Late Snow Hike

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of stuff that I want to post, and not much time to do it. That’s why I’m finally getting around to this hike, which I did on Sunday, April 4th- two days after my birthday and one after our fire drills. I woke up at 6:00 to the sound of heavy rain, and thought that Hieda (Tomoya) sensei would want to cancel due to the weather. To be honest, I was hoping this because I hate waking up early, especially if it means enduring freezing rain and exercise. Fortunately, he was game to proceed as we had planned. As we drove North on the Yamanami Highway onto the plains of Kuju, we noticed that the peaks of Kuju, which were brown and bare just yesterday and had been for the previous three weeks, had been covered in a thick layer of snow over night. We ascended the peaks, and started up the trail. No one else was there, which was very strange for this time of year. All the way up, we treaded through thick, virgin snow, each foot fall producing a pleasant sound that was half way between the squeak of squishing styrofoam and the crunch of pea gravel.
The weather took a turn for the worse, and it started blizzarding. The strong winds slowed our progress, but we made it up in about an hour. At the top, we stumbled upon an emergency shelter, and Hieda sensei made us some ramen and udon with his mess kit. I can’t imagine a better tasting meal, with the wind howling and the snow devils swirling about.
On our descent, we were surprised to see who was climbing the mountain in such weather. About 50 people were climbing up, half of them were groups of retired Japanese, mostly old women decked out in the latest climbing gear. The other half responded to my “Konnichiwa” with a “Ahnyoung-haseyo”. It was really strange practicing rudimentary Korean (just one word, really) in my corner of Kyushu on a snowy day in April.

Unlike the evergreen trees in the lower elevations, these thin-branched trees build up thick and skinny deposits of snow. You don’t hear the sound of boughs straining and cracking like gunshots like the forests of Aso.
This was fun to hike. There’s a feeling of satisfaction knowing that no one has hiked ahead of you on that particular day. On the way up, we saw only the prints of rabbits, foxes, mice, and other woodland creatures.
The landscape of Kuju-san is especially otherworldly on a snowy day. At some points on the trail, we nearly lost our way in the blizzard.