Many years before, in a younger and fitter incarnation, I had caught the 5.00am train from Otaru to Hirafu and hiked up to the summit, around the crater and back down with enough time to catch the train back in the early evening. This time, however, there were five of us with a car so we camped the previous night at the small site by the trailhead.
We were up early and on our way by 7.30. It turned out to be a lovely day, though the views were occasionally partially obscured by cloud below us. We pulled steadily up the long climb to the crater, and strolled around to the summit, purple flowers of iwaume adding splashes of colour among the rocks. It was an airy promenade with the crater dropping away on our right and the clouds and farmlands far below us on our left. It’s a popular mountain so there were other hikers around but it didn’t feel crowded.
After a bite of lunch we continued around the crater rim to where our return path dropped down, and began the long knee-jarring descent. Taking it steady we were back at the camp ground around 4.30pm, where we packed everything up before setting off to find a well-deserved onsen and some celebratory ramen.