PHOENIX – Every morning for the past three years, Ken Koshio has been waking up before sunrise to hike Piestewa Peak.
“The energy, what I receive from the sun or even the breathing air, birdies singing, everything gives me a lot of beautiful blessing energy,” he said.
On his back he carries instruments, sometimes a drum and flutes, sometimes a conch shell and bells.
The Japanese taiko drummer, singer-songwriter and peace activist moved to Arizona in 2004. He’s originally from Nagoya, Japan, and he’s been making music for more than 30 years.
Koshio has become known for his daily hike up Piestewa Peak. People gather at the top of the mountain in north Phoenix and wait for him. Koshio calls them his Piestewa family.
On a recent morning, as his Piestewa family passed around hot drinks and caught up with each other, Koshio unpacked his instruments.
Eventually, he stood and addressed the crowd. This particular morning was special because it was the first day of Koshio’s fourth year doing the daily hike.
“Good morning everybody,” he said to the group. “My name is Ken Koshio, I’m here every single morning since March 23, 2020.”
March 23 is significant for a couple of reasons. Not only was it the three-year anniversary of Koshio’s daily hike, but it was also the 20th anniversary of Lori Piestewa’s death. The Hopi woman was the first Native American woman in the United States military to die in combat, and Piestewa Peak is named after her.
“Bless you, namaste,” Koshio said at the end of his speech.
He lifted up his drum.
Koshio let out a yell from the top of the mountain before hitting the drum once.
The energy was electric as Koshio continued to drum.
Eventually he put down the drum and walked around to each person, ringing small bells over their heads as his son, Miro Koshio, played the flute.
“(The) ceremonial bell, it’s called the orin … this one (is) designed for meditation bell,” he said. “Makes it to be calm.”
After he rang a bell over every person on the peak, Koshio joined his son in playing a flute.
Miro played “Amazing Grace,” dedicated to Lori Piestewa. A separate group of hikers had just completed a climb in her honor. One waved an American flag at the top.
Over the years, Koshio has mastered the 1.2-mile hike. He said it takes him 30 to 40 minutes to climb to the top with the drum, 20 minutes without.
He takes quick steps and short breaths, drum hoisted over his head, using only light from the stars above and city below to guide him.
Koshio claims he is not really a “hiker-hiker,” but Piestewa Peak is the third-highest in Phoenix, and it takes the average hiker closer to an hour to get to the top.
“I live down on the base of the mountain and I see helicopters constantly rescuing people,” said Reynaldo Martinez, a financial adviser and regular hiker. “Especially during the summer, it’s not safe.”
Martinez’s friend, Joe Hourigan, a lawyer, said the climb was worth it.
“The community that has developed up here, really because of Ken, is pretty incredible,” he said. “It’s created some really long-lasting friendships.”
The pair first met Koshio in 2020, when their weekly basketball game turned into a weekly hike.
“COVID shut (the game) down,” Hourigan said. “After about five months of not seeing everybody, we decided we needed to do something, and so we switched over to hiking.”
After more than a thousand sunrise hikes, Koshio said he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“(I) kept on climbing every day,” Koshio said. “This whole atmosphere and the air, everything at the top, it’s so fresh.”