This would be the last leg in the 2019 Sea To Summit event hosted by Montbell and Higashikawa Town. We’d already canoed Lake Chubestu and cycled from there to the Asahidake Ropeway. We’d just finished cycling from Lake Chubetsu down nearer to Higashikawa Town, and now we were immediately off the bike and onto the ropeway. The weather was average at best. There wasn’t any wind down at the bottom of the ropeway in Asahidake Onsen, but the Sea To Summit organizers had already officially shortened the hiking leg.
“You’ll only be going to the 7th station,” one of the attendants told us. “Beyond that, it’s too windy for the timing tent to stay upright.”
This was a little disappointing, as Haidee and I had summited Asahidake in May this year, on a springtime three-day ski touring trip. We had been looking forward to seeing the top of Asahidake in the ‘green season’.
We needn’t have been concerned, however. As soon as we stepped off the cablecar at the top of the ropeway, we were taken aback at how different the place looked in the non-snow season. “Where did this huge staircase come from?” Haidee exclaimed as we walked out of the ropeway building. Everything was completely different. The comparison photos below are taken from slightly different angles, but the location that Haidee is standing is more or less the same in both photos. In the winter photo, she’s about 5m above the actual ground – there’s that much snow.
Today, however, there was just mist and an ever so slight misty rain. It was moody but beautiful, and the trail was in relatively good condition. At this point it was classic haimatsu low pine and every now and then some wild alpine flowers.
It didn’t take us long to get to the Sugatami Pond lookout area near the iconic Asahidake Ishimuro Stone Hut. We could hear the roar of Asahidake’s massive steam vents, but the mist wouldn’t let us see them. We took a short break, but had given up on seeing any view. Until, for just 5 minutes, the scene cleared ahead of us, allowing us a view across the pond and the Susoai Plateau to the north.
Being the hut fiend that I am, I was very interested to take a look at the Asahidake Hut. This hut is only available for visits during the day – overnight stays are only allowed in emergencies. In winter, the only entrance is from the second-floor window. With no snow on the ground, we were able to enter the hut from the first floor entrance. It was a basic hut, but it’d be a nice shelter if a hiker needed a break on the way up or down Asahidake. There was a rowdy group of elementary school kids when we were there, so we made a hasty escape.
We left the hut and were once again taken aback at how different summer looks here, compared to winter. Today, we were clambering over boulder fields and weaving our way across picturesque sandy paths. We were once again in thick fog, so it was only the immediate sandy ridge that kept us entertained with its vibrant red tones.
Before long, we made it to the 7-gome (七合目, Seventh Station) on the climb. In Japanese mountain climbing language, this means we’re 70% up the mountain. Up here, it was already very windy, and the Sea To Summit organizers had chosen to make this the turn around point. This was a good call – it would only be even stronger wind further up, and it was very unlikely to be any view from the summit. The intrepid Montbell staff holding the ‘Goal’ sign were leaning into the wind, putting all their effort into making sure it didn’t fly into the abyss.
We quickly swiped our timing card, and started our descent into the mist. We vowed to come back in better weather!
Near the ropeway station, I saw a couple of Western-looking hikers with large backpacks. I struck up a conversation, as I was keen to hear where they’d got their information to do hiking in the area. “There’s this website we found, and we printed this map from it,” they said. To my delight, they produced a nicely printed Hokkaido Wilds TOPOMAP+ map, in a waterproof case. It was so nice to see the work we do here put to its intended use.