Central Daisetsuzan Circuit Hike

Posted on Feb 19, 2019
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Posted on Feb 19, 2019

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Reading time: 4 min
45km

Distance

21 hours

Time

2200m

Ascent

2291m

Highest point

8/10

Difficulty

To fully appreciate the wild and rugged nature of Daisetsuzan you need to load up your pack and head into the interior of the range on a multi-day backpacking trip. Once away from the popular trails around the ropeways of the Asahi-dake and Kuro-dake areas this high-level wilderness traverse takes you over remote peaks and through meadows of alpine wildflowers, staying at isolated huts or their campgrounds. Days are long but the trails are good and the climbs never really steep. Hokkaido’s highest waterfall provides a fitting finale at the end of three days in the high country of Japan’s far north.

Last updated Feb 28, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This backpacking hike makes a three-day circuit through the central Daisetsuzan massif. It starts at 1600m from the upper ropeway station at Sugatami on the western flank of the mountain above Asahidake Onsen spa and finishes back at Asahidake Onsen at the campsite below the ropeway. It climbs the highest mountain in Hokkaido, Asahi-dake (旭岳, 2,291m), then passes under the imposing bulk of Hakuun-dake (白雲岳, 2,230m) before trekking down the central spine of the massif, Takanegahara (高根ケ原). You return via the peaks of Chubetsu-dake (忠別岳, 1,963m) and Kaun-dake (化雲岳, 1,878m) before dropping down a long and beautiful ridge past Hokkaido’s highest waterfall at 270m, Hagoromo-no-taki (羽衣の滝), above Tenninkyo Onsen. It is also possible to end the walk at Tenninkyo Onsen though there is no public transport access.

General notes

The main season for summer hiking in Daisetsuzan is from July into September; before and after this you need to be prepared and equipped for snow on the ground and/or falling from the sky. On this hike you will need to spend two nights in a hut, or camping next to one, so you need to take all your food, bedding and cooking equipment. The huts may be crowded during the summer holiday season and at weekends. It can be cold at night; expect temperatures close to freezing. By September it can become more difficult to find water at the campsites and huts, especially at Hisagonuma. All water must be boiled or filtered.

The trailhead for this circuit is at Asahidake Onsen, a small collection of lodgings and hot springs below the ropeway up the mountain. Accommodation options include a youth hostel and a campsite as well as local Japanese style pensions and hotels. The upper ropeway station at Sugatami has toilets and a small restaurant. There are no safe water sources beyond this point. In high season (June-late October) the ropeway operates every 15 minutes from 06:30 up to 17:30 down (08:00 – 17:00 later in the season – be sure to check the schedule) and costs 1800 yen one way (asahidake.hokkaido.jp).

On the final day you drop down to Tenninkyo Onsen (a small cluster of hot spring hotels but no shops or public transport) before a final two to three hour hike on a rough forest trail back to Asahidake Onsen. If you want to avoid this last stretch and do not need to return to Asahidake Onsen it may be possible to hitch a lift out of here.

NOTE: There’s one more hut along the route – between the two huts below is the unmanned Chubetsu-dake Refuge (忠別岳避難小屋, capacity 40). See details of this hut on Leon Roode’s blog here.This hut is 10 mins east off the main trail after descending Chubetsu-dake, which could be used in an emergency or as an alternative for the second night. It is a basic two-storey hut with a campground. Water is obtained from snowfield runoff – boil or filter (Contact: Kamikawa Sogo Shinkokyoku, 0166 46 5922).

Hut

Hakuundake Refuge (full details here)

Hakuundake Refuge Hut (白雲岳避難小屋, 1,990m) is a large but basic two-story hut located just under an hour’s walk from Hakuun-dake (白雲岳). It is available for use year-round, but a warden is present from mid-June till late September. In winter, the ground floor entrance will be buried in snow, so entrance is from a second-floor winter door. There’s also an official campsite nearby.

Hisagonuma Refuge Hut (full details here)

The Hisagonuma Refuge Hut (ヒサゴ沼避難小屋) is a small, basic two-story wooden hut with a camping area, located next to the Hisagonuma lake (ヒサゴ沼) to the east of the main ridge of Kaun-dake (化雲岳), in the central Daisetsuzan Range. The campground can be boggy. Officially, the hut is strictly for emergency overnight stays only (as per the official webpage). Therefore, if choosing to stay next to the lake, ideally you’ll have a tent, and stay at the campsite nearby.

Route markers

The route is well defined, with occasional splashes of yellow paint to mark the trail. Trail junctions are marked by large signposts (in Japanese). Times are approximate and don’t include leisurely lunch stops etc.

