It was about time we headed over to the Niseko area for the green season, so Haidee and I packed up the car and headed west from Sapporo in the early evening of a Friday. The plan was to set up the tent in Rankoshi, and paddle the Shubuto River 朱太川 on the Sunday, and use the Saturday for a nice long hike in the Niseko Range.
We called around a few campgrounds in the area, but all of them told us they were fully booked. “Everyone’s making the most of the easing of stay-at-home requests,” said one exasperated-sounding staff.
Indeed, that was us. We’d been stuck in Sapporo for the past six weekends.
In the end, we ended up at the quiet Rinrin Campground リンリン公園キャンプ場 in Rankoshi. A green oasis among the lush farmland in the area. Amazingly, despite other campgrounds in the area being booked out, there was hardly anyone here.
We’d arrived late on the Friday night, so missed the official check in. That meant we had to wait around till 9:30am for the campground warded to arrive, and for us to pay our dues. By that time, the sun was high in the sky, and it was turning out to be a very hot day.
By the time we arrived at the Goshiki Onsen carpark, it felt like full summer. At the people. It felt like half of Hokkaido had the same idea as us. Carparks were full, as was the campground opposite Goshiki Onsen. Niseko Range on a weekend, we guessed.
It was busy on the first part of the trail too. Day hikers headed for or returning from the easily-attained Iwaonupuri were numerous. On a number of occasions, we needed to wait as large groups filed past us, all giving us subdued nods, covering their mouths with their masks. We hoped it wouldn’t be like this the whole way.
It was cool in the shade of the trees though.
It wasn’t long before the tall, lush vegetation gave way to impressive volcanic scars on the landscape. Iwaonupuri was one great ashen mount, mostly white but with impressive red streaks here and there. The path was now pure white fine volcanic gravel. Had we not had up to 7 hours of walking ahead of us, we would have climbed up to the summit, only about 20 minutes away. But we figured if we had the time and energy to do so on the way back, we’d do it then.
Mercifully, the foot traffic all but disappeared once we were past the Iwaonupuri junction. Just a few sansai gatherers, foraging off the trail for early season edible spring shoots.
We pushed on towards Onuma Pond, passing through more curious volcanic landscape. Sulphur Stream 硫黄川, red scree slopes, and also the old Sulphur mine remains with its long tailings mounds. This would be an interesting area in its own right to spend some time exploring, but we were keen to keep moving on.
What amazed us the most was the variety of landscape thus far in the loop. Green, shady groves, interspersed with blinding white volcanic scenes.
When we did finally make it to Onuma Pond, it was somewhat of an anti-climax. It was surrounded by a thick barriers of tall sasa bamboo grass. There was only one small opening on the northern shore where we could actually get down to the water’s edge. This small opening was already crowded with a group of high school kids on an excursion with their teacher, so we didn’t get a chance to have a paddle in the water. We pushed on.
Now, we were walking in more consistently Hokkaido-esque forest. High sasa bamboo grass and thick forest on all sides. It was heads down fast hiking, with a reasonably good trail and not much climbing. Soon we entered the Oyachi wetland area, the trail here also shrouded in tall sasa bamboo grass. Here and there were sections of wetland flora to either side of the boardwalk.
By the time we got to the Oyachi trialhead, it was time for lunch. We sat on the edge of the parking lot and munched on some sandwiches. Groups of spring mountain shoot foragers were emerging from the wetlands with their hauls.
It was surprisingly hot for a late June weekend. Just sitting in the sun was hot work. So we were happy for the shaded trail as we continued west towards Shinsennuma. The trail alternated between easy-walking dirt trail, to OK boardwalk, and then badly dilapidated boardwalk with low overhanging foliage.
The dilapidated trail only made the Shinsennuma area all the more spectacular. After ducking and doging low foliage, we were spat out into a dazzlingly pristine wetland. Lightly-dressed tourists with loafers, jeans and sun parasols tiptoed along the boardwalks, making the procession to the crowning jewel of this compact marsh – the gorgeous Shinsennuma. By the shortest route, it’s only a 40 minute return walk to the tarn. Well worth it in its own right.
We spent a few minutes soaking in the alpine atmosphere next to the tarn, and then carried on. We still had the most taxing part of the hike ahead of us – climbing and descending both Chisenupuri and Nitonupuri peaks.
Along the way towards the Chisenupuri junction, we passed Naganuma Tarn. This would be our last place along the route to stock up on water, so we filtered a few liters and added it to our stash. Filtering water along the route is essential to reduce the risk of ingesting an Echinococcus egg. Echinococcus is a nasty parasite that has a very long incubation period, and can wreak havoc on the human liver – see our deep-dive here. The Katadyn BeFree 1.0L is our pick for water filters, if anyone cares.
By the time we started the ascent up Chisenupuri in earnest, we were feeling the effects of the heat of the day. We’d been on the trail for over 6 hours by this point. We tried to take it easy on the ascent, stopping for breaks in the shade of trees where we had the chance. The views were now the best of the hike so far though. Big vistas along the range, both east and west. At the summit, we sent up the drone.
We’d read in local guidebooks that the eastern trail up Chisenupuri was deceptively tough. Not particularly much vertical gain, but basically just one big boulder scramble. We can confirm as such. Steep, and not much of a trail, but for boulders. The vistas, however, are worth the effort.
So far, since leaving Shinsennuma, we’d only passed four other parties. And this was on an otherwise busy Saturday. A great way to get away from it all.
We arrived at the Chisenupuri trailhead, crossed Route 66, and carriedd on up Nitonupuri. We couldn’t help but think that perhaps we would have had a more leisurely time of this hike had we done the route in reverse. Get the main climbing done early in the hike, and then enjoy a more leisurely rest of the hike on flatter trails.
The trail continued to offer up plenty of variation though. Just as we thought the route had given us all it could give, we found ourselves in a gorgeous area of volcanic terrain with stunted trees. It was almost like a manicured Japanese garden, complete with a lovely white path.
Soon, we were back at the Iwaonupuri junction, for the final walk back to the Goshiki Onsen carpark. The onsen was calling, so we passed on a quick up-and-back of Iwaonupuri. Shadows were getting long, and the day was quickly fading into late afternoon/early evening.
This was our first long summer hike in the Niseko Range, but it felt like a perfect introduction to what the area has to offer.