The ferry from Osaka to Kagoshima is far from ideal, as it drops you off in the boring town of Shibushi, miles from anywhere and convenient to only the truckers delivering supplies to southern Kyushu. Regardless, I slapped down the money on the ticket counter and boarded the ship for an early winter foray in the volcanic hills of Satsuma Peninsula.
It took nearly an hour to flag down my first ride from Shibushi, but by mid-morning I was well on my way towards Sakurajima, my home for the night. After dropping off my stuff at the rather bleak-looking youth hostel, I hitched completely around the island, stopping several times to see the sights and enjoy the thermal baths. Someday I’d like to make it up the crumbling flank of Minami-dake, but the frequent eruptions make it near to impossible to set foot on the volcano. Instead, I focused my attention further south, towards the conical forms of Mt. Kaimon, mountain #25 in my quest for the almighty 100.
The ferry ride to Kagoshima the next morning revealed an overnight dusting of snow on Sakurajima. Despite its tropical image, Kyushu does in fact receive a sizable amount of snow, enough to close roads to mountain passes and to make crampon navigation mandatory. I’d hoped that Kaimon would remain approachable. The train whisked me most of the way down the peninsula, and I used the thumb to guide me the rest of the way, hitching a ride to the base of my target peak. Mt. Kaimon is as majestic as they come, rising abruptly from sea level to a height of nearly 1000 meters above the sea below, rightfully earning the nickname of Satsuma-fuji.
The path rose quickly through the silent forest, passing over volcanic rock with views of the azure waters below. Mt. Kaimon has the distinction of being the only Hyakumeizan without a single switchback, as the trail does a 360 degree loop of the mountain before arriving on the summit. A glance at any map will clearly show the spiral route to the top.
Upwards I pushed through the tranquil environs, not meeting an entire soul until just below the boulders of the summit rocks. Here the ice clung to the rock face firmly as I cursed myself for forgetting the crampons. Luckily the other hiker ahead of me had kick-stepped a manageable route and I quickly followed suit, imitating his movements as best I could. Eventually I topped out on the crater rim and was rewarded with an outstanding view of Satsuma’s crescent-shaped coastline. Yakushima was buried in thick cloud way off in the distance, but the rest of the peaks glistened blissfully in the early afternoon sun. I retraced my steps back towards the foot of the peak, painfully stubbing my toes at one point on a frozen rock. Pain shot up my left leg, but at least I was on the way down instead of up. I knew that the town of Ibusuki would be the perfect remedy for my bruised appendages.
After walking back to the main road, I flagged down a ride with a strange man who I seriously thought was going to rob me and leave me for dead in the bay. As soon I entered the car, he turned the vehicle around and told me we were heading to his house, where he had “forgotten to lock the door.” When we arrived, I gripped my hands tightly on the seat of the car. There’d be no way I’d enter his dwelling without a fight. Alone, he walked to his front door, turned the key, and quickly returned. “Ok, let’s go”, he said. The man was telling the truth after all, but still, the experience left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and the rest of the ride was quite awkward, as he kept calling me his best friend. One bad hitch out of nearly a hundred rides over the last decade is a pretty good batting percentage I’d say.
Only one more peak to climb in Kyushu: the might Sobo-san. This time around I’d need companionship, and I knew just where to find it.