer dared to cross the meadow before dusk fell.
Everything had been so peaceful, and now back on the country road things seemed fine at first. But, to my despair I saw the evil dog again, only this time he was unleashed! He started barking and snapping and closing in on me fast. I was very nervous and didn’t know what to do.
I decided to reach into my bag for some Ritz crackers. To my relief he loved them and suddenly became very friendly. Once I signaled “no more!”, he walked away uninterested, showing little patience for turning around for a photo.
I made it back to the main road before dark, more than an hour before the bus was to arrive. I decided to hitch a ride and caught the VERY FIRST car that passed. It had been a tough day, but a good day.