Mt. Omoto is not only the highest peak in Okinawa Prefecture, but also one of the most challenging hikes on Ishigaki island.
Warning: As of March 2012, the trail is officially closed to hikers, but that doesn’t stop people from climbing the peak. The path is overgrown in places and extremely slippery, so it should not be attempted by those without much hiking experience. Also, please don’t hike in sandals, as the peak has a fair number of venomous pit vipers and leeches.
The hike: From the bus stop, walk on the road about 20 meters in front of you (behind you if coming from Kabira) and turn left on the paved road with the overhead sign that reads Mt. Omoto 1.7km. Stay on this paved road for about 20 minutes, passing some greenhouses on your left. Just past the greenhouses, the road splits, and you’ll see a sign pointing towards the right fork that says 於茂登山 登山道. Turn right here and the road turns to gravel. Follow this to the end and you’ll arrive at the trailhead. The path is currently blockaded, but step around the cones and turn left. The path will soon arrive at an area that has been washed out, but there are steps built into the hillside to easily navigate past on the left. Continue on the path for 5 more minutes and you’ll reach a grave that says 大御岳ぬ清水. Veer left at the tombstone and cross the small stream using the log bridge. The path will meet up with a narrow river and follow the right side for a while. Follow the tape marks and you should be ok. You’ll soon see a sign reading 頂上まで 約４０分. The signpost is turned 90 degrees and is barely hanging onto the tree. The trail heads towards the right and up some stairs, paralleling the river. Shortly you’ll come across a downed tree in the middle of the trail. Instead of climbing over the tree, head down towards the river bank and around. Just past this the trail will appear to end, but look on the other side of the river and you’ll see the red tape. Cross the river using any rocks that seem stable. Just on the other side of the river you’ll see a blue and tan sign that reads 滝. Drop your pack here and head left for 2 minutes, where you’ll come to a beautiful waterfall. After taking a few photos, retrace your steps back to the junction and continue climbing, this time on the left bank of the river. The trail here starts to become a bit overgrown because most hikers go up to the waterfall and back. Just a few meters on, you’ll see a tree on the right side of the trail with red paint that says “No. 10”. The path is a bit unclear here, but take the trail just to the left of this tree. Soon you’ll reach an area that was previously washed out, with a large concrete retaining wall on the right side of the trail. Pass through this area and after a few minutes you’ll reach a sign that says 最後の給水ポイントです. Backtrack 3 steps and you’ll see a small stream with some blue cups hanging on a rock. This is your last chance to fill up on water, so take a well-deserved break here. After this sign, the trail starts climbing rather steeply towards the ridge, and the views will really start to open up. If it’s been raining then you’ll likely get soaked from head to toe from swimming through the brush. The path becomes more constricted the higher you climb, but it’s pretty easy to tell where you need to go. After 10 minutes or so you’ll see a yellow sign that says 頂上まで 約１０分. Just past this sign you’ll reach a clearing on your left. At the top of this clearing is your first antenna, but there’s no need to go up there. Continue straight and the trail continues for a few minutes, where you’ll reach a signposted junction. Turn left to reach the summit (頂上), and go right to a lookout point (ダム展望). Take the left fork to the summit for now, since you can always go to the lookout on your way down. After a couple of more minutes you’ll suddenly pop out of the forest and come face-to-face with a giant TV antenna! Turn left here and you’ll reach the true summit after about 30 seconds. You’ll be completely surrounded by tall bamboo grass, but if you climb the boulder directly behind the summit marker then you can have an incredible panoramic view of the entire island. When you finish admiring the views, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead, taking great care not to slip and fall on the way down. The path is absolutely treacherous in the rain as the rather large lacerations on my butt can attest to. All in all it should take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours to reach the top, depending on how many breaks you take.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be prepared for a lot of rain if hiking in the winter. Bring plenty of water and sun protection if hiking in the summer, since it’s a long, sweaty climb. October is a good time to go, with cooler temperatures and less chance of typhoons ravaging the island. Click here for a great comprehensive English guide to Ishigaki Island, including an alternate description of this hike.
Access: From Ishigaki Bus Terminal, take the Yonehara Campground bus line (米原キャンプ場線) bound for Kabira (川平) and tell the driver you want to get off at Omoto bus stop (於茂登). The bus takes about 45 minutes and there are only 2 buses in the morning (one at 8:30am and the other at 9:30am). If you’re staying in Kabira then there are 2 buses in the morning on the Yonehara line bound for the bus terminal (one leaving at 10:10am and the other at 11:10am) You can pick up a copy of the bus schedules at the Tourist Information Center at the airport. Click here for the bus schedule.
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~400m) Experienced hikers only.
Distance: Approx. 7km (3 to 5 hours)