I had done the ascent of Tokachi-dake from Bogakudai before and wanted to climb Biei-dake this time. I also remembered that coming down the steep rough section below Biei-dake on a previous trip had been a pain at the end of a long day and reckoned it would be easier going up. So it made sense to climb Biei-dake first.
After an early start from Sapporo we arrived at the trailhead around 8am on a clear summer morning. The broad track up to below the hut passed underfoot quickly enough, then we branched off left up the rocky trail that contours around to below Biei-dake. It was fairly early in the season so the steep sided gully with the ladder was still mainly under the snow. At one point I was startled by a rustling in the scrub above the trail but it wasn’t a bear, just a curious fox observing our progress before turning tail and disappearing into the bushes.
After crossing the larger stream we began the steep climb up the rough narrow trail through scrub birch, over boulders and tree roots. As I had suspected it was easier going up and we soon reached the upper trail junction. From here the path continued up through scrub juniper. A Siberian Bluechat darted along in front of us, in and out of the juniper at the side of the trail. The path then emerged at the rim of the large crater that makes up the south face of the mountain. Out of the shrubs now, we climbed the narrow crater rim along the rocky path lined with alpine flowers. The views opened up across the vast volcanic wasteland of Tokachi-dake on our right and we could see strings of tiny figures toiling up the main trail from Bogakudai.
After a break enjoying the 360 degree views from the summit, we carried on down the narrow crater rim to where it joins the main ridge, then turned south towards Tokachi-dake. The orange cinders and jagged weathered crags around the rim gave way to a more open stony landscape as we reached the col between the two peaks. From here it was a steady climb up back into the cindery wastes, crossing the odd snowfield. Nobody else was around.
After traversing beneath Nokogiri-dake we arrived at a flat stony plateau that reminded us of the surface of the moon. Wouldn’t be fun in mist, we thought to ourselves. The sharp summit of Tokachi-dake drew us onward and after a short climb we were on top and back among other hikers again. From here we dropped down the main trail through the broad volcanic landscape and past steaming craters to complete the circuit, anticipating a soak in a hot spring and a steaming bowl of ramen. A classic Hokkaido day out.