Posted tagged ‘Kyushu hikes (九州)’

Mt. Kirishima (霧島山)

June 2, 2008

Kirishima Nat’l Park is a glorious collection of picturesque volcanic peaks, majestic crater lakes, and soothing hot spring baths. The area around Ebino Kogen (えびの高原) is filled with lots of hiking options, including the ascent of Mt. Karakuni, the highest peak in the park.

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Special note: The trail up through Iodake is now closed due to volcanic activity. The only trail open to the summit of Mt. Karakuni is via Onami crater (near Tsutsujigaoka bus stop).

The hike: When you get off the bus stop, you might want to take a little time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the facilities. There’s a useful billboard map just outside of the Eco Museum Center. Across the street from the museum, you’ll see a souvenir shop, as well as a foot bath in the new building next to the museum. There’s a great cafe inside this building that has amazing soft serve ice cream and good coffee. Just to the left of the museum, there is a trail that is marked as the Ikemeguri Nature Trail (Volcanic Lakes). This is a two-hour loop hike that leads past a couple of lakes before meeting up with the main road just opposite the trailhead to Mt. Karakuni (韓国岳). If you’ve got time, then it’s a nice stroll through a beautiful forest. Otherwise, just follow the signs marked for Mt. Karakuni. You could also walk along the road if you like, but the asphalt path that parallels the road is much nicer. After about twenty minutes you’ll finally reach the mountain path, which climbs some steps and juts around Mt. Ioyama (硫黄山), an active steam vent with some large sulfur deposits. There are a couple of trails that go through Mt. Ioyama, but ignore then and turn right, following the crowds if you’ve come on the weekends. You’ll soon come across a rusty metal box that hikers can use to register their climbing intentions, as well as a couple of benches you can relax on and enjoy the scenery. The trail cuts left here and after a short climb, enters a beautiful forest with lots of moss and perhaps a few wildflowers depending on the season. You’ll soon reach a signpost for the 1st station (一合目). The mountain is divided into 10 stages, so you can use these markers to help you establish a pace and decide when to take breaks. From here it’s only 1.7km to the summit, and it’s a relatively easy climb with lots of steps built to aid in the ascent. It’s a popular mountain with school trip and families, so don’t be surprised to see a fair number of kids marching up the volcano. The views start to open up as you climb higher, and the best place for your first break is the 5th station (五合目), which is a wide area with splendid views into the valley below. From here, the angle eases up a bit as you traverse towards the crater rim (at the 8th station), which can be reached in about 15 minutes. If the weather is good then you’ll can take one of the many side trails to the left up to the rim, which is roped off to prevent people from falling inside. Just before reaching the high point, you’ll see a trail shooting off on the right marked for Mt. Oonamiike (大浪池). Ignore this trail for the time being and turn left for the short climb to the summit, which is marked with a signpost and a village of large volcanic rocks. If the weather is good then you’ll have outstanding panoramic views of most of the mountains of southern Kyushu. Sakurajima is due south, and just to the left of that peak you can see Mt. Kaimon if you’re lucky. To the east, you’ll see the active lava dome of Mt. Shinmoe (currently closed to hikers), with Mt. Takachiho rising up behind. Unfortunately, Mt. Karakuni is a magnet for cloud, and clear weather is a rarity indeed. After you’ve had sufficient rest, drop down to the junction and take the trail for Mt. Oonamiike, which in clear weather you can see directly below you. It’s an incredible caldera lake formed during an ancient eruption. The path drops off the peak abruptly, through red scree reminiscent of the slopes of Mt. Fuji. You’ll soon reach an area of wooden steps that have been added to make the climb easier. The rest of the trail down to the lake is on these steps 80% of the time, so be careful in wet weather when these wooden stairs become as slick as ice. It should take about an hour or so to reach the base of the caldera lake, where you’ll reach a junction. There’s a small emergency hut on your left, as well as a trail that goes straight ahead. Take this trail if you want to do a loop around the caldera rim, which should take about an hour or so. Only do this when the weather is clear. Otherwise you won’t be able to see the caldera lake at all. A shorter option is to ignore this trail and turn right, where you’ll soon see a wooden platform that makes a great place to take a break. Continue on the trail and you’ll soon see a junction on your left marked for Lake Onami trailhead (大浪池登山口). This is where the loop trail comes down, so if you didn’t do the loop but still want a glimpse of the caldera lake then turn left here and climb up the steep trail for about 10 minutes until you see a spur trail on your left that leads to a lookout. After viewing the lake, retrace your steps back to the main trail and turn left, following the signs as the trail following the meandering contours of the mountain before finally dropping back down towards Ebino Kogen. The steep path will eventually level out and take you through an amazing forest of moss covered rocks and old trees. The trail ends at a paved road, so turn right and walk about 50 meters and you’ll see Tsutsujigaoka (つつじヶ丘) bus stop, which you can take to get back to Maru-o. You could also try your luck hitching from here as well. If you’ve got time before the last bus then you could have a hot spring bath at Ebino Kogen Sou (えびの高原荘), which is a short walk from the Eco Museum Center. To get there you can cut through the large grass-covered park directly across the street from the bus stop. Turn right on the trail just behind the toilets.

