Ever since staying over at the Muine Hut during a ski tour last season, I was keen to head back to this area in the non-snow season. Even prior to that, I had been interested to see if it would be at all possible to cycle all the way to the hut. I knew from other blog posts and reports on the Internet that it was possible to cycle from the main paved road (Route 230) along the gravel access road to the official trailhead, but it wasn’t quite so clear as to whether it would be possible to cycle from there up to the hut.
So when Saoka offered to organize a trip to Mt. Muine this autumn, I was keen (thanks for organizing Soaka!). The night before, we all camped at the Jozankei Nature Village (winter report here) and made wood-fired pizzas in their pizza ovens. Saoka called ahead the previous week and got the combination code for the lock on the first gate on the access road, so we were able to drive the 3.4km to the final locked gate. We parked up and got on our way at around 9am.
It was a typical long-shadows sort of autumnal day.
Much of this road was familiar from the ski tour. The big shirakaba birch there, the exposed rock there, and the small hut at the start of the official trail (almost completely buried in winter). We filled in our party’s details in the logbook, and started on up the track.
It became clear pretty quickly that the track must have seen some fairly heavy flooding this season. Boardwalk boards were strewn about along the track, and the two bridges along the way were completely washed out. The first bridge was no problem – it crossed a small stream shallow enough to walk through. The second bridge, however, straddled a boggy marsh. If the remaining remnants of the bridge get damaged any further, this section will be impassible.
Before long, we arrived at what is perhaps the most beautiful part of this hike: the Orochichi-ga-hara marsh (大蛇ヶ原湿原). It seems we experienced it at its best too. The grass was a gorgeous, golden brown. Autumn colors at their best. There are boardwalks that go into the marsh, and really give an amazing view of this unusually clear area.
This area is curious in winter too. All of a sudden you pop out into this clear snowfield after being surrounded by trees.
From the marsh, it is only a few hundred meters to the Hutte Muine. Even in the non-snow season, the hut is unlocked and available for use by the public (reservation required). For a paltry 140yen a night, you to can sleep in style (no toilets included). We opted to take a short break here before tackling the more strenuous climb up to the summit ridge. This was also an eye-opening spot for me, because I’d only previously seen the hut almost completely buried in snow. Amazing how much snow falls here!
From the hut, the climb starts in earnest up towards the summit ridge. First up is a flight of stair-ladders. Then more marshy boardwalks, and then more ladders. This area doesn’t get much sun, so the entire forest seemed to be coated in beautiful lush moss.
It’s not long before the route climbs above the treeline. We were now climbing along a slippery dirt track cut through towering stands of sasa bamboo grass. It was not until I was most of the way up this section that I turned around and noticed how high we’d climbed. It was a somewhat subdued autumnal scene, but the hills of Jozankei and beyond just seemed to be endless.
Once on the summit ridge, it was just a matter of ducking and dodging our way under and over trees, past the new summit (1,464m), and on to the rocky clearing at the old summit (1,460m). It was rather curious to see two ‘summits’ on a mountain. A little research afterwards gave me the answer to this riddle. Apparently the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912) was a time of intensive surveying in Japan. Lacking sophisticated tools, however, apparently the triangulation points that were used and marked as the summits of a number of mountains in Japan are not the true summits. This is one such mountain. The true summit is actually 4m higher than the ‘common’ summit.
In any case, the old (incorrect) summit actually gives much better views than the actual summit. We got slight glimpses of Mt. Yotei, and could see all the way down to Sapporo City below.
After gobbling down some delicious left over pizza from the night before, we started our descent. There were a few slips and tumbles on the way down. The dirt track through the sasa was very slippery, as were the wood ladders on the way down. Haidee had a particularly spectacular fall, only made good by the fact she didn’t hurt herself.
On the descent from the hut back to the trailhead, I couldn’t help but survey the track from the point of view of a bikepacker. I am still convinced that this would make for an excellent overnight bikepacking hut trip. There were just enough clear sections of trail that it would make it faster on a bike going down than on foot. Yes, there’d be some pushing involved over roots and up and over some lumpy rises. But I think it would be doable. I’d have to double check the legality of it first though.