Posted tagged ‘Hokkaido hikes (北海道)’

Mt. Rausu (羅臼岳)

September 24, 2008

Mt. Rausu is the highest point on the Shiretoko peninsula, a World Heritage site renowned for its striking beauty, abundant wildlife, and pristine nature. It also happens to be one of the most notorious places in Japan for brown bear encounters.

The hike: From the parking lot at Iwaobetsu Hot Spring, walk on the paved road that goes next to the large hotel until you come to a mountain hut and toilet. The trailhead starts here. The path climbs through a breathtakingly beautiful forest before reaching a rocky area with nice views out to the Sea of Okhotsk. There are warning signs written in Japanese about bear encounters in this area, so make sure your bell is working. The trail is very easy to follow, and you should reach the only reliable water source in about 90 minutes or so. You’ll see it on your left via a very short spur trail. The water is safe to drink and there’s also room for 2 or 3 tents in the vicinity. Make sure you buy a “poop bag” at the trailhead so you can (literally) pack out your shit. After the water source, the path flattens out, passing through a marshland called Gokuraku-daira (極楽平). The place is definitely bear territory, so make plenty of noise in order not to startle any bears in the vicinity, Once you’re past this point, the trail starts climbing again with a series of switchbacks. You’ll pass by another water source, but it’s not very reliable. Shortly beyond that the trail enters a rocky gully, where you’ll start the final climb up to Rausu-daira. In early summer this gully is one long, continuous snowfield, but everything should be melted by August. Keep climbing up and eventually you’ll reach a flat area with room for about 5 or 6 tents. This is Rausu-daira, and you can see the rocky summit of Mt. Rausu rising majestically off to your right. It looks so close, but it’ll take you the better part of an hour to reach the top. Most hikers reach Rausu-daira 4 to 5 hours after starting the hike. Continue hiking straight ahead, and soon you’ll reach a 3-way junction. The trail on the left climbs up towards Mitsumine and Io-zan, while the path straight ahead will take you down to Kuma-no-yu hot spring. Ignore both of these trails and turn right for the summit climb. Shortly after passing the junction you’ll find some water dripping from moss-covered rocks. While marked as a water source on the map, I can’t vouch for its quality (although I did see plenty of Japanese hikers indulging themselves). The path meanders through a rocky playground, with plenty of places to refine your boulder scrambling techniques. It’s quite easy to follow in fine weather (thanks to the paint marks), but is definitely gets tricky just below the summit. The scenery is very reminiscent of the Japan Alps, and if the cloud is in then you’ll definitely swear that you’re in Nagano! Anyway, on a clear day the views are outstanding, so bring a camera and admire the vistas. The trail dead-ends at the summit, so retrace your steps back to the junction. You can either set up camp, return back to Iwaobetsu hot spring, or consider traversing down to Kuma-no-yu. I’ve heard the latter trail is rather long, but rewarding with much fewer hikers (and more chances to see bears). While at Iwaobetsu, don’t forget to check out the free outdoor bath, located in front of the hotel at the end of the parking lot. Cross over the small footbridge and you’ll soon find 3 pools cascading down the side of the hill.

Special Note: Bear sightings are common on this hike, so please be prepared. You can rent bear spray from the mountain hut, but it’s not really necessary unless there have been sightings recently. Just bring a bell and make plenty of noise and you should be ok. Also, as of August 2008, it’s not possible to do the full Shiretoko traverse up and over Io-zan because the trail down to Kamuiwakka-yu-no-taki is currently closed for repairs. You can, however, camp at Rausu-daira and do a long up-and-back ascent of Io-zan, which will take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours.

When to go: This hike can be done from early June to early October, though you’ll want to be prepared for a lot of snow if hiking before July. The hike is 12km return, so make sure you get an early start. I’d recommend staying at Kinoshita Hut (木下小屋), a lovely lodge located at the trailhead. It only costs 2000 yen to stay (bring your own food) and it has a wonderful outdoor bath.

Access: From Shiretoko-Shari (知床-斜里) station, walk across the street to the Shari Bus Terminal and catch a bus to Utoro Hot Spring (ウトロ温泉ターミナル). From there, change to a shuttle bus bound for Iwaobetsu Hot Spring (岩尾別温泉). There’s only one bus a day (leaving Utoro at 8:50am), so it’ll probably be better to board the shuttle bus bound for Shiretoko Goko (知床五湖), disembarking at Iwaobetsu (岩尾別) and either walking or hitching the 4km to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Utoro for a money-fleecing 7000 yen! This has to be one of the most expensive taxi rides in all of Japan. Click here for the complete bus schedule. If you’re coming from Sapporo, it makes more sense to take the overnight bus directly to Utoro. Click here for information (in Japanese) on that option.

