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.
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!
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
|1470g||Granite Gear Blaze 60L X 1||https://amzn.to/3CbYLVV|
|198g||Izuka Pack Liner 60L X 1||https://amzn.to/3A3cfkL|
|139g||Izuka Pack Cover 60-80L X 1||https://amzn.to/2VqlhcL|
|1503g||Shelter (weights include stuff bags)|
|765g||Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 4 w full guys X 1||https://hokw.jp/2UDXplI|
|248g||Ultamid carbon pole X 1|
|205g||No-name 20cm tent stakes x 12||https://hokw.jp/384C8EP|
|285g||Ground sheet 140 x 180cm X 1||https://amzn.to/37vJXU1|
|63g||Katadyn BeFree Filter 1L X 1||https://amzn.to/3xktPio|
|130g||Nalgene 1.5L Cantene X 2||https://amzn.to/2VnXE4W|
|161g||Nalgene 1L Bottle X 1||https://amzn.to/3xiICtR|
|39g||Flip-top cap for Nalgene bottle X 1||https://amzn.to/37hPtJG|
|572g||Enlightened Equipment Revelation down quilt (regular-wide, -6degC) X 1||https://hokw.jp/2WhMUoT|
|89g||Granite Gear waterproof compression sack (S size, 13L) X 1||https://amzn.to/3imC3m5|
|284g||Thermarest NeoAir Small X 1||https://amzn.to/3fnZ6uG|
|12g||Ear pugs X 4 in plastic case||https://amzn.to/3rNB1ma|
|100g||MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe X 1||https://hokw.jp/3sRpTFv|
|23g||Vargo Pot Lifter X 1||https://hokw.jp/3k9sBSs|
|18g||Primus Ignition flint X 1||https://amzn.to/2Vu9zNX|
|14g||Shugakuso stuff sack X 1|
|760g||MSR IsoPro 227 fuel canister x 2||https://amzn.to/3lol3NY|
|16g||Vargo long-handle titanium spoon X 1||https://amzn.to/3fIE4az|
|139g||Vargo BOT X 1||https://amzn.to/3CkDjOy|
|68g||No-name brand titanium insulated cup X 1|
|40g||Hyperlite Mountain Gear REPACK Freezerbag Cook System X 1||https://hokw.jp/3B6L9cS|
|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||https://amzn.to/2VrYqgK|
|165g||Toilet kits X 5||https://amzn.to/3ihqpZs|
|58g||Montbell Garbage Bag 4L X 1||https://amzn.to/3ylZWj8|
|19g||Extra portable toilet bag ziplock (large, odor-resistant)||https://amzn.to/3iki2wv|
|17g||Small zip mesh bag|
|120g||Icebreaker Anatomica merino boxer briefs 150 weight X 2||https://amzn.to/3ikMdne|
|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||https://hokw.jp/3jacXai|
|140g||Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell Hoody||https://amzn.to/2U0n73D|
|369g||Quechua synthetic lightweight puffer jacket with hood|
|317g||Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite II rain shell||https://hokw.jp/3B3nHNL|
|225g||Mountain Hardwear Acadia rain pants||https://hokw.jp/387zrlU|
|23g||Rainwear stuff sack (Shugakuso)|
|42g||Buff X 1||https://amzn.to/3fpemaT|
|75g||Mammut wool beanie|
|70g||Black Diamond Screen Tap heavyweight fleece gloves||https://amzn.to/3fq4yx6|
|82g||No-name polarized sunglasses in hard case|
|117g||Black Diamond Storm headlight||https://amzn.to/3jgV20t|
|44g||Elecom 2xUSB wall charger||https://amzn.to/3jwFoyl|
|20g||USB C 50cm charging cable X 1|
|190g||Huawei P30 Pro smartphone||https://amzn.to/3A6sPQU|
|30g||Spigen case for smarphone||https://amzn.to/2V9i01H|
|46g||AAA alkaline batteries X 4||https://amzn.to/3frYkwJ|
|35g||Foam seat pad|
|202g||Anker PowerCore 10000mAh mobile battery||https://amzn.to/3lE8tdV|
|698g||Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2||https://amzn.to/2WQElBy|
|381g||Olympus 12-40 f2.8 Pro lens||https://amzn.to/3lCwOk6|
|312g||Panasonic 7-14 f4.0 lens||https://amzn.to/3iqZjiN|
|285g||BLH-1 Batteries X 4||https://amzn.to/3fq3kC8|
|10g||Spare SD cards X 4|
|126g||GoPro Hero 8 Black (for wet weather photography)||https://amzn.to/3fC3K8C|
|90g||GoPro batteries X 4||https://amzn.to/2VvzHZp|
|102g||Revelate Designs Mountan Feedbag (to carry lens)||https://hokw.jp/3gkkMsf|
|200g||Smartwool midweight hiking socks X 2|