Daisetsuzan Asahidake to Numa-no-hara Traverse

大雪山 | Kamui Mintara

Posted on Sep 12, 2020
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Posted on Sep 12, 2020

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Reading time: 10 min
45km

Distance

25 hours

Time

1842m

Ascent

2291m

Highest point

8/10

Difficulty

Best season icon (Hokkaido Wilds)
Jul-Sep

Best season

This three-day high-level alpine traverse cuts across the Daisetsuzan Range in central Hokkaido from west to east. Access to the remote southeast end of the route is difficult, but is rewarded by dramatic mountain tarns, still above the treeline. Cutting across the impressive Takanegahara Plateau (高根ヶ原, 1757m), there are a number of camping and basic hut options for extending the trip if desired.

We visited this route on Aug 23, 2020

Thanks to the Hokkaido Development Engineering Center, Nomad, and Mountain Flow for making this trip happen.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This three-day hike crosses diagonally across the northern half of the Daisetsuzan Range in central Hokkaido. At the northwest end of the route, there’s the bustling Asahidake Ropeway, easily accessed by bus from Asahikawa City. At the southeast end of the route is the Numa-no-hara trailhead. It’s is a lonely, quiet, difficult-to-access trailhead, which will require some careful transfer arrangements well ahead of time (see the Transport Options section below). For most hikers, it may make more sense to do the route in reverse (again, see transport options below).

General notes

We only ended up doing this west-east traverse route due to bad weather scuttling plans for a five-day Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse from Asahidake to Tokachi-dake, guided by Michiko from Mountain Flow, as part of a Hokkaido Tourism Organization funded project. On day three we made a hasty retreat from Hisago-numa Campsite east down to the lonely, recently re-opened Numa-no-hara trailhead. Three days of strong wind and rain, along with plummeting temperatures were forecast, despite the two previous days of scorching, crystal-clear weather. Such is the reality of hiking in the Daisetsuzan Range – despite the relative low altitude of the alpine here, being near the 45th Parallel North means any weather is on par with 3,000m high peaks elsewhere in the world. Despite all this, the recently re-opened Numa-no-hara trail was breath-taking, even in moody, misty, rainy weather. The numerous tarns on the alpine marshland were really quite spectacular.

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. NOTE: From the end of June till beginning of October 2020, the Hakuundake Refuge Hut will be undergoing a full rebuild. Accommodation is by camping only, and hikers are asked not to use the campground on (and the day preceding) weekends and public holidays, as camping space will be severely limited. See the official announcement here, and our unofficial translation of the PDF announcement here.

Chubetsu-dake Refuge and Campsite (full details here)

The Chubetsu-dake Refuge Hut (忠別岳避難小屋) is a very basic A-frame shelter sitting about 40 minutes walk below (south of) Chubetsu-dake (忠別岳, 1963m) in central Daisetsuzan Range. There’s a 15-tent campsite just down from the hut also. The hut is free to stay in, and there’s a snow-fed water source at the hut year-round (all water should be boiled or filtered before consuming).

Hisagonuma Refuge Hut (full details here)

The refurbished 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

Day 1 – Asahidake to Hakuun-dake (6hr 30min): Start from the upper Asahidake Ropeway station (Sugatami Station 姿見駅) and follow the signposted route to the summit of Asahidake in about 2.5 hours. Drop down east from the summit to the Uraasahi Campsite, and carry on east to the dramatic Ohachi-daira Crater (御鉢平). At the junction, head right around the crater to Hokkai-dake (北海岳, 2149m), and carry on to the right (southeast) towards Hakuun-dake (白雲岳, 2230m). At the Hakuun-dake Junction, it’s a quick sub-1 hour walk to the summit of Hakuun-dake and back. When back at the junction, carry on another 20 minutes or so to the Hakuun-dake Refuge Hut and campsite.

Day 2 – Hakuun-dake to Hisago-numa (7hr 30min): From Hakuun-dake Refuge Hut to Chubetsu-dake is, arguably, the highlight of this short three-day alpine foray into the roof of Hokkaido. This Takanegahara Plateau (高根ヶ原) allows dramatic views east towards the Ishikari mountains and beyond, as well as the vast high plateau ahead of you. At around the 4.5hr mark, hikers will have the option to descent 15 minutes down to the Chubetsu Refuge Hut (忠別岳避難小屋). Arguably, this will make the last day shorter by about 50 minutes (and avoid back-tracking), but the Hisago-numa Tarn is quite impressive, as is Kaun-dake (化雲岳, 1954m), so our recommendation would be to head on another 2 hours or so to Hisago-numa.