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1431m).

Mt. Poroshiri (幌尻岳)

September 5, 2008

Mt. Poroshiri is one of the best hikes in Hokkaido, if not Japan. Buried deep within the Hidaka mountain range, the peak offers awe-inspiring alpine scenery, unspoilt panoramic views, and a thrilling traverse through a swift flowing river.

The hike: There’s a stinky toilet at the parking lot, but not much else. The trail starts at the end of the parking lot, and quickly joins a gravel forest road. Hike along the forest road for 5km until reaching the terminus. There’s a concrete dam here and some kind of concrete building. Directly behind the building there’s an excellent place to camp, with nice grass and room for 2 or 3 tents. From the dam, it’s another 4km or so to Poroshiri hut (幌尻山荘). The trail starts off flat, and you’ll quickly reach a point where the trail climbs very, very steeply up the hillside. It’s a near vertical ascent, and you’ll see a lot of ropes. Luckily, there’s no reason to climb up here, as there’s an alternative route to your right, along the river. Climb up the rocks and traverse a small ledge, using the chains to help you through. This is the most treacherous part of the traverse, and be especially careful climbing down the rocks on the return trip. After passing this point, it’s pretty smooth sailing, and you’ll reach your first river crossing in a few minutes. The original trail used to stay on the left side of the river and only had about 15 crossings, but erosion over time has led to an increase in the number of crossings. Every year the number and extent of the crossings are different, and I can imagine a point in the future where the river crossings would start at the dam. Anyway, change into sandals, wetsuit booties, or any other alternative footwear you’ve brought along. The first 2 river crossings are very quick, and then there’s nothing for about 1km or so. There are lots of points where the trail climbs steeply on the left bank of the river, but in every case there’s a much easier traverse right next to the water. After your 6th river crossing you’ll come across a large waterfall on your left. The next 2 river crossings are quite deep, so be careful in this section. Between crossings 18 and 19 you’ll find a deep pool, which makes for a wonderful place to go for a swim (if you can stand the frigid waters, that is). After this pool you’re pretty much home free, as you’ve only got a few more crossings. The last crossing is just before you reach the hut. Drop your pack and check-in for the night. There are 2 different caretakers who alternate shifts. I’m told one of them is really kind and friendly, but the other one is not very friendly at all. It’ll costs 1500 yen to stay for the night (bring your own food and sleeping bag). Alternatively, there are a few places to pitch your tent, but it’ll also cost you 1500 yen to camp! There’s plenty of drinking water as well as a few toilets. You have to stow your backpacks in a small room under the hut during the busy season. The next day, take the trail that goes past the drinking water and start climbing up and up. It’s a 1100m vertical climb through virgin forest. The maps say to allow 4 hours to reach the summit, but you can easily do it in half the time if you’ve got a light pack and are fit. There’s a water source a short distance from the ridgeline, but it might be better to fill up at the hut, as the water is more reliable. Keep slogging along, and the views will start opening up. You’ll see Mt. Tottabetsu (トッタベツ岳) rising steeply to your left, and the summit of Poroshiri directly across from you on the left side as well, with a large col between you and it. The trail continues along the exposed ridgeline. If you’re lucky you can see Mt. Yotei rising up in the distance on your right. About an hour after reaching the ridgeline, you’ll be on top of the summit, taking in the awesome panoramic views. I can’t even begin to describe the scenery on a clear day, but imagine looking in all directions and finding no sign of human activity anywhere (no dams, electrical towers, or cedar forests – just row upon row of mountains!) From the summit, you can either retrace your steps back to the hut, or continue on the trail for the 1 hour climb to Mt. Tottabetsu. You’ll drop down to a col and then climb up to the summit, where there’s a nice view back towards Poroshiri. Keep trudging along the ridgeline for another 20 minutes or so until reaching a trail junction on your left. You’ll see a big red arrow spray-painted on the rocks with the kanji for Sanso (山荘), so take a left here. This trail isn’t used much but it’s relatively easy to follow until you get into the forest. Once you’re in the forest there’s a lot of bamboo grass that may or may not be overgrown when you go. I was unlucky and it was like swimming through a river of grass! I got completely soaked from head to toe and it was very difficult to see. Eventually the trail will spit you out in the river, which you can follow back to the hut. From the hut, you can retrace your steps back to the forest road and parking lot. It’s also possible to do a full-length traverse of the entire Hidaka mountain range. To do this, don’t turn left off the ridge line at the junction, but keep going straight towards Mt. Kita-Tottabetsu. You’ll have to camp at least one more night on the mountain, but if the weather’s good then it’ll be an investment well-made.

