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Sobo- Katamuki hike


Yakushima, be humbled
The Wardrobe
Sobo- Katamuki hike


"Sobo-san to Katamuki-san, the longest true backpacking trip in Kyushu"... sounds like fun

By Eden Siwik


The plan was set.  Josh, having consulted the Taketa City website discovered that there was an 8:43am bus leaving form the Taketa City train station to the Sobo Mountain trail head near the town of Kobaru.

Josh and Eden left their Kumamoto City apartment while it was still dark in order to make it to Taketa before 8:43.  They arrived in good time.  In fact, they could have taken all the time they needed because the 8:43am bus didn’t actually run until the afternoon.  Knowing that the afternoon bus would mean too late a start, they decided to drive to the trail head.  They would worry about getting back to the car, after a three day trek, later.

Getting out of Taketa was more difficult than the couple had thought.   It seems that all roads in Taketa run in concentric circles and they eventually bring you back to the bull’s eye, where you started.  Finally, they found route 639, which the map showed should bring them directly to the trail head.  It was amazing they hadn’t noticed the tiny “639” sign, nailed to a building about 5 metres above the road, written in 12 point font – blue, with a blue background, earlier.

They twisted and wound their way down 639 for quite a while and were re-assured every few kilometres by another tiny sign that they were indeed still on the correct road.  Not 100 metres from the last route 639 sign, the road abruptly ended in an old lady’s garden.  The old woman was as surprised to see Josh and Eden, as they were to find that although route 639 continued on the map, it was actually a dead end.

With the help of some kindly strangers, including one man who drove ahead of Josh and Eden, they eventually found the start of the trail up Mt. Sobo.

Straight up the side of Mt. Sobo they hiked and they reached the mountain hut before dark.  This hut is known for its luxury as it has two windmills, solar panels, and a composting toilet.  As a result, there is a fee to stay there, and a very strange, hermitty type man who collects the fee.

By nightfall, the hut was packed to about twenty people over capacity.  Eden and Josh, who always seem to attract the single, male hikers spent most of the evening talking with Satoshi, a computer software distributor from Osaka.  Josh and Eden also met a couple of drunken business men from Kita-Kyushu who after dark, showed Eden and Josh their rendition of “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to the chagrin of those trying to sleep.  “One more time!  A little faster!”

The alarm clock war started at about 3:30am.  It seems there is some rule against hikers actually sleeping.  Despite the early wake-up, Josh and Eden didn’t set out until about 6 am.  They started the day with Satoshi, but soon had to part when the trail divided.  Josh and Eden inched their way down the sheer face of Sobo to the mountain ridge.  Day 2 was a day of ups and downs.  Up and down went the mountains, up and down went their energy levels, up and down went their morale and because of the slippery paths, up and down went their bottoms!

Just when they were almost too exhausted to continue, Josh gave Eden some hope.  He told her that according to the last trail marker, the next mountain hut was only 4.5 kilometres away!  Eden burst forth with new vigour!  Trudging up the steep slopes, driven by the idea of a warm mountain hut and some supper.  Josh could not understand her enthusiasm.  Morale plummeted again when Josh explained to Eden that he had not said “4.5 km to the next mountain hut”, but “4.5 km to the next mountain peak.”  The second to last peak that they would have to climb before they could find their way to the hut.

Finally, after over twenty kilometres of up and down, they arrived at the second hut.  It was full.  Luckily, Josh was carrying a heavy tent for just such occasions.  They eased their huge packs off their aching shoulders and collapsed onto the ground.  They couldn’t rest for long however.  They needed water and the trail marker said the nearest source was 300 metres away and 75 metres down.  Josh and Eden walked through the dwindling light in search of the water.  After over 500 metres and 120 metres down, they still had not found it and were forced to retrace their steps, up, back to the camp.  They were very tired and annoyed that the sign had sent them on a wild goose chase.  On closer inspection of the sign, Josh realized he had misread it and the water source was in fact, in the opposite direction of where they had just been searching.  This time, Josh went to get the water by himself.

Day 3 was wet and cloudy.  Josh and Eden clamoured up the treacherously slippery and steep paths to the top of Mt. Katamuki and then continued down for the last stint of the three day trek. 

Somewhere on the way down past a beautiful waterfall, the path became indecipherable and very steep and dangerous.  Eden kept asking Josh, who was leading, “Are you sure that this is the way?  I haven’t seen any marking tape for a long time.”  Josh was sure it was the way so the two continued to “spider-man” their way down the badly eroded cliff.  Just then, Eden noticed some other hikers walking about 50 metres above them on what seemed like a marked path.  Josh and Eden scrambled back up the cliff and eventually met up with the path again. 

Shortly after, they came to some trail junctions.   On the map that Josh and Eden had, there appeared to be a trail, leading from the waterfall toward the town where they were supposed to end their trek.  The logical thing to do seemed to follow the trail sign marked “waterfall”.  Logic very quickly flew the coop however when the trail disappeared and instead of turning around, they continued on, dreaming of a phantom road that would bring them home.  Down another steep cliff they slid and groped until they reached the river and confirmed their worst fears that there was no path leading from the waterfall.  After a hear felt prayer to God to keep them safe from death they wormed their way back up yet another eroded cliff to the relative safety of a marked path.  At this point, they ran into some other hikers who pointed the exasperated couple in the correct direction.

Josh and Eden finally reached the end of the trail and stumbled onto a small paved road.  Some more kindly strangers loaded the pair into their SUV and drove them into the village and to the bus stop.  The bus took them to the train, which took them to Taketa and a taxi which took them back to where they had left the car.

Back in their apartment in Kumamoto, Josh and Eden sat, (because they were too crippled to stand) and planned their next trek – for the following weekend.


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This site was last updated 05/10/04