Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mt. Ichifusa - 市房山

While the pointer is on the map of the Central Kyushu Mountains, it seems a good opportunity to log the classic hiking on Mount Ichifusa, where we ventured the other weekend, bringing along a couple of other hikers to view the season’s colorful foliage. Located just south of Mt. Eshiro on the Kumamoto-Miyazaki prefectural boundary, at 1721m it is one of the tallest peaks of the region.


Mt. Ichifusa stands slightly apart from the otherwise densely packed Central Mountains, separated from its neighbors by deep valleys, it offers an airy view from its summit that is not to be missed by any half-serious hiker. Combine this with the fact that much of the middle and upper reaches of the mountains are covered with natural, undisturbed forest, and a relatively easy access from the nearby city of Hitoyoshi, it is no wonder Ichifusa is one of the most sought after summits in central Kyushu.

ichifusa copy
Better than average satellite land cover images, courtesy of JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, have recently become available, enabling us to create this simulated 3-D view (as well as that of Mt. Eshiro in the previous entry). The extensive marks of human interference, but also the extent of these mountains’ remaining natural forests, are exquisitely visible in these images. Hiking trails are marked in yellow, dirt roads orange, paved roads black and red according to quality; data is from our own GPS surveying. In this view, the right-most trail is the standard, easiest and most popular route to the summit. Two trails lead down from the excellent and challenging cockscomb ridge traverse. One more trail descends on the Miyazaki side toward a trailhead in Nishimera village.

Large cedars line the initial part of the trail up to Ichifusa Shrine. Because the trees along the shrine trail are considered sacred, they are allowed to grow to full size.


A view to the south from the summit. The distant Kirishima group of volcanoes can be seen above a layer of haze.

The relative closeness of the trailheads to the summit of Mt. Ichifusa should not mislead prospective hikers into thinking it is a walk in the park. Although the standard route is only 3.8km long, it is steep most of the way, rising 1130m from the traihead at 590m to the 1721m high summit. (An alternative start exists from a higher trailhead at 790m, which also makes the hike about 800m shorter, but the small parking lot there tends to fill quickly on busy weekend mornings.) Any way you slice it, the ascent will be tiring and take about 1.5-3 hours. After climbing to the comfortably wide summit and enjoying the views and lunch there, experienced hikers can traverse a well-known, exposed and narrow ridge to Futatsu-Iwa (literally Two Rocks), a 1671m sub-summit located to the north-east. The 2.8km traverse involves a number of short but steep ups and downs; the former add up to 300m of vertical gain. Rope-equipped rope scrambles, slippery grass underfoot and the odd bit of third-classing over steep, loose landslides, which conspicuously cover this side of the mountain, will be encountered and the traverse can easily take 2-3 hours. From Futatsu-Iwa a trail descends 2.5km to an elevation of 940m from where dirt and paved roads can be followed for another 4.8km back to the original trailhead.

Carl and Kazumi, our companion hikers for the day, watch their footing on the slippery ridgeline trail towards Futatsu-Iwa.


The well known Futatsu-Iwa circuit has a lesser known, but nevertheless interesting variation. Just north of point 1642m, near the halfway point of the ridge, a branch trail descends along a steep ridge to the west. This time around, we decided to explore it on our descent from the mountain. And although by leaving the main ridge at this point, one avoids much of its difficulties and challenges, going this way has the advantage of returning straight back to the original trailhead, thus obviating the long walk on the roads. This variation is therefore considerably easier and takes perhaps two hours less time to complete, while still giving a taste of what the ridge is like. We recommend it to those who don’t want to return via the standard route but think the full circuit might be too scary or tiring. The descent itself was surprisingly delightful, taking us through some of the best fall scenery of the whole hike. It was also well marked and reasonably easy to walk.



Kazumi and Leanne negotiate the steep ups and downs of the long ridge.

Pretty fall scenery along the alternative descent route.

By now most of the leaves have fallen on Mt. Ichifusa, but the mountain remains interesting during any season. The summit and ridge area is much more exposed to winter storms than its lower reaches, and if one comes at the right time, one can enjoy spectacular rime ice and frost scenery near the summit while the approaches remain comfortably snow free. Seeing the snow-capped mountain from below is also an unforgettable scene. Such views can be seen from the village of Mizukami nestled just below the mountain, where natural hot spring baths await the returning hiker.


Descending down steep slopes through planted forest on the lower reaches of the mountain.




  • Best and most useful information I have found on Ichifusa to date. Thank you so much for providing this! I currently live in Mizukami and have hiked Ichifusa twice, though only the shorter more standard route mostly because I had no idea what to expect of the rest of the trails or where I would end up. Now I can explore without worrying about getting too lost.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:52 pm  

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