We asked Big Agnes Ambassador Elisabeth Brentano to document her recent travels to Japan. Here’s what she came back with…
At this point, my Big Agnes gear probably needs its own passport. It’s been licked by Icelandic horses, spent countless nights in the California dirt and even traveled all the way up to Canada, so I figured taking it on my maiden voyage to Asia was the logical thing to do.
A few months ago a friend asked if I wanted to go to Japan to shoot autumn colors. Before he could even finish his sentence, I had already responded with an enthusiastic, “YES!” and plane tickets were booked within a matter of days. Packing light and smart, however, was a bit more of a challenge. Not only were we going for two weeks, but temperatures were everywhere from 19 to 60 degrees. Great. In addition to 18 pounds of camera equipment, I had to cram camp gear, puffers and all the rest of my winter essentials into my oversize backpack and duffel, which was no easy feat.
During our three-hour drive from Tokyo to Nikko, we saw bursts of red, orange and golden foliage everywhere. We were hoping to camp in Oze National Park, but the main sites were all booked, so we stayed in a modest AirBnb instead. After nearly an hour of fiddling around with the buttons, we finally got our heater to power on, but the room didn’t feel any warmer, so we gave up and tucked our sleeping bags into the blankets on our futons. While I was super bummed we didn’t get to camp in Oze, my Mystic 15 bag definitely saved me from freezing my buns off that night, so clearly there was a reason why I packed it!
The next morning we got our first peek at the 318-foot Kegon Falls, and we came back to this waterfall several more times, because well, have you seen it?! It’s stunning. Unfortunately the fall colors in Nikko peaked a few days before we arrived, but it was still an incredible sight to see. In addition to matcha green tea lattes, and we also got our first taste of winter weather. Nikko was so chilly, fingerless gloves weren’t cutting it, and I gave myself a major pat on the back for bringing every jacket I owned on this trip. I had my Shovelhead for the really frigid days, while my Yarmony was perfect for sunny afternoons in the warmer regions of the country. My rain shell was used twice on this trip, and during the mildest weather, I was able to get away with a base layer and my Lucky Penny Vest.
After freezing my face off in Nikko, Kyoto’s weather was almost balmy, and we spent several days exploring the parks in Arashiyama, including the magical (but super touristy) bamboo grove. After getting our fill of tempura, matcha ice cream and all kinds of delicious sushi and sweets (not to mention a ridiculous day with the deer at Nara Park), we headed to Fuji.
Seeing lenticular clouds over the peak of this mountain was one of those things I wished for, but never in a million years did I expect it to actually happen. I hate cold weather, but I’m willing to put up with numb fingers and snotcicles if the view blows me away. Just before 8 a.m. my friend made a pot of green tea and loaded the Fuji webcam on his laptop, and from the Lake Kawaguchi angle, we could see a clear view of the mountain — and a fat stack of lenticular clouds on top of it. We raced out the door (no time for tea when there are lenticulars!) and we were able to capture this sight just in time. I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to see this with my own eyes.
On this morning we got totally skunked for sunrise, but the way the fog and light joined forces and moved around Lake Kawaguchi was so dreamy, it totally made up for the rain earlier in the day. The fog was so thick, I never got a clear look at the duck behind this egret, and I probably snapped about 200 frames of this majestic white bird as he hunted fish off the shore. It snowed in the Fuji area the day before we arrived, and the weather was pretty moody during our time there, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’ve dreamed of seeing Mt. Fuji for a long time, and getting up close and personal with this sexy stratovolcano was easily the highlight of my trip to Japan. When I come back, I’m going to make sure I do an overnighter in a hut on a nearby mountain, and I’m determined to climb to the top of this 12,300-foot beauty. Oh, and now I know to book a campsite at Oze National Park well in advance. I guess I better start planning!