Trip Report

Full Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse – Preparation, Food, and Kit Lists

Posted on Aug 23, 2021

Posted on Aug 23, 2021

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From August 8th till August 15th, 2021, we hiked the longest version of the sought-after Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse in Japan’s northern-most island of Hokkaido. 68.4km from Genshigahara (Furano City) in the south, to Aizankei Onsen (Kamikawa Town) in the north. Our group was made up of experienced outdoors-people, but all only occasional hikers. Preparations for the hike began a few months ahead of the planned 8-day self-supported hike. They included meal prep, hiking training (!), and agonizing over gear. Here’s a deep-dive into those preparations, food, and kit lists.

Thanks to Haidee and Gerry for feedback on an early draft of this post.

Last updated Sep 7, 2021

Want to jump straight to the kit list? Click here. To jump to food considerations, click here.

The Beginnings of a Plan

It all started with a message from Gerry in May 2021. “This year will be my last summer in Hokkaido, so how about we knock off that big 7-day Daisetsuzan traverse once and for all?” she wrote.

Last summer, Gerry had attempted a shorter version of the traverse but had been thwarted by the weather. Haidee and I had also attempted a shorter version of the Grand Traverse last year, which ended in us also being thwarted by the weather (see the resulting route here).

I pondered Gerry’s suggestion.

“I’d be keen,” I replied, “so long as we commit to carrying two days extra food, just in case we need to sit out bad weather along the way.”

This time around, I wanted to get it done. Come typhoons or torrential rain; I wanted to complete the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse.

I also wanted to allow my purist-self free reign on this trip. I wanted to do the Grand Traverse true to its word; Genshigahara to Aizankei Onsen. No ropeways, completely self-supported, the longest uninterrupted version of the traverse, at 68.4km

I also wanted to allow my purist self free reign on this trip. I wanted to do the Grand Traverse true to its word; Genshigahara to Aizankei Onsen. No ropeways, completely self-supported, the longest uninterrupted version of the traverse, at 68.4km

Gerry needed little convincing, but to be honest, despite my outward enthusiasm, Haidee and I were torn. Yes, we wanted to claim bragging rights for walking the length of “one of the best places to hike in the whole of Japan” (Tom Fay, Japan travel guide author). But we were still chasing our goal of paddling 50 river and lake routes in Hokkaido by the end of spring next year, with 10 routes still to document. We’d hardly done any hiking at all over the last couple of years. When we did, our lack of conditioning punished us with sore bodies.

Walking the length of the Daisetsuzan Range was going to be a serious commitment. Could we afford the time away from paddling? Covid stay-home-requests earlier in the season had scuppered plans for a spring melt bonanza paddling trip, so we were already behind on achieving the paddling goal. Plus, summer 2021 was one of the hottest on record in Hokkaido – it was a perfect summer for spending time paddling rivers!

But, The Grand Traverse.

It was a carrot too sweet to ignore, hanging in front of our noses. Gerry and a few others were keen to commit to the potential for up to 10 days in the hills, so it was too good an opportunity to give up.

So we committed to it.

We all agreed on a loose window of dates to start the trip. The idea was that we’d try to coincide the start of the trip with at least a few days of stable, clear weather. We all knew that the Daisetsuzan Range is a fickle beast when it comes to weather, so at least at the beginning of the trip, we wanted to be as flexible as possible. There wasn’t much we could do about weather further into the trip, but the start was something we could work with.

The Plan

I whipped up a tentative itinerary. The idea was to commit to eight days walking, with an extra two days up our sleeves in case of bad weather. The itinerary here has the weather forecast as it was forecast one day out from starting the trip. As you can see on Day 3, it was just as well we planned on a couple of extra days – we’d end up sitting out a violent typhoon for two days!

Getting Fit

Haidee and I pride ourselves on keeping relatively fit; weight training for me every weekday morning at the gym and daily Youtube-inspired workouts at home for Haidee. Plus, of course, weekend-warrior style adventures every weekend.

But hiking has always been hard, especially with heavy packs. We can do it with our base level of fitness. But hiking – the actual walking and climbing and descending bit – has often been more a matter of enduring rather than enjoying.

This time, we were going to enjoy it, by hook or by crook.

Our hiking conditioning regime consisted of hiking with heavy packs. From about eight weeks out from the trip, we tried to do at least one long (5-8hr) day hiking trip per week, carrying between 10 and 20kg packs on our backs.

We started out with a five-hour, 20km, flat walk loop of the Nopporo Forest Park in Sapporo City. At the time, it felt like just a very long walk along flat roads. In hindsight, we should have started with something less rigorous. I had shin splints for a week after that. We were going to have to keep up the pressure on our conditioning training!

