Haidee and I were still on a mission to get conditioned for hiking with heavy packs on, leading up to a longer traverse hike we had planned for August. So when Ian mentioned he was keen to hike the Kaede-zawa route up to Tarumae-zan, we tagged along with unnecessarily large and heavy packs. I’d had my first COVID jab (Moderna) the day before, to add to the fun.
Ian was travelling from Niseko, and we were coming from Sapporo, so we had two cars. “My knee has been playing up a bit lately, so I’d prefer to avoid some of the downhill,” texted Ian.
So it was that we ended up climbing up the Kaede-zawa gorge, looping around the Tarumae-zan caldera, and just doing the easy descent down to the main Tarumae-zan trailhead. This was all made possible because we had the two cars to shuttle with.
Haidee and I had already walked most of the moss corridor proper previously. On that trip, we’d canoed from Shikotsu Village to the gorge entrance, but we didn’t go all the way to the Tarumae-zan trail. This time we parked up on Route 453 and walked to the entrance. Like last time, it was clear that plenty of people had walked along the gorge. The volcanic ash sand floor of the gorge was littered with footprints. Despite this not being an official trail of any kind, it was certainly well frequented.
Soon enough, we were well into the depths of this fascinating moss corridor. It was Ian’s first time here, and he was suitably impressed.
We made good time along the easy part of the gorge and were soon at the steep scramble-detour around the impassible rockfall. Ian went ahead along the gorge to the rockfall area to scout out how impassible it really was. Haidee and I carried on via the detour. With our heavy packs on, the steep scramble felt all the more sketchy. More than last time, I was rather hesitant to grab the visibly ageing ropes.
Soon, Ian appeared behind us, scrambling up the detour.
“There’s a big overhanging spot that is a bit of a challenge with just one person!” he reported.
Soon, we arrived at the spot where we’d turned around last time. I was interested to see what was up ahead. We pushed on.
Slowly the terrain flattened out somewhat, with the gorge becoming distinctly less gorge-like. In places, there were short detours through the forest. We were following and searching for pink tape tied to trees. We didn’t really have any issue following the trail, but we’ve heard of others getting mildly lost in this upper route section.
Perhaps the more surprising section of the route was the incredible grove of stunted white birch. Just off to the climber’s left of the trail, this short detour was so perfectly inspiring – a lost world of calm and poise. It reminded us of how much variety Tarumae-zan and surroundings offer – micro-climates within micro-environments.
We were now getting to the terminus of the lush green forests of the lower flanks of Tarumae-zan. Soon, we found ourselves climbing up a rough trail up a gravely volcanic spur. Soon after that, we were at the Tarumae-zan to Fuppushi-dake traverse trail proper.
The plan had always been to walk anti-clockwise around the caldera via Nishi-yama. So, despite the low visibility and no view, we did just that. Of course, we would have preferred a view, but still, the green, while scant, vegetation of Tarumae-zan was really quite picturesque.
After about 4.5 hours of not seeing another soul on the trail, it was a bit jarring to be passing day-hikers in jeans and t-shirts and sneakers on our descent down to the main Tarumae-zan trailhead. The peak itself from the main trailhead is an easy hike. But for those keen (and equipped) for a more challenging hike, the Kaede-zawa is really quite special.
Back at the trailhead we climbed in to Ian’s car and enjoyed the easy descent back down to our car near the lake.
A very worthwhile 6hr training hike.