“We’re heading out to Hamamasu for a hike-a-bike,” our contact at the Hokkaido Development Engineering Center said to me in an email. “We’re starting and finishing at the Hamamasu Onsen, so a hotspring soak is guaranteed!”
This sounded pretty good for Haidee and I. We were keen to get on the bikes after almost a full season of no cycling trips (apart from cycling to work every day). As testament to our shunning the bikes for canoes this summer season, Haidee’s bike still had her studded tires on it. I switched them out for some knobblies, threw the bikes in the back of the car, and we drove north from Sapporo along the coast to Hamamasu.
Once on the bikes, we were on the main paved road for a few kilometers before turning off onto a gravel road. The colorful sign pointing the way told us this was a well-loved local trail. Even from the main road, the prominent peak of Kogane-yama dominated the skyline.
Once on the gravel road, we had a gorgeous 4km ride to the trailhead. We were at the peak of the autumn leaves. And this year was a bumper year for autumn colors. We’d had very few typhoons or other tough weather that otherwise strips the trees.
Along the way, we stopped in at Japan’s 18th largest tree, the 5th largest in Hokkaido. The tree which holds this special status as Japan’s 18th largest tree is a Japanese yew.
It was kind of big. It looked old. It was a nice enough walk.
I can now say I’ve laid my eyes on the grandeur of Japan’s 18th largest tree. Bucket list officially one item shorter.
Back on the bikes, we made the last few hundred meters to the trailhead. The fact that we’d now have a sweet downhill mountain bike ride dampened the minor sting of seeing about five cars parked at the carpark – this is a hike that certainly doesn’t require a bike ride up the gravel road.
The trailhead toilets were nice. A generous porch area would be a very nice place to hang out if the weather was rainy. We locked up the bikes and got on our way in earnest up the trail.
The trail was impeccably cleared of sasa bamboo grass for at least 4m either side of the center of the trail. The autumn colors were well in force. The bare trees gave us glimpses of the sheer climb awaiting us up ahead.
Soon enough we got to the steep scramble section. Some in the group bounded up like mountain goats. Others were more calculated, taking their time to check footing and keeping their center of gravity low.
This steep climb section of the route very quickly gave us grand views through the trees to the coast, and across to the hills on the other side of the valley. This is a spectacular route, very quickly giving hikers rewards for their efforts.
The email inviting us to come on this hike had a pretty clear warning. “If you’ve got a fear of heights, then the upper section might be quite scary – there’s always the option of not going all the way to the top,” the email stated.
As soon as we broke beyond the treeline, I could see what this was all about. The false summit just before the actual summit was a spectacular, high-consequence rocky outcrop. A gorgeous, exposure-inducing thrill. From a vantage point on the actual summit, the other hikers on the false summit looked like they were on top of the world.
I fired up the drone to grab some quick shots of the false summit. It was windy enough that I didn’t want to get the drone too high, but still, the rocky precipice contrasted against the valley floor in the distance was amazing.
“What is it about this summit?” asked one of our group. “This is so much fun right now,” he said. He was right. There was something about this summit that made the 20 minute stop for lunch here feel relaxing and special. Perhaps it was the cramped, isolated quarters. There’s only one trail to the summit, with steep drops on all sides. It was just us and the sky.
We eventually had to get going. This time, we’d return across the false summit, and descend via the new route – a less steep option, more suited to descending than the old route.
Once back at the spring junction, it was smooth sailing and fast hiking back to the trailhead. We were all looking forward to the speedy, adrenaline pumping descent on the gravel road with our mountain bikes. And thrilling it was. We finished off with a long soak in the Hamamasy Onsen – luckily, we were there on the last weekend for the outdoor bath. They close the outdoor rotenburo baths for winter (the inside baths are still open).
Many thanks to the Hokkaido Development Engineering Center for the invite to come along on this fun, varied route!