Day 3 – Hisago-numa to Numa-no-hara Trailhead (7hr 30min): Retrace your steps back up to the Kaun-dake Junction, and head east back towards Goshiki-dake (五色岳, 1868m) through the head-high creeping pine tunnel and open boardwalks. From Goshiki-dake continue east and descend for about 2.5 hours to the large Numa-no-hara mountain tarn area. The highlight of this area is the large Onuma Tarn (大沼). Camping is permitted on the Onuma ‘beach’, but there’s no facilities. From the Ishikari-dake Junction (石狩岳分岐), head northeast down the steep and rocky trail to the trailhead. Note that if the river water level is high, there’s an alternative (but longer) detour route.

Route Timing

Like most traverse routes in the Daisetsuzan Range, this route requires multiple 6hr-plus days. The route is rocky and steep in places, so allow plenty of time each day.

Transport

Public transport:

To/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. See the timetable (No. 66 Asahidake Line) here: http://www.asahikawa-denkikidou.jp/asahidaek_line/. The fare is around 1430yen one way, and it takes around 1 hour 40 minutes. There are no public transport options to the Numa-no-hara Trailhead (沼の原登山口, location) on the other side of the range. If using public transport for this traverse, it would make more sense to start from the Numa-no-hara Trailhead – get a bus from Asahikawa JR train station to Sounkyo (see timetable and fare here), and then taxi from there. A taxi will likely cost about 13,000yen one way from Sounkyo to the Numa-no-hara Trailhead. Note that there’s a gate on the Numa-no-hara Trailhead access road, but it’s unlocked – users just need to unhook a chain from a hook. Also note that the Numa-no-hara Trailhead access road was closed for six years due to typhoon damage, and only re-opened in summer 2020.

By car: 

Both ends of the route are accessible by private car, with plenty of parking at both the Asahidake Ropeway (旭岳ロープウェー, location) and the Numa-no-hara Trailhead (沼の原登山口, location). With only one car, however, shuttling will be time-consuming. Realistically, it would be better to do this trip in reverse: leave a car at Asahidake, return to Asahikawa by bus, then to Sounkyo by bus, then to the Numa-no-hara trailhead by taxi (see public transport options above) – this may be the most effective (but time-consuming) option. Or, just use public transport from Asahikawa (as per the public transport options above).

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: Sounkyo (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: Goshikigahara (五色ヶ原) – map no. NK-54-7-3-2

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 Daisetsuzan 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 is only one escape route once you start the second day of the hike, 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, or at the Sounkyo information center who can offer advice.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Daisetsuzan Range

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 from the ropeway (800yen per person). Further down the road still in Asahidake Village is Yukoman-so Onsen (勇駒荘, 1000yen, location), which is our pick of the bunch for its high-ceiling cathedral-like wooden onsen building. In Sounkyo, the Kurodake-no-yu (黒岳の湯, 600yen, location) is good for a soak, and has a reasonably-priced Italian restaurant on the ground floor.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to hike this route and/or explore other areas of central Hokkaido with a local certified guide, then contact Michiko Aaoki, a.k.a. Mountain Flow. She guided us when we did the trip, and we can’t recommend her enough. Michiko is a JMGA (Japan Mountain Guides Association) mountain guide, born and bred in Hokkaido. She has extensive overseas experience, speaks excellent English, and can tailor trips to clients’ needs. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

It was Day Three of our Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse hike, and we collectively made the call to pull the plug. Personally, I’d been very excited to finally do this iconic traverse of the Roof of Hokkaido, but with plummeting temperatures, high winds, and rain (even possibly snow) forecast, making a hasty escape was the right thing to do. As it turned out, the escape route down through Numa-no-hara (沼ノ原) – a trail only opened this summer after being closed for six years – was a very pleasant surprise. Acres of wetland-like mountain tarns awaited, beautiful even in the wet murk of the three-day stormy weather.

But let’s back up four days. Haidee and I had been invited to join in on a fully guided tour (with porters, no less!) along with two other outdoor-related writers (Francesco and Mara), as part of a tourism product development project funded by the Hokkaido Tourism Organization. The project itself was being run by Nomad (a well-established Hokkaido travel agency) and the Hokkaido Development Engineering Center. Heading up the actual guiding portion of the trip was Michiko Aoki, a.k.a. Mountain Flow, an accredited JMGA mountain guide.

