Over the winter break I went to Nagano Prefecture with my wife and daughter for a two night stay at a ski resort. We arrived in the early afternoon and immediately hit the slopes, my wife and daughter on skis, and me on a snowboard. I hadn't snowboarded in a couple years, and the rental board was beat up and too short. As I ride "goofy" the hotel's rental guy told me it was my only choice. I had also pulled muscles in my lower back the previous week, and had considered canceling the trip. Anyway, whether due to the equipment, or my sore back, for whatever reason I wasn't boarding well. I fell more than I usually do and was feeling a bit discouraged and beat up after the first day. So, on the second day, I made the decision to trade in my board for a pair of snow shoes. I packed a backpack with water, snacks and my 6D with the 50mm Sigma lens attached. I took the lifts to the top of the mountain, said goodbye to my wife and daughter, and got out my camera. The view from the top was impressive, and I could even see Mt. Fuji in the distance.
One thing I enjoy about hiking in the mountains is how quickly the weather changes. Over the four or five hours I spent on the trails, the weather cycled from sunny to cloudy to windy to sunny again several times, and the patterns in the clouds changed constantly.
In one direction, I could see the Japan Alps in the distance.
Living in Japan, you are generally surrounded by people, whether at work, on the crowded subways, or doing things in the city, so having a chance to spend a few hours by myself just walking the land was a treat. Throughout my five hours or so of hiking, I think I saw a total of five people (if you look closely you can see a couple people on the trail in a couple of the photos). It was wonderful to hear nothing but the wind and the squeak of snow beneath my boots, and to look out over those vast, unpopulated expanses.
Apparently fresh snow had not fallen much in the last few days, so I was able to find many animal tracks in the snow, mostly from rabbits.
After a couple of hours walking on the trails, I stopped on a small summit to drink some water and eat the rice balls I had brought with me. I took a couple selfies, one hand-held and one with the camera set on the ground.
A distinctive feature of the area were the tall, golden grasses scattered across the hills and valleys. Seeing the grass covered hills from a distance, I had assumed their was not much snow on the ground, but upon closer inspection I realized that the snow was ubiquitous, but the grasses had managed to push through. I can imagine the hills would be beautiful in spring, carpeted in verdant green.
One nice thing about having several hours to myself, and a reason I often try to do photo walks alone, is that I am able to go at my own pace, stop often, get down on the ground... That is when I discover subtler details, like the way the wind had sculpted the snow beside the trials. To see the contours within those fields of white, I had to get down low to the ground so that the shadows would be more distinct. It is also easier to see contour shadows in winter because the sun's arc is lower in the sky.
This was a far cry from the sort of hikes my mountain climber friends like to take, and at the end of the day a hot bath awaited me, rather than a cold night in the tent, but it still did the trick of clearing my mind, and stimulating my photographic eye.