Ikushunbetsu River Slalom Course in Mikasa

幾春別川 | i-kus-un-pet

Posted on Oct 5, 2019
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Posted on Oct 5, 2019

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Reading time: 3 min
0.5km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

7.4 mpk

Gradient

3/5

Water clarity

Class II

Difficulty

May-Aug

Best season

The Ikushunbetsu River (幾春別川) slalom course is a series of artificial drops on a straight section of the river, about 2km downstream from the Katsurazawa Dam (桂澤ダム) in Mikasa City (三笠市). With the surrounding access managed by the Mikasa Canoe Club (三笠カヌークラブ), this is the venue for annual slalom competitions, such as the popular i-Cup. At only about 250m long for the main section, it's a great place to spend an afternoon doing drills.

Michael Mielke contributed photos to this post.

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (5/10)

Remoteness: 1/5

River Details

This route is on Ikushunbetsu River (幾春別川), or i-kus-un-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 59km in total length. This section of the river is between 5m and 10m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 7.4 mpk (39.07 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Ikushunbetsu River

Water level: 44.31m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2019/12/6 14:30 (Source).

Location

The Ikushunbetsu River flows into and out of the Katsurazawa Dam at the head of the Mikasa Valley, about 20km northeast of Iwamizawa City, northeast of Sapporo City. This short section of the river is fully set up for access to and from the river, from multiple points. There’s a large grassy car parking area next to the river. Take a right off Route 116 (here) – you’ll see a large wooden sign on the corner. In Japanese it says 桂沢国設スキー場 (Katsurazawa National Ski Area). For such a grandiose name, the ski area is nothing much. Drive down the road to the first concealed left, on the inside of a bend. Follow this down, through an underpass, and down to the river. Take a left onto a gravel access road next to the toilets. Boats can be put in anywhere along this section of river, including further upstream – there’s a rough footpath along the river.

General notes
  • Water levels: The water level of the Ikushunbetsu River is entirely dependent on how much water is being let out of Katsurazawa Dam (location), about 2.5km upstream. We were lucky to have just over 14m3/s being let out of the dam when we were there (dam outflow data here). According to a regular paddler we met there, usually after the end of August, only about 2m3/s is let out of the dam – the most reliable time to paddle is May-August. At 14m3/s, the flow was fast – so much so that we decided to avoid Drop 2 all together – there was some dangerous looking backwash.
Route description

The furthest that foot access goes along this route is the upper bridge, here. From here, it’s possible to ferry across to the middle of the river to get a straight shot down the first wave-train. There are a couple of smaller drops along this straight section of river before a dog-leg bend. You’re now on the main 250m straight section with the three substantial drops. After the first large drop (here) there are very good eddies on either side of the main flow that will take paddlers back up to the drop. The same goes for the second drop which is the largest of the three, here. The final drop is smallest, and beyond this paddlers can get out anywhere along the river right side. The final point for taking out with good, easy access is just before the hard left bend downstream, here.

Route Timing
Trip time: hrs 0min

Even experienced paddlers could happily spend a full morning or an afternoon surfing on the multiple drops along this short course built for slalom competitions. From the upper bridge (here) to the lower bridge (here), it’s only about 500m, so it is just a quick 10 minute blat down the river.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

There is plenty of parking along the main slalom section, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Ikushunbetsu (幾春別) – map no. NK-54-14-1-1

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

route safety

This course is relatively forgiving when it comes to capsizing a Canadian canoe, but only to an extent. When the water is high, as it was when we were there, there isn’t much of a buffer at the downstream end of the section before the river gets very steep.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Ikushunbetsu River

CampSites

Family Land Mikasa-yuen (ファミリーランド三笠遊園)
Family Land Mikawa-yuen (ファミリーランド三笠遊園) is an all-in-one multi-purpose recreation park area with a camping area, go-kart buggies, ski area, playgrounds, slides, and a dilapidated skate park. Overnight stays are free, and the toilet building is new, clean, and heated. The Yumoto Onsen is just up the road. Location: 43.25273 N / 141.97788 E | Free | Open: May-Oct | Staff hours: 9:00am till 5:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Yumoto Onsen (湯元温泉) | 500yen | 2km from campground
Onsen nearby

The closest onsen is the Yumoto Onsen (湯元温泉, 500yen) just 2km up the road. The building has an old-times feel, and the natural spring water is a great way to relax after some intense paddling.

