Climbing Kuju-san

[photos forthcoming]

Yesterday’s holiday for Vernal Equinox Day found me traveling back to hike the mountain known as Kuju with my friends Matt and Mark for my second ascent. It’s located in Aso-Kuju National Park and is one of several tightly knit peaks including an active volcano that bellows a great deal of sulfur smoke. The surrounding terrain makes for some great views.

Kuju is often quoted as Kyushu’s tallest mountain at 1787 meters though this is not true. Mt. Miyanoura on Yakushima Island of the southern coast actually holds this title at 1935 meters.

The hike has to be one of the best on Kyushu since it is moderately hard at most, frequented by flat stretches, and very scenic. In all we did it in about 5 hours round trip.

The first section is paved path that gradually gives way to gravel and then rocky path. This is me least favorite part and coming down on this really seems to take a long time.

As the path gives way the rocks, a series of yellow dots have been spray painted all the way to the top. They are useful, but they went a little overboard on them with a dot at least every 3 meters.

Eventually to climb to a shelter the descends into a stunning valley of rocks and streams. The weather had been quite cloudy up to this point, but right when we had a good view of the valley the skies opened up and have us some great photography opportunities. Couldn’t have worked out better and we took our time enjoying the valley.

The next climb takes you to a level area before the last push to the summit. The wind is funneled through the valley, up these rocks, and into the level area with surprising force. When you lift one leg to move it often steers you off your intended path. In addition the chilling wind has frozen water all over the rocks in interesting formations due to its intensity. A liberal amount of snow tops off this uncomfortable portion.

When you reach the top of that, and into the level area, a shelter stands to your right and the summit path continues left. The wind really fierce here and you don’t hang around long.

The summit is about 15 minutes more and not incredibly windy so you can sit about and get all the pictures you need. Like all mountain peaks in Japan, a wood pole marks the highest point and is the defacto photo op when you climb a mountain.

We headed back to the shelter, had lunch, and then retraced our steps back to the car park. The weather stayed cloud covered for the most part, but did clear off at just the right times to get some photos.

It’s nice to have this park so near. We often met people coming from quite far away to climb. Last year we passed many Korean hikers and this year we met a couple from Gifu prefecture on central Honshu.

Most of these photos in this post are from the first time I climbed which was a much clearer day. Coincidentally, the first time I hiked this was exactly one year ago on the same holiday!