This two part series will give an overview over hiking the Yakushima traverse in late summer (beginning of September) in 2017. Part 2 can be found here. Yakushima itself is an island in southern Japan (south of Kyushu) and a part of the Kagoshima prefecture. So consider this to be an excourse from Hokkaido ;)! There are no more active volcanos on Yakushima but still plenty of (amazing, seaside) onsen around.
Planning the tour
The Yakushima traverse hike is the grandfather of the hiking routes on the island but multiple variations of the route are possible. We decided on the route starting at Shiratani Unsuikyo, passing Jomon Sugi, climbing Mt. Miyanoura and finishing at Yodogawa. Furthermore, we aimed at bringing the least amount of gear possible with us to keep our pack weight low. However, as it was the first attempt we kind of failed and brought too much of all types of items (food, clothes, misc stuff that “might” be needed). We landed at the northern Miyanoura Port (宮之浦港) at 13:50 by high speed ferry from Kagoshima (depature 12:00), which was a little bit late in hindsight. A note on Kagoshima port: you can leave your car at one of the public parking lots near the ferry terminal for a fee.
Then we took the bus at 14:00 from the port directly to the northern trail head Shiratani Unsuikyo (白谷雲水峡) which took around 45mins. The trail head is at an altitude of 600m and lots of day tourists were coming back from a hike around the massive Cedar trees close to the trail head, such as the Yayoi Sugi. At the entrance, you have to pay 2000JPY per person if you indent to sleep within the National Park (same for Hut and Tent) and fill out a hiking iternary, in case of emergency. Strangely enough, after asking I was told that we don’t need to fill out a similar sheet upon completion of the hike. At that point we hadn’t decided yet if we were going to stay at the Shiratani Hut (白谷小屋) or walk further so we left both options on the sheet.
You can find an English overview of the different trails on the trail map here: http://www.yakukan.jp/doc/pdf/e_tozanmap.pdf
The first few kilometres are fairly flat but offer a great forest feeling already, with huge cedar trees and twirling root covered trails. There is lots and lots of moss covering most rocks so the whole forest looks incredibly green. Even more so due to the humid air and large amount of rain which the island sees! Everything looks kind of fresh and ancient at the same time.
After 45mins we passed by the Kugurisugi Cedar tree, which has a split base where you can pass through!
We reached the first hut after a little under one hour at a somewhat slow pace and immediately decided against staying at the Shiratani Hut (白谷小屋). The reason was that is was still kind of early but more so that the inside of the hut was engulfed in a nasty stench of human waste. And indeed the biodegradable toilet was inside of the hut with door open.
That hut did sport a very large table though, so if you bring a freestanding tent it can be pitched on there. All huts have a creek to refill drinking water.
After the hut the trail ascends up to the Tsuji pass (辻峠), which also offers some flat areas on the trial where you could pitch a tent in an emergency (I believe it is generally not allowed).
We decided to continue further and skip the Taiko rock (太鼓岩) detour. The trail descends again along huge rocks and shortly before the Kusugawa intersection (楠川分れ) spots a stellar camp site, where we seriously complentated staying.
However, there was still a little bit of light left so we decided to continue.
At the intersection the Shiratani trail meets the trail coming from Arakawa (荒川登山口) and continues along old railway tracks.
It is very pleasant to walk on the railway tracks and continue for a seemingly long 3.7km from the intersection. About in the middle of the section is a small toilet house with a few benches to rest. It now began to get dark rather quickly so we decided to get out our lights and actively look for a camp site. We ended up continuing all the way till the end of the tracks at Ookabu Trail Head (大株歩道入口) and in an exhausted state pitched our tent infront of the local toilet building which also provides drinking water.
After some pasta which tasted way to good for what it was, we went to sleep. Day one of eating pasta on the trail.
Total distance covered: 7.9km; elevation gain: 680m