Friday, August 31, 2012

Hokkaido Backpacking Adventures! Part II

Ha! Think you can kill me, crazy mountain storm with super powerful winds? I laugh in the face of, uh, my own very messy death. Um. Yeah.
The first half of our trip was dedicated to doing the Grand Traverse, a pretty hardcore backpacking course that hits a number of the major peaks in Daisetsuzan over a period of 4-5 days. Not being the most physically in shape people, we decided to only do about 2/3 of the route, covering all but the final day of the actual Traverse. We also made things a bit easier by using rope-ways. We camped the first night in Asahidake, then caught the rope-way up at 7am the next morning.

The fancy new gear! I may have developed a slight addiction to outdoor stores and all their shiny outdoor goods.

The first day involved hiking past Mt. Asahidake through some alpine meadows which eventually led to a nice little natural hot spring beside the trail. We took the opportunity to soak our feet before beginning the ascent of the first peak, Mt. Nakadake. From here we could look down into an amazing caldera, surrounded by many of the peaks that we would cross later on our trip. The soil of the caldera was an array of whites, reds and blacks from the volcanic minerals.

Looking down from Mt. Nakadake into the caldera.
Just as we reached the peak, a storm blew in. We had to dig out our rain gear and spend the next few hours trudging through the rain and fog, unable to see much of the scenery around us. Unfortunately the bad weather continued pretty much all day, so by the time we made it to the final peak of Day 1, Mt. Kurodake, we were tired and soaked and looking forward to finding our campsite. We had decided our stopping point would be at the little onsen town at the bottom of the Sounkyo Gorge, so from Kurodake we hiked down the slippery, rocky trail for a good hour to the rope-way. It took us ages to find the actual campground in Sounkyo, as it was located much farther out of town than the map indicated and was badly marked. Finally we found it and got some well-deserved rest.

Yep, we hiked 5+ hours in a storm, ate granola in the mud for lunch, voluntarily. This what I do on vacation people, clearly I was dropped as a child.
The top of Mt. Kurodake, where all our hiking was paid off with a great foggy view of... fog.
The next day we decided to be lazy and bum around the town of Sounkyo, getting cleaned up in the hot spring and spending an inordinate amount of time in the local conbini (convenience store) and the park. 

Day 2 started with a lovely view of the gorge and surrounding mountains as we rode the gondola, and then a very hot hour and a half trek straight up to the peak of Kurodake. This time the weather was great and we could take in all of the amazing scenery we missed on the first day.

Catching the gondola out of the Sounkyo Gorge to Mt. Kurodake.
The stunning view from Mt. Kurodake when you can actually see things.
We had to cross a number of peaks on Day 2, starting with Kurodake, on to Hokkaidake on the opposite side of the caldera, then past Hakuundake where the weather started to get gloomy. A bunch of storm clouds were gathering, so our fellow Japanese hikers all stopped early at the emergency hut on Hakuundake. I was a bit tempted to do the same, as our gear was not the most high-tech stuff available, but Anna persuaded me to continue on. We crossed a huge alpine valley along the edge of a cliff, with stunning views in to the gorge below, and luckily the clouds remained on the horizon and the weather was decent. We finally made it to the last peak of the day, Mt. Chubetsu, and stumbled down to the emergency hut where we camped for the night. The location was gorgeous, in a meadow full of wildflowers, right next to a stream, which I appreciated from my tired stupor, cocooned inside my sleeping bag while Anna did all the cooking like a trooper.

On top of Mt. Hokkaidake, eating lunch with a bunch of ojiisan on Day 2.

Looks like The Sound of Music; is actually the emergency hut at Hakuundake.

The lovely and not at all vertigo-inducing cliff we walked along on Day 2.

Day 3 we had been warned would be rainy, so we had a bit of a debate over whether to spend a day hiding in the tent or try to escape the mountains via our final destination, the onsen town of Tenninkyo. We'd both been uncomfortably cold and unable to sleep the night before, so the idea of a night on the mountain in a storm didn't sound appealing. We decided to pack up and head out.

Unfortunately, just as we made it to the peak of the first mountain, the mild rain turned into a nasty storm with incredibly strong winds. By that point turning back didn't seem like a viable option, and according to the map the next peak was smaller and from there it was all downhill to Tenninkyo. What the map didn't show was how close our trail came to some steep cliffs, and as we tried to cross them the wind got bad enough that we ran behind some trees to take shelter. When it died down a bit, we climbed the final peak as fast as we could and began our descent.

I don't know what's more horrifying, the nightmare that was Day 3 or the fact that I had to endure it in a bright blue Smurf Suit.
The trail off the mountain was not so much a trail at that point as it was a river. My rain-gear was not high-quality and I was soaked by this point, and my boots ended up full of mud and water. The course was full of slippery red mud, hidden rocks and wet grass, so naturally I fell several times, got some nasty bruises, and ended up with a purple toe from a giant bruise under the toenail. Battle wounds aside, we finally, finally got off the mountain only to discover that Tenninkyo has no buses and we'd have to walk another 6 kilometers to the closest bus stop. 

Luckily we were saved by an incredibly nice old man at a hotel, who shared our situation with an equally kind young couple, and they offered to give us a ride-- despite us looking like we'd just crawled Apocalypse Now style out of a swamp. Three hours of hiding out by an abandoned hotel later, we got our bus and made the long journey back to Sapporo where our lovely hotel room waited.

Bruised and broken by the mountain, hiding outside an abandoned hotel, we still found time for a cuppa.
Despite Day 3 being a bit of a nightmare and the mountain actively trying to kill us, I am really, really glad that we did this course and proud of what we achieved. If I'd known from the beginning how tough that trail was, I would never have thought I'd be capable of hauling a giant, heavy backpack up several peaks each day, walking for hours non-stop... So as crazy as it was, I really can't recommend it enough. I got to see parts of Japan that even most Japanese people will never see. Daisetsuzan was unbelievably gorgeous and the experience is one that I will always be grateful for. Plus, I got to keep this attractive purple toe as Hokkaido's very special souvenir just for me. 

We did it!! :D
The Purple Badge of Courage.

1 comment:

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