Hello! Long time no see! Max here! I haven’t been writing too much lately but my life has certainly not been as inactive as this blog. To give you a quick update, I’m married and will soon be a father! But let’s save that story for another time.
Today I will be introducing one of the two newly opened routes to climb Nakadake and Takadake, two of the major peaks of Mt. Aso.
If these names don’t mean much to you I’ve been kind enough to point them out for you in the picture above. Takadake, literally meaning “high peak” is the highest point in Kumamoto, and Nakadake, meaning “middle/center peak”, is the closest peak to the active volcanic crater. These two peaks are part of the five peaks that make up Mt. Aso, or Aso Gogaku, one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains.
So, a new route, why is this interesting?
As you can see in the picture above, there are different spheres marking a 1, 2, and 4 km distance around the active crater. Depending on the activity of the volcano the alert level rise and fall. When the alert level reaches level 2, visitors are prevented to enter inside a 1 km distance from the crater. Which is something that happens quite a lot. The regular hiking route would go through this area preventing jolly hikers from checking off the highest peak of Kumamoto from their list. Recently this new Suzume-iwa Ukai (ukai=circumvention) route allows you to visit both peaks while staying clear of the 1 km line! Happy news for all mountain lovers! With that said, let’s get started!
We will start out from the parking lot by Sensuikyo. There are both a visitor center and toilets available here so you can buy something to drink, check out the route and get rid of unnecessary waste liquids from your body.
For the detailed location, check out the map below:
One more thing!
The route is rather steep, as you soon will notice, so make sure to write down your information on one of the sheets from the plastic container and put it in the box below. Going into the mountains always comes with some risk so let’s be on the safe side!
Here you can see our route as well (tracked in the app YAMAP). The nice part about this route is that you don’t need to head back down the same way you came. As you might notice, the scary part is that the descent is rather steep…
With that said, let’s go!
There are two routes to pick from, the left route and the right route. It is hard to say for sure which one is the best but I’m happy that we picked the right route. The left would require you to pretty much climb bouldering style in a very steep hill upwards. The right one has better pavement and is definitely an easier climb. I guess it comes down to preference but I felt like we made a good choice. This route also lets you go to Nakadake before Takadake, saving the highest point for last!
During this season, you will also be able to see the beautiful pink rhododendron flower Miyamakirishima blooming along the lower parts of the trail!
The best way to summarize this trail is up up up up… down down down down… In other words, expect to find yourself out of breath, especially during the climb. Thankfully enough there are many benches and comfy rocks along the way so feel free to take regular breaks and recharge.
The first parts of the road is well paved but as you keep going, the road gets more and more rough, personally, I prefer that tough!
You might be able to tell from my overly excited expression?
Another nice part about this route is that you will see the beautiful scenery of the Aso caldera spreading out behind you so remember to turn around and enjoy the sight. It is also rather gratifying to see the parking lot that gets smaller and smaller, reminding you of your awesome performance.
After about 1 hour of puffing and panting you will find yourself looking upon this scenery. As you can see, the original route is currently closed due to volcanic activity. So even though exploring that abandoned ropeway station up ahead seems extremely tempting, be a polite hiker and refrain from going past this point!
This is where the new trail that covers about 1 km starts!
If you look slightly to the left you will see some ominous yellow scribbling on a huge boulder. Not very foreigner friendly but this actually says “Nakadake ukai,” in other words, the start of the circumvention route.
In my opinion, this is where the real fun begins! No actual trail, instead you have to search for yellow dots and arrows painted on rocks to guide your way.
Sometimes the markings can be quite hard to spot so keep your eyes open! Can you see it?
There is one point where you will use a rope to bridge a small gap but nothing too scary!
Keep going on this trail for about 15-20 min and you will finally reach…
The top of Nakadake!
From here you have a great view of the active crater as well! Take in the splendid and otherworldly scenery of Aso!
To reach Takadake, you will walk another 20 min along the ridge of the mountain. This part is probably the easiest part of the trail.
Along the path there are some splendid views of the caldera, and some sweet spots to grab a couple of pictures that look a lot more dangerous than they actually are!
And before you notice it…
Takadake! The highest point of Kumamoto! Even though I’ve been living in Kumamoto for 2,5 years it was my first time coming here. Partly because the normal trail has been off limit for most of the time, and partly because… I’ve been lazy I guess! 😅
Anyhow, a great feeling to finally reach the top of Mt. Aso, the symbol of Kumamoto!
Now all that is left is to head down…
…Something that turned out to be far more challenging than expected!
The path is rather slippery and there are many loose rocks so be careful! I think all of us slipped and ended up on our bums at least one time.
But more than anything, as I hope this picture illustrates, it’s partly very very steep! I can’t stress this enough, proceed with care and watch your step! With that said…
Remember to have fun as well!
After slightly more than an hour of going downhill, you will once again find yourself surrounded by beautiful pink flowers. But remember to stay focused all the way down! Most accidents actually happens at the end of hikes when people start to relax and don’t pay attention.
A few final words!
This time I introduced the newly opened Suzume-iwa Ukai route to climb Nakadake and Takadake. There is actually one more new route called Sarayama Ukai route which can be used if you ascend from the direction of the Aso Sanjo Public Square. Maybe I’ll introduce it next time!
The route we took was actually a lot harder than I had expected. I can’t say how much of it comes from my lack of exercise lately but it felt a lot harder than my hike on Yakushima at the end of March. With that said, we all made it through and as long as you take frequent brakes it should be fine. I would also recommend bringing poles which probably would make the constant climb a lot easier.
The descent is very steep and some places really force you to use your hands so bring gloves! Also, it’s probably a good idea to not go alone to ensure that you can support each other on the steeper parts. If you’re looking for an easy walk, than this might not be your cup of tea. Or you can skip the steep descent and go back the same way you climbed.
Anyhow, I enjoyed it a lot and it made me realize that I need to start exercising again!
Thank you for reading and hopefully I wont wait another year before writing again!