Special Note: If you’re attempting to do the entire Kirishima traverse (from Karakuni to Takachiho) please note that the trail up and over the summit of Mt. Shinmoe is currently closed due to volcanic activity.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but expect some snow during the winter, when light crampons will come in handy. Click here to see the winter scenery. Avoid the peak in the middle of the summer, when the heat can be unbearable.

Access: There are numerous ways to get to Ebino Kogen, but perhaps the easiest is to take a train from Kagoshima station on the JR Nippo Line (JR日報線) and get off at Kirishima-Jingu (霧島神宮) station. From there, you can take a bus bound for Kirishima Iwawaki Hotel (霧島いわわきホテル) and get off at Maru-o (丸尾) bus stop, where you need to change to a bus bound for Takachigo Kawahara (高千穂河原), which will stop at Ebino Kogen. There are only 3 buses a day from Maru-o, so make sure you plan accordingly. The local train takes about 50 minutes from Kagoshima, and the Limited Express only saves you 3 minutes! Click here to download the bus schedule. Click on the second link that reads 各路線バス時刻表. If you want to hitchhike, the closest station seems to be Kirishima Onsen (霧島温泉), so get off there and walk to the main road.

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 2.5 out of 5 (elevation change 520m).]

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Mt. Aso (阿蘇山)

May 15, 2008

Mt. Aso is home to the world’s largest active caldera and its easy access attracts the tourist crowds throughout the year. Luckily, only a small portion of those people actually venture past the souvenir shops to the high point of Taka-dake, making it a wonderful place to sit and contemplate nature’s power.

The hike: From the huge parking lot, you’ve got 2 options. You can either climb via Washimidaira (鷲見平) and Tengu-no-butai (天狗の舞台) or take the concrete trail that parallels the gondola to Kakou-higashi (かこうひがし). Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on the gondola – you’ve come here to go hiking after all, and with only a 400m elevation change, why bother? I took the concrete path because the other trail was closed, but if I were to do it again, I’d definitely opt for the first option, as it’s the most direct (and interesting) path to the top. Initially it’s a gentle climb to Washimidaira, and then the path shoots straight up the rocky spine of the peak, dumping you out just to the left of Taka-dake (高岳). The map says to allow about 90 minutes to reach the ridge line, but if you’re good at boulder hopping you should be able to do it in less time. Once you reach Tengu-no-butai, turn right and hike about 10 minutes to Taka-dake, the highest point of Mt. Aso. You’ll have awesome views down into the caldera, and if the weather is good then you should also be staring at Mt. Kuju and Mt. Sobo. Continue traversing over to Naka-dake (中岳), where a choice will have to be made. You can either continue straight and turn right to return to Sensuikyo, or turn left to descend to the caldera. I highly recommend the latter option, as the colorful rock formations and lunar-esque landscape are out-of-this-world! Once you drop down to Sunasenri-ga-hama (砂千里ヶ浜) you’ll be wondering where all the people and vegetation went. I swear if you wear red tinted sunglasses you’ll swear you’re on Mars! Continue on towards the crowds and souvenir stalls at Kakounishi (かこうにし), where you can either take a bus or hitch back to into town.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be prepared for snow during January and February. Click here to see the wonderful snow scenery.

