Day 5 Details
Day 5 Trail Report
It was a murky, misty start to the day on Day 5 of the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse. We were attempting to complete the longest uninterrupted version of this rather hazily defined ‘Grand Traverse’. 68km from Genshigahara in the far south of the range to Aizankei Onsen in the far north. We’d used no ropeways to access the alpine, so this would be our third full day of hiking. Two days were spent sheltering from a typhoon in a leaky mountain hut.
Yesterday had been a bit of an epic for us fit-but-only-sometimes-hikers. We’d spent a total of 10 hours hiking, combining two shorter days into one long day. Predictably, we were rather subdued this morning. We packed up camp with little fanfare and started the long walk north. We brushed against dew-soaked bamboo grass and dwarf pine. Everyone else had the foresight to wear their waterproof jackets. I didn’t, and so my fleece was soon drenched.
In places, we’d walk under natural foliage tunnels…
…and clamber over boulders.
The misty walking might have been quite a chore had it not been for the curious foliage next to the trail. First, there were the blueberries. Edible. Most of them quite tart. But every now and then there would be a nice sweet once if you were lucky.
Even more curious, however, was a fragrant bush with a fresh-smelling clothes-detergent-like aroma. Perhaps it was the stark contrast between the aroma of the foliage and the funk of four unwashed hikers on day five of a traverse, but this stuff smelled wonderful. Post-hike, I looked it up, and it’s called ezo isotsutsuji (エゾイソツツジ). Ledum palustre ssp.diversipilosum in Latin, apparently, or Marsh tea (source). It wasn’t flowering when we were there, but the leaves still had a very strong, pleasant fragrance. Just brushing past the stuff released the aroma.
Our team on this trip so far consisted of me (Rob), Haidee, Gerry and Ben. We’d not hiked together on many multi-day trips together, so this trip was allowing us to observe each other in terms of how each team member tended to function as the hiking days wore on. Overall, we seemed to be an excellent team. We were all suitably fit for the hike, experienced in the outdoors, with plenty of hiking experience too, but none of us were dedicated ‘regular hikers’.
Most days on the trip, Haidee, Gerry and Ben all had stints up at the front of the group, pulling the team northwards. Today, it appeared Gerry had most up-and-go early in the morning. At a number of points in the morning, she found herself leading the pack.
“I’m in the front again,” she’d sometimes bemoan. “Can someone else go ahead please?”
Curiously, she’d often end up out front again.
Ben, on the other hand, generally appeared still mostly asleep on his feet in the first two hours or so of hiking in the morning. He appeared cognizant, aware of his surroundings, and he certainly was not dragging the chain. But he was more an articulate zombie than fully functioning member of society at this point in the morning – we were, remember, leaving campsites and huts at around 4am in the morning. Beyond that magical two-hour mark, however, it appeared that all systems were go, and he’d often be seen far out in front, enjoying a solo-hiking experience, before cheerfully waiting for us to catch up.
As the day wore on, we’d all be more in lock-step as a group. I had some fleeting moments out front, but I was generally happier to hang back, primarily so I could have plenty of opportunity to capture others in inspiring on-the-trail hiking shots.
Lest those photos give the dear reader the impression that today’s hike was all glorious vistas all the time, I’d better also include the shots below, which give a more realistic picture of the majority of the day’s first half of hiking.
There was a lot of head-high dwarf pine and no small measure of minor bush-bashing.
“It’s like having a day-long drive-through carwash for my clothes, only with soft, fragrant pine needles,” remarked Haidee. This may have been just before she almost tripped on another concealed low branch.
Today’s nature-viewing highlight came in the form of the only obvious bear sign we’d see on the entire trip. A great big pile of bear scat sat in the middle of the trail as we rounded a corner. It looked fresh. Probably deposited that morning. Suffice it to say we were a bit more diligent with our hand-clapping and making noise from that point onwards, as we pushed through the dense brush.
The intermediary goal for the day was the ponds just below the Sansendai junction/plateau, here. These were the only marked water sources along today’s route. They also marked the end of the long ‘pine needle car-wash’. We followed a faint trail down to the ponds and spent some time there filtering water for the remainder of the day’s hike.
Once we were up on the Koganegahara Plateau 黄金ヶ原 beyond Sansendai, the views really opened up. Unfortunately Tomuraushi-yama would stay obscured by clouds until we got to the campsite. It was great to finally have a view after most of the day fending off vegetation.
It was another long day on our feet. Spurring us on to the campsite, however, was the promise of meeting up with Saoka. A good friend of ours and regular hiker, she would tackle the long seven-hour hike up from Tomuraushi onsen that day to meet us at Minaminuma campsite.
We pushed on past the gorgeous lake just below the campsite, and were happy to see Saoka there waiting for us.
“I only just arrived a few minutes ago,” she said.
Earlier in our hike, we weren’t sure we’d be able to meet up with her, due to our frequently changing plans forced upon us by the weather. So it was great it all worked out in the end.
Buoyed by reports of the Minaminuma campground filling up fast during the summer holidays, we quickly ran around the sprawling campsite to find a suitable spot large enough where we could all pitch our three tents. There were already a number of parties camped there, so we were limited to a damp-looking spot at the upper end of the campsite.
I was feeling very wary about the spot, as it was clear it would flood in moderate rain. There wasn’t any rain on the forecast, nor were there any other flat areas where we could all fit our tents together, so we went with it. Ben heroically deepened an existing faint channel that had seemingly been gouged in the past to help water drain from the spot.
Before any thoughts of dinner, we all quickly suited up for a brief sortie on Tomuraushi’s peak. It was only a quick 20-minute hike from the campground, so we wanted to bag the summit while we could still see it.
Ben did it in his flip-flops. “Piece of cake,” he boasted at the summit.
Back at the campsite, I hit the wall.
Must. Have. Food.
The 20-minute wait for my homemade dehydrated meal to rehydrate was agony.
Apparently we engaged in pleasant conversation. The team, now numbering five, was feeling a renewed sense of energy with the arrival of Saoka.
I was more focused on the food to really notice the chit-chat.
We all hit the sack fairly promptly after dinner.
Tomorrow promised to be a much shorter day of only five hours on the trail. Pleasant thoughts of taking it easy helped me drift off into a deep slumber.