Saturday, January 16, 2010

Japan - Day 12

Today we went into the heart of the island, which is a national park. We were told that one of the best walks had just opened, so early in the morning we took the bus and started the long, long climb. Chris fell asleep almost immediately, but I stared in awe at the magnificence of the landscape. These are some steep mountains!

By 9:30 we were standing at the trailhead looking with some apprehension at the recently opened trail. It may have opened in the minds of mice and men, but nobody told the snow anything about it, so once again the Mickey Mouse shoes were asked to do the job of snow crampons, and the new set of umbrellas were asked to do the job of alpine piolets, and Chris and I bravely ventured into a world of wonder. It is a deep canyon, at an elevation of about 1200 m, where are luscious forest has grown. It turns out that Yakushima has a very high rate of rainfall, so its ecosystem is like that of the Olympic
Mountains in the US, and trees that are normally "big" grow to gigantic proportions. The patriarchs are cedars, one of which was 1,800 years old, which were highly praised during the Endo period (about 300 years ago) for the construction of temples and castles.
Everywhere one sees evidence of old logging activities, in the form of gigantic stumps from where new trees have grown. The Endo loggers were mostly interested on splitting shingles out of very straight trunks, so they left behind large middens of stumps, branches, or knots. Because cedar is a very resinous wood these leftovers have aged beautifully through the last 300 years, and are now sought after by the islanders for the carving of statues, vases, plates, and beautiful tables (later in the flatlands we saw one that sold for $10,000 and was to die for).

So Chris and I trudged through about 2 kilometers of this winter wonderland, amazed at the sight of deep ravines, roaring rapids, and surreal gnarly trees. By the time we got back to the trailhead we were comfortably tired and fairly wet. Then we realized that we would have to wait nearly three hours for the return bus, so Chris suggested we walk down the mountain (remember he had slept all the way up, and had not see the 15 kilometers of road we had climbed through. "How far can it be?" he asked rhetorically. Just as rhetorically I answered "Oh, a few kilometers." After all, who am I to break his little heart (besides, the prospect of a death march was kind of appealing to me).

Chris is a trooper! He walked a few paces behind me, without complaint, for three hours. We averaged about 4.5 kilometers per hour, so were nearly to the base of the island when the blessed bus made its appearance and picked us up. On the long way down we stopped to look at the rocks now and then, and I had to change my opinion about the geology of Yakushima. It is the perfect pluton! The core of the island is formed by a quartzmonzonite with giant crystals of potassium feldspar. The pluton intrudes a tilted sequence of pillow lavas and marine sediments accreted along a subduction zone. This tilted sequence fringes the pluton all around the island, and forms the narrow strip of lowland that separates the mountains from the sea.

By the time we got home we were hungry and very tired, but after a nice meal and a hot water bath I am ready for another death march tomorrow (actually a half death march, because our ship departs at 13:30). Some people never learn :)

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