Mt. Miyanoura (宮之浦岳)
Mt. Miyanoura is the highest peak on Yakushima, a World Heritage island located a boat ride away from Kagoshima city. Known for its remote access, gigantic cedar trees and wet weather, the mountain challenges even the most experienced of hikers.
The hike: From Yodogawa trailhead, it’s an easy 40-minute walk to Yodogawa hut (淀川小屋). If you’ve gotten a late start then this is an ideal place to stay, as the hut is free, unmanned, and has a water source. You can also camp in front of the hut, but if you arrive late in the afternoon then all of the good sites will be taken. When I went, everyone was camping and we had the hut to ourselves! From the hut, you’ve only got 600m of vertical climbing but it seems like a lot higher! The first 2 hours or so are pretty straightforward on a well trodden path, passing through a wonderful marshland with lots of wooden planks to walk on. You’ll hit a 4-way junction, but just follow the signs to Mt. Miyanoura (宮之浦岳). In about 20 minutes you’ll reach a water source, so take a break and fill up your water bottles. There’s also a spur trail to the top of Mt. Kuromi (黒味岳). This makes for an interesting detour when the weather is fine, but if the cloud is in then just continue onward toward the summit. The trail becomes quite rocky and you can have loads of fun trying to determine if the rocks look like tofu, rabbits, turtles, or other imaginative shapes. Over the next hour or so, you’ll pass by numerous peaks, including Mt. Anbo (安房岳) before reaching yet another water source. From here it’s a 30-minute slog to the summit, where the panoramic views are stunning in clear weather. Remember that Mt. Miyanoura is a rain magnet, and while it can be sunny along the coast of the island, it’ll probably be foggy or raining on the peaks, but that doesn’t take away from the scenery. It only makes taking breaks a bit inconvenient. Anyway, traverse up and over the narrow summit and down towards Shin-takatsuga hut (新高塚小屋). It should take around 2-1/2 hours from the summit to the hut. If you arrive late in the day then all of the good camp sites will be taken, and you’ll be forced to stay in the hut (for free of course!). Most people camp on the wooden planks outside of the hut, but it’s also possible to find some nice flat areas just off the main trail. There’s a water source here, but I’m dubious of the quality, so it’s better to be safe and use your water filter. After leaving the hut the next morning, you’ll come to the old Takatsuga hut in about an hour. It’s a dump compared to the hut you just left, so don’t stay here unless it really is an emergency. The area is suffering quite a bit from overuse, so try not to contribute to the erosion. In about 10 minutes from the hut you’ll reach Jomon-sugi, the most famous tree on Yakushima. This is also where you’ll run into all of the tourists. You might be a bit disappointed after 2 days of solitude! The path is basically one giant wooden plank, and there will be human traffic jams if you’ve come during any holiday period, so be prepared. You’ll reach Wilson stump in about an hour, and this is a much better place to take a break than Jomon-sugi. You should reach the ‘trailhead’ in another 30 minutes. This is not the official trailhead, but the start of the train tracks! (no kidding). Although you’ll see no actual trains, you might run across a rail car that’s been designed to carry timber from the forest (and you thought this was a World Heritage site, didn’t you?). The trail basically follows the railroad tracks for what seems like an eternity. It’s flat and relatively mundane, so make sure you don’t fall through the gaps in the bridges! In about an hour you’ll reach a trail coming in on your left. Take this trail if you’d like to go through the Mononoke forest and an alternative finishing point. Otherwise, continue descending the mountain for another hour until reaching the real trailhead at Arakawa. (荒川登山口). You can take a bus or taxi from here back into town (or try your luck hitching).
When to go: This hike can be done from March to late November. Despite its southern location, this peak gets a lot of snow in the winter and should not be attempted without an experienced mountain guide or a GPS device and climbing equipment.
Access: From Miyanoura port, take a bus to Anbo (安房) and get off at the Anbo bus stop. From there, change to a bus bound for Yakusugi Land (ヤクスギランド) and get off at the last stop, called Kigen Sugi (紀元杉). From this tree, it’s a 20-minute walk to the trailhead at Yodogawa (淀川登山口). Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Anbo directly to the trailhead. The taxi drivers on Yakushima are accustomed to bargaining for rates, and they’ll definitely give you a discount in the off season!
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 1336m)