Mt. Sobo （祖母山）
Mt. Sobo translates as “grandmother mountain”, but it’s no walk in the park with an 1100m vertical ascent and an annoyingly large number of horseflies. The views are worth the work, though.
The hike: From the bus stop, head up the forest road on your left. The first 3km or so is easy going, but you’ll soon find the trail proper and climb up, up, and up. There’s an unmanned hut at the 5th stage-point (五合目), which is a good place to fill up on water and take a break. If you’re hiking in summer, then this may be your last chance for a break, as the next section of the hike I’ve nicknamed ‘horsefly ridge’. The climb is not only steep, but if you stop to catch your break for more than a second, then you’ll be surrounded by hoards of horseflies! Once you hit Kunimitouge (国観峠) though, the pesky creatures will have vanished and you can take a much needed respite. There used to be some sort of hut here a long time ago, and the area is perfect for camping (except for the lack of water). If you’re keen to camp here, then drop off your stuff and head up to the hut to fill up on water. Otherwise, continue climbing up toward the peak. The aforementioned hut will come into view in around a half hour or so, and it’s a nice place to stay if you can forget about the musty smelling carpet. The trail to the peak of Mt. Sobo is directly in front of the hut, and it should take around 10 minutes or so to reach the bald, rocky top. The views toward Mt. Aso and Mt. Kuju are fantastic. Take the necessary photos, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and head back to the hut. If you’re staying for the night, relax and write in the hut logbook. If you haven’t had enough punishment, then take the trail branching off to the left toward Miyahara (宮原). The trail loses altitude rather quickly, and flattens out once you come to Uma-no-kata （馬の肩). In another 15 minutes or so, you’ll come to a trail junction. My map had this marked as a campground, but there’s only room for one tent and no water source. However, it didn’t stop me from setting up camp to escape an oncoming thunderstorm.! At this junction, take the trail going right toward Obira (尾平). It should take about 90 minutes to reach the flat area of the trailhead, and you’ll cross a beautiful river with crystal clear water. There’s a bus from Obira to Ogata station (緒方駅).
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’re in for a heck of a climb in the winter, so plan accordingly. The Azalia flowers bloom in early May, making this a popular destination during Golden Week. Beware of horseflies in the summer.
Access: From Oita station (大分駅), take a local train on the JR Hohi Line (豊肥本線) and get off at Bunko-Taketa station (豊後竹田駅). The train takes about an hour & 20 minutes. A limited express train, while costing more, will get you there in about an hour. From there, take a bus bound for Kamihara (神原). There are 5 buses a day and it costs 550 yen one way. A taxi will run you about 4000 yen. From Obira, you can take a bus to Ogata station. Click here for the schedule.
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1100m)