It occurred to us one day that it was quite amazing that we’d never hiked Sandan-yama outside of the snow season. Being such an accessible peak that was bound to have great views, we decided somewhat on a whim to hike it while we were in the area.
It was one of those perfect autumn days. Bright blue sky, sunshine, but there was a chill to the air. The autumn colors were at their peak. A perfect time to go for a hike.
Clearly, many others had the same idea. The Hakuginso Lodge carpark was almost completely full of cars.
It was one of the last weekends for the Hakuginso Lodge campground, but there were a few hardy souls braving the cold overnight temperatures. They were mostly packing up as we set off mid-morning.
It was interesting to see the old ski area with no snow. The sasa bamboo was much higher than head height, and the path through it was well-maintained and wide. Here and there we passed through thickets of autumn colors.
Like any good mountain trail in the Daisetsuzan National Park, however, the trail soon deteriorated. Some old stairs trying hard to hold back the hillside here, some deep gouges in the trail there….
I was just starting to wonder if we’d get any views before we had hiked the whole thing when we burst through the thickets and onto the edge of a large gully. Vast views north along the Daisetsuzan Range greeted us. Asahi-dake in the distance was caked in early season snow. The very active Maetokachi-dake spewed thick volcanic gas from its cliffside.
We carried on, now enveloped by high himatsu pine.
For the remaining hour or so to the summit, we were hiking in a tunnel of pine. It smelled divine.
The summit appeared somewhat suddenly. We were spat out of the pine tunnel and into panoramic views of the Furano Plains below to the north, and the great volcanic and rocky wall of the Tokachi Range to the south. The summit was busy with hikers enjoying the last of the good autumn hiking weather; indeed, only a few days later, Sandan-yama was caked in snow.
I was keen to get away from the summit crowds, so we snuck south around the summit rocks to a small saddle. The rock was white and orange and red. We were now standing atop the captivating Ansei Crater valley.
After a quick break, I ran ahead along the ridgeline south for about 200m, and then we both headed back to the summit proper and started our way back down to Hakuginso.
As a reminder of the seriousness of the winter terrain here, a bronze plaque was cemented to a rock just behind the summit, remembering the lives of some Hokkaido University students who died on the mountain in an avalanche.
The descent was uneventful, apart from bumping into a colleague from the university we work at. In a sense, I wasn’t surprised to see Kenlay hiking with his family – he’s out hiking the Hokkaido hills more than we are!