We all met at Asahikawa Airport the day before (26th August), and transferred to Asahidake Onsen, via Higashikawa Town. Not only would we have two porters on the trip with us, but there’d also be a mini-bus on call. The target market for this Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse ‘product’ was quite clear – those who were time-poor (i.e., time for planning and logistics) but money-rich. This was a very early-days ‘research’ trip, so precise targeting etc. is still a ways away, but the flexibility a tour like this gave to the operators was quite extraordinary. The whole five days we were with them was completely seamless, despite the eventual weather-induced change of plans. We could definitely see the appeal of a tour like this for the right sort of client.

DAY 1 – Asahidake to Hakuun-dake Hut (8hr 30min on the trail)

With the Hakuun-dake Hut and campsite officially off-limits this 2020 summer season due to hut rebuild work (open again in 2021), the original plan for today was to hammer out a mammoth 12hr 20km push to Chubetsu-dake Hut. With temperatures of 28°C at the summit of Asahidake (2,291m) and relentless sun, however, progress was a little slower than expected. Upon arriving at Hakuun-dake campsite, we settled in for the night.

The day started off cool enough though. Our group was one of the first on the ropeway to the upper station. It was a rare blue-bird day at Hokkaido’s highest peak.

Haidee and I had skied off the back of Asahidake before, down towards the Uraasahi Campsite, but this would be our first time to walk this part of Daisetsuzan. The descent off the back of Asahidake to the Uraasahi Campsite was a gravely, slippery sort of affair, but the distance is relatively short. Unusual for this time of year, there was still a decent snow patch just above the campsite, where we could refill our bottles with ice-cold filtered water.

It was hot.

It was almost 30 degrees Celsius. I was an idiot and didn’t put sunscreen on my legs. In less than 3 hours, my legs were sunburned enough for me to suffer for the next 10 days. Rookie mistake.

Despite not having to carry my own cooker and food (this was a plush porter-assisted hike), and despite the relative lack of climbing involved, my feet weren’t used to walking with a heavy pack on. Haidee and I had spent the entire spring and summer focusing on getting in as much canoeing as possible. This was at the detriment of the legs, it seemed. 8.5 hours walking on this first day felt like a long way.

The vistas, however, were breath-taking. Just on this first day of the hike, I was grabbed by the scruff of the neck by the grandeur of the Daisetsuzan National Park, and shaken into the realization (or perhaps reminder) that such a jewel of nature exists on this island that is Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Wilds author Rick knows this range well, but for Haidee and I, we were being re-introduced to this dramatic range in a jarring way.

At around 3:30pm, we arrived at the Hakuun-dake campsite. This year, the hut is undergoing a full re-build, so it was interesting to see the progress. Half of the campsite was taken up with prefab workers buildings. A generator hummed the entire time we were there.

Ah the serenity.

The guides, by some amazing wizardry, whipped up an impressive dinner of teriaki chicken, rice, and vegetables. Delicious. Someone had also schlepped copious amounts of wine up with them. By 7pm I was sound asleep in our tent.

DAY 2 – Hakuun-dake Hut to Hisagonuma Hut via Takanegahara Plateau (11hrs on the trail)

Looking back on my GPS trace, I am surprised we were on the trail for 11 hours. But it didn’t feel that long. We left the Hakuundake Refuge Hut campsite just after sunrise, and the day was just a blur of spectacular scenery the whole way.

We were now crossing the vast alpine spine of the Daisetsuzan Range – the Takanegahara Plateau. Like yesterday, as the day wore on, the heat returned.

“I feel a bit cheated,” mused Michiko, the lead guide. “Usually, coming to the mountains is an escape from the summer heat down below. Today that’s not the case.”

The sunburn on my legs was switched on full today. Especially behind my knees. I cursed my short-sightedness the day before. Chubetsu Tarn was a sweet relief when we arrived there for an early lunch. I sneaked down to the tarn and submerged my lower legs in the cool pond. Pure bliss.

I’m not usually the type to go on guided tours, but I could get used to this sort of treatment.

“Would you like some more filtered water?” Porter Nagaya asked.

The easy life!

