Mt. Yufu soars majestically from its base at the scenic hot spring town of Yufuin, rightfully earning the nickname of Bungo Fuji by pre-Meiji era pundits. Cloud clung tightly to the twin peaks on the summit as I munched down on chicken tempura in a eatery next to the bus terminal. I boarded the 1pm bus for the trailhead and hoped for the best.
The first part of the trail tramped through a vast meadow of lush green hay, with views of Yufu’s mighty figure directly ahead. If it weren’t for the clouds the peak would look even taller than it currently stood, hovering over the meadows like a volcanic version of godzilla. Intimidating it was in the afternoon breeze.
After the meadows the trail slipped into the forest, past an old toilet block and into a thick canopy of deciduous trees, which sheltered me from the rain that began to fall from the sky. Here I was without any rain gear and faced with a dilemma: turn around now and have a second go at Yufu the following day, or tough it out and see where it takes me. I’m always a fan of spontaneity so it was obvious which option I chose.
The rain let up a bit after reaching the junction at Gouyagoshi, where half a dozen Self-Defense Force soldiers were looking over a map. “Be careful up there,” explained the leader, “the summit rocks are slippery.” Apparently they were speaking from first-hand experience, as I later found out that the peak is a popular training ground for the unit stationed at the nearby military base.
Up through a maze of switchbacks I scurried, looking for the safest way up to the summit, which was fairly easy since there was only one way to the top. As I reached the treeline, the precipitation halted completely and the sun poked its head through the clouds. I knew then that I’d made the right choice, with ever expanding views revealing themselves with each advancing step.
Just before the crater rim I disappeared into the clouds, resting at the junction just below the twin peaks. I had two choices: either the straightforward climb on my right to the top of the east peak (Higashi-mine), or the no-nonsense scramble on my left to the official high point of the west peak (Nishi-mine). When in doubt always head west my dear.
I soon found myself standing at the bottom of a long series of metal chains. “So this is what those military guys were on about,” I cursed, gripping the slippery silver links with my left hand. The path was quite slippery and here I was all alone in a tempest of white cloud and strong winds. After the first challenging climb, the path dropped to another set of boulders, where a tricky horizontal traverse awaited. I’ve done my fair share of frightening climbs in the Alps but I must say that this one really made the hairs stand on on my legs. Heart pumping, hands shaking, I grabbed the links, spinning 45-degrees up and over a sheer vertical drop before finding my footing on the other side. One slip here and I would most definitely need to be airlifted out.
Yufu relented a bit after that challenging scramble and I soon found myself sitting on the high point of the volcano. I snapped a quick photo before retracing my steps back through the labyrinth of chains, which were even scarier on the descent. I collapsed back at the junction in a heap of sweat and adrenaline. On the way back down the mountain I started counting the switchbacks, only to be met by a Japanese couple on their way up to the peak. It turns out the husband-and-wife team were also counting the switchbacks, but their numbers were surely off. I think they were counting a 360-degree change of direction as one complete switchback instead of the usual 180-degree turn. Anyone want to shed light on which on is correct? I counted at least 40 different changes of direction in my 20-minute jog back down to the base of the peak.
Once back at the junction where I’d met the Self-Defense men, I tried my luck at climbing the grassy cone of Iimorigajou, a short but incredibly steep climb just south of the restpoint. As I stood among the fresh greenery, admiring the bird’s eye views of Yufuin in the valley below, I raised my hands in sheer joy: it doesn’t get much better than this.
On my map, I spied a trail back into town which did not require the assistance of a bus, so westward I continued on the aptly named western trail, which weaved through the stunning grasslands as trails in Scotland are apt to do. I truly felt as if I were suddenly transported to a different climate, snaking smoothly through the overgrown pastures like a shepherd searching for its lost flock.
By the time I reached the forest it was nearly 5pm, so I quickened the pace, arriving in town a short time later. After a quick bath at the thatched-roof waters of Shitanyu on the shores of Kirinko, I strolled through town back to the train station, just in time to meet the hostel proprietor, who drove me to my waiting accommodation. Mt. Yufu was incredibly impressive, but I knew that I must return to see the summit views unobstructed by cloud formations. I knew winter afforded my best chance for that opportunity.