Day 8 Details
Day 8 Trail Report
We’d enjoyed the company of Saoka the past two days, but she would leave us today, as she had to get back to Sapporo by the evening. She opted to head straight from Uraasahi Campsite up and over Asahidake and hiked all the way down to the bottom of the ropeway. She then headed back home via public transport. We would carry on along the roof of Hokkaido to Aizankei Onsen to complete the high traverse.
It was another early, moody sort of morning. Other hikers we’d shared the campsite with were also packing up early to get the most out of the day.
We were now at somewhat of a crossroads. That is to say that the northern end of the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse has a number of possible finishing points (or starting points if you’re heading north to south).
In this sense, I’ve referred to the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse as ‘hazily defined’. There are a plethora of start and end points to a long walk along the Daisetsuzan Range, all of which one might use as bookends to one’s own Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse.
On this trip, we opted to be purists. Start at the southern-most terminus (Genshigahara) and end at the almost-northern-most terminus of Aizankei. This would give us the longest traverse distance-wise (as defined by the Daisetsuzan National Park Council).
But if Aizankei isn’t the northern-most point, then why finish at Aizankei? Indeed, Sounkyo is a few minutes (distance-minutes, that is) further north of Aizankei in terms of latitude. The answer for me comes in the topography of the northern end of the Daisetsuzan Range. Heading to Aizankei allows for more time at altitude, skimming across the roof of Hokkaido for just that little bit extra time. If one heads straight for Kuro-dake, you’re descending as soon as you hit Ohachidaira crater.
Arguably, heading to Aizankei is more challenging, and a truer traverse in the sense that the trail continues to follow the ridgeline of the range for further distance.
From an aesthetic perspective, we’ve come to appreciate that Aizankei is also the more pleasant option as a destination. The peaks of Hokuchin-dake 北鎮岳 (2244m), Pippu-dake 比布岳 (2197m), Antaroma-dake 安足間岳 (2194m) and the volcanic red-scorched knife-edge ridge that connects the latter two, are an inspiring extension to the range.
Such hair-splitting thoughts were far from my mind during the morning haze of the last day though. We were treated to the best sunrise of the trip.
The clear sky stayed with us for about 30 minutes as we started our way across the broad rim of Ohachidaira Crater. The crater drops and climbs though, and soon we were shrouded in mist. We were hoping for a clear view from Hokkaido’s second-highest peak of Hokuchin-dake (2244m), but things weren’t looking promising.
Unlike the past two days, it was the first time for us to walk this trail. It was interesting to see some of the extensive trail maintenance that had been done in recent years. Volcanic soil appears to be particularly prone to erosion here in the northern end of the Daisetsuzan Range. Walking trails become efficient conduits for such erosion. Ideally, something would have been done sooner, but in the meantime, volunteer groups and NPOs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, are doing what they can to stem the tide of damage.
As we ascended the final short push to the summit of Hokuchin-dake, any concerns about not having a view vanished along with the mist. The view of the Ohachidaira crater from 2244m up was the best I’ve seen.
Hokuchin-dake summit gave us a clear view of the narrow ridgeline that was awaiting us about an hour’s walk away. Far in the distance, we could see the dramatic orange and white volcanic saddle between Pippu-dake and Antaroma-dake. For the moment, it was clear, stretching away from us into a blue sky with a pure white sea of clouds below.
This started a quick dash to get over there before the clouds rolled in. Peaks around us would appear and disappear as the clouds churned below us. Clearly, the stars had aligned for us on this last day on the traverse. Just a little higher, and the clouds would have kept us socked in for the entire day.
Sitting to the north of us was the impressive Aibetsu-dake 愛別岳 (2113m). We could see a faint, rough trail to the summit. Being a solid couple of hours return off the main trail, we filed that away in the ‘another time’ drawer.
For now, the mission was to get across the narrow volcanic ridge before the cloud enveloped us. We rushed ahead to get some clear photos. It all worked out, and it was a photographer’s paradise.
Antaroma-dake would be the end of our traversing proper for the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse. From here, it was all downhill, down to the terminus of the traverse at Aizankei Onsen.
For the descent, we had two options. One was straight down the Antaroma-dake western ridge. The other was a slightly longer trail down the southwest face of the mountain, via an alpine wetland plateau. This sounded like a treat after a long alpine traverse, so we opted for the wetland route.
It was a long descent. Very. Long. Endless. But with views of the wetlands and tarns below, we had a clear goal for all the effort.
With sore feet and a dwindling water supply, we finally made it to the tarns. Pure luxury. We now had boardwalks, and it was flat!
And then we had stairs! Luxury!
And then we were done.
Longest ‘version’ of the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse. No ropeways. From Genshigahara in the far south to Aizankei Onsen in the north. Bragging rights earned.
It wasn’t all celebrations though. We all had portable toilet bags of varying weights (not that anyone was counting, ahem). We deposited those in the trailhead poop-collection box. Social responsibility done.
I’d been carrying those suckers for four days…
Over and out.