Many hikers ask, "Do I need a guide, or can I walk the trails by myself?"
Of course you can walk the trails alone, but fill out a "Mountain-Climbing Notification" form before you go, and keep your plans flexible. You can ask at your accomodations or stop by a tourist information booth to get a form and ask about weather and trail conditions. Also, if you're hiking without a guide, I recommend sticking to popular trails. They are popular for good reasons, and some disused trails do not actually exist as marked on maps.
Merits of Hiking with a guide:
- Don't get lost.
- They're watching out for you.
- In case of emergency. . .
- They know the terrain.
- Someone to talk to.
- They can offer technical advice
- They carry a lot more than you do.
- They can help you plan.
- They each have their own specialty.
- They'll keep you in line with local etiquette.
Not only will guides take you on trails that they know like the back of their hand, they're keeping track of time and doing their best to help you arrive at your destination safely and timely, whether that's a mountain shelter or the last bus.
A guide's number one concern is your safety. They strive to keep you hydrated and focused and offer advice as best they can (even when that means calling it a day).
A guide carries a first-aid kit. Many guides also carry tranceivers, emergency shelters, and basic rescue equipment and take first-aid and wilderness training courses.
They know where dangerous stream crossings, ropes, and open bridges are. They know from experience where people often slip or bump their heads, and what areas tend to be the most difficult for their guests. They know good spots for eating lunch or taking shelter. They can sometimes recommend side trails.
Especially on long hikes, such as the 22-km hike to Jomon Sugi and back, you may appreciate the company.
Are you new to hiking or curious about how to fit your pack or use your hiking poles?
Especially on 2-day hikes, you'll appreciate your guide for carrying first aid equipment, food, and shelter supplies.
If you tell your guide in advance what kind of hike you're looking for, she can help you pick a trail and tell you what preparations you'll need to make.
If you're looking for a guide that speaks English, or a guide that knows plants, or a guide that knows how to relax, or one that will push the pace, there's a guide for you!
You may not always appreciate that, but folks who come after you will.
Demerits of Hiking with a guide:
- Committing to a schedule
- Staying with the group
You'll need to commit to a certain date when you book a guide, and that may happen to be a rainy day.
For liability reasons, guides like to keep their clients within site. When trails are crowded, they'll want you to stick close, so that you can pass and be passed by other groups easily.
How do you choose a guide?
Of course, I hope that you will choose me as a hiking guide, but there are many others. One way to find a guide is to call tourist information (in Japanese). They will hook you up with a guide who can best meet your needs and is a member of the Yakushima Tourism Association, which requires at least two years of registered residence on Yakushima. (I've lived here since last spring, so I am not a member.) You can also ask the front desk at your accomodations. Another way is to look for a list in the back of a Yakushima tourism book (in Japanese). If you know anyone who's hired a guide before in Yakushima, the best way may be to ask their opinion!