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

“Uh oh, Michael’s going in!” Haidee and I watched as Michael executed a perfect specimen of a capsize in the solo canoe, on a drop he’d already been over multiple times already today.

Till this point, there’d been no capsizes during our couple of hours pottering around on the Ikushunbetsu River slalom course. We’d spent a couple of minutes before getting on the water today discussing what the plan of attack would be if someone capsized. But with the water levels at 14-cumecs, almost 50% higher than the usual 10-ish cumecs, however, we were now scrambling to make sense of where the submerged red canoe would now end up downstream. Michael had already swam to the shore, and was following the canoe on foot down the bank.

“Quick! We need to get downstream to get that canoe,” argued Haidee, as we bobbed in our canoe at the relative safety of an eddy on the side of the river. This would, however, require dropping down the second larger drop of the course – one we’d avoided thus far because of a less-than-ideal backwash at the end of a very short tongue. A few counter arguments were proffered, but we decided to give it a go.

In the haste and rush, however, Haidee and I underestimated the power of the water, and executed our own text-book capsize, having not leaned enough downstream as we tried to eddy-in to the main stream.

This was our first properly unintended capsize of our lives, and later we quietly patted ourselves on the back for slipping out of the Northwater spray deck with little effort at all.

Our unintended departure from our canoe did, however, mean that now we had two canoes in the water, and while I managed to swim to the shore before the large second drop, Haidee was promptly swept over.

Later, recounting the ordeal, she said “I was happy to have a really buoyant life vest – I went under, then popped up, and then went under again, before ending up downstream.”

Meanwhile, once I saw Haidee was out of danger and swimming to shore, I sprinted downstream to hopefully retrieve our canoe before it went around the final bend and further downstream where the  river gets much steeper. As I was running along the riverside walkway, I saw Michael gazing with a perplexed expression across at the red canoe – it was submerged on the other side of the river, pinned on some rocks near the bottom of the second drop.

“That’s going to be an interesting job getting that free,” I thought.

Paramount on my mind was how I was going to retrieve the white canoe. It was floating nonchalantly down the river, mostly in the middle. It was already past the downstream bridge. Unless it came closer to the river right side where I was, it was going to be gone further downstream.

Mercifully, it started drifting towards my side of the river. I jumped in up to my chest and was happy to find the stern painter line. I unraveled it, held onto the end, and let the canoe swing around to shore. An infinitely more bothersome retrieval had been averted.

As I was pulling the white canoe up onto shore, I heard a piercing whistle sound. It was Haidee, notifying us that the red canoe had come free. I noticed Michael had already run up and over the bridge, and was on the other side of the river. Following his gaze, I saw the red canoe was floating down the river. It was much too far across for me to do anything about, so I was more or less resigned to the fact that we’d now have a rather interesting downstream retrieval on our hands.

Once again, however, the currents worked in our favor. The canoe drifted towards the river left side, and came to a civilized stop, ready for Michael to get it, and drag it up the bank to the road.

Later, we took stock of the damage. Our white canoe had avoided any damage at all, while the red canoe had obviously seen some very strong water pressure. The aluminium gunwales at the front of the canoe were bent, and there were a couple of spots of fairly large gelcoat damage. It was all cosmetic, however. The keel line was straight, and the flotation tanks were still well intact – nothing a bit of elbow-grease with a hammer and some gelcoat repair wouldn’t fix. Testament to Novacraft’s ToughStuff material.

Overall, it was a relatively low-consequence learning experience for Haidee and I – if not regarding decisions processes, at least we’ll be making sure our eddy-ins are more on point!

As with each ski touring, cycle touring, hiking, and canoe touring route guide published on hokkaidowilds.org, should you choose to follow the information on this page, do so at your own risk. Paddle sports can be very dangerous and physically demanding – wear a personal flotation device, get paddlesports instruction, and do not exceed your paddling ability. Prior to setting out check current local water levels, weather, conditions, and land/road/track closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow leave-no-trace procedures. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this information, associated GPS track (GPX, KML and maps), and all information was prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. hokkaidowilds.org, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following the information contained in this post.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Ikushunbetsu River, or other waterways nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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