When to go: Poroshiri hut is open from July 1st to Sept. 30th, so this is the best season to attempt the hike. Whatever you do, do not attempt this hike if it’s been raining and the river is swollen. Every year people drown in the river, as there are 23 river crossings before reaching the hut.

Access: Unfortunately, you’ll need your own transport in order to make it to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the ‘village’ of Furenai (振内), which lies on highway 237 between BIratori (平取) and Hidaka (日高) or you could try to hitch. I was lucky enough to hitch from the town of Tokachi-shimizu (十勝清水) all the way to the trailhead, but it was a weekend at the height of the climbing season. For the bus schedule from Sapporo to Furenai, click here. For the bus schedule from Tomakomai to Furenai, click here. The phone number for the Furenai taxi company is 01457-3-3021.


Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1552m).

Mt. Rishiri (利尻山)

August 23, 2008

Mt. Rishiri is a spear-like, volcanic peak towering off the coast of Northern Hokkaido. It’s one of the few mountains in the world that offers an unobstructed panoramic view of the ocean on all sides.

The hike: From the campground, follow the paved path towards Kanrosen (甘露泉) spring, an underground spring with refreshing water. It should take about 10 minutes or so to reach the spring. Fill up your water bottles here, as it’s the last water source on the hike. Just beyond the spring there’s a sheltered rest area with a picnic table, as well as a trail junction. Turn right at the junction and follow the well-worn path through the forest. You’ll reach the 4th stage (四合目) in about 15 minutes or so. It’s a gradual climb for about an hour or so before reaching the 6th stage (六合目), where the real climb begins. There’s a toilet box here for those needing to use the facilities. Pick up a toilet bag at the trailhead to use for poop (there are no toilets on the mountain, and you’ve literally got to pack your shit out!). From here until the 8th stage (八合目), it’s a tough slog through brush pine and rocks, but eventually you’ll hit the ridge line, and your first real view of the summit. There’s still a lot of climbing to do, and the peak looks so close yet so far away. From the 8th stage, the trail flattens out before dropping down to the emergency hut, situated on a saddle. If there’s any morning dew then you’ll get completely soaked with all the overgrown vegetation, so consider bringing a pair of rain pants to help soak up the moisture. The emergency hut is in really good condition, bu t there’s no water source here, so bring a ton of water, sleeping and cooking gear if planning to stay here. From the hut, you’re faced with a 500m vertical climb through loose scree and red boulders. It gets quite steep and slippery in places, but there are ropes to help you along. At the time of writing they were in the process of building steps in some of the trickier sections, which will definitely make things easier if they don’t get washed away by erosion. Eventually you’ll reach the small summit of Mt. Rishiri, which has a colorful shrine and room for about 10 people. The panoramic views are absolutely amazing if you’re lucky enough to climb when the weather is good. From the summit, retrace your steps all the way back to the parking lot. Alternatively, you could take the seldom used Kutsugata (沓形) track to descend down to Kutsugata port. The trail junction is relatively hidden, branching off to the left shortly after descending the steep section with lots of red rocks. The trail is quite precarious in places, and not for the inexperienced or acrophobic.

When to go: This hike can be done from late June to early October, when most of the snow is gone. A spring hike is also possible with an ice axe and crampons, but keep an eye on the changeable weather.

Access: From Wakkanai (稚内) station, take a ferry bound for Oshidomari (鴛泊) on Rishiri Island. There are only 4 ferries a day, so plan your time accordingly. Click here for the schedule. From Oshidomari port, you can either hike uphill for about an hour to the trailhead, or catch a taxi for 1490 yen. There’s a nice campground at the trailhead that costs 300 yen per person.

Live web cam: Click here (from Rebun Island)


Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~1500m).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mt. Shari (斜里岳)

August 21, 2008

Mt. Shari is a pointy, rocky peak situated roughly halfway between the Akan lake volcanoes and the Shiretoko Peninsula. The views from the summit towards the Sea of Okhotsk and Pacific Ocean are awe-inspiring.

