Late last year, one of the undergrad students in my lab mentioned in passing that he’d like to go hiking with me some day. This past weekend, I finally got around to organizing something. I’m not sure if he imagined that it would be quite as involved a trip as it turned out to be. But I decided it was a good opportunity to have them experience staying over in a mountain hut. One of the best in Hokkaido, too.
So we borrowed some hiking gear from the university rec faculty (thanks Prof. Tsunoda!) and made the trek up to Bankei Sanso Hut on the Mt. Soranuma trail. There were six students, as well as Haidee and myself. The students were Genki, Hinano, Sachiyo, Shun-ichiro, Shunsuke, and Taro. We started from university bright and early, stuffing the rental van to the brim with the packs. Before we set off we made sure everyone had a the navigation app Geographica installed and the route file downloaded (we are the Digital Media and Society Lab, after all).
Once at the trailhead, we drove as far as we could along the dirt road to the end of the maintained section of the road. We were one of about six cars parked along side the road. This was the first time for most of the team to carry overnight gear in a pack on a hike before. We began with me giving a demonstration of how to ensure a tight waist-belt fit to avoid getting sore shoulders.
After the instructions, we got on our way. Pretty soon the trail gets exciting, with a washed out section of the road requiring a scramble across slippery bedrock. Then it’s over the Bankei-sawa River a couple of times before the trail starts climbing in earnest.
For much of the way, the trail cuts through thick sasa bamboo grass. This sasa grows at the base of large trees above. Even on a damp day such as today, the forest is beautiful and quiet.
About 1/4 of the way up to the hut, we took a quick break in a clearing. Hinano discovered she had mobile reception, so started up an Instagram live story. It would be the last connection we’d have with the outside world for the next 24 hours.
After the break, we pushed on along a track that became more and more dense with sasa before climbing high enough that the trail opened out. There had been a lot of rain in the last few days, so the track was deep mud at times. One particularly rickety bridge got the heart pumping.
More or less on cue, after three hours on the trail, we suddenly emerged at Bankei Pond. It was a moody afternoon, with a thick fog shrouding the views. Everyone was happy to see the safe sanctuary of the hut (details here). A volunteer from the Bankei Hut Friendship Society was at the hut already – the society has a member there on most weekends during the non-snow season for upkeep of the hut. After getting settled in to the hut, I bumped into a retired faculty member from our university. He is involved in the Academic Alpine Club of Hokkaido, and was at Bankei Pond to stay at Hokkaido University’s Soranma Hut. This 1920’s historic hut was recently renovated, getting a new foundation and a new composting toilet. He gave us a tour of the hut.
On the menu that night was yaki-soba (fried noodles).
The next day, after a breakfast of toasted bagels, we donned wet weather gear and set out back down the trail. It was clear that we wouldn’t be heading up to Mt. Soranuma today – the weather forecast was for heavy rain.
It was somewhat of a subdued return down the track. At times the rain was a torrential downpour. It made for gorgeous atmospheric photos for those brave enough to get their cameras out.
At the trailhead, everyone was happy to stomp around in the Bankei-sawa River to wash off the mud that had completely soaked into shoes and socks. Despite the rain (or perhaps because of it), everyone was in good spirits. A great, memorable trip into the hills.