Hiking in Daisetsuzan National Park
Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
58Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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Where I stayed
Tokiya Ryokan, Asahikawa
Leaving over half our belongings at our ryokan we headed by bus to the Daisetsuzan National Park and the start of our short trek at Asahi-dake Onsen
Hakuun-dake (White Cloud) Lodge is set on a promontory half way up a wide snow-filled valley and its lovely smooth camping ground is surrounded by melt water streams from another snowfield above, providing a good source of fresh water. Now very conscious of the presence of foxes and aware they can carry a fatal-to-human parasite which can end up in water sources, we were pleased we’d invested in a good water filter - the MSR Sweetwater. It was a windy night and it was hard not to let the imagination run wild in the pitch black when negotiating the bolder-strewn path to the toilet, a tiny flashing light on the side of the lodge for a guide.
Over breakfast tea we watched two teams of Japanese youngsters pack up their camps, do group stretches and don their backpacks in unison, all chanting, and set off up the valley. In comparison our packing up camp was a complete shambles! Day two’s hiking was through bear country. Like the Japanese people, Japanese bears don’t like surprises, so we were glad for our bear bell and we chatted extra loudly, enabling any nearby bears to amble away unseen. Well, that was the hope anyway! We hiked down the Hakuun-dake valley and along a wide exposed ridge with a steep 300m drop-off to the left. Down below were a series of circular lakes surrounded by thick forest with wisps of steam curling up through the canopy and in the distance mountains in hues of blue
We lunched alone at the unmanned A-frame lodge at Chubetsu-dake-hinan-goya, 10 minutes from the main path. With its own snow-field water source, grass awash with pink flowers and its very cute resident chipmunk/stripped squirrel, it was idyllic, and fun to imagine skiing to this isolated retreat in the height of a Hokkaido winter. Full of pot-noodle we climbed up onto another ridge for views of more valleys and mountains, and then had the pleasure of walking along a smooth solid boardwalk over a colourful wet-meadow for over 2km. In one metre-square we counted 18 feeding butterflies. Grasshoppers and crickets, sunning themselves on the warm wooden boards, were springing off in all directions before us, one even hitched a ride on Phil’s boot lace.
With aching feet we plodded into camp at Hisago-numa-Goya, a lovely lake-side lodge surrounded by peaks, which, to our delight we found was unmanned and therefore free to sleep in. Japanese lodges are really expensive and a fee of 60 quid a night, with food, is not uncommon. We commandeered the dusty attic space above eight snoring Japanese trekkers, hanging out our tent to dry, airing our clothes and cooking up our pretty bland but calorific rice meals. We went to bed at sundown (7pm) and slept like babies.
Day three we were up at 5:30am and on the trail by 6:30am and climbing up through cold mist to our final peak, Ka-un-dake. A lovely Japanese guy, who we’d come across at various points on the trail, and who clearly wasn't taking any chances with bears - he had 8 bells attached to his rucksack, was waiting for us at the top fearing we’d take the wrong path in the mist. He guided us down and noting Phil had a bus time written on the back of his hand offered to give us a lift at the end of our hike to our campsite, on the condition that we got back in 4 hours so he could collect his son from Sapporo. It was such a kind offer and it'd be rude not to accept, so we upped our usually relaxed pace, jumping, sliding and squelching through mud and scrub, scrambling along a flood channel full of pools and dead branches. Our guide, a fit PE teacher at a secondary school in Sapporo, pointed out flowers, fungi, footprints and mountain peaks along the way.
We crossed another smooth boardwalk, this time through a ‘cloud meadow’ full of orchids, then along a dense wooded ridge rich in fungi and caught a view of the waterfall at Tenninkyo, the Hagoromo-no-taki or Angel’s Robe Waterfall
After filling out the trekkers log book in the National Park booth we hopped into our teacher's car and were whisked off to our campsite back at Asahi-dake Onsen, taking him 40 minutes out of his way. Although he spoke very little English and we no Japanese we had shared a really fun day and our trek had been wholly enriched by the encounter. He epitomized the Japanese hospitality, friendliness and consideration that we had experienced many times on our travels through Japan.
After we'd pitched our tent we went immediately to the beautiful mountain lodge YHA across the road to relax in their onsen - any British coyness about stripping off naked in front of strangers had been replaced by a desperation to get clean and pamper sore feet and shoulders. Drinking beer in the common room afterwards we befriended a couple of Japanese trekkers who wanted to practice their English and share their sake with us. What a great end to a fantastic trek.