After a comfortable night at the Rakko-dake Sanso hut on the other side of the mountains, Leon, Matt and I took the main road over the range and turned off northwards up to the trailhead. This was before the typhoon damage to the access road and we were able to drive all the way to the Fushimi-koya hut in good time. We had a quick look and dumped our gear as we were intending the stay the night. Leon decided to sit out the climb this time (after all, he had already climbed every mountain in Hokkaido, many of them multiple times, including a month-long summer traverse of the whole Hidaka Range). While he busied himself around the hut, Matt and I set off from the nearby trailhead.
The sun was out at the trailhead, but as we ground our way up through the forest we entered thick mist. The cloud was down and we wondered if we would even get to see anything from the top, but at least it kept us cool on the long climb. At the ninth stage, however, the clouds thinned and we glimpsed clear sky before emerging into sunshine on the open summit.
It was a spectacular view. At our feet the Tokachi Plain was blanketed in a thick ocean of clouds, punctuated here and there by sharp forested peaks rising like islands. To the west the clearing cloud gave us glimpses along the ridge and over to the bulk of Poroshiri-dake, mist shearing away from its steep-sided flanks. As we sat and enjoyed our lunch it cleared up even more over the mountains while below us the sea of clouds stretched unbroken as far as we could see.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On a ski tour up Fushimi-dake we were also graced with this sea of clouds phenomenon, with white peaks jutting out (Rob).
After taking in our fill of the view we turned and headed back down the trail, soon to be swallowed up again in the thick mist. Back at the hut we unpacked our gear and cooked up an evening feast. It’s only a small hut but we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a relaxing evening before turning in for the night.
Postscript: This had been another good day in the Hokkaido hills, but on a more sober note it was probably on this day that I picked up a tick that burrowed unnoticed deep into my back. It was not until we reached an onsen a day later that Matt pointed it out to me. An unsuccessful attempt to remove it resulted in breaking off its body and leaving the head under my skin. I’d had ticks before from backpacking trips in Scotland and was well aware of Lyme Disease so over the coming week as we continued the trip it preyed on my mind a bit. Finally back in Sapporo over a week later I felt fine but had developed a circular red rash a few inches across near my armpit. Although it was not the classic bulls-eye rash associated with Lyme Disease, and not even around the actual bite, I took myself off to the Dermatology Department at Hokkaido University Hospital. There a doctor removed the rest of the tick under a local anesthetic, stitched me up, and prescribed me a two-week course of strong antibiotics. I was glad of this medication because that very evening I came down with a high fever, vomiting and severe body aches. Thankfully these symptoms cleared up quickly as the antibiotics kicked in and, touch wood, I’ve experienced no ill effects since then. I now always carry a tick removal tool in the first aid kit that lives in my rucksack. A couple of years later I picked up another tick (again, not discovered until at home the day after a trip) and this time I removed it carefully, stuck it on some sellotape, and trotted off with it to Hokudai Hospital for some more antibiotics. I had no symptoms but wasn’t prepared to risk it after the previous experience.
I now have a healthy paranoia about ticks; Lyme Disease is a very nasty debilitating condition that can seriously mess up your life, so when out in the hills, particularly in early summer, cover up and always carefully check yourself and your companions for the little buggers, especially if you’ve been bushwhacking. And if you’re unlucky enough to get one that burrows in deeply before eventually being discovered, go and get it properly removed at a hospital!