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Yakushima, be humbled

05/10/04

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Yakushima - Where amateur hikers go to be humbled

By Eden Siwik

 

After spending the night in Kagoshima, Eden and Josh boarded the early morning ferry that would take them to Yakushima Island.  (Shima meaning island in Japanese).  The weather was gorgeous and the ferry ride was quite pleasant.  After about 3.5 hours however, a dark, green land mass, shrouded in a dense flog, loomed ominously in the distance.  Approaching the island was breathtaking.  Yakushima is almost perfectly circular with a circumference of just over 100 km.  (And a diameter of 32 km, for those that are a little slower with the math).  The amazing thing is that it starts at sea level and rises almost 2000 metres straight up into the sky.  Josh and Eden glanced at eachother a little wearily.  They were going to climb over this beast.

Tent camping in the interior is prohibited (and, almost impossible because there are NO flat spots) and so there were a few log cabins built in order to house hikers along the way.  Josh and Eden chose the cabins on the map they intended to aim for each night and, backpacks strapped on tight, they set out on their journey.  Eden quickly realized that her youth group hikes in high school had done nothing to prepare her for what they were facing.  The hiking was very hard but the scenery was incredible.  Every tree, every log, every stone (except for those rolling ones) was covered in a thick carpet of moss.  Yakushima is also home to hundreds of species of ferns and the oldest ceder trees in the world.  Eden and Josh also saw their first wildlife since arriving in Japan.  Yakushima has a small type of deer and well as monkeys.  They oohed and ahhed their way along the path and took many photographs.  All of a sudden they realized that it was getting dark.  They took a look at the map and were astounded to see that they had only hiked about one centimetre on the map, not the twelve centimetres they had intended.  Luckily there was a shelter not too far from where they were.  There was a Japanese man named Taka, a computer engineer from Kyoto who was already at the shelter.  He also had intended to be much farther but had gotten a little lost.  The three ate a quiet dinner together as there were deer grazing just a few feet away and then they played cards by candle light.

Since it was so dark, there was nothing left to do but go to sleep.  Unfortunately, the deer that were so serene while grazing were darn noisy at night.  Around midnight the sleeping campers were woken abruptly buy many high pitched screeches.  The deer continued there bird-like screeches for most of the night and morning came much too early.  Three sleepy-eyed hikers stumbled out of the cabin and prepared for a long day.

Eden and Josh left before Taka.  After their not-so-impressive one centimetre hike the day before, they felt a real pressure to make some distance.  For the entire morning they met no other people and they made pretty good time scrambling up rocks and roots.  In the afternoon, however they collided with tour group after tour group of Japanese people who wanted to see the oldest tree in the forest.  The large number of people combined with the fact that the trail became very difficult and steep slowed them down quite a bit.  Josh and Eden however, arrived at the first major land mark just around lunch time.  This land mark was Wilson’s Stump.  From what they could make out from the Japanese sign, Josh and Eden learned that Wilson was an American that in 1914 hiked through the woods to find the biggest tree, which he then cut down.  Sounded like a moron.

Their legs barely made it to the second major landmark.  This was the Jomon-sugi, the oldest tree in the forest.  Luckily, Wilson didn’t get his hands on this one; or maybe he didn’t want it, because he found an older and larger tree.  The tree is estimated to be 7,300 years old and one of the oldest on earth.  It is said to be the oldest tree in the world, and in other instances it is referred to as the “oldest cedar tree in the world,” so we’re not sure which it is, if not both.  The hike had been worth it.  The tour groups disappeared and Josh and Eden were once again alone on the trail.  It was still quite a ways to the next cabin so the couple groped, shuffled and heave-hoed their way to the shelter.  When they arrived at the cabin, it was already quite full as there were no other cabins for many kilometres and a few trails had to converge there.  Josh and Eden claimed a spot on the floor then went outside to boil some drinking water.  All the Japanese hikers told them the water was clean and delicious and there was no need to boil it but considering Japan has at least one water poisoning disease named after it, (Minamata Disease, where thousands of people got sick or died from mercury poisoning by their delicious and clean water) and this particular water source was down stream from the outhouse, and there was a big, white sign in Japanese saying that the water from this source must be boiled, they boiled on.

By night fall the cabin was packed.  The cabin was designed to sleep thirty-six rather uncomfortably but by seven p.m. there were about sixty people trying to catch some Z’s.  Eden was wedged between Josh and Taka, who arrived at the cabin soon after them.  She couldn’t sleep well, but thankfully there was plenty of entertainment.  In a stuffed cabin of predominantly men, the number of snorers was immense and the diversity of snores amazing.  Eden could hear wheezy snorers, phlegmy snorers, sporadic snorers, and many combination snorers.  The best however, was Taka.  He could, not only snore, but grind his teeth and moan at the same time.  Taka is unmarried.  He will probably remain so.

The next “morning” some very considerate people thought it was necessary to be up and about by four am, even though there would be no sunlight for another couple of hours.  Josh and Eden set out at first light after another meal of trail mix and energy bars.  They quickly discovered this would be their hardest hiking day yet.  The slopes they had to climb were quite treacherous as they neared the summit of the highest mountain in Kyushu.  Their fatigued limbs were barely strong enough to pull their weight up metre by metre.  Their backpacks, weighing as much as twelve year old children, didn’t help matters.  The surroundings near the top of the mountain were magical.  The fog was so thick and wet that it was like rain that never hit the ground.  There were also massive boulders, as large as houses, just perched on the mountain side.  At this altitude, the great cedars gave way to grasses and bushes.

They finally reached the summit of Miyanoura-dake.  They paused for a break, then pushed on in order to make the next cabin by sunset.

The final shelter was a picturesque little cabin right along a beautiful mountain stream.  When Josh went to wash the supper dishes, he couldn’t resist the clear, cool water and he secretly drank about a litre.  He figured Eden would probably not think that that had been a wise decision, so he decided to keep that a little secret to himself.

Only one other couple showed up that night so they would have had a quiet evening except there was a sign in English and Japanese warning campers to store food properly because the cabin was “haunted” by rats in the night.  As ghost rats can be particularly troublesome, much of the night was spent shining the flashlight in the direction of any sound, regardless if it came from the corner, or the other couple.  Eden kept expecting a glowing ghost rat to float in her direction but there were no sightings.

The next morning, Josh and Eden had to leave early to ensure that they would be out of the woods and at the bus stop before the bus; that only ran twice daily; departed.  They caught the bus, and were brought back to semi-civilization.  Eden thanked God that her Canadian Tire hiking boots, bought in the seventh grade, had stood up to the test and Josh, with his upset stomach, wished to God that he hadn’t drunk the clean, delicious river water.

 
 

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