Rob had stayed in the Nishibetsu Hut during winter on a previous trip and was keen to see it again in a different season, so we set off from Teshikaga one autumn day for the short drive to the trailhead. It was a weekday so we were not expecting to see many people, so were surprised to encounter a large group of schoolchildren being herded down the forest approach road by their teachers. They seemed surprised to see us too.
After looking around the lovely hut we headed on up the hill, enjoying the ever-expanding views over eastern Hokkaido as we tackled the steep climb up through the sasa. On the main ridge the wind was much stronger and we had to brace ourselves against it on the small rocky summit of Risuke-yama. Despite the cold wind, the gently undulating and open ridge on towards Nishibetsu-dake was a delight, dropping off on one side all the way down to the plain while looking over to the crater lake of Mashu-ko on the other. For a small mountain we felt we were getting a lot of bang for the buck, as our old friend and Hokkaido mountain guide legend Leon would have put it.
We only had the summit to ourselves for a couple of minutes before another party of schoolchildren materialized up the path that comes up from Kamuinupuri. They all seemed in good spirits and oblivious to the biting wind as they took pictures, ate snacks, and teased their teachers and each other. We gave them a good head start then followed them down back to the trailhead. After packing up we drove on to a farmhouse restaurant for a tasty curry, then to the open air ‘wild onsen’ by the river at Karamatsu no Yu. There were only a handful of people there, one of them a local who told us how community volunteers had rebuilt the bath after it was destroyed in the typhoons a few years ago.
It had only been a short day and an easy hill, but none the less worthwhile for that.