Standing at the summit of Hokkaido’s highest peak, I’m overcome with relief. It’s as though I’d been holding my breath the entire climb up.
The rest of Daisetsuzan, Japan’s largest national park, unfurls toward the horizon. Sunbaked mountains colored terra-cotta and dusty green melt into faraway shades of blue, the shadows of clouds drift over their treeless slopes.
Behind me, Mount Asahidake descends into an arid valley, its surface pockmarked by volcanic vents that gradually give way to a sea of greenery. Eventually, the fields turn into the gray mass of Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s second-largest city and one of its coldest.