Thursday, November 29, 2012

Allure of the Exterior Mountains

Gazing out from Mt. Ishidzuka
Just as hiking the Interior Mountains is an awesome experience, hiking the Exterior Mountains is a humbling experience.

Traditionally, Yakushima's mountains are divided into the Interior Mountains (Called the Oku-dake, these include the highest peaks.) and the Exterior mountains. (Called the Mae-dake, these mountains hide the Oku-dake from sight of the coastal towns.) In the past, islanders visited the Mae-dake quite frequently, but rarely approached the Oku-dake. The Oku-dake were considered the sacred realm of the gods, peaks for a select few pilgrims to visit annually. Daily needs for wood and forest products were filled from the Mae-dake.

Interior Mountains viewed
from Aiko-dake

View from Taiko Iwa . . .
bit obscured by clouds, but try
Googling images of Taiko Iwa.

Mae-dake seen from
across the valley
And then came the logging boom.

And then the tourism boom.

Now, I think, the pattern is reversed. The trails across the Oku-dake--including Mt. Miyanoura (Kyushu's highest peak), Mt. Kurio, Kuromi-Dake and a few other peaks--are well maintained and easy to follow, with wooden boards and ropes where needed. Popular trails can see hundreds of people a day.

But not so many people visit the Mae-dake. I suppose that although the trails are rougher, they just don't make for good boasting stories. The intense trail up Mt. Mocchomu. The treacherous trail up Aiko-dake. And the allure is a bit more subtle than the "360-degree ocean view" offered by Mt. Miyanoura.

Personally, though, I don't think it's possible to appreciate the grandeur of the Oku-dake without stepping back. Visitors to Shiratani-Unsuikyo's lookout from Taiko Iwa will understand what I mean. To stand on one of the eastern Mae-dake peaks and gaze across the valley at the magnificent Oku-dake is truly a humbling experience.
As if you've jumped into the middle of a deep and vast ocean, you feel incredibly small.

This sensation is ridiculously hard to capture in a picture, but if you fancy experiencing it firsthand, check the weather and do a little homework first: Not all of the Mae-dake offer views of the Oku-dake, and some clouds and fog can cover up the splendor from any peak. Also, despite being lower than the Oku-dake, they can be just as (or more!) dangerous. Taiko Iwa in Shiratani-Unsuikyo is probably the easiest way to enjoy the view I'm talking about, and--since it's located well into the interior of the island--experienced hikers can continue on to access the Oku-dake trails directly from Shiratani.

With a little help from the weather, the view of Mt. Miyanoura can be every bit as moving as the view from Mt. Miyanoura.

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