Roo and I started dreaming about multi-day backpacking trips as soon as we met. And we decided it was time to pack our bags when my boss told me I didn’t have to work during summer vacation. We considered our potential destinations and chose Shiretoko because Roo had never been there and because photos of the traverse from Rausu-dake to Io-zan were otherworldly.
Now’s the time for a spoiler: We were planning to hike the traverse over two days (that will have to wait for a future trip report); however, on the second morning, and almost halfway through the traverse, Roo fell as the trail crossed a scree field and hurt her ankle. We decided to retrace our steps because we didn’t know the trail’s condition ahead. It took us two days to hike out, and when Roo went to the doctor she found out that she had fractured her fibula. She’s now finished wearing her cast and working on rehabbing her ankle, and we’re looking forward to the traverse next summer. I’ll take creative license in writing this trip report and imagine we were on a day hike up Rausu-dake for the purposes of familiarizing you with the route that this post focuses on.
Back to the adventure, we had no time constraints so we made our way east in a leisurely fashion. Soaking in multiple wild onsen at Lake Kussharo, camping, and swimming on the lakeshore was the ideal summer vacation pace. We arrived at the Kinoshita Hut the night before we started hiking, enjoyed a lengthy soak in Sandan Onsen, and slept well before starting to hike the next morning.
We had a big oatmeal breakfast and began hiking a bit later than the numerous groups that started filing past at 4am. The forecast called for a high around 30 degrees, but it was humid and I started sweating as soon as I put on my backpack. It felt much hotter than the forecasted temperatures during our entire visit to Shiretoko.
The lush, mixed forest immediately felt reminiscent of backpacking in Northern California. Staying true to similar climates in North America, there was even an abundance of poison ivy. The patches were particularly thick on wetter, north-facing slopes and it thinned out and entirely disappeared once we’d been hiking for a couple hours. This hike is superb for experiencing a wide-range of plant species while transitioning between aspects and elevations in the hike from just above sea-level to the rocky summit. A couple hours into the hike the mature shirakaba and conifers disappeared along with the switchbacks and the trail started to ascend more rapidly through scrubby undergrowth. We were occasionally scrambling around rocks and boulders as we made our way to the saddle below the summit. We dropped our packs at the campsite to enjoy the summit with no unnecessary gear.
The final 30 minutes of hiking to the summit is glorious. It felt like I was back on one of my childhood summits in the Northeastern U.S. There was lots of rock hopping and fun scrambling required to arrive at the summit marker. We had a blue sky with fluffy cumulus clouds and noone in sight as we relaxed to appreciate the beauty. And, your hike down promises to be similarly magnificent.
Post-script: As mentioned previously, our initial intention was to traverse along the range to Io-zan. Our first night on the trail, therefore, allowed us some tantalizing views northeast, of what awaits us when we do finally get back there to complete the traverse. Next time!