Sometimes we forget how majestic the nature is here in Sapporo, so close to home. Within a 40 minute drive, a prepared individual can enjoy some impressive hills, made all the more beautiful by the annual winter snows.
So I organized a short snowshoe trip for the local Hokkaido International Outdoor Club. We have a Facebook group with 80 registered members, around 20 or so of which are active. Six of us ventured out a few weekends ago to explore a perfect spot for snowshoeing: the area surrounding Hoheikyo Onsen (hot springs). The idea was simple. Meet at the hot springs, go for a showshoe hike along the Hiyamizu-sawa track (heading towards Sapporo-dake), return to the hot springs, have Indian curry (there is an Indian curry restaurant at the hot springs), have a soak in the hot springs, go home.
Two of us decided to cycle from Sapporo to the meeting spot. The distance is around 25km. For some reason I thought it would take us an hour and a half. It took us almost three. The going is slow in winter…
The other four, traveling by car, arrived on time at the official meeting time. On the bikes, we were a solid 45 minutes late. No time to dilly-dally, on with the snowshoes.
Top Tip: Showshoes can be hired for only 800yen for an entire weekend from the Nakajima Park Fitness Center (中島公園体育センター). The 800yen is for one 24-hour period, but since the center is not open on the weekends, Friday pick-up and Monday drop-off is considered ‘one 24 our period’.
We started hiking from the start of the Hiyamizu-sawa track, which climbs all the way to the top of Sapporo-dake. We would only hike part of the way, have lunch, and head back. The track follows a small stream, only sometimes visible under large mushrooms of snow. The snow was fairly well packed down on the track; this is a popular spot for outdoor types.
Once we veered off the track onto a forest road, the snow was fresh; without snowshoes this would be hard going. Rick, the most experienced outdoors-person in the group, had previously scouted out a nice place for lunch on his topographical maps. This required a hike up a small rise in the landscape through deep powder. His keen eye for interesting contour lines was spot on: lunch was at the top of an amazing clearing, overlooking the hills in the distance.
Wrapped up against the cold, we lasted about 30 minutes soaking up the view and warm cups of soup. We carried on after lunch with full bellies and keen to get back down for a soak in the hot springs.
We arrived back at the hot springs at around 4pm. First a soak, then food. Hoheikyo onsen is a natural hotspring, well known for its outdoor baths. In winter this place is magical.
The bike home was amazing, as it always is from Jozankei. It is more or less all downhill to Sapporo. This was the first time I had done the return trip at night, in a blizzard. At least the blizzard was at our backs for the most part. Screaming down a dark rural road with only bicycle headlights to illuminate great chunks of ice was exhilarating. At least I had a decent dynamo-powered headlight (the amazing Busch and Mueller Lumotec IQ Cyo). Michael only had a head torch…
All in all a long, rewarding day outside.