The Italian Route: Aka-dake, Hakuun-dake, and Midori-dake Loop

Posted on Feb 12, 2019
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Posted on Feb 12, 2019

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Reading time: 2 min
17km

Distance

8.5 hours

Time

980m

Ascent

2230m

Highest point

6/10

Difficulty

Best season icon (Hokkaido Wilds)
Jul-Sep

Best season

These peaks lie to the east of Asahidake in the main Daisetsuzan massif. Aka-dake (赤岳, 2,078m) is at the edge of a broad stony plateau well known for alpine flowers, while the lower slopes have spectacular autumn foliage in September. Hakuun-dake (白雲岳, 2,230m) is the third highest mountain in Hokkaido with extensive views north and south over the whole range. Nestled in a bowl below the southern slopes is the squat red Hakuundake Refuge, a wonderful place to stay or camp if you want to make an overnighter of it. From here you can also loop round to Midoridake (緑岳, 2,020m) and thus bag a colourful green (midori), white (haku) and red (aka) circuit – the Italian Route!

Last updated Apr 2, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This hike starts and finishes at 1500m from the trailhead at Ginsendai (銀泉台) on the eastern flank of the main Daisetsuzan massif in central Hokkaido, about an hour’s drive from the hot spring complex at Sounkyo (層雲峡).

General notes

The main season for summer hiking in Daisetsuzan is July and August; before and after this you need to be prepared and equipped for snow on the ground and/or falling from the sky. September is popular on Akadake for the beautiful autumn foliage and can be busy. This hike starts from the trailhead at Ginsendai, which has no facilities beyond a public toilet, water source (though to be safe it is better to bring enough with you; don’t rely on this trail head water source to be running) and a cabin for park rangers where you can sign the logbook. The nearest accommodation, shops and other facilities are at Sounkyo, about an hour away by car or bus.

Hut

Hakuundake Refuge (full details here)

Hakuundake Refuge Hut (白雲岳避難小屋, 1,990m) is a large but basic two-story hut located just under an hour’s walk from Hakuun-dake (白雲岳). It is available for use year-round, but a warden is present from mid-June till late September. In winter, the ground floor entrance will be buried in snow, so entrance is from a second-floor winter door. There’s also an official campsite nearby.

Route markers

The route is well defined with occasional splashes of yellow paint on rocks and roped areas to keep people from trampling rare alpine plants. Trail junctions are marked by large signposts (in Japanese). From the trailhead at 1480m ascend the clear trail via a series of snowfields and flower fields to the summit rocks on the stony plateau of Aka-dake (赤岳, 2078m, 2.5 – 3hrs). Take the trail that continues on over the broad plateau of Koizumi-dake (小泉岳, 2158m) to the junction at Hakkuundake Bunki (白雲岳分岐, 45mins). From here it is a half hour or so to the summit of Hakuun-dake (白雲岳2230m). Return back to the junction then decide if you have the time and energy to head south to the Hakuun-dake Refuge Hut (白雲岳避難小屋) and Midori-dake (緑岳, 2,020m) – this will add an extra 2-3 hours to the day. If not, or the weather is bad, reverse your steps back to Aka-dake and the trailhead at Ginsendai (銀泉台) (2.5hrs from the junction). If you decide to extend the day and visit the Refuge, drop down south to the hut in 20mins, then east over a snowfield (careful in mist early in the season though a rope marked the trail when we were there) to the flat ridge of Midori-dake. From here turn south to the summit (about an hour from the hut). From Midori-dake head back north to rejoin the return trail at Koizumi-dake (1.5hrs).

Route Timing

A leisurely 7 hours for the trailhead return trip if only visiting Akadake and Hakuundake, but you’ll need to allow 8-9 hours for the full loop via the three-colored peaks of Aka-dake, Hakuun-dake (and Refuge Hut) and Midori-dake. In the latter option, consider staying over at the Hakuun-dake Refuge Hut and make it a two-day overnight trip.

Transport

Public transport:

To Sounkyo: From JR Asahikawa Station and JR Kamikawa Station there are buses (signed 層雲峡行き) operated by Dohoku Bus company (0166 23 4161, dohokubus.com). There are seven buses a day in each direction and the journey takes about 2 hrs from Asahikawa, 2100yen one way.

To Ginsendai: Between 1 July and 30 September two bus services run in each direction between Sounkyo and Ginsendai, taking about an hour. In the 2018 summer season, the bus number was 83, leaving the Sounkyo Youth Hostel at 6am and 2:45pm daily, returning from the Ginsendai bus stop at 7:30am and 3:30pm. Up to date timetables are available during the summer season at Dohoku Bus’s website here (in Japanese).