Access: From Kumamoto (熊本) station, take a train on the JR Hohi Line (包皮線) to Miyaji (宮地) station. From there, either take a taxi (costing around 1500 yen) to Sensuikyo (仙酔峡). Alternatively, you could try hitching to the trailhead. I caught a ride with someone making milk deliveries! If you just want to see the active caldera or approach the peak through Sunasenri-ga-hama, then you can take a direct bus from Kumamoto station to the bottom of the chairlift at Aso San Nishi station (阿蘇山西駅). The bus takes about 2 hours one-way. Click here for the schedule.

Live web cam:Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 692m).

Mt. Kuju (九重山)

April 27, 2008

Mt. Kuju is not only a majestic volcanic wonderland filled with luscious greenery, steaming gas vents, and serene lakes – it’s also the highest peak on the island of Kyushu.

The hike: From the parking lot, take the trail that starts to the left of the souvenir shop. It should take about 20 minutes to reach the Kuju ridge line up the concrete-lined path. If you’ve come in early summer, then you should find a sea of beautiful azalea in bloom and literally hundreds of people. The next 40 minutes to Ogigahana (扇ヶ鼻) is relatively easy going, where you’ll find a 4-way junction. You can either climb to the top of Ogigahana, head left to the summit of Mt. Hosho (星生山) or continue straight towards Mt. Kuju. The steam vents just behind Mt. Hosho are wonderful, and a reminder that you’re on an active volcano! After another half hour or so, you’ll reach the saddle just below the peak of Kuju, where you’ll find a small emergency hut. There are lots of different trails that branch off in all directions, so I recommend climbing over to Naka-dake first (中岳) first, and hitting Mt. Kuju on your way back to Mi-no-koshi. Naka-dake is the tallest peak in Kyushu, and reachable in about 40 minutes. You’ll pass by some fabulous volcanic lakes, which make for a great place to relax and enjoy your lunch (if the weather is nice). After reaching the summit of Naka-dake, you can loop back to the saddle below Kuju. Head up to the peak and then all the way back to the parking lot or continue traversing the ridgeline of Mt. Kuju via Hokke-in hot spring (法華院温泉), which has a nice campground.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got some crampons. The peak does get its fair share of winter snow, so make sure the road to the mountain pass is plowed and open before venturing out. The azaleas bloom in early to late May, which brings huge crowds. Autumn is also a great time to visit and winter is seeing increasing crowds as of late, due to the winter hiking boom in Japan. Click here to see the winter scenery and be careful of white-out conditions.

Access: From Hakata station (博多), take a JR “Yufuin no mori” limited express train and get off at Bungonakamura station (豊後中村駅). The train takes about 2 hours and costs 4290 yen. A local train is half the price but takes a whopping 4-1/2 hours. From Nakamura station, take a bus bound for Makinoto-toge (牧ノ戸峠). Buses only run on weekends from late May to late October. Click here to access the schedule. Click on “時刻表”, “ローカル時刻表”, and then “森町〜牧ノ戸線” to download the .pdf file. Another more convenient option might be to take the bus that runs from Beppu to Kumamoto, which stops along the way at Makinoto-toge. For example, if you take the overnight Osaka to Beppu ferry, there’s a direct bus leaving directly from the ferry terminal at 7:07am, arriving at Makinoto at 9:26am. This bus does not run in the winter however, which means between December and March you’ll need to take a bus from Beppu Bus Center (別交通センター) at 8am. Click here for that bus schedule. If coming from Kumamoto, the bus stops at Mt. Aso first before completing the 3-1/2 hour ride to the trailhead. Click here for the bus from the ferry terminal to Makinoto-toge. Sorry if it’s confusing but there are 2 different bus companies that provide bus services.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~500m).

Distance: 9.6km (3 to 4 hours)

Mt. Miyanoura (宮之浦岳)

April 11, 2008

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)

Mt. Sobo (祖母山)

March 5, 2008

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.

Mt. Sobo

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)