Monday, May 10, 2004

Golden Week hike Sobo to Katamuki-san

May 1st to 5th is Golden Week in Japan, a weekend combined with three national holidays, along with another national holiday on April 29th. It is pretty much the only time that most people get a real vacation, and desert the cities by either visiting the countryside or travelling abroad. This year Eden and I decided to drive to nearby Oita prefecture and try the "longest, true backpacking trip in Kyushu" by climbing the peaks of Sobo-san and Katamuki-san. You can read Eden's account of our adventure by clicking here.

Said to be the most beautiful mountains in Kyushu, we were quite excited to start our trip. We had warmed up for the hike with some morning jogs, and short day hikes. However, a three day, forty kilometre hike is not that easy to prepare for. Originally, we had planned on arriving in Taketa city, and taking the 8:43am bus to the trailhead. Unfortunately, the city website was out of date with the bus schedule, and we had to drive to the trailhead, and then worry how to get back to the trailhead, and our car, later. The hike started off fairly well, a 900 metre, 4.5 kilometre climb through deciduous forest along a river with waterfalls. At the end of day, we stayed in a crowded, mountain hut near the peak of Sobo-san. Supposedly one of the best mountain huts in Japan, it was equipped with a composting toilet, solar panels, two windmills, and a spring. The operator of the hut threw us off right away because he was weird, but things worked out.

Being foreign is definitely a novelty, and that afternoon lots of other hikers wanted to talk to us. Two men in particular were extremely funny, and rather drunk. One of them was video-recording his trip for his daughter, and later that evening he was performing the "Head and Shoulders" song/dance, to the chagrin of the people trying to sleep near him. At 8pm the lights went out, and those few who weren't asleep yet, closed their eyes and tried to sleep in the chorus of snores. At 3am, the alarm clocks started going off, and tired hikers began to wake up. Eden and I didn't "wake up" until 6am, and then had a quick breakfast and started our longest and most brutal day of hiking. Day 2 involved hiking 20 kilometres, up and down 6 peaks over about 10 hours. It was tiring. At the end of the day Eden's toes were like pieces of raw meat.

On the third day we decided to leave our packs at the camp ground, make the hour-twenty minute hike up Katamuki-san, and then return to our packs and descend the mountain the "easier" way. It had rained a fair bit the preceding night and the trail was thick with mud, and the rock scrambles would be too dangerous in the wet weather to continue on our planned route. Unfortunately, when we reached the summit, Katamuki-san was surrounded with clouds and the marvellous view was nonexistent. Oh well, we climbed back down to our packs, put them on, and began our decent. Eventually we met up with the path down to a 75-meter waterfall, one of the highlights of the trip. Once again, unfortunately, I didn't read our guidebook closely enough and the trail had a serious lack of markings. For some reason, I had thought that the trail would lead down to the base of the falls, whereas it didn't. Instead, I tried leading Eden down the steep slopes of the valley down to the waterfall, by following a path that kind of came and went. After reaching the bottom in the most dangerous way, we couldn't find the trail, and had to climb all the way back up. An event in which we weren't really sure if we'd make it up. (We found out when we got back to Kumamoto, that this week three hikers who went to Yakushima, were drowned when trying to cross a river in a similar situation).

After making our way up to the trail we managed to make our way down to the parking lot and rest area where some kind strangers offered to drive us the five kilometres to the bus stop, where we waited for an hour before riding the forty-minute bus to the train station, where we caught the train over two stops back to Taketa, where we had to hire a cab to take us the forty-minutes to the trailhead where we parked our car on the first day! All in all, it was a long, exhausting three days, but a lot of fun as we got to see some lovely parts of rural Japan.