 

By car: 

Ginsendai is approached by a well-graded gravel road branching off Route 273 south of the junction with the main east-west Route 39 that runs through Sounkyo. There is a large parking area at the trailhead. In the second half of September (autumn leaves viewing season) this road is closed to private vehicles and it is necessary to take the shuttle bus operated by Kamikawa Town that runs regularly from Sounkyo Youth Hostel (950yen one way). Details (in Japanese) here. You can also catch this from a car parking area by the lake on Route 273 (500yen one way, around here). There is an extra 200 yen administration fee. The road may also be closed in periods of bad weather.

Physical maps
  • Asahi-dake 1:25,000 hiking map in English by Markus Hauser (buy on Amazon here). Includes course times.
  • Daisetsuzan 大雪山. Yama to Kogen Map Series No 3. Published by Shobunsha. 1:50,000. Includes course times and trail information (in Japanese). ISBN: 9784398766038
Official Topo Map: Sounkyou (層雲峡) – map no. NK-54-7-2-2
Official Topo Map 2: Hakuundake (白雲岳) – map no. K-54-7-3-1

NOTE: The GSI 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

On a fine summer day with hordes of other walkers around you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about, but this is a dangerous place in bad weather with real risks of hypothermia for poorly equipped hikers. Conditions can change quickly, it is very exposed to the wind and the upper slopes can be much colder than down at the trailhead. Carry appropriate gear. The ridges are broad and open so it is possible to become disoriented in mist. Be aware that bears live throughout the national park. There may be a ranger in the cabin at Ginsendai to offer advice, though not when we were there.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for The Italian Route

Onsen nearby

Kurodake no Yu (黒岳の湯) in Sounkyo (location | 600yen per person). This place also serves delicious Italian food (pasta and pizza) in the ground floor restaurant.

Extra Resources
  • Hokkaido Natsuyama Gaido 2, 北海道夏山ガイド 2 表大雪の山々 (Hokkaido Shimbunsha). These guides are updated every few years. ISBN: 4894536935
  • Mountains of Hokkaido has some great background information in their Aka-dake – Hakuun-dake route guide here.

Guide Options

If you’d like to hike this route and/or explore other areas of central Hokkaido with a local certified guide, then contact Jun Ishiguro. He’s a JMGA (Japan Mountain Guides Association) mountain guide and Director of the Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA). As a senior figure in the Hokkaido guiding scene, and with extensive experience, he can tailor trips to your needs. 

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

After being turned back by the closure of the access road due to a typhoon forecast the previous month, Jeff and I returned on a stunningly beautiful day in early August – one of the very few we were to enjoy since it then proceeded to rain steadily for the rest of the month.

From the trailhead we climbed steadily up over and past a series of snowfields. There were a few steeper sections but it was an easy climb made even more enjoyable by a profusion of wildflowers. Particularly evident was the prized (for enthusiasts, mainly the middle-aged ladies and yama-girls) komakusa コマクサ, a small pink alpine flower shaped like a horse’s head that appears to grow straight out of the rocks.

After a short break on the summit rocks of Akadake we continued on the easy trail over the broad plateau and on to the summit of Hakuundake. While enjoying the spectacular views and a bite to eat on the summit I was lucky enough to see a pika darting about among the rocks. Jeff missed it, much to his chagrin. They are often heard, but rarely seen. Striped Siberian chipmunks, on the other hand, are more often encountered.

We then headed down to the Refuge, one of my favourite places in these hills for its wild and beautiful location, though I’ve never stayed inside, just camped next to it. A German lad was staying there on his second night of attempting the north-south traverse of the whole range. He mentioned how glad he was of a roof over his head – he had been unpleasantly surprised when camping the previous night by how cold it can get even in August!

From there we dropped down and crossed over the snowfield to head up Midoridake. This peak is also known as Matsuuradake, named for the explorer Matsuura Takeshiro who gave the island of Hokkaido its current name around 150 years ago. From the summit you can look back at the tiny red dot of the Refuge below the southern ramparts of Hakuundake.

Still enjoying glorious afternoon weather we headed back north to the main trail and dropped back down to the trailhead. An hour’s drive later we were soaking in the onsen at Sounkyo before tucking into the delicious pasta in the restaurant below. Washing it down with a glass of red (jealously watched by driver Jeff) I mused that the Green, White and Red of the peaks’ names combined with the food meant this just has to be known as the Italian Route.

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