We then hiked up Monbetsu-dake 紋別岳 (866m) next to Lake Shikotsu the next weekend. Heavy packs this time, and lots of climbing, about 4.5hrs return, mostly walking on a paved access road. This was the day after Haidee’s first Moderna vaccine shot, but she felt fine. A mild case of jelly legs on the descent for me – a common complaint for me when hiking. Next up was a 6hr hike up Tarumae-zan 樽前山 (1041m) via the Kaede-zawa moss corridor. This was the day after my first Moderna vaccine shot, but we completed the hike with no issues.

About two weeks out from the Daisetsuzan hike, we attempted the Niseko Range overnight traverse. This 20km-per-day overnight hike is a gruelling one, with each day taking about 9hrs. Again we were treating it as a training trip, so we loaded up our packs unnecessarily heavy. The first day was a scorcher of a day. Haidee got moderate sun-stroke and had to pull out early. I carried on, and what should have taken 9 hours took 14 hours (Hirafu Welcome Center to Niimi Pass). The latter part of the day was entirely in fog, and the weather forecast was for more of the same the next day. I decided to forgo the second day and call it good.

With the mild sunstroke incident, we had our fingers firmly crossed that summer temperatures would cool off considerably for the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse. It had been one of the hottest Hokkaido summers on record this year. Hiking in 30°C+ was not going to be feasible for Haidee.

In the end, though, we can confidently say that doing all the training walking made a world of difference. Once on the trail, we ended up doing multiple 9hr+ days and suffered surprisingly little beyond the normal aches and pains of hauling heavy packs up and over rough terrain.

For what it’s worth, both Gerry and Ben apparently did very little dedicated training in the weeks prior to the trip…and still handled the rigors without a problem!

Spanner in the works

About a month out from the timing window we’d set for the trip to start, COVID threw a spanner into the works.

My second COVID vaccine got scheduled for right in the middle of our start-hiking-window – the 7th of August. Gerry needed to be back at work on the 18th, and Ben needed to be back on the 18th, preferably the 17th. 

This meant that if we started the hike on the 8th of August, we’d have exactly 10 days to complete the hike.

This was still plenty of time to complete the hike, but it gave us no leeway when to start the trip. Good weather or bad, we’d need to start on the 8th of August.

Assuming good weather, that would be all well and fine. But the first day was a 9hr marathon of a hike, with 1300m of altitude gain; I’d be doing that the day after my second vaccine shot.

I’d heard horror stories of bad (but not entirely unexpected) immune responses to the COVID vaccine. Indeed, after Haidee’s second vaccine shot, she suffered fever, headaches, vomiting, and deep fatigue for 36 hours.

Despite this, I decided to take a bet on the odds. The vast majority of people who get the Moderna vaccine get a mild fever and general malaise. It would more or less guarantee a slow and uncomfortable 9hr first day, but so be it. I’d suffered through worse while cycling around the world.

8th of August start it was.

Packing and gear #1: Food

When it came to kit-lists and gear for the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse, we mostly focussed on what to do about food. We’d all committed to possibly spending 10 days in the mountains, with no re-supply. Conservation of fuel and keeping our meals lightweight was going to be of utmost importance. 

Gerry opted for off-the-shelf dried ingredients she could combine to make her own custom dried meals. She made Mexican couscous with spicy salami, mushroom pasta with dried shiitake and fish rice noodle curry with tofu. She would then cook these in a pot on her stove, making use of a pot coozie to save on fuel (video tutorial here). Ben did something similar.

In the end, Gerry carried much more than 10 days worth of food, as did Ben. While they were planning to mostly eat snacks for lunch during the day, they both had enough dried foods to be able to cook multiple cooked lunches. They brought oats for making porridge for breakfasts.

Haidee and I went whole-hog and bought a dehydrator – something I’d considered getting for a while. We’ve chosen to live in a relatively small two-bedroom apartment here in Sapporo City, so we settled on the Brod&Taylor Sahara Folding Dehydrator simply because we didn’t want it to take up an exorbitant amount of space when not in use. It would be our first time dehydrating meals for an outdoor adventure, so we did a lot of testing in the two months leading up to the trip. 

We tried several meals from:

The bean chilli recipes were some of the most delicious.

We were quite calculated with our dinners – we brought exactly nine individually packed dehydrated dinners each. We planned on just eating Cliff Bars and protein bars during the day instead of a full lunch each day. For breakfasts, we brought individually packed oat mixes. My total 10-day food weight was 6.7kg (about 2,200 calories per day), whereas Haidee’s total food weight was 4.9kg for 10 days.

