Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sekiryo Trails Done at Last! 脊梁山地登山道調査完成!

After three years of on-and-off effort, our fieldwork in the Sekiryo Mountains of Central Kyushu is basically complete. We believe we have found all the hiking trails in this poorly documented area. These are shown in red on the map below. The Sekiryo is a wonderful place where we keep returning to find solitude and communion with nature. Out of the way and little known, these hills are actually one of the remotest parts of the whole country. The old growth beech forest preserved on the high ridges is a real treasure. Last winter, for the second year in a row, we spent our vacation here exploring. Most of the pictures that follow are from that time.



Sekiryo is a cold place in the winter, at least relative to the generally mild climate of the rest of Kyushu. Here one can experience a taste of true winter. On this day, summits shrouded in icy vapors, the mountains show a somber face. 冬の景色を見せる五家荘の上福根山。

Wading through bamboo grass basted with wet snow soon soaked us in ice water and made this hike up Kamifukune-yama the coldest of the trip. Cresting the summit we hurried down the other side and were relieved when we descended below the frost line. 雪に覆われた熊笹の藪漕ぎですぐびしょ濡れになって寒かった!上複根山の全ての登山道は、いずれもこんな深い藪がある。

Someone made this rather attractive sign on the otherwise inconspicuous summit of Heike-yama. 平家山の三角点の位置をGPSで確かめる里杏。この手作りの看板はいきなり美しい。

Frost covers a small stream in the early morning. 早い朝、山沢を覆われる霜。

winter hike 2
A friend joined us on one of our winter hikes. It was a windy, snowy Sunday but everyone held out well. ある寒い日、天草の友達と集合して、雪山のハイキングを楽しんだ。

winter scene
A winter scene. 冬の景色。

The approach to the higher peaks is often through long tracts of planted forest. 人工林を通って、原生林の山を目指す。休みの後半気温が上がって、雪が解けはじめた。

You'd be surprised where you can go when you put chains on a minicar. This winter too we had our share of four-wheeling adventure. Here, we make a winter crossing of the Sekiryo range via the landslide-damaged and officially closed Shiiya Pass Road. Along the way the muffler wanted to stay behind and had to be provisionally re-attached using bonsai-tree shaping wire. 4WDアドベンチャーも楽しんだよ。軽車にチェーンをつけると信じられない場所まで行ける。ここは、冬の状態の、土砂崩れなどで現在通行止めに成っている椎矢峠の林道を通り抜けた。だが、途中マフラーが外れた。

All but the highest reaches of the hills are the domain of tree plantations and strange construction ventures. Here, the construction folks left a tree over a mud slick for the benefit of hikers. ハイカーたちのことを考えて、林道の工事の人は滑りやすい泥の上木を置いた。

Leanne squeezes through a bamboo grass tunnel. This kind of thick undergrowth was par for the course in the Sekiryo, but the last few years, disquietingly, the grass has been dying wholesale over much of the area. This has made hiking easier, but leaves one with an uneasy feeling. What's going on? 平家山にて熊笹の森。ここはまだまだ茂っているけど、脊梁山地の大部分は最近多く枯れている。なぜでしょう。

Leaning into the slope of the mountain, Cryptomeria trees stand like matchsticks in this tree plantation. 杉林の景色。

Later in the winter, or was it the beginning of spring, we ventured out to the Sekiryo on several weekends to tie up some loose ends in our trail survey. Mostly, we ended up looking for nonexistent trails and got lost in some thick jungle, but we also found many scenic places like this nameless valley and stream.



old road
An old wall is all that remains of what used to be a horse trail through these hills in samurai times. Because of the difficulty of traversing the extremely steep valleys, through roads usually wound along the high ridges. Finding old traces of roads like this, we feel the history of this land first-hand, and take care to record their location before they are lost to human knowledge. 耳川水源の近く、西郷隆盛が通ったと言われている古い道の跡を発見。こんな物を見つけるの日本の歴史の流れを感じる。全く消える前、少なくともGPSでこの位置を記録した。

Where we need to run long stretches of logging roads, we use our mountain bikes. In the Sekiryo, such roads frequently gain 1000m of elevation before petering out in the jungle. Leanne recharges her strength while I am busy marking trails below. 脊梁の林道を、歩くよりMTBで走る事が早いけど、ここでは昇進者の坂がない。里杏は、僕がなんだか調査した間、体の電池を充電する。

Closer to the villages, shiitake mushrooms are grown en masse on logs stacked in the shade of the woods. These mushrooms grow only in winter, and are quite delicious. 山の集落のもうちょっと近くでの椎茸の畑。

Curiously, different districts in Kyushu seem to have different ways of stacking hay in the rice fields. Whereas in Amakusa, it's hung from bamboo poles, here in the Gokase area of the Sekiryo, miniature haystacks are the norm. 稲の藁の積み方も、地域によって違います。天草で竹の棒に架ける方法があるけど、ここの五ヶ瀬で、こうゆう風に積んでいた。

From the summit of Kamure-dake spreads a view of Kuraoka, a typical farming village on the foothills of the Sekiryo. 脊梁山地の麓にある典型的な集落。これは、冠岳からみた鞍岡です。 


Our most recent venture to the hills was last weekend, to explore a remote valley at the headwaters of the Mimi River. Spring has come, and the forest floor is resplendent with wild peonies and other mountain flowers. Following hints gleaned on the Net, we were also able to find a 'Fossil Forest' where fossiliferous rocks can be had by the handful. Here too, only the thinnest of trails penetrated the wilderness, affirming our convictions that we're pretty much done with our survey.





  • Amazing pictures! I'd love to join you for a hike there! Good work exploring! Looks like a great place to go for your holidays!

    By Blogger Kootenay Mom and Dad, at 2:47 pm  

  • hi nita. thanks for the nice comments. isn't this mountain range magical. we rarely meet a soul, it feels like our special hiking area. wish you could join us. hopefully next year if you can come to Japan, we can take you there!

    By Blogger Leanne and Rik Brezina, at 9:52 pm  

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