The concrete bunker at the base of Aso provided a safe shelter should the mountain have chosen to erupt during the night, but the choking stench of sulphur was unsettling. It was a relief to emerge at 4 am and start up the eastern route under a full moon, with the city lights far below conveying the reassuring proximity of people, for there was no one else up here. A narrow-focus LED mini-handtorch clearly picked out the yellow paint marks on the rocks, and upon reaching the ridgeline, I was greeted by a pre-dawn chorus of skylarks.
From the summit of Takadake, I crossed along the ridge as dawn broke and the hazy deep blue hue gave way to the welcoming brightness of day, then descended the western route. But what an obscenity! The hiking trail, for a full kilometer down to the carpark, was sealed with rubberized asphalt. Puh-leease.
Sobo felt good – a steep straight climb up, with no undulations to delay the gain in altitude. On the descent, what appeared to be an old forest worker in workman’s overalls was climbing up, followed by two very young men in smart suits and ties, immaculate black office shoes, clutching clipboards and camera. What were they up to?
Kuju did not feel good. It was by now a cloudless sky and hot afternoon, and we were both tired. The undulating route seemed interminable, and Hana lay down on the cool, shaded ground whenever I paused. We passed a French father with his two sons. Stopped at a fork in the trail, they were lost. They had no map, and could read no Japanese!
Back at the car, a health check of one tired dog revealed that the pads on her back paws had been rubbed raw. Sorry.