For re-hydrating the meals, we went with the lazy option – freezer-bag cooking style. We individually packed each meal into Ziploc Freezer Bags, and when dinner-time came, we added hot water directly to the bag. The bag was, therefore, both rehydrating receptacle and bowl. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Repack coozies kept the meals insulated while they rehydrated. Apparently, not everyone likes to eat out of a plastic bag, but we really liked the convenience of it.

Packing and gear #2: Full Kit List

I got into full pedantic weigh-everything mode when putting together my kit-list for the trip. So, here it is below. In the end, sadly, I didn’t carry my drone (1.4kg including controller and six batteries), as I didn’t want to stress my body any more than I absolutely had to on that first day after the vaccine. So that makes for an approximately 19kg pack at the beginning of the hike, without water (13kg without food). Not too bad. Haidee’s kit list weighed in at a more respectable 14kg without water.

A big focus for gear for the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse is keeping things light but also being very aware of the objective hazards that exist in the alpine in Hokkaido. Even in summer, hypothermia is a real risk for unprepared hikers, the terrible Tomuraushi tragedy being a sobering case in point. Despite the preceding weeks clocking up to 30°C in Hokkaido, our weather forecast was predicting close to freezing temperatures at 2,000m in the Daisetsuzan Range, so I certainly didn’t want to skimp on warm layers.

Rob’s Kit List for the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse

Weight Item Link
1807g Pack
1470g Granite Gear Blaze 60L X 1
198g Izuka Pack Liner 60L X 1
139g Izuka Pack Cover 60-80L X 1
1503g Shelter (weights include stuff bags)
765g Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 4 w full guys X 1
248g Ultamid carbon pole X 1
205g No-name 20cm tent stakes x 12
285g Ground sheet 140 x 180cm X 1
393g Hydration
63g Katadyn BeFree Filter 1L X 1
130g Nalgene 1.5L Cantene X 2
161g Nalgene 1L Bottle X 1
39g Flip-top cap for Nalgene bottle X 1
957g Sleep System
572g Enlightened Equipment Revelation down quilt (regular-wide, -6degC) X 1
89g Granite Gear waterproof compression sack (S size, 13L) X 1
284g Thermarest NeoAir Small X 1
12g Ear pugs X 4 in plastic case
1178g Kitchen
100g MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe X 1
23g Vargo Pot Lifter X 1
18g Primus Ignition flint X 1
14g Shugakuso stuff sack X 1
760g MSR IsoPro 227 fuel canister x 2
16g Vargo long-handle titanium spoon X 1
139g Vargo BOT X 1
68g No-name brand titanium insulated cup X 1
40g Hyperlite Mountain Gear REPACK Freezerbag Cook System X 1
483g Toiletries
37g thermometer
15g Toothbrush X 1
15g Lush Toothy Tabs X 20
50g Cotton onsen towel X 1
42g Toilet paper (quarter roll) X 1
65g Hand sanitiser 50g
165g Toilet kits X 5
58g Montbell Garbage Bag 4L X 1
19g Extra portable toilet bag ziplock (large, odor-resistant)
17g Small zip mesh bag
2331g Layering
120g Icebreaker Anatomica merino boxer briefs 150 weight X 2
231g Icebreaker 200-weight long-sleeve t-shirt
176g Icebreaker 200 ZONE light merino leggings
187g Icebreaker 200-weight merino leggings
356g Arcteryx Delta MX Hoody
140g Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell Hoody
369g Quechua synthetic lightweight puffer jacket with hood
317g Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite II rain shell
225g Mountain Hardwear Acadia rain pants
23g Rainwear stuff sack (Shugakuso)
42g Buff X 1
75g Mammut wool beanie
70g Black Diamond Screen Tap heavyweight fleece gloves
837g Miscellaneous
82g No-name polarized sunglasses in hard case
71g SPF50+ sunscreen
117g Black Diamond Storm headlight
44g Elecom 2xUSB wall charger
20g USB C 50cm charging cable X 1
190g Huawei P30 Pro smartphone
30g Spigen case for smarphone
46g AAA alkaline batteries X 4
35g Foam seat pad
202g Anker PowerCore 10000mAh mobile battery
2004g Photography
698g Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2
381g Olympus 12-40 f2.8 Pro lens
312g Panasonic 7-14 f4.0 lens
285g BLH-1 Batteries X 4
10g Spare SD cards X 4
126g GoPro Hero 8 Black (for wet weather photography)
90g GoPro batteries X 4
102g Revelate Designs Mountan Feedbag (to carry lens)
367g Footwear
200g Smartwool midweight hiking socks X 2
167g Montbell gaiters