Trip Report

Teshio River Journey Day 2 – Nayoro to Bifuka Island

Posted on Sep 29, 2020
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Posted on Sep 29, 2020

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Reading time: 5 min

Day Two on our planned six-day canoe trip down the Teshio River saw us navigate some of the more substantial rapids of the 175km route to the Japan Sea. None of the rapids were over Class II, and some might even call many of them substantial swifts rather than rapids. But with summer water levels, we were more concerned with avoiding scraping up our loaded canoe too much on exposed rocks, rather than capsizing. It was a hot day – easily over 30°C, so we had a swim at lunch time. Hokkaido summer vibes at their finest. We camped at the lovely Bifuka Island canoe port, with onsen hotsprings just a few minutes walk away.

Today’s essential details

  Distance: 33km |   Gradient: 0.83 mpk (4.38 FPM).

Onsen: Bifuka Onsen (びふか温泉) | 450yen | 0.5km from accommodation

TRIP REPORT

We slept well on our quiet corner of the park golf course in Nayoro City. The day broke clear – it was going to be a hot, sunny day.

We’d been very excited to see the river rise by about 30cm last night. This would give us a comfortable boost to the water levels across the rapids we’d see today.

Alas, however, this hydro-electric power station boost appeared to be short lived. When we checked the water level this morning, it was back to what we’d bumped and scraped along the previous day. 

Right off the bat thought, we were treated to an area on the river teeming with wildlife and birds. We’d not really expected there to be this much birdlife on the river, so birdwatcher Haidee was in her element.

Once past the initial droves of wildlife, we had other things to keep our attention – the rapids.

Depending on your definition, you might even call them swifts. But at today’s water level, we were calling them Class II shallow rapids, with plenty of quick direction changes required to dodge rocks and keep in the deeper channels. The first two substantial sections were labelled Suporo-no-se (スーポロの瀬) and Kiyomi-no-se (清美の瀬) on the official river map.

Suporo-no-se was, apparently, once the trickiest part of the river for the early Japanese settlers – many a river traveler had died in the bend’s strong currents before the JR Soya Line was opened in 1912.

Nowadays, the Suporo Rapids are a fairly straight forward chute – keep to the left and you’ll be fine.

The Kiyomi-no-se was a 300m long section of only-just-deep-enough river, flowing fast enough across large enough rocks as to keep us on our toes.

Probably the best testament to how hot the weather was today is this one photo below. 

No, it’s not us.

It’s a couple of foreigners from Niseko (a famous ski resort town in Hokkaido), currently working on a farm way up here in northern Hokkaido. Their work in Niseko had dried up due to the pandemic, and they’d managed to get work as farmhands.

“Today we’re harvesting corn,” one of them told us.

Haidee and I were having lunch in the shade of the trees out of view of our canoe at a canoe port just south of Bifuka when they sped down to the carpark at the canoe port. They gave us a wave, and headed straight for the river for a swim. Afterwards when we were talking to them, they explained that they only get a short lunch break, so were trying to make the most of it by cooling off before driving back to the farm.

While they were having a swim, they captured the shot below on my GoPro which I still had attached to the canoe 🙂

After lunch we had a swim too. Clothes and all. The coolness of having wet clothes kept the searing heat of the sun away for about an hour of paddling after lunch.

The afternoon consisted of trying to find shade on the sides of the river, and navigating some of the larger rapids of the trip.

The most memorable rapid of the day was the Rokkyo-no-tesshi ledge. The official river map suggested running it on the hard right. Today it was hardly a trickle on the hard right. We could line the canoe along the bank no problem at all, so we decided that was what we’d do.

I hadn’t flown the drone so far today, so I decided to send the drone up to film us doing our boring walk-the-canoe along the side of the river.

It was then that I saw it.

A beautiful, perfect gap in the ledge.

A most awesome line.

We changed plans immediately.

With the drone still flying, quickly losing battery power (it only stays in the air for about 12 minutes), we jumped in the canoe and ferried upstream and across to the middle of the river.

Haidee jammed her paddle in, drawing the canoe around to face downstream towards the rapid. We were committed now.

From water-level, it was difficult to see if we were lined up or not until the very last minute. But there it was – a glorious downriver ‘v’ pointing in the direction we needed to go. Without too much drama, we just followed the flow of the river down past the rapids.

Easy.

And all hail the wonder of drones.

There were a few more swifts and ruffled waters that afternoon, but the river kept one more challenging one for last – the Monponai-no-se Ledge. This river-wide angled ledge had a number of narrow slots perforating it. Haidee and I just needed to find one wide enough and deep enough for our loaded canoe to slip on through.

A late-stage gamble on a gap paid off, and we slipped through this one too.

Take a look at the rapids for the day in the video below.

We arrived at Bifuka Island Canoe Port at just before 3pm. It was still a scorcher of a day, so we decided against lugging all our gear up and over the stopbanks to the official campground, and opted instead to camp at the canoe port. It was a gorgeous location, with well kept grass, some trees for shade, and onsen, water, toilets, just a few minutes walk away.

After setting up, we went for a walk. Checked out the michi-no-eki and bought some vegetables, fruit, and long-life milk. We raided the ice-cream stand and deep-fried warming drawer. Despite our best intentions, we forgo cooking our own dinner, and instead had dinner at the onsen restaurant after a long soak in the hot pools. 

Tough. Life.

Day Two on the Great Teshio Canoe Journey done.

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