Maps and volcanic activity updates
I would recommend reading the following page before heading out for the walk. It shows a map of the route we took and provides information of whether Mt Shinmoedake is open for walkers:
You can pick up a walking map from the shops at the Ebino Plateau car park, although the route is always well signposted and it would be difficult to get lost.
Parking and amenities
There is ample parking at the Ebino Plateau costing c. 500 yen for the day but the Fudo-ike Lake car park, c.1km uphill towards Mt Karakunidake from the main parking, is free.
The Plateau has a small restaurant and two shops selling drinks and snacks. I’d recommend the unlikely named Pocari Sweat hydration drink and chestnut cream filled pancakes. Steer clear of the mini mango jelly pots. Outside of opening hours, two vending machines sell drinks only. Take plenty of water for the walk – there are no reliable water sources along the route.
If you are lucky enough to have a readily available lift the route can be shortened, without losing the charm of the walk, if you walk only halfway around Lake Onami and descend via the path leading to the Onami Trailhead parking.
“You are banned from going beyond this point because it’s dangerous. Please do not stop walking or squat down in places where you smell strong sulphurous odors. Mt Iou is an active volcano.”
This seemed like one good reason to turn back which we hadn’t covered on the Mountain Leader training in Snowdonia. B and I were standing at the start of our climb of Mt. Karakunidake in Kirishima National Park on the island of Kyushu, Japan. Steam was rising from a dirty ugly grey and mustard-yellow gash in the slope less than fifty meters away from the cordoned off footpath. The air smelled strongly of eggs.
B had outsmarted me and organised a mountain holiday where the peaks are mostly active volcanoes. We had been turned away from Mt Aso the previous day due to renewed volcanic activity and road damage following a strong earthquake earlier in the year. And then he spied someone in the long grass further up the slope, descending. We followed him from the road and met up at a path which joined the road a few hundred meters away. It was open and signposted for Mt Karakunidake.
The path wound its way to the right of the smoking Mt Iou and soon disappeared into the trees, which thankfully offered shade for a significant proportion of the ascent. A giant black moth delicately fluttered past us as we climbed into the clouds. The mountainside was blanketed in azalea bushes – the flowers blossom bright pink in a stunning display of colour between early April to early May.
A new path had been built alongside the heavily eroded old route with distance markers to the summit. I think there were ten in total, with the first three amusingly translated as ‘1th station, 2th station and 3th station’. All the Japanese walkers we passed wore long sleeved tops and trousers, sunhats and, inexplicably, gloves. Was this to prevent tanning? We sweated buckets wearing far fewer layers and as we climbed higher, Ben got angrier and his grumbling got louder. Mountains seem to have the opposite effect on him and he remains my hardest to please test subject when it comes to mountaineering.
The walk was straightforward and kept to the right of the crater rim until we were within a few hundred meters from the summit, at which point we got the most amazing glimpses down steep cliffs to a turquoise lake inside the crater ringed by thick foliage. A lost world. We soon reached the summit where sparrows were playing along the overhanging crater rim, nose diving over the edge to come soaring back a few seconds later, corkscrewing skywards. In clear weather there are views to Mt Shinmoendake and even Mt Sakurajima, the ever smoking volcano in Kagoshima bay, some 50km away. “Thank you for taking me with you Anna”, B murmured. It was a good view.
We only got a glimpse of Mt Shinmoendake on our descent towards Lake Onami, the large caldera lake of Mt Oonamiike. Numerous vents were smoking violently from inside Mt Shinmoendake and the tree line had been scorched an ugly grey for a good couple of hundred meters below the crater rim. The mountain was very much alive and off limits to walkers.
The descent towards Lake Onami was much steeper than the ascent from Mt Iou had been but the path mostly consisted of a series of neat wooden steps. Just below the summit there had been a substantial land slide (earthquake damage?) for which a detour had only partially been installed so the going was a bit rough for the first 100m or so.
After 30mins of descent, we met a cross-road in the paths and set off uphill to Lake Onami. We mistakenly took the 2km signposting to mean the circumference of the crater rim but this was in fact only half the distance and it took us a good hour and a half to walk the full circuit. The path, which mostly cut through thick forest, had lots of view-points of the lake, to which the perfectly conical slopes of Mt Karakunidake made an impressive backdrop, especially with clouds covering the summit.
Reaching the cross-roads again, we followed the raised wooden walkways back towards the Ebino Plateau. We had the rough and muddy path all to ourselves. Judging from deep water-cut carved runnels on the paths, numerous dry stream bed crossings and intermittent 3ft high wooden walkways, it’s a path that’s unlikely to be much fun after heavy rain. Thick undergrowth pressed in on all sides. We could hear, but not see, all manner of birds with their cacophony of calls and songs. Were they warning of our approach? After an hour we spilled out onto a road and a few minutes later, into the restaurant back at the Ebino Plateau for a katsu curry and across the road for a follow-up ice cream.
After bumping into some of the national park’s famously friendly deer on the short walk back to our free parking at Lake Fudo-ike, we drove back to our hotel for an evening of sushi and hot spring baths.