A short walk from Aso station lies the junction of routes 57 and 212. I confidently strolled over to the intersection, about to attempt the impossible, to hitch halfway across the prefecture to the trailhead of Mt. Kuju, the highest peak on the island. Problem was, there was no direct road between here and there, but I had patience on my side and hoped for luck on the horizon.
Ride #1 came after a sunny 20-minute wait, but it only got me a few kilometers up the road to the junction of route 110. Now there was definitely no turning back, but I stood proudly by the side of the street, trying not to look too desperate. The next ride was a goldmine, as the driver took pity on me and dropped me off at the junction of routes 11 and 442, almost within spitting distance of the trail. The final link in my quest came a short time later, and 5 hours after leaving Aso station, I donned my gear and hit the trail.
The initial steep climb to the summit of Mt. Kutsukake was polished off in about 10 minutes, as I was incredibly happy to be out of the automobiles and up into nature. The sky was a deep azure with the relatively good visibility that usually accompanies akibare weather. In the distance rose the steam vents of neighboring volcanic peaks as I worked my way along the rolling ridge. I bypassed Mt. Kuju in favor of the high point of Naka-dake, deciding that I could climb Kuju on the way back to the parking lot.
The path skirted the edge of a breathtakingly beautiful volcanic lake before rising sharply to Kyushu’s highest summit. I shared the peak with a few other locals and chatted about the scenery. It seems I’d chosen the perfect day to summit, as the area is usually covered in thick cloud most of the year. Luck was definitely on my side.
A vast network of trails left me with plenty of options, so I was able to return back to the junction of Mt. Kuju via another route. I’m a big fan of doing loop hikes whenever I can in order to help curb trail erosion. Stealthily I rose to the top of Kuju’s volcanic cusp, observing the otherworldly conditions around me: steaming fumaroles, sparse vegetation, and rolling hills as far as the eye could see. It was a good day indeed.
As I made my way back down to the main ridge, I eyed a small group sitting on a plastic sheet just off the side of the trail. The oldest member of the group quickly ushered for me to sit down and join the party, which was well into its second bottle of wine! I politely refused, but could do little else when faced with a paper cup full of spirits. In the center of the group sat a large cake, with the words congratulations elegantly penned across the bottom. No it wasn’t a birthday party. One of the other members had just completed the Hyakumeizan and an impromptu celebration was ensuing. They just about keeled over when I told them I was also attempting the 100 peaks, but sighed with relief when I told them I was only 1/10 of the way done. I couldn’t imagine how many years it would take me to finish the remaining 90, but hoped I could have a party just as enjoyable as this one when I finally did finish.
I bade farewell after downing my obligatory cup of wine and raced back to the parking lot of Makinoto. I was hoping to hitch all the way to Fukuoka, and a fellow hiker gave me an interesting strategy. “Just walk through the area and find cars with Fukuoka license plates. Then just ask them to give you a ride.” I’d never tried this approach before, but wasn’t too confident with my Japanese to attempt this, but the man grabbed me by the arm and became my unlikely sidekick. We approached an elderly couple, and after a quick explanation of my predicament, I sat in the back seat with a free ride to Fukuoka. Little did I know how useful this strategy would become on my remaining mountains.
With the first 2 peaks of Kyushu behind me and winter slowly approaching, I set my sights on Kirishima. Would I be blessed with picture perfect weather, or would the island of fog live up to its name?