Just on from Chubetsu Tarn was the hulking, cliff-faced Chubetsu-dake. Gorgeous. Massive. Huge views beyond to the south. I flew the drone – with all the pre-trip permissions sorted – but it hardly approached doing the scale of things justice.

We had a longer break at the summit of Chubetsu-dake. The guides had conferred, and a decision had been made to call the trip off tomorrow. The weather forecast was predicting a drop in temperature to below 15 degrees Celsius for the day after tomorrow, along with high winds and rain. This was not a surprise. The forecast had predicted this since the beginning of the trip. While we’d all hoped the forecast would change, our hopes would not be fulfilled this time around.

We made the final few hours walk to Hisagonuma Tarn Hut via Kaun-dake, happy nonetheless that we’d had two days of absolutely stunning weather – a relative rarity up high in the Daisetsuzan National Park.

Along with Francesco and Mara, Haidee and I opted to camp instead of stay in the slightly musty hut. The wind grew overnight, blowing dust up under our tent fly and into our tent inner. I tried pegging things down closer to the ground. This helped, but it wasn’t ideal. I knew the weather was supposed to pack it in, so I should have just pegged the tent flush with the ground to start with. Lesson learned.

DAY 3 – Hisagonuma Hut to Numa-no-hara Trailhead (6hrs 30mins on the trail)

We left the hut in thick fog. “Daisetsuzan has returned!” I quipped to one of the porters. He smiled in knowing agreement. Clear, fine days are rare up here. 

It was a relatively benevolent murk though. We were rained on a few times, but for the most part escaped any great downpours. 

The escape route that Michiko had chosen was a recently re-opened trail down through the alpine Numa-no-hara mountain tarn area. “This is surprisingly spectacular,” I mentioned to Michiko.

“If you think it’s nice in this weather, you’ll love it when you can see Tomuraushi-yama and other mountains reflected in the ponds,” she gushed.

The descent from Numa-no-hara was steep and rocky. Six years of disuse had taken its toll, it seems. The reason for the trail being closed was the access road to the trailhead was washed out in a bag typhoon six years ago. It was only re-opened in summer this year (2020).

“See this freshly cut bamboo grass?” asked Michiko. “I did all this,” she said, pointing to a long section of trail.

No sooner had we arrived at the trailhead did the skies open and it started to rain properly. If guides can arrange the rain with such precision, then perhaps I should sign up for only guided trips for the rest of my life 🙂

DAY 4-5 – Post hike activities

This was a five-day guided tour. The original plan had us spending four days hiking, but due to the weather, this was cut short to 3 days. The last day was always going to have rafting on the itinerary, but the extra non-hiking day was unexpected. Lead guide Michiko launched into alternative plans mode, and we spent the extra unplanned low-altitude night at the gorgeous Aizankei Onsen Eco Lodge, and the extra day sight-seeing around Asahikawa and Kami-Furano.

First up on the extra day (after speeding down from Aizankei Onsen due to flooding warnings) was the Otokoyama Japanese sake brewery (location).

“I never really appreciated sake,” said Haidee after the trip. “But after seeing how it is made, I do have an appreciation of it now,” she said.

In the afternoon we visited the Goto Sumio art gallery (location).

I’m not an art gallery type of person. The whole first 80% of the gallery was nice enough. Goto’s known for his huge, wall-sized paintings. So they were impressive enough. But I was bored.

It was the last 20% of the gallery that really got my attention, however, and boredom changed to awe. Goto’s paintings of the Daisetsuzan Range are utterly mesmerizing. “We skied that line,” I excitedly pointed out to Haidee. Goto’s depictions of the Tokachi Range are stylized to some degree, but you can still make out Tokachi-dake, Sandan-yama, and Furano-dake, among others.

That night, we stayed at the upmarket Kamihoro-so onsen hotel. We’d visited the onsen before, and this time were reminded how awesome it is, over-looking the Furano plains below.

Day Five of this five-day all-inclusive guided central Hokkaido hiking tour was not hiking, but rafting. To Haidee and my delight, the plan was to raft the Shisorapuchi River – the same one we’d canoed only a few months ago (detailed route overview here).

To our even bigger delight, the river was running high. Had it been at the level we canoed it a few months ago, the rafting would have been not much more than a float down a river. With water this high, it was great fun.

 

Photos below by Kawanoko Rafting (http://kawanoko.jp/home.html)

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