Haidee and I lived in Chitose City for a few years a while back. Our apartment was right on the Chitose River, and we’d always mused that it would be a great river to paddle down. In the autumn, from our apartment window we’d watch salmon running up the river through its ultra clear waters. Ducks of various kinds would bob on the surface. Finally, today we we’d complete our own downriver trip after all these years.
We were traveling from Sapporo, and opted to do the trip completely by public transport. Bicycle from our place to Shin-Sapporo Station, train from there to Chitose Station, then taxi to the put-in location, packraft down the river, and then walk the final 500m back to the train station at the other end.
The massive backpack contains the two-person MRS Barrauda R2 Pro packraft, two AquaBound collapsible paddles, changes of clothes, and two PFDs. If only those 115-litre Ortlieb bags had a hip-belt…
Haidee’s cafe radar was on point though, so she made sure that the taxi dropped us off at Meon Garden Cafe (here) for a special lunch before our long and (not so) arduous paddle down the Chitose River. The Meon Garden Cafe is definitely on the upper end of cafe food prices in the area, but the outlook is pretty special. And, the head chef is Belgian, so there’s that to look forward too as well.
From Meon Cafe it was a 700m walk down the gravel road to the put-in location. We opted to wander a little further up the gravel side road to here, so that we could have a bit of time practicing our ferry glides and eddy-ins and eddy-outs. This would be the first time Haidee and I would paddle the packraft together, so we wanted to be clued up on its ways.
But first, we had to get the packraft inflated and ready to go. This was my second time putting it all together, and I was starting to feel like the process was getting faster.
As much as I love the graceful finesse of a full-sized Canadian canoe, paddling this super-maneuverable two-person packraft is a blast. It is so responsive and turns on a dime. We are yet to get it out onto more exciting whitewater, and we haven’t really laden it down with gear (it all goes inside the pontoons), but so far it is proving very capable. We spent about 10 minutes getting used to it, and then started our merry way down the river.
It wasn’t long before we came across the dog-leg bend that had almost undone us the last time we were here on our second day of canoe training with Naoki from Canoa. This time we made sure to keep to the inside of the bend, keeping well out of the fast-flowing water that was running through the dense strainer trees to the left.
We also very soon came upon our first clump of water buttercup (baikamo バイカモ). These delicate flowers bloom in July in the Chitose River.
There were others on the river too. We passed people on SUPs and kayak playboats. They all seemed bemused to see two non-Japanese-looking individuals floating down the river on a packraft. On a warm day today, it was great to be paddling along the Chitose River, with its shady overhanging trees.
Here and there the river widens out and straightens to give a bigger view of the sky. This particular stretch of straight river is just before the weir with the large fish ladder, which can be perfect for some quasi-whitewater. We approached it cautiously, as it was only the second time we’d been down it, and the first time in a packraft. It is a relatively pushy bit of water, but it made short work of for most crafts.
It was nice to come across some more water buttercups, where we stopped to take a closer look. We’d heard so much about these beautiful flowers, flowering under the water’s surface. We figured these were blooming above the surface due to the lack of water this year. Usually, the Chitose River would be another 50cm or so higher.
Beyond the blooming flowers awaited the fun Class II drops. At least they can be Class II drops. Today, they were hardly scratching the upper end of Class I. Still, enough to have a bit of fun, practicing ferry glides and s-turns. Despite the mellow swift, however, I should have had my sprayskirt attached – one particularly sharp s-turn had me take on some water.
It didn’t take us very long to get to where most people take out, near the Chitose City Sports Center. Near the sandy beach there was another glorious patch of flowers blooming in the water.
We kept on paddling down the river, however, because we were keen to get off the river as close to the Chitose Station as possible. We were heading into unfamiliar terrain for us, since we’d done everything up to this point once before, but beyond this was a little unknown. We’d cycled along the river plenty of times, but this was the first for us on the water.
Despite some minor concerns about the possibility of tetra blocks and errant bits of steel sticking up out of the water waiting to puncture our packraft, we made it to our destination under the bridge on the main Chitose City thoroughfare unscathed. We picked a low section of the cycleway, and clambered over the fence, ferrying gear up and out of the river. Not the most graceful of exits from the river, but functional nonetheless. This area beyond the sports center is infinitely more built up and the river is forced along an unnatural man-made river channel, but the water itself is still ultra clear and gorgeous.
Conveniently, this take-out location is right next to the cheap and cheerful udon and tempura restaurant. This would make for a nice early 4:30pm dinner before making the trek back to Sapporo City. A nice Sunday afternoon well spent on one of our favourite rivers (and cities).