The hike: From the massive parking lot, take the trail that starts next to the hut. It cuts through a pine forest before quickly dropping to a gravel forest road! Turn left on the road and follow it for about a half a kilometer. The road hits a dead end, where the actual trail starts. This is where the original hut used to stand before the new one was built. Anyway, turn left into the forest. The path follows a beautiful stream for a short time and you’ll soon reach the first of 12 river crossings. There are rocks that you can step on to make your way across, so there’s no need for special shoes and for getting your feet soaked. However, if it’s been raining recently and the stream is swollen then you’ll definitely get wet on the crossings. Shortly after completing the last crossing you’ll reach a trail junction. You have two options, but I recommend doing this trail as a loop by climbing up the left path and descending via the right path. The path to the left is the Kyuudou (旧道 – old path) and the trail on the right is the Shindou (新道 – new path). The old path is also known as the waterfall route, as it basically climbs past countless waterfalls. Again, if the stream is swollen then you might want to consider avoiding this path. Take a left and you’ll soon reach your first waterfall. There are another half a dozen stream crossings along the way, and plenty of ropes and chains in the tricky sections. Overall it’s not too terribly difficult if you’ve got shoes with good traction. After about an hour of climbing the stream will start to peeter out and you’ll come across a junction. This is where the old and new paths meet to become one trail to the summit. It’s marked with a sign written as Kamifutamata (上二股). There’s a small flat space that has room for one tent and it’s probably the only place to pitch a tent on the entire mountain. Stay to the left for the steep climb up to Uma no sei (馬の背 – the horse’s back) where you’ll find your first view of the summit. Turn left again and climb up the steep peak just in front of you. It should take about 10 minutes to reach the top, where the path will flatten out and you’ll pass a small shrine. Drop down to a saddle just below the summit and climb steeply for another 20 minutes or so before reaching the top of Mt. Shari. The scenery on a clear day is fantastic, with a bird’s eye view of the town of Shari, the Sea of Okhotsk, Mt. Rausu, Kunashiri island, and even out to Mt. Meakan! Retrace your steps all the way back down to Kamifutamata and turn left. The trail is relatively flat at first, passing by a trail branching off to the right. You can either take the right trail that passes by a small pond or continue going straight. Both paths will meet up later on, so take your choice. This area definitely looks like bear country, so use your bear bell if you’ve got it. Shortly after passing the loop trail turnoff, the path will climb up to a mountain pass called Kumami-toge (熊見峠). The scenery is very reminiscent of the Japan Alps, as you pass through an area of brush pine with wonderful views over to the summit. After reaching the pass, the trail drops very steeply back down to the stream. On your way down take a look at the trees lining the path, as their branches have been stained with sweaty by countless hikers grabbing onto them. It’s kind of interesting to see how many hikers have grabbed the tree branch in exactly the same place! You’ll reach the original trail junction in about 30 minutes or so, and turn left again to go back to the forest road you started on. Overall, it’s a 9km round-trip hike that should take you anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on your speed.

When to go: This hike can be done from late June to early October when most of the snow is gone. A winter ascent is also possible with the right equipment and experience. There’s a sign at the trailhead prohibiting hikers from starting after 12 noon, so it’s imperative that you arrive at the trailhead in the morning. It’s a stupid rule that the hut manager does his best to enforce. If you arrive in the afternoon, then you can stay at the concrete bunker known as the Kiyodake hut (清岳荘) for 2000 yen. There are no meals served nor is there any drinking water. You’ll either have to boil and filter the water coming out of the sink or buy expensive bottled water from the hut manager.

Access: From either Kushiro (釧路) or Abashiri (網走) stations, take the JR Senmo Line and get off at Kiyosatocho (清里町). From there, take a taxi to the Mt. Shari trailhead. The station is small and unmanned, so call the Kiyosato taxi company at 01522-5-2538 and they’ll pick you up. The taxi costs roughly 4000 yen. Hitching is pretty difficult because the road is gravel and used only by people climbing Mt. Shari, who usually arrive at the trailhead at unreasonable hours! Hitching from the trailhead, however, is relatively easy.

Live web cam: Click here

Map: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 857m).

Mt. Tokachi (十勝岳)

May 18, 2008

Mt. Tokachi is an active volcano, and one of the great symbols of Daisetsu-zan National Park. The image of the peak hovering above the clouds from Mt. Biei is a memory I’ll cherish forever.