Day 1: From the ropeway station at Sugatami climb up and over Asahi-dake (旭岳2291m, 2hrs 30mins) and take the trail east heading to Mamiyadake (間宮岳2185m, about 1 hour). Continue on to Hokkai-dake (北海岳2149m, 40 mins), then turn south over the plateau to traverse under Hakuun-dake (白雲岳2230m, 1hr 10mins). From Hakuun-dake Junction head down to the Hakuun-dake Refuge (白雲岳避難小屋) in about 20 minutes.

Day 2: Leave the hut heading south along the long broad central ridge of Takanegahara (高根ケ原). In clear conditions you can see the whole route to Kaun-dake stretch out before you. Allow about 3hrs 30 mins to reach Chubetsu-dake (忠別岳, 1963m). Go over Chubetsu-dake, past the turn off to the Chubetsu-dake Refuge (忠別岳避難小屋, 40mins), and up through dwarf juniper to the junction at Goshiki-dake (五色岳 1868m, 50mins). From here the trail turns west to Kaun-dake (化雲岳, 1954m, 1 hour), crossing marshy areas on wooden boardwalks. Turn south again and after 15 mins branch off to the southeast down to Hisagonuma lake and the Hisagonuma Refuge Hut (ヒサゴ沼避難小屋, 40mins).

Day 3: Retrace your steps back up to Kaun-dake in about an hour then take the long broad ridge that runs northwest down to Tenninkyo (天人峡). After a few hours you cross a marshy area on duckboards then enter the forest to emerge at a lookout (滝見台) opposite the waterfall. Then it’s down a steep slope on a series of switchbacks into Tenninkyo (5-6 hours total). To continue on to Asahidake Onsen (旭岳温泉) locate the trail behind the small shrine at the top of the settlement and climb steeply up. From there walk through the forest to Asahidake Onsen, emerging at the campground (2hrs 30mins). This trail was not well maintained in 2016.

Route Timing

Day 1: 6hrs

Day 2: 8hrs

Day 3: 9hrs

Transport

Public transport:

From JR Asahikawa Train Station, there is a bus (Ideyugo, いで湯号), operated by the Asahikawa Denki Kido Bus company (tel: 0166 23 3355), that runs to the Asahidake-Onsen spa area. As of November 2019, there were four buses per day there (07:11, 09:41, 13:11, 16:24) and four returning (09:30, 12:00, 15:30, 18:00). The fare is around 1430yen one way, and it takes around 1 hour 40 minutes. See the link to the Ideyugo Bus timetable at the very bottom of this page: http://asahidake.hokkaido.jp/en/

By car: 

There is easy road access from the Asahikawa direction. There is ample parking in the large car parks by the ropeway station (around here), some may charge fees.

Physical maps

  • Asahi-dake 1:25,000 hiking map in English by Markus Hauser (buy on Amazon here).
  • Daisetsuzan 大雪山. Yama to Kogen Map Series No 3. Published by Shobunsha. 1:50,000. Includes course times and trail information (in Japanese). ISBN: 9784398766038
Official Topo Map: Asahidake (旭岳) – map no. NK-54-7-3-3
Official Topo Map 2: Sounkyou (層雲峡) – map no. NK-54-7-2-2
Official Topo Map 3: Hakuundake (白雲岳) – map no. NK-54-7-3-1
Official Topo Map 4: Tomuraushi-yama (トムラウシ山) – map no. NK-54-7-3-4

NOTE: The GSI 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

This route takes you into the wild, high-altitude interior of the mountain range away from more popular day hike areas and on to quieter and more isolated trails. Daisetsuzan is a dangerous place in bad weather with real risks of hypothermia for poorly equipped hikers. The Tomuraushi Disaster of 2009 is a sobering case in point. Conditions can change quickly, it is very exposed to the wind and the upper slopes can be much colder than down at the trailhead. Carry appropriate gear and enough emergency supplies to sit out bad weather in a hut if necessary. The ridges are broad and featureless and it is possible to become disoriented in mist. There are no escape routes once you start the second day of the hike apart from one trail (often closed due to bears) that drops off the main Takanegahara ridge east to Daisetsu Kogen Onsen (大雪高原温泉, accommodation available, tel: 01658 2 1211). Bears are numerous; take care when coming across fresh droppings and tracks (see our notes on bears in Hokkaido here). There are usually park rangers at the upper ropeway station at Sugatami at the start of the hike who can offer advice.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Central Daisetsuzan Circuit

Onsen nearby

Asahidake Onsen has a number of hot springs that take day visitors, including the youth hostel Daisetsu Shirakabaso (白樺荘 | here) a few hundred meters down the road (800yen per person).

Extra Resources

Photo Gallery

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Route Trip Notes

Jeff and I did this route in early September 2016, after an unprecedented August in which Hokkaido was battered by successive typhoons. Until then, it had been a rare event for a typhoon to pass directly over the island; that summer saw about five hit us square on or pass close by in a two-week period. Many forest roads in the centre of the island remain completely destroyed and unlikely ever to be repaired, affecting access to a number of popular trailheads. By early September, though, the weather had cleared up.

