Last hike

April, 1993

Tsutomu, a rather slim boy, said, "Next is my turn. I carry Isamu."

We were about 1,800 meters (5,900 ft) above sea level. It was the end of March. The clock pointed to one p.m. Spring had not come yet to this meadow of the high elevation. Snow still remained on the ground somewhere, and the wind was still cold. Only the warmth of the sun's rays from the dark blue sky was telling us, the winter had gone.

We, about thirty hiking club members of junior high, started climbing the mountain in the early morning. This hike was actually our farewell hike. We who had been keeping together for three years had to break up after this hike, and each of us was going to go to a different high school. This was the hike of farewell from our wonder years.

We reached the meadow below the peak at lunch time and took a break for lunch. Some of us finished lunch quickly and started snowball fights among ourselves. After a while of our innocent fights, the leader spoke up for standby. The teacher, participating in this hike, mentioned, "Please be careful not to slip because the path from this point is all covered by icy snow."

Tsutomu carried me up on his back, tightening my body to him with a string, and uttered, "By now, we share our lives. I mean we may go together down to the hell."

He started walking on the narrow path taking the head of this party, and others followed us. We kept walking in the bush that cut the sun's rays. Though, some of the rays filtering though the trees, spotted the white snow and made it bright; there made a polka-dot pattern on the snow ground. We walked on the gentle slope. He spoke to me: "Look at that. Here is not snow but exactly clear ice we're stepping on. It's like we're walking on the glass." He kicked a part of the icy snow, but it didn't collapse at all.

As we went up, the slope of the path got greater and greater. Of course, it was covered by icy snow, so the possibility of our slipping was getting higher and higher. "We must keep our balance, carefully," he said. At the next moment, "Oops!", suddenly we slipped and falled down for 3 meters. Fortunately, there was deep soft snow like a cushion that caught us softly. And he tried to return to our path plowing snow with his bare hands. When we got to the path, his hands had become painfully red. "Are you OK? It's time to rotate Isamu," one of the members told him. 15 minutes had passed since beginning to walk. "Yeah, I have enough energy to carry our live garbage, Isamu." But his breaths were difficult. "I'm OK," Tsutomu shouted sharply. And he started again.

Soon, we got out of the bush and got into the full sunshine. The wall of rock then appeared in front of us. Only a chain stuck on it. "It's rock-climbing time," we shouted. He climbed the rock; I, on Tsutomu's back, tried to be calm and quiet so that he wouldn't lose his balance. Losing his balance would immediately cause us to fall down. We saw the mountains far away and the village that we had gone through this morning. These views made us nervous and made us realize how high we were and what a dangerous place we were in. "If we fall down from here, you will die first and save my life, thanks, Isamu." He fooled around with me as usual.

The friends, waiting for rock-climbing, began to throw snow balls at us. "It's time to fight back! What a nice target there is. Fire to it!" they addressed. But they didn't have good control to shoot us. Tsutomu stopped climbing and said to them, "You can't shoot me; I know you guys have no such control. And I have a good protector, Isamu. I don't care if you shoot Isamu." He laughed and continued climbing. He was the man who never lost his humor, and it encouraged everyone. But I, on the back of him, was feeling his body's warmth like burning a fire, and my shirt had already gotten wet with his sweat streaming down his back and through his shirt.

We finally reached the top of the rock. And some rocks remained between us and the top of the peak. Some friends down below asked him if this was the top of the peak. He answered them, "When you reach here, you'll see my answer." "Oh boy, not yet the top," they murmured. "But I can see the top right there," he added. Another member told him that it was time to rotate me, but he refused again.

Tsutomu managed some rocks and finally reached the top of the mountain. Tsutomu stepped up to the sign of the top, and he rose both his hands fully to the sky and said, "I got here first! I got here first!" with his loud and happy voice. Then he murmured, "You know what, I wanted to do this, so I carried you. How smart my plan was!" That was the time that the mountains surrounding the peak brightened white contrasting with blue of the sky, and showed us the great beauty of nature.

2 years after the hike, Tsutomu had a tragic accident that caused him to become disabled by breaking his neck. But even now, after ten years have gone by, I'm still waiting to climb with him again. Next time I should carry him.