After the ferocious winds of Kuju, Kanako and I were ready for a break. The town of Yufuin willfully obliged, offering organic smoke-free cafes, creatively designed art museums, and cobalt blue thermal baths. Just what we needed to rejuvenate the mind and body for the impending second bout with Mt. Yufu. Would the weather finally clear?
Early on the morning of the 27th, we awoke to a rare sight in northern Kyushu: a cloudless sky. Even our target peak remained suspiciously free of white mist. Our climbing window had just opened, but for how long we knew not. The bus shuttled us to the trailhead at the reasonable start time of 9am. We weren’t taking Yufu lightly this time around.
The golden meadows at the start of the hike glowed sweetly in the early morning light, framed nicely by the white-capped rocks of Yufu’s impressive edifice. We steadily weaved through the forest, enjoying the quiet sounds of nature away from the crowds. Once we hit the trail junction, the 42 switchbacks began, but Kanako and I marched triumphantly towards the treeline. Good weather makes everything better.
The crater rim was reached shortly before 11am, and we faced our biggest challenge: snow-covered rock faces. I laid the question on Kanako quite frankly: “Which peak do you want to climb first, the easy one or the intimidating one?”. The reply came as swiftly as our advancing climb: “The intimidating one, of course”.
By now a few other hikers had made their way to the junction, but only one other brave soul followed our pursuit of the west peak. Luck was definitely on our side, as the warm temperatures had melted the ice on the tricky footholds, making the ascent a little less deadly. It was still just as intimidating as the first time around, with the added hurdle of actually being able to see the vertical drops on either side of the jagged ridge.
Once out of the chain-laden vertigo zone, the final coast to the high point was absolutely breathtaking, with uninterrupted panoramic views in all directions. We took a quick summit snap before retreating back to the junction for our lunch break. For, as beautiful as the summit was, there was no place to sit without being enveloped in snow and mud.
Yufu’s smaller twin, the east peak, towered mightily above as we navigated the frozen switchbacks of the northern face with great caution. Even though our first peak was more technically challenging, we had our own work cut out for us kick-stepping safe footholds in the ice. Once on the ridge, the sun aided us in the traverse, thawing the remaining patches of frozen rocks just below the peak. Again, we took a quick summit shot before strapping on the crampons for the harrowing descent through the ice field. Others had started edging their way up the frozen path without the added assistance of climbing irons. Kanako and I made a rule of carrying our crampons on any hike between the months of October and May. Lessons learned from being caught off-guard too many times in the past.
Once safely returned to the junction, we flew back down to the treeline, passing a group of 14 rather attractive young females led by an elderly guide. Perhaps the hiking boom among the 20-something crowd isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Our next goal for the day was the conical summit of Iimorigajou, which was knocked off after a short 20-minute climb. We tried resting on the summit but the winds had picked up considerably, dropping temperatures down to the freezing point. “Hot spring?”, I suggested. Kanako rose with renewed vigor upon this suggestion and literally flew off into the golden fields towards Takemoto.
This section of trail had seen much better maintenance than my initial trip there, with new signposts and a welcome trimming of the grass. Yufu’s twin peaks stared down at us as if to yelp out a friendly greeting, yet they seemed so daunting. Had we really been up both peaks earlier in the day?
Once we entered the forest, the lure of the hot springs became too much to bear, as both of us picked up the pace. We hit the town around 4pm, grabbed a quick bowl of udon, and dropped by for a soothing soak on the way back to the hostel. Mt. Yufu truly showed her gentle side on our successful mission, and we both knew how lucky we were to visit on such a rare occasion. Now, if we can just convince our nemesis Mt. Kuju to be just as cooperative…