With the prospect of three clear days we park the car in one of the free car parks below the Asahi-dake ropeway. The first day’s walk is over familiar ground, up and over Asahi-dake and round the southern rim of Ohachidaira to the path south from Hokkai-dake to the Hakkun-dake Refuge. On the climb up Asahi-dake we pass a university club group laden down with massive rucksacks, the girls in the group dwarfed by their loads. Probably first-years, we chuckle; in the hierarchical world of Japanese university mountaineering clubs they always get to carry the most. The campsite by the Refuge is quiet, perhaps a combination of the previous weather and being later in the season.

The next day dawns beautifully clear and after the usual only-slightly-burned-porridge we set off south along the broad ridge of Takanegahara. Nobody else is around and with clear air and high mountain views in all directions it feels like we are on top of the world. After Jeff threatens to feed me to a bear if I hum The Carpenters one more time, we reach the top of Chubetsu-dake as the mist comes in. It soon clears again to show us the surprisingly big drop off the west side of the summit. We continue on up though dwarf juniper to Goshiki-dake. Here the main ridge turns west to Kaun-dake and the trail runs on a wooden boardwalk through a high marshy area rich in flowers. Bears like flowers and wild herbs too, and we see plenty of evidence of their presence in fresh droppings and paw prints in the mud beside the trail.

After a scramble up the rocky summit tor of Kaun-dake we head off down to the lake at Hisagonuma. The hut near the eastern end of the lake is empty so we decide to stay inside rather than on the boggy looking campsite. It appears that the water source has dried up so we grab all our containers and head to the opposite end of the lake to where a big stream flows into it from a large snowfield. It is about twenty minutes in each direction and by the time we return a few more people have turned up to stay. After a pleasant evening and some hot food we turn in for a good night’s sleep.

It is misty when we wake up. We know this will be a long day, so we are on our way early. After stopping to refill our water bottles again we head back up to Kaun-dake. The mist is clearing now and we can see the mountains north to Asahi-dake poking out of the sea of clouds. At the summit we meet up again with the university club members, who have stayed the previous night at the Chubetsu-dake hut. We chat with one of the first-year girls who tells us they are from Keio University and have come up from Tokyo to do the full north-south traverse of the range, another two or three days’ trek. That partially explains the size of their packs. I nearly put my back out lifting hers to get an idea of the weight.

We leave them to head down the long ridge to Tenninkyo. This is a beautiful walk, high and airy, a mostly gentle descent through fields of flowers that must have been spectacular early in the season. Asahi-dake looms in front of us as we get further down. The trail passes through another marshy area on duckboards then enters the forest. We have seen nobody for hours since leaving Kaun-dake.

Suddenly we encounter massive paw prints on the trail. Massive, fresh paw prints. Going in our direction. No problem, we reassure ourselves, after a few metres the beast will have wandered off into the forest again. But it hasn’t. For the next half hour, hearts in our mouths and sweaty palms poised to grab bear spray canisters, we follow the tracks down the trail, shouting loudly around every blind corner. We have no way of knowing if they are a few hours old, or only a few minutes. Every so often they seem to disappear, only to show up again around another corner.

Eventually the bear tracks run out just before the lookout over to the scenic series of cascades on the other side of the gorge that make up Hokkaido’s highest waterfall. We breathe a sigh of relief, enjoy the view, then take the steep switchback trail down to Tenninkyo Onsen at the bottom of the gorge. We expect it to be deserted as we know the recent typhoons have destroyed the access road, so we are surprised to see a car making its way towards us. The driver jumps out and tells us he is supervising the repair crew who have just this moment reopened the road. He offers us a lift out and back to Asahi-dake Onsen. I am momentarily tempted, but Jeff is made of sterner stuff and firmly declares that we will walk another few hours on the connecting trail up the steep side of the gorge and through the forest. Just after we set off we hear a shout and turn to see our new friend running after us with three bottles of icy cold water he’s just bought from a vending machine. An unsolicited moment of kindness that we appreciate very much.

The trail out of Tenninkyo is rough and does not appear to get much use. After a steep climb up and over some small areas of landslip we enter the forest. The trail is generally easier from here though there are occasional fallen trees and swarms of hungry mosquitoes to contend with. For some reason they all want to eat me. Low on energy, we finally slog into Asahi-dake Onsen around late afternoon. With all the excitement of the bear tracks and then not wanting to stop because of mosquitoes I haven’t eaten since mid-morning and am about ready to hit the wall. The first priority is washing off three days’ grime in the local onsen, then it is down to the big city of Asahikawa for some ramen before the drive back to Sapporo.

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