Day 7 Details
Day 7 Trail Report
When you’ve been getting up at an hour before dawn for the last six days, it becomes easy (ish) to get up at an hour before dawn. So it was that we were up at 2:30am today too. We were on the upper floor of the two-storey Chubetsu Hut, so we tried to keep as quiet as possible as we all scoffed down some breakfast, skulled coffee, and packed our bags. There were four other parties of hikers on the ground floor. We probably woke them up with all our shuffling and rustling. But such is the joy of multi-day hike at the height of summer in Hokkaido – huts will always be quite busy.
We were out of the hut and on our way just after 4 am. Temperatures hovered around freezing during the night. It wasn’t much warmer as the sun started to lighten the sky. The surface of the snowfield next to the hut was frozen. Slick and hard. We all stepped carefully on the dimpled surface to keep balance.
As we climbed up from the hut to the main trail, we came across a hiker packing his gear into his pack.
“I figured the hut and campsite must have been full, so I slept up here,” he explained.
In fact the campsite next to the hut was completely empty. With a carpet of delicate alpine plants and moss I’m sure he had a comfortable sleep, but I can see why the national park prohibits camping in areas other than designated campsites. It wouldn’t take much to damage the undergrowth quite considerably.
Once we were on the trail proper, we could see our initial objective for the day. Chubetsu-dake with its impressive precipitous drops from the summit.
We were thankful it wasn’t raining. In fact, it appeared it would clear up to be a beautiful day. But the heavy dew on the dwarf pines here and there wet us as we brushed past it. A frigid breeze blew, gaining to a hefty wind as we climbed to the summit.
The rising sun cast a beautiful golden hue across the landscape, but did little to warm us. We kept walking at a brisk pace to keep warm.
The obligatory summit photo at alt. 1962m was a rushed affair.
Our packs were appreciably lighter now though. We were all down to about four days food left each, having started the trip with ten days food each. While we only had two days to go, we’d carried two extra days worth of food right from the beginning. This was intentional. From past experience of hiking in Daisetsuzan’s alpine areas, we knew that good weather was at a premium up here. Indeed, those extra two days of food proved invaluable at the start of the trip, where we were holed up for 48 hours in a hut, waiting for a violent typhoon to pass.
Adding to the lightness of the packs this morning was the knowledge we had Chubetsu-numa tarn waiting for us only 1 hour into the day. We were able to start the day with scant water rations. Luxury.
With the rising sun behind us, we had a front-row seat to the massive views across the plateau we were headed for. Takanegahara plateau. A scrumptious looking flat alpine plateau. After many days of ups and downs, it was refreshing to be looking at a few hours of flat, easy walking.
Asahi-dake, Hokkaido’s highest peak, stood proud in the distance across the plateau. We’d be sleeping in our tents not far below its summit in the evening.
While I say the walking was easy, I’d better preface that by mentioning how relative that statement is. Relatively speaking, the going was easy. But the underfoot trail conditions were still rugged. Large rocks exposed by the erosion of soil around them. Trail maintenance efforts in the Daisetsuzan National Park are presently in a state of preservation rather than improvement. Many years of prior poor planning for the future influx of hikers has led now to a situation where extensive remedial action, largely performed by volunteers, is focussed simply on ensuring the worst-affected areas don’t erode any further.
The Takenagahara plateau is relatively unaffected by erosion of the trails, and we’d see much worse examples of it later in the day. But hikers would do well to expect all Daisetsuzan trails to be, overall, quite rugged.
A highlight of the Takanegahara plateau is the big views down to the Kogen Onsen mountain tarn area. We’ve written a hiking guide for that area previously. It’s the only place in the Daisetsuzan National Park that Haidee and I have seen bears in the wild before. The area is a well-known habitat for a high concentration of bears. To walk the loop down there, hikers have to take part in a bear safety lecture before being let onto the trail. From way up on the plateau, it’s a treat to stand on the cliff edges, looking for bears below.
Like previous times were were up here, we didn’t spot any. That didn’t prevent the excited conjecture.
“Hey, is that big black object a bear?” asked Saoka.