The hike: From the bus stop, take the gravel road that starts next to the hotel. The initial trail is pretty easy going, but soon you’ll reach a trail junction, where the real climb begins. Take the trail going to the right, towards Kamihoro Bunki (上ホロ分岐). It should take about an hour before reaching the junction. Turn left here and climb up the wooden steps. There must be at least 5 or 6oo steps built into the volcanic landscape, but eventually (with enough perseverance) you’ll reach the rocky ridge line. Turn left once you do reach it and make your way to the summit of Tokachi. It’ll take about an hour or so to reach the top, where you’ll have outstanding views of the rest of Daisetsu-zan Nat’l Park. Tokachi is a very shy mountain, so consider yourself lucky if the cloud isn’t in. From the peak you’ve got several options. You can either take the trail to the left, which will take you to Bougakudai (望岳台) in about 3 hours. This is in fact the most popular trail to the summit, but there’s no public transport, so you’ll have to either hitch or take a taxi if you go this route. The trail to the right makes its way through a massive scree field before leading up to Mt. Biei (美瑛岳) and the main trekking route to Asahidake. You could also retrace your steps all the way back to the hot spring and reward yourself with a bath. Whichever route you choose to take, you should definitely consider stopping by Fukiagerotenburo (吹上露天風呂), an wonderful, free, mixed, outdoor bath located in the Tokachi vicinity. Click here for some English information. It’s by far one of the best hot springs in Japan.

When to go: This hike can be done from late May to late September without too much trouble. The winter starts early in Hokkaido, and a winter ascent is also possible, but only with the proper avalanche training. 4 people were killed in an avalanche on November 23, 2007, so please heed the warnings.

Access: From Sapporo (札幌) station, take the JR limited express ‘Super Kamui’ to Asahikawa (旭川) station. From there, change to the JR Furano line (富良野線) and get off at Kami-Furano (上富良野) station. At Kami-Furano, take a bus bound for Tokachi-dake Onsen (十勝岳温泉) and get off at the last stop. Click here for the bus schedule. As of 2009, it appears that the bus departs from the town hospital (町立病院) instead of in front of the station. It’s best to ask the tourist information center at Kamifurano station. They definitely speak English there and will be able to get you sorted.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1100m).

Mt. Yotei (羊蹄山)

February 22, 2008

Mt. Yotei, otherwise known as Mt. Shiribeshi (後方羊蹄山), is a shy, Fuji-esque volcano dominating the Niseko skyline, attracting hikers from all over Japan.

The crater of Mt. Yotei

The hike: If you’ve taken the bus, then you’ve got an annoying 30 minute hike on a paved road. Definitely try to hitch to the trailhead to save some energy. At the trailhead, there’s a toilet, small campground, and water source. Fill up your bottles, as this is the only place for water on the hike. The trail starts behind the toilets, not down the forest road in the parking lot. I attempted a night hike and got lost for hours by taking this deceptive looking path. In the daytime it’s a no-brainer, but at night take care. The trail starts off rather gentle and then starts climbing, with plenty of switchbacks and amazing views across the valley to Niseko ski resort. The mountain, like most volcanoes in Japan, is divided into 10 ‘stages’. You should reach the 6th stage (rokugoume-六合目) in around 2 hours after starting. From there, the trail continues to climb until eventually reaching the 9th stage (kyuugoume-九合目). You’ll reach a 3-way junction just before the crater rim. If you go right you’ll reach an emergency hut, but instead stay on the same trail you’ve been on and continue to the rim. The high point of Mt. Yotei is about halfway around the rim, marked by a small sign. It’s easy to find in sunny weather, but you might miss it if the cloud is in. Anyway, circumnavigate the crater, enjoying the abundance of wild flowers and spectacular views. Consider descending via the Makkari trail (真狩), a never-ending, knee-knocking decent that eventually ends in a huge campground. Or go back the same way you came.

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, but the earlier you go, the more snow you’ll encounter. Some hardcore skiers & boarders climb in it in the winter, searching for fresh powder and clean runs. Yotei is notorious for nasty weather, so use caution on the decent if mother nature isn’t cooperating.

Access: There are 4 trails up the mountain, but I describe the one closest to Niseko. From Sapporo station, take a local train for about 90 minutes to Kucchan (倶知安) station. From there, take a bus to Yoteizan-tozanguchi (羊蹄山登山口). Click here for the bus schedule. Alternatively, you can take a taxi for about 3000 yen that’ll get you a little closer to the trailhead.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change: ~1600m)