Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Kanmuri Dake Try 2

(Looking back up the road to the Kobanchaya train station. The station is tiny and unmanned, you just drop your used ticket in a box at the doorway. Fortunately, there is a Lawson's Konbini if you need to buy snacks, but everything is at a 10-20% price markup. Notice the lack of Fall colors.)

Well, my lack of success in getting up Kanmuri Dake continues unabated. Back in August, I wanted to do this hike, but the one day I had open, we were hit by a typhoon, and then I had to work every day after that. Recently, the weather turned nice, and I wanted to see if I could get photos of the Fall colors out in the hillside. So, on Oct. 30 I put on some walking clothes, bought a large bottle of water and some cheese and ham, and set my alarm for 7 AM in order to take the 8 AM train out towards Satsuma-Sendai.

(First sign showing the route to Kanmuri.)

I had to wait for the 8:26 train (840 yen), and it took nearly an hour to reach the tiny little, unmanned station of Kobanchaya. I wanted to get bread to make sandwiches along the walk, so I stopped at the Lawson's next door (no bread). I took the opportunity to ask the clerk if he knew where the trail entrance was. He pulled out an old, torn map, and showed me that I had to go down the road a ways and then follow the signs. Both he and the other clerk seemed to think that I'd be better off not doing the hike, but were too polite to say why. I thanked them, exited the store, turned left and went down the road a few blocks. Just before the freeway overpass, I reached a small side road that had a sign pointing to the left. From here, it's kind of hard to tell where some of the smaller handmade signs are pointing. Just follow the blacktop road as it snakes left, right and then left again.

(Next sign for Kanmuri, to the left).

There's a book of about 50 mountains, valleys and big hills in Kyushu. Kanmuri Dake is identified as location #19. According to the description, it's a good climb, but an easy route that takes 4 hours from start to finish. Start is at Kobanchaya, and finish is maybe 6 miles away on the other side of the hills at the expressway. There's nothing on Kanmuri in English that I can find on a google search, and the only Japanese pages I've seen were from an older Japanese couple that had driven to the entrance and then made the climb. From the photos, I think they started from the freeway side, where there's apparently a formal entrance arch. From the Kobanchaya side, it's just small side streets until you get to a dirt track, and then a decrepit old sign that's falling over that points to a narrow, poorly-groomed trail.

(Last real sign pointing to the trail entrance. This takes you past an old house and a large tea field.)

The decrepit sign within the woods proper points to the right for Kanmuri, and straight ahead for a mountain service road. There was a small white pickup truck at the intersection, but I didn't see anyone sleeping inside. I followed the trail for about another 100 feet into the woods. Occasionally, there'd be fresh scuff marks in the leaves, which led me to believe that maybe the driver of the truck had also taken the trail for exercise, or maybe to check conditions.

(Close up of the above sign. Kanmuri mountain entrance to the left.)

The trail came up to a pile of dirt at the base of a small hill, with another sign pointing to the left. And this is where things turned bad. The trail appeared to skirt the middle of the hill, curving around to the right, with a slope down to a small valley on my left. The ground was covered in leaves and branches, and had almost no markings as to where the trail ran. Other than the scuff marks every 5-10 feet, it didn't look like anyone had been there for a long time. But, I was confident, I expected that the hiking book was right about this being an easy route, and I hoped to encounter the driver in the truck. I pushed forward, trying to get clues as to where the trail should be ahead of me.

(Looking backward about 50 feet from the last part of the groomed trail. From here, everything looks like plain, untrampled woods.)

I could hear a train in the distance, and off and on there was the pounding of a construction site. I took that to mean that I could find my way back to the groomed trail if I needed to, and kept going. The "trail" got very narrow and I kept sliding down the hill on the fresh soil, then tripping over vines hidden in the leaves. My left ankle (the downhill side one) got scratched up pretty fast, pointing out why having hightop boots is a good thing. But, I found an underground gas line marker (or maybe a buried electrical line), and that was encouraging.

After about 100 feet, I came across the ruins of some kind of rock structure. Also encouraging. I kept going. The trail continued around several hills and reached a small creek. Along the way, I found the entrance to a large animal burrow. I could see inside for about 3-4 feet, but it seemed to be empty. It wasn't interesting enough to get me to dig my camera out of my backpack, though. What little there was of the "trail" just ended at the creek. I tried fanning out around the creek to see if I could pick it up again, but there was nothing. It became pretty clear that if I tried to go any farther on my own, I'd need an airlift to get back out. All other sounds had disappeared, leaving me with just the creek and some woodpeckers hidden in the trees. I shouted out "can anyone hear me, is there anyone here?", but didn't get a reply. It was still early, maybe around 11:30, so there was light, and I had food. But, still... Giving up, I turned around and headed back the way I'd came. I was tempted to follow the creek down, expecting that it would come out at a rice farm, but the footing along the creek wasn't good. I got close to where I thought I was supposed to be, and completely lost track of the scuff marks I'd been making myself. To make walking easier, I went down to an open valley, and discovered more old rock structures looking like someone had tried damming up a creek that wasn't there anymore. There were a couple small blue plastic tags next to some tinier trees, but no trail or walkway showing how anyone had got in there to put the tags down.

On an off-chance,  I went up the slope to the right about 10 feet and located an old, disused service road. It connected to the trail leading back to the truck, and had long been chained off with a rusted sign saying "Danger, keep out". The truck was gone (the driver had probably visited the service road, instead of the hiking trail), but I figured that since there was no chance of getting to Kanmuri, I'd at least try seeing where the service road led to. The answer is: nowhere. It died after 40 feet. On the other hand, I did locate other signs of civilization back there...

(Shotgun shell.)

Kyushu allows possession of a rifle and limited hunting if you have a license. Also back in the dead-end were great big glistening black worms about 12" long, and 3 butterflies.

The camera did a good job, since the butterflies wouldn't let me get closer than 15 feet, and refused to stay in one place long. I'd just started filming one that was actively pawing through a flower top, when it and the other 2 all decided to disappear into the woods. Sigh.

Giving up, I returned to the train station and started walking along the street towards the trail exit at the expressway. My thought was to check the trail conditions from the opposite end, then take a bus back home. But, after about 15 minutes, a Pakistani pulled up in his car and offered me a ride to the train station at Ijuin. We talked about a wide range of subjects during the drive. I still don't know if there's a way to get to the top of Kanmuri Dake yet. Maybe the trail is restored every spring, or something. The good thing is that by getting the train at Ijuin, I was able to save 500 yen ($5 USD) on train fares. And I've got all kinds of scars on my left ankle to remind me of this trip.

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