“What one? Where?” replied Gerry, squinting her eyes.
“That one. On the snow. In the shadows,” pointed Saoka furiously.
“If it is a bear, it must be asleep,” I joked.
“It looks like it might be moving though,” interjected Ben.
“If only I was carrying my binoculars,” mused Haidee.
“Hey, what about that black dot?” motioned Gerry, pointing at yet another suspicious-looking thing, far down the valley.
And so it went on.
Today’s real excitement for me was the newly rebuilt Hakuun-dake Hut. Haidee and I had seen it as it was being built last year, and I was very excited to finally see the completed product.
Photos below show it in August 2020, as it was nearing completion.
And now here’s how it looks after the rebuild.
Use the slider below to compare before and after photos, looking south towards the hut.
The nostalgic part of me pines for the old hut. The interior timber and wooden floors polished to a shine through years of care and the feet of countless hardy hikers. The layers upon layers of red and white paint over sturdy interlocking wooden walls and window frames.
I’d never actually stayed there myself though.
All that said, the new hut seems to be very well done. It retains the red and white aesthetic heritage of the old hut. Fittings seem to be sturdy. They’ll have to be to withstand the long cold winters. The interior is cosy. Like the previous hut, there’s no heat source to speak of. It’s still a functional, basic hut.
Volunteers are slowly improving the paths and areas around the exterior of the hut. The hut now has its own Instagram account.
For through-hikers, they’ll also collect your portable toilet poop bags and schlep them down the hill, for a 1000yen fee. Haidee availed herself of the service, to the great delight of the hutkeeper.
“We only just started this service,” the hutkeeper explained. “And you’re the second customer,” she beamed excitedly.
And then we had lunch.
Blissfully free of any hangups that we’d just handed over a bag of human poo to a stranger only moments before.
The hut was quite the hive of activity. A local NPO was having a trail maintenance event that day. I’d met a number of the organizers previously, so it was nice to have a serendipitous catch-up.
Today was shaping up to be a big day on the feet. We’d end up walking 20km today. I had some mild blisters on my left heel that were reminding me that this was a long way. It was a hot day. By lunchtime I’d ditched the thermal leggings.
We’d got to that point in the trip where everything was just cruising. Smooth volcanic sand trails. Easy ascents and wide open scenery.
Suddenly we were at Ohachidaira crater. The place was crawling with day hikers. We’d not seen this many people in over a week. We felt out of place with our huge packs.
The familiar sight of the huge Ohachidaira crater made us feel like we were coming to the end of the trip. We still had a long final day ahead of us the next day, but this was feeling very much like familiar territory for us.
The short hike along the rim of the crater and down to the Uraasahi Campsite felt much longer than it was in reality. Tired legs, sore knees, aching feet. Everyone in the team was feeling the distance of the day, and the days preceding this one. A misty cloud rolled in and out as we followed the red, white, and pink stained trail through an alien landscape.
We could see the desolate Uraasahi Campsite down in the saddle, just below an obscured Asahidake summit.
Once at the campsite, we quickly set up camp and got to cooking dinner.
“Where should I go to the toilet?” asked Haidee looking around. Indeed, this was a very basic, exposed campsite. No bushes to hide behind to get privacy. We were, of course using our portable toilet bags, but everywhere felt exposed. In the end, Haidee had to walk about 100m away from camp to find a natural ditch to hide in.
Despite the desolate nature of the campsite, I liked it. Rugged. Sandy. Fresh snowmelt trickling through the campsite. Rock walls built by generations of hikers before us to help ward off the wind.
The summit of Asahidake was tantalizingly close. But we were shattered. We’d all climbed Asahidake in the past. This was our chance to just make the most of the campsite. Relax. Watch the summit cast shadows across the clouds as the sun set.
Like most of the time on the trip, spirits were high. This trip had been one heck of an adventure so far. Uncertainty. A test of our skills and experience. Danger and risk. Communion with our host culture through Hokkaido’s unique hut culture.
We only had one day left. All going well, tomorrow we would complete walking the longest version of the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse. With all the planning and hopes that had gone into this trip, it felt almost too good to believe.