Jeff slammed on the brakes. Ahead of us the gravel road disappeared into a massive hole about 40 meters across. It was clearly yet another victim of the typhoons that had destroyed so many of the forest roads in the interior. Jeff reversed back a bit to where we could turn around and park in an open area. A notice pinned to a post informed us that from here on the access road was impassable – we could see that – but also that the western trail leading up to Lion Rock had been destroyed. We had a quick rethink. Although the full loop was now impossible and it would be a longer and rougher walk in (and out), we still had plenty of time to get up and back on the eastern trail. Boots on, and off we went.
Much of the road was still walkable, though becoming overgrown. But where it had been washed away the devastation was spectacular, witness to the ferocity of the typhoon induced flash floods of summer 2016. For one stretch of a few hundred meters there was no indication that a road had ever existed, just a tangle of smashed driftwood that we had to maneuver our way through and around. But soon enough we reached the original trailhead. The logbook to enter party and route details lacked a pen, but a glance at the neglected book gave us the impression that few hikers had visited recently anyway.
The fresh bright green of spring lit up the forest as we climbed steadily alongside a stream and then up the ridge more steeply to a viewpoint on a shoulder. From here we could look back to Otofuke-yama and Ishikari-dake. As we got higher and into the shrub birch and haimatsu creeping pine all of the northern Daisestuzan range came into view, still holding massive amounts of snow. Eventually the haimatsu pine became sporadic and we emerged onto the more open main ridge, passing a trail branching off to the north and Muri-dake. There was plenty of snow on the lee of the ridge which gave much easier walking than battling through the rough pine on the path itself so we were soon at the small rock outcrop of the summit. A few hundred meters further the ridge dipped down to continue on to Lion Rock. It made a great viewpoint so we decided to stop there rather than continue all the way to the rock itself. I basked in the sun while Jeff picked some of the wild berries growing in profusion at the side of the trail.
All that was left was to retrace our steps, though first we took a short detour down the faint trail leading to Muri-dake to check it out for another time, before dropping down to the trailhead and back along the washed out road. We had not seen a single person all day. It was then a short drive to the onsen and Italian restaurant at Sounkyo to round off another wonderful day in